such that for any commutative square
there exists a morphism , not necessarily unique, such that and .
In any category with finite limits and enough projectives, the full subcategory of projective objects has weak finite limits. For example, given a cospan of projective objects, let be a projective cover of the actual pullback; then any square
with projective induces a morphism , which lifts to a morphism since is projective.
Conversely, from any category with weak finite limits one can construct an exact completion in which the original category sits as the projective objects, and the exact categories constructible in this way are precisely those having enough projectives.
Unlike usages of ‘weak’ in terms like weak n-category, a weak limit is not be like a homotopy limit or a 2-limit, which satisfy uniqueness (as well as existence) albeit only up to higher homotopies or equivalences.
However, some homotopy limits induce the corresponding type of weak limit in the corresponding homotopy category. For example, suppose that
is a homotopy pullback in some category having a notion of homotopy, such as a model category. In particular, this square commutes up to homotopy, and thus it commutes in the homotopy category . Then any square
that commutes in commutes up to homotopy in , and thus (by the (“local”) universal property of homotopy pullbacks), there is a map and homotopies and ; thus the given square is a weak pullback in . While the universal property of a homotopy pullback means that is unique up to homotopy, this is only true for a given choice of homotopy , and different such homotopies can induce inequivalent ’s. Thus in , which remembers only the existence of homotopies, we have only a weak pullback.
Note, though, that not all homotopy limits produce weak limits in the homotopy category, because in general it will not be possible to lift a cone that commutes in to a cone that commutes up to coherent homotopy in . However, in “simple” cases such as pullbacks, products, equalizers, sequential inverse limits, and so on, this is always true (and it will be true whenever the diagram category is a quiver). On the other hand, homotopy products in give actual (not weak) products in , since there are no homotopies necessary.
Weak limits in homotopy categories play an important role in the Brown representability theorem.