Definitions
Transfors between 2-categories
Morphisms in 2-categories
Structures in 2-categories
Limits in 2-categories
Structures on 2-categories
An ordinary pullback is a limit over a diagram of the form $A \to C \leftarrow B$. Accordingly, a 2-pullback (or 2-fiber product) is a 2-limit over such a diagram.
Saying that “a 2-pullback is a 2-limit over a cospan” is in fact a sufficient definition, but we can simplify it and make it more explicit.
A $2$-pullback in a 2-category is a square
which commutes up to 2-isomorphism, and which is universal among such squares in a 2-category theoretic sense. This means that
given any other such square
which commutes up to 2-isomorphism, there exists a morphism $u \colon Z\to P$ and isomorphisms $p u \cong v$ and $q u \cong w$ which are coherent with the given ones above, and
given any pair of morphisms $u,t \colon Z\to P$ and 2-morphisms $\alpha \colon p u \to p t$ and $\beta \colon q u \to q t$ such that $f \alpha = g \beta$ (modulo the given isomorphism $f p \cong g q$), there exists a unique 2-morphism $\gamma \colon u\to t$ such that $p \gamma = \alpha$ and $q \gamma = \beta$.
The simplification in the above explicit definition has to do with the omission of an unnecessary structure map. Note that an ordinary pullback of $A \overset{f}{\to} C \overset{g}{\leftarrow} B$ comes equipped with maps $P\overset{p}{\to} A$, $P\overset{q}{\to} B$, and $P\overset{r}{\to} C$, but since $r = f p$ and $r = g q$, the map $r$ is superfluous data and is usually omitted. In the 2-categorical case, where identities are replaced by isomorphisms, it is, strictly speaking, different to give merely $p$ and $q$ with an isomorphism $f p \cong g q$, than to give $p$, $q$, and $r$ with isomorphisms $r \cong f p$ and $r \cong g q$. However, when 2-limits are considered as only defined up to equivalence (as is the default on the nLab), the two resulting notions of “2-pullback” are the same. In much of the 2-categorical literature, the version with $r$ specified would be called a bipullback and the version with $r$ not specified would be called a bi-iso-comma-object.
The unsimplified definition would be: a $2$-pullback in a 2-category is a diagram
in which each triangle commutes up to 2-isomorphism, and which is universal among such squares in a 2-category theoretic sense.
This means that
given any other such square
in which the triangles commute up to 2-isomorphism, there exists a 1-morphism $u\colon Z \to P$ and 2-isomorphisms $p u \cong v$ and $q u \cong w$ which are coherent with the given ones above, and
given any pair pf morphisms $u,t\colon Z \to P$ and 2-morphisms $\alpha\colon p u \to p t$ and $\beta\colon q u \to q t$ such that $f \alpha = g \beta$ (modulo the given isomorphism $f p \cong g q$), there exists a unique 2-cell $\gamma\colon u \to t$ such that $p \gamma = \alpha$ and $q \gamma = \beta$.
To see that these definitions are equivalent, we observe that both assert the representability of some 2-functor (where “representability” is understood in the 2-categorical “up-to-equivalence” sense), and that the corresponding 2-functors are equivalent.
In the simplified case, the functor $F_1\colon K^{op}\to Cat$ sends an object $Z$ to the category whose
objects are squares commuting up to isomorphism, i.e. maps $v\colon Z\to A$ and $w\colon Z\to B$ equipped with an isomorphism $\mu\colon f v \cong g w$, and whose
morphisms from $(v,w,\mu)$ to $(v',w',\mu')$ are pairs $\phi\colon v\to v'$ and $\psi\colon w\to w'$ such that $\mu' . (f \phi) = (g \psi) . \mu$.
In the unsimplified case, the functor $F_2\colon K^{op}\to Cat$ sends an object $Z$ to the category whose
objects consist of maps $v\colon Z\to A$, $w\colon Z\to B$, and $x\colon Z\to C$ equipped with isomorphisms $\kappa\colon f v \cong x$ and $\lambda\colon x\cong g w$, and whose
morphisms from $(v,w,x,\kappa,\lambda)$ to $(v',w',x',\kappa',\lambda')$ are triples $\phi\colon v\to v'$, $\psi\colon w\to w'$, and $\chi\colon x\to x'$ such that $\kappa' . (f \phi) = \chi . \kappa$ and $\lambda' . \chi = (g \psi) . \lambda$.
We have a canonical pseudonatural transformation $F_2\to F_1$ that forgets $x$ and sets $\mu = \lambda . \kappa$. This is easily seen to be an equivalence, so that any representing object for $F_1$ is also a representing object for $F_2$ and conversely. (Note, though, that in order to define an inverse equivalence $F_1\to F_2$ we must choose whether to define $x = f v$ or $x = g w$.)
2-pullbacks can also be identified with homotopy pullbacks, when the latter are interpreted in $Cat$-enriched homotopy theory.
If we are in a strict 2-category and all the coherence isomorphisms ($\mu$, $\kappa$, $\lambda$, etc.) are required to be identities, and $u$ in property (1) is required to be unique, then we obtain the notion of a strict 2-pullback. This is an example of a strict 2-limit. Note that since we must have $x = f v = g w$, the two definitions above are still the same. In fact, they are now even isomorphic (and determined up to isomorphism, rather than equivalence).
In literature where “2-limit” means “strict 2-limit,” of course “2-pullback” means “strict 2-pullback.”
Obviously not every 2-pullback is a strict 2-pullback, but also not every strict 2-pullback is a 2-pullback, although the latter is true if either $f$ or $g$ is an isofibration (and in particular if either is a Grothendieck fibration). A strict 2-pullback is, in particular, an ordinary pullback in the underlying 1-category of our strict 2-category, but it has a stronger universal property than this, referring to 2-cells as well (namely, part (2) of the explicit definition).
If the coherence isomorphisms $\mu$, $\kappa$, $\lambda$ in the squares are retained, but in (1) the isomorphisms $p u \cong r$ and $q u \cong s$ are required to be identities and $u$ is required to be unique, then the simplified definition becomes that of a strict iso-comma object, while the unsimplified definition becomes that of a strict pseudo-pullback. (Iso-comma objects are so named because if the isomorphisms in the squares are then replaced by mere morphisms, we obtain the notion of (strict) comma object).
Every strict iso-comma object, and every strict pseudo-pullback, is also a (non-strict) 2-pullback. In particular, if strict iso-comma objects and strict pseudo-pullbacks both exist, they are equivalent, but they are not isomorphic. (Note that their strict universal property determines them up to isomorphism, not just equivalence.) In many strict 2-categories, such as Cat, 2-pullbacks can naturally be constructed as either strict iso-comma objects or strict pseudo-pullbacks.
Replacing the isomorphism $\mu$ in the simplified definition by a mere transformation results in a comma object, while replacing $\kappa$ and $\lambda$ in the unsimplified definition by mere transformations results in a lax pullback. In a (2,1)-category, any comma object or lax pullback is also a 2-pullback, but this is not true in a general 2-category. Note that comma objects are often misleadingly called lax pullbacks.
Last revised on May 3, 2023 at 10:22:51. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.