, an isomorphism is a structure-preserving mapping between two structures of the same type that can be reversed by an inverse mapping
. Two mathematical structure
s are isomorphic if an isomorphism exists between them. The word isomorphism is derived from the Ancient Greek
''isos'' "equal", and μορφή
''morphe'' "form" or "shape".
The interest in isomorphisms lies in the fact that two isomorphic objects have the same properties (excluding further information such as additional structure or names of objects). Thus isomorphic structures cannot be distinguished from the point of view of structure only, and may be identified. In mathematical jargon, one says that two objects are ''the same up to
is an isomorphism from a structure to itself. An isomorphism between two structures is a canonical isomorphism (a canonical map
that is an isomorphism) if there is only one isomorphism between the two structures (as it is the case for solutions of a universal property
), or if the isomorphism is much more natural (in some sense) than other isomorphisms. For example, for every prime number
, all fields
with elements are canonically isomorphic, with a unique isomorphism. The isomorphism theorems
provide canonical isomorphisms that are not unique.
The term ''isomorphism'' is mainly used for algebraic structure
s. In this case, mappings are called homomorphism
s, and a homomorphism is an isomorphism if and only if
it is bijective
In various areas of mathematics, isomorphisms have received specialized names, depending on the type of structure under consideration. For example:
* An isometry
is an isomorphism of metric space
* A homeomorphism
is an isomorphism of topological space
* A diffeomorphism
is an isomorphism of spaces equipped with a differential structure
, typically differentiable manifold
* A permutation
is an automorphism of a set
* In geometry
, isomorphisms and automorphisms are often called transformations
, for example rigid transformation
s, affine transformation
s, projective transformation
, which can be viewed as a formalization of the concept of mapping between structures, provides a language that may be used to unify the approach to these different aspects of the basic idea.
Logarithm and exponential
be the multiplicative group
of positive real numbers
, and let
be the additive group of real numbers.
The logarithm function
, so it is a group homomorphism
. The exponential function
, so it too is a homomorphism.
of each other. Since
is a homomorphism that has an inverse that is also a homomorphism,
is an isomorphism of groups.
function is an isomorphism which translates multiplication of positive real numbers into addition of real numbers. This facility makes it possible to multiply real numbers using a ruler
and a table of logarithms
, or using a slide rule
with a logarithmic scale.
Integers modulo 6
Consider the group
, the integers from 0 to 5 with addition modulo
6. Also consider the group
, the ordered pairs where the ''x'' coordinates can be 0 or 1, and the y coordinates can be 0, 1, or 2, where addition in the ''x''-coordinate is modulo 2 and addition in the ''y''-coordinate is modulo 3.
These structures are isomorphic under addition, under the following scheme:
:(0,0) ↦ 0
:(1,1) ↦ 1
:(0,2) ↦ 2
:(1,0) ↦ 3
:(0,1) ↦ 4
:(1,2) ↦ 5
or in general mod 6.
For example, , which translates in the other system as .
Even though these two groups "look" different in that the sets contain different elements, they are indeed isomorphic: their structures are exactly the same. More generally, the direct product
of two cyclic group
is isomorphic to
if and only if ''m'' and ''n'' are coprime
, per the Chinese remainder theorem
If one object consists of a set ''X'' with a binary relation
R and the other object consists of a set ''Y'' with a binary relation S then an isomorphism from ''X'' to ''Y'' is a bijective function such that:
S is reflexive
, a partial order
, total order
, strict weak order
, total preorder
(weak order), an equivalence relation
, or a relation with any other special properties, if and only if R is.
For example, R is an ordering
≤ and S an ordering
, then an isomorphism from ''X'' to ''Y'' is a bijective function such that
Such an isomorphism is called an ''order isomorphism
'' or (less commonly) an ''isotone isomorphism''.
If , then this is a relation-preserving automorphism
, isomorphisms are defined for all algebraic structure
s. Some are more specifically studied; for example:
* Linear isomorphism
s between vector space
s; they are specified by invertible matrices
* Group isomorphism
s between groups
; the classification of isomorphism class
es of finite group
s is an open problem.
* Ring isomorphism
* Field isomorphisms are the same as ring isomorphism between fields
; their study, and more specifically the study of field automorphism
s is an important part of Galois theory
Just as the automorphism
s of an algebraic structure
form a group
, the isomorphisms between two algebras sharing a common structure form a heap
. Letting a particular isomorphism identify the two structures turns this heap into a group.
In mathematical analysis
, the Laplace transform
is an isomorphism mapping hard differential equations
into easier algebra
In graph theory
, an isomorphism between two graphs ''G'' and ''H'' is a bijective
map ''f'' from the vertices of ''G'' to the vertices of ''H'' that preserves the "edge structure" in the sense that there is an edge from vertex
''u'' to vertex ''v'' in ''G'' if and only if there is an edge from ƒ(''u'') to ƒ(''v'') in ''H''. See graph isomorphism
In mathematical analysis, an isomorphism between two Hilbert space
s is a bijection preserving addition, scalar multiplication, and inner product.
In early theories of logical atomism
, the formal relationship between facts and true propositions was theorized by Bertrand Russell
and Ludwig Wittgenstein
to be isomorphic. An example of this line of thinking can be found in Russell's ''Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy
, the good regulator
or Conant–Ashby theorem is stated "Every good regulator of a system must be a model of that system". Whether regulated or self-regulating, an isomorphism is required between the regulator and processing parts of the system.
Category theoretic view
In category theory
, given a category
''C'', an isomorphism is a morphism that has an inverse morphism , that is, and . For example, a bijective linear map
is an isomorphism between vector space
s, and a bijective continuous function
whose inverse is also continuous is an isomorphism between topological space
s, called a homeomorphism
Two categories and are isomorphic
if there exist functor
s and which are mutually inverse to each other, that is, (the identity functor on ) and (the identity functor on ).
Isomorphism vs. bijective morphism
In a concrete category
(that is, a category whose objects are sets (perhaps with extra structure) and whose morphisms are structure-preserving functions), such as the category of topological spaces
or categories of algebraic objects (like the category of groups
, the category of rings
, and the category of modules
), an isomorphism must be bijective on the underlying set
s. In algebraic categories (specifically, categories of varieties in the sense of universal algebra
), an isomorphism is the same as a homomorphism which is bijective on underlying sets. However, there are concrete categories in which bijective morphisms are not necessarily isomorphisms (such as the category of topological spaces).
Relation with equality
In certain areas of mathematics, notably category theory, it is valuable to distinguish between ''equality
'' on the one hand and ''isomorphism'' on the other.
Equality is when two objects are exactly the same, and everything that is true about one object is true about the other, while an isomorphism implies everything that is true about a designated part of one object's structure is true about the other's. For example, the sets
are ''equal''; they are merely different representations—the first an intensional
one (in set builder notation
), and the second extensional
(by explicit enumeration)—of the same subset of the integers. By contrast, the sets and are not ''equal''—the first has elements that are letters, while the second has elements that are numbers. These are isomorphic as sets, since finite sets are determined up to isomorphism
by their cardinality
(number of elements) and these both have three elements, but there are many choices of isomorphism—one isomorphism is
while another is
and no one isomorphism is intrinsically better than any other.
[''A'', ''B'', ''C'' have a conventional order, namely alphabetical order, and similarly 1, 2, 3 have the order from the integers, and thus one particular isomorphism is "natural", namely
More formally, as ''sets'' these are isomorphic, but not naturally isomorphic (there are multiple choices of isomorphism), while as ''ordered sets'' they are naturally isomorphic (there is a unique isomorphism, given above), since finite total orders are uniquely determined up to unique isomorphism by cardinality.
This intuition can be formalized by saying that any two finite totally ordered sets of the same cardinality have a natural isomorphism, the one that sends the least element of the first to the least element of the second, the least element of what remains in the first to the least element of what remains in the second, and so forth, but in general, pairs of sets of a given finite cardinality are not naturally isomorphic because there is more than one choice of map—except if the cardinality is 0 or 1, where there is a unique choice.] [In fact, there are precisely different isomorphisms between two sets with three elements. This is equal to the number of automorphisms of a given three-element set (which in turn is equal to the order of the symmetric group on three letters), and more generally one has that the set of isomorphisms between two objects, denoted is a torsor for the automorphism group of ''A,'' and also a torsor for the automorphism group of ''B.'' In fact, automorphisms of an object are a key reason to be concerned with the distinction between isomorphism and equality, as demonstrated in the effect of change of basis on the identification of a vector space with its dual or with its double dual, as elaborated in the sequel.]
On this view and in this sense, these two sets are not equal because one cannot consider them ''identical'': one can choose an isomorphism between them, but that is a weaker claim than identity—and valid only in the context of the chosen isomorphism.
Sometimes the isomorphisms can seem obvious and compelling, but are still not equalities. As a simple example, the genealogical
relationships among Joe
, and Bobby
Kennedy are, in a real sense, the same as those among the American football quarterbacks
in the Manning family
, and Eli
. The father-son pairings and the elder-brother-younger-brother pairings correspond perfectly. That similarity between the two family structures illustrates the origin of the word ''isomorphism'' (Greek ''iso''-, "same", and -''morph'', "form" or "shape"). But because the Kennedys are not the same people as the Mannings, the two genealogical structures are merely isomorphic and not equal.
Another example is more formal and more directly illustrates the motivation for distinguishing equality from isomorphism: the distinction between a finite-dimensional vector space
''V'' and its dual space
of linear maps from ''V'' to its field of scalars K.
These spaces have the same dimension, and thus are isomorphic as abstract vector spaces (since algebraically, vector spaces are classified by dimension, just as sets are classified by cardinality), but there is no "natural" choice of isomorphism
If one chooses a basis for ''V'', then this yields an isomorphism: For all ,
This corresponds to transforming a column vector
(element of ''V'') to a row vector
(element of ''V''*) by transpose
, but a different choice of basis gives a different isomorphism: the isomorphism "depends on the choice of basis".
More subtly, there ''is'' a map from a vector space ''V'' to its double dual
that does not depend on the choice of basis: For all
This leads to a third notion, that of a natural isomorphism
: while ''V'' and ''V''** are different sets, there is a "natural" choice of isomorphism between them.
This intuitive notion of "an isomorphism that does not depend on an arbitrary choice" is formalized in the notion of a natural transformation
; briefly, that one may ''consistently'' identify, or more generally map from, a finite-dimensional vector space to its double dual,
, for ''any'' vector space in a consistent way. Formalizing this intuition is a motivation for the development of category theory.
However, there is a case where the distinction between natural isomorphism and equality is usually not made. That is for the objects that may be characterized by a universal property
. In fact, there is a unique isomorphism, necessarily natural, between two objects sharing the same universal property. A typical example is the set of real number
s, which may be defined through infinite decimal expansion, infinite binary expansion, Cauchy sequence
s, Dedekind cut
s and many other ways. Formally, these constructions define different objects which are all solutions with the same universal property. As these objects have exactly the same properties, one may forget the method of construction and consider them as equal. This is what everybody does when referring to "''the'' set of the real numbers". The same occurs with quotient space
s: they are commonly constructed as sets of equivalence class
es. However, referring to a set of sets may be counterintuitive, and so quotient spaces are commonly considered as a pair of a set of undetermined objects, often called "points", and a surjective map onto this set.
If one wishes to distinguish between an arbitrary isomorphism (one that depends on a choice) and a natural isomorphism (one that can be done consistently), one may write for an unnatural isomorphism
and for a natural isomorphism, as in and
This convention is not universally followed, and authors who wish to distinguish between unnatural isomorphisms and natural isomorphisms will generally explicitly state the distinction.
Generally, saying that two objects are ''equal'' is reserved for when there is a notion of a larger (ambient) space that these objects live in. Most often, one speaks of equality of two subsets of a given set (as in the integer set example above), but not of two objects abstractly presented. For example, the 2-dimensional unit sphere in 3-dimensional space
and the Riemann sphere
which can be presented as the one-point compactification
of the complex plane ''or'' as the complex projective line
(a quotient space)
are three different descriptions for a mathematical object, all of which are isomorphic, but not ''equal'' because they are not all subsets of a single space: the first is a subset of R3
, the second is 2
[Being precise, the identification of the complex numbers with the real plane,
depends on a choice of one can just as easily choose , which yields a different identification—formally, complex conjugation is an automorphism—but in practice one often assumes that one has made such an identification.]
plus an additional point, and the third is a subquotient
In the context of category theory, objects are usually at most isomorphic—indeed, a motivation for the development of category theory was showing that different constructions in homology theory
yielded equivalent (isomorphic) groups. Given maps between two objects ''X'' and ''Y'', however, one asks if they are equal or not (they are both elements of the set Hom(''X'', ''Y''), hence equality is the proper relationship), particularly in commutative diagram