nLab Riemann surface



Complex geometry

Differential geometry

synthetic differential geometry


from point-set topology to differentiable manifolds

geometry of physics: coordinate systems, smooth spaces, manifolds, smooth homotopy types, supergeometry



smooth space


The magic algebraic facts




infinitesimal cohesion

tangent cohesion

differential cohesion

graded differential cohesion

singular cohesion

id id fermionic bosonic bosonic Rh rheonomic reduced infinitesimal infinitesimal & étale cohesive ʃ discrete discrete continuous * \array{ && id &\dashv& id \\ && \vee && \vee \\ &\stackrel{fermionic}{}& \rightrightarrows &\dashv& \rightsquigarrow & \stackrel{bosonic}{} \\ && \bot && \bot \\ &\stackrel{bosonic}{} & \rightsquigarrow &\dashv& \mathrm{R}\!\!\mathrm{h} & \stackrel{rheonomic}{} \\ && \vee && \vee \\ &\stackrel{reduced}{} & \Re &\dashv& \Im & \stackrel{infinitesimal}{} \\ && \bot && \bot \\ &\stackrel{infinitesimal}{}& \Im &\dashv& \& & \stackrel{\text{étale}}{} \\ && \vee && \vee \\ &\stackrel{cohesive}{}& \esh &\dashv& \flat & \stackrel{discrete}{} \\ && \bot && \bot \\ &\stackrel{discrete}{}& \flat &\dashv& \sharp & \stackrel{continuous}{} \\ && \vee && \vee \\ && \emptyset &\dashv& \ast }


Lie theory, ∞-Lie theory

differential equations, variational calculus

Chern-Weil theory, ∞-Chern-Weil theory

Cartan geometry (super, higher)

Manifolds and cobordisms



A Riemann surface is a 11-dimensional algebro-geometric object with good properties. The name ‘surface’ comes from the classical case, which is 11-dimensional over the complex numbers and therefore 22-dimensional over the real numbers.

There are several distinct meaning of what is a Riemann surface, and it can be considered in several generalities. But the main definition by far is the classical one.


Classically, a Riemann surface is a connected complex-11-dimensional complex manifold, in the strictest sense of ‘manifold’. In other words, it’s a Hausdorff second countable space MM which is locally homeomorphic to the complex plane \mathbb{C} via charts (i.e., homeomorphisms) ϕ i:U iV i\phi_i:U_i \to V_i for U iM,V iU_i \subset M, V_i \subset \mathbb{C} open and such that ϕ jϕ i 1:V iV jV iV j\phi_j \circ \phi_i^{-1}: V_i \cap V_j \to V_i \cap V_j is holomorphic.

It is not necessary to make any assumption about whether there exists a countable base for the topology (second countable) or whether it has a countable dense subset (separable). This is because Tibor Rado (1923) proved that all Riemann surfaces, without such prior assumptions, must necessarily have a countable base. Thus for elegance this condition is customarily not assumed by specialists in Riemann surfaces.

There are generalizations, e.g., over local fields in rigid analytic geometry.


Evidently an open subspace of a Riemann surface is a Riemann surface. In particular, an open subset of \mathbb{C} is a Riemann surface in a natural manner.

The Riemann sphere P 1():={}P^1(\mathbb{C}) := \mathbb{C} \cup \{ \infty \} or S 2S^2 is a Riemann surface with the open sets U 1=,U 2={0}{}U_1 = \mathbb{C}, U_2 = \mathbb{C} - \{0\} \cup \{\infty\} and the charts

ϕ 1=z,ϕ 2=1z. \phi_1 =z, \;\phi_2 = \frac{1}{z}.

The transition map is 1z\frac{1}{z} and thus holomorphic on U 1U 2= *U_1 \cap U_2 = \mathbb{C}^*.

An important example comes from analytic continuation, which we will briefly sketch below. A function element is a pair (f,V)(f,V) where f:Vf: V \to \mathbb{C} is holomorphic and VV \subset \mathbb{C} is an open disk. Two function elements (f,V),(g,W)(f,V), (g,W) are said to be direct analytic continuations of each other if VWV \cap W \neq \emptyset and fgf \equiv g on VWV \cap W. By piecing together direct analytic continuations on a curve, we can talk about the analytic continuation of a function element along a curve (which may or may not exist, but if it does, it is unique).

Starting with a given function element γ=(f,V)\gamma = (f,V), we can consider the totality XX of all equivalence classes of function elements that can be obtained by continuing γ\gamma along curves in \mathbb{C}. Then XX is actually a Riemann surface.

Indeed, we must first put a topology on XX. If (g,W)X(g,W) \in X with W=D r(w 0)W=D_r(w_0) centered at w 0w_0, then let a neighborhood of gg be given by all function elements (g w,W)(g_w, W') for wW,WWw \in W, W' \subset W; these form a basis for a suitable topology on XX. Then the coordinate projections (g,W)w 0(g,W) \to w_0 form appropriate local coordinates. In fact, there is a globally defined map XX \to \mathbb{C}, whose image in general will be a proper subset of \mathbb{C}.


Basic facts

Since we have local coordinates, we can define a map f:XYf: X \to Y of Riemann surfaces to be holomorphic or regular if it is so in local coordinates. In particular, we can define a holomorphic complex function as a holomorphic map f:Xf: X \to \mathbb{C}; for meromorphicity, this becomes f:XS 2f: X \to S^2.

Many of the usual theorems of elementary complex analysis (that is to say, the local ones) transfer immediately to the case of Riemann surfaces. For instance, we can locally get a Laurent expansion, etc.


Let f:XYf: X \to Y be a regular map. If XX is compact and ff is nonconstant, then ff is surjective and YY compact.

To see this, note that f(X)f(X) is compact, and an open subset by the open mapping theorem?, so the result follows by connectedness of YY.

Complexified differentials

Since a Riemann surface XX is a 22-dimensional smooth manifold in the usual (real) sense, it is possible to do the usual exterior calculus. We could consider a 1-form to be a section of the (usual) cotangent bundle T *(X)T^*(X), but it is more natural to take the complexified cotangent bundle T *(X)\mathbb{C} \otimes_{\mathbb{R}} T^*(X), which we will in the future just abbreviate T *(X)T^*(X); this should not be confusing since we will only do this when we talk about complex manifolds. Sections of this bundle will be called (complex-valued) 1-forms. Similarly, we do the same for 2-forms.

If z=x+iyz = x + i y is a local coordinate on XX, defined say on UXU \subset X, define the (complex) differentials

dz=dx+idy,dz¯=dxidy.d z = d x + i d y , \;d\bar{z} = d x - i d y.

These form a basis for the complexified cotangent space at each point of UU. There is also a dual basis

z:=12(xiy),z¯:=12(x+iy) \frac{\partial}{\partial z } := \frac{1}{2}\left( \frac{\partial}{\partial x} - i \frac{\partial}{\partial y}\right), \; \frac{\partial}{\partial \bar{z} } := \frac{1}{2}\left( \frac{\partial}{\partial x} + i \frac{\partial}{\partial y}\right)

for the complexified tangent space.

We now claim that we can split the tangent space T(X)=T 1,0(X)+T 0,1(X)T(X) = T^{1,0}(X) + T^{0,1}(X), where the former consists of multiples of z\frac{\partial}{\partial z} and the latter of multiples of z¯\frac{\partial}{\partial \bar{z}}; clearly a similar thing is possible for the cotangent space. This is always possible locally, and a holomorphic map preserves the decomposition. One way to see the last claim quickly is that given g:Ug: U \to \mathbb{C} for UU \subset \mathbb{C} open and 0U0 \in U (just for convenience), we can write

g(z)=g(0)+Az+Az¯+o(|z|) g(z) = g(0) + Az + A' \bar{z} + o(|z|)

where A=gz(0),A=gz¯(0)A = \frac{\partial g }{\partial z }(0), A' = \frac{\partial g }{\partial \bar{z} }(0), which we will often abbreviate as g z(0),g z¯(0)g_z(0), g_{\bar{z}}(0). If ψ:UU\psi: U' \to U is holomorphic and conformal sending z 0U0Uz_0 \in U' \to 0 \in U, we have

g(ϕ(ζ))=g(ϕ(0))+Aϕ(z 0)(ζz 0)+Aϕ(z 0)(ζz 0)¯+o(|z|); g(\phi(\zeta)) = g(\phi(0)) + A \phi'(z_0)(\zeta-z_0) + A' \overline{ \phi'(z_0)(\zeta-z_0)} + o(|z|);

in particular, ϕ\phi preserves the decomposition of T 0()T_0(\mathbb{C}).

Given f:Xf: X \to \mathbb{C} smooth, we can consider the projections of the 1-form dfdf onto T 1,0(X)T^{1,0}(X) and T 0,1(X)T^{0,1}(X), respectively; these will be called f,¯f\partial f, \overline{\partial} f. Similarly, we define the corresponding operators on 1-forms: to define ω\partial \omega, first project onto T 0,1(M)T^{0,1}(M) (the reversal is intentional!) and then apply dd, and vice versa for ¯ω\overline{\partial} \omega.

In particular, if we write in local coordinates ω=udz+vdz¯\omega = u d z + v d\bar{z}, then

ω=d(vdz¯)=v zdzdz¯, \partial \omega = d( v d \bar{z}) = v_z d z \wedge d\bar{z},


¯ω=d(udz)=u z¯dz¯dz. \overline{\partial} \omega = d( u d z) = u_{\bar{z}} d\bar{z} \wedge d z.

To see this, we have tacitly observed that dv=v zdz+v z¯dz¯d v = v_z d z + v_{\bar{z}} d\bar{z}.

Picard group of holomorphic line bundles

The Picard group of a Riemann surface is the group of holomorphic line bundles in it. Introductions include (Bobenko, section 8).

See also at Narasimhan–Seshadri theorem and at moduli space of connections – Flat connections over a torus.

Central theorems

In the theory of Riemann surfaces, there are several important theorems. Here are two:

  • The Riemann-Roch theorem, which analyzes the vector space of meromorphic functions satisfying certain conditions on zeros and poles;

  • The uniformization theorem?, which partially classifies Riemann surfaces.

Homotopy type

A compact Riemann surface of genus g2g \geq 2 is a homotopy 1-type. The fundamental groupoid is a Fuchsian group.

(MO discussion)

Branched covers

By the Riemann existence theorem, every connected compact Riemann surface admits the structure of a branched cover of the Riemann sphere. (MO discussion)

Function field analogy

function field analogy

number fields (“function fields of curves over F1”)function fields of curves over finite fields 𝔽 q\mathbb{F}_q (arithmetic curves)Riemann surfaces/complex curves
affine and projective line
\mathbb{Z} (integers)𝔽 q[z]\mathbb{F}_q[z] (polynomials, polynomial algebra on affine line 𝔸 𝔽 q 1\mathbb{A}^1_{\mathbb{F}_q})𝒪 \mathcal{O}_{\mathbb{C}} (holomorphic functions on complex plane)
\mathbb{Q} (rational numbers)𝔽 q(z)\mathbb{F}_q(z) (rational fractions/rational function on affine line 𝔸 𝔽 q 1\mathbb{A}^1_{\mathbb{F}_q})meromorphic functions on complex plane
pp (prime number/non-archimedean place)x𝔽 px \in \mathbb{F}_p, where zx𝔽 q[z]z - x \in \mathbb{F}_q[z] is the irreducible monic polynomial of degree onexx \in \mathbb{C}, where zx𝒪 z - x \in \mathcal{O}_{\mathbb{C}} is the function which subtracts the complex number xx from the variable zz
\infty (place at infinity)\infty
Spec()Spec(\mathbb{Z}) (Spec(Z))𝔸 𝔽 q 1\mathbb{A}^1_{\mathbb{F}_q} (affine line)complex plane
Spec()place Spec(\mathbb{Z}) \cup place_{\infty} 𝔽 q\mathbb{P}_{\mathbb{F}_q} (projective line)Riemann sphere
p() p()p\partial_p \coloneqq \frac{(-)^p - (-)}{p} (Fermat quotient)z\frac{\partial}{\partial z} (coordinate derivation)
genus of the rational numbers = 0genus of the Riemann sphere = 0
formal neighbourhoods
/(p n)\mathbb{Z}/(p^n \mathbb{Z}) (prime power local ring)𝔽 q[z]/((zx) n𝔽 q[z])\mathbb{F}_q [z]/((z-x)^n \mathbb{F}_q [z]) (nn-th order univariate local Artinian 𝔽 q \mathbb{F}_q -algebra)[z]/((zx) n[z])\mathbb{C}[z]/((z-x)^n \mathbb{C}[z]) (nn-th order univariate Weil \mathbb{C} -algebra)
p\mathbb{Z}_p (p-adic integers)𝔽 q[[zx]]\mathbb{F}_q[ [ z -x ] ] (power series around xx)[[zx]]\mathbb{C}[ [z-x] ] (holomorphic functions on formal disk around xx)
Spf( p)×Spec()XSpf(\mathbb{Z}_p)\underset{Spec(\mathbb{Z})}{\times} X (“pp-arithmetic jet space” of XX at pp)formal disks in XX
p\mathbb{Q}_p (p-adic numbers)𝔽 q((zx))\mathbb{F}_q((z-x)) (Laurent series around xx)((zx))\mathbb{C}((z-x)) (holomorphic functions on punctured formal disk around xx)
𝔸 = pplace p\mathbb{A}_{\mathbb{Q}} = \underset{p\; place}{\prod^\prime}\mathbb{Q}_p (ring of adeles)𝔸 𝔽 q((t))\mathbb{A}_{\mathbb{F}_q((t))} ( adeles of function field ) x((zx))\underset{x \in \mathbb{C}}{\prod^\prime} \mathbb{C}((z-x)) (restricted product of holomorphic functions on all punctured formal disks, finitely of which do not extend to the unpunctured disks)
𝕀 =GL 1(𝔸 )\mathbb{I}_{\mathbb{Q}} = GL_1(\mathbb{A}_{\mathbb{Q}}) (group of ideles)𝕀 𝔽 q((t))\mathbb{I}_{\mathbb{F}_q((t))} ( ideles of function field ) xGL 1(((zx)))\underset{x \in \mathbb{C}}{\prod^\prime} GL_1(\mathbb{C}((z-x)))
theta functions
Jacobi theta function
zeta functions
Riemann zeta functionGoss zeta function
branched covering curves
KK a number field (K\mathbb{Q} \hookrightarrow K a possibly ramified finite dimensional field extension)KK a function field of an algebraic curve Σ\Sigma over 𝔽 p\mathbb{F}_pK ΣK_\Sigma (sheaf of rational functions on complex curve Σ\Sigma)
𝒪 K\mathcal{O}_K (ring of integers)𝒪 Σ\mathcal{O}_{\Sigma} (structure sheaf)
Spec an(𝒪 K)Spec()Spec_{an}(\mathcal{O}_K) \to Spec(\mathbb{Z}) (spectrum with archimedean places)Σ\Sigma (arithmetic curve)ΣP 1\Sigma \to \mathbb{C}P^1 (complex curve being branched cover of Riemann sphere)
() pΦ()p\frac{(-)^p - \Phi(-)}{p} (lift of Frobenius morphism/Lambda-ring structure)z\frac{\partial}{\partial z}
genus of a number fieldgenus of an algebraic curvegenus of a surface
formal neighbourhoods
vv prime ideal in ring of integers 𝒪 K\mathcal{O}_KxΣx \in \SigmaxΣx \in \Sigma
K vK_v (formal completion at vv)((z x))\mathbb{C}((z_x)) (function algebra on punctured formal disk around xx)
𝒪 K v\mathcal{O}_{K_v} (ring of integers of formal completion)[[z x]]\mathbb{C}[ [ z_x ] ] (function algebra on formal disk around xx)
𝔸 K\mathbb{A}_K (ring of adeles) xΣ ((z x))\prod^\prime_{x\in \Sigma} \mathbb{C}((z_x)) (restricted product of function rings on all punctured formal disks around all points in Σ\Sigma)
𝒪\mathcal{O} xΣ[[z x]]\prod_{x\in \Sigma} \mathbb{C}[ [z_x] ] (function ring on all formal disks around all points in Σ\Sigma)
𝕀 K=GL 1(𝔸 K)\mathbb{I}_K = GL_1(\mathbb{A}_K) (group of ideles) xΣ GL 1(((z x)))\prod^\prime_{x\in \Sigma} GL_1(\mathbb{C}((z_x)))
Galois theory
Galois groupπ 1(Σ)\pi_1(\Sigma) fundamental group
Galois representationflat connection (“local system”) on Σ\Sigma
class field theory
class field theorygeometric class field theory
Hilbert reciprocity lawArtin reciprocity lawWeil reciprocity law
GL 1(K)\GL 1(𝔸 K)GL_1(K)\backslash GL_1(\mathbb{A}_K) (idele class group)
GL 1(K)\GL 1(𝔸 K)/GL 1(𝒪)GL_1(K)\backslash GL_1(\mathbb{A}_K)/GL_1(\mathcal{O})Bun GL 1(Σ)Bun_{GL_1}(\Sigma) (moduli stack of line bundles, by Weil uniformization theorem)
non-abelian class field theory and automorphy
number field Langlands correspondencefunction field Langlands correspondencegeometric Langlands correspondence
GL n(K)\GL n(𝔸 K)//GL n(𝒪)GL_n(K) \backslash GL_n(\mathbb{A}_K)//GL_n(\mathcal{O}) (constant sheaves on this stack form unramified automorphic representations)Bun GL n()(Σ)Bun_{GL_n(\mathbb{C})}(\Sigma) (moduli stack of bundles on the curve Σ\Sigma, by Weil uniformization theorem)
Tamagawa-Weil for number fieldsTamagawa-Weil for function fields
theta functions
Hecke theta functionfunctional determinant line bundle of Dirac operator/chiral Laplace operator on Σ\Sigma
zeta functions
Dedekind zeta functionWeil zeta functionzeta function of a Riemann surface/of the Laplace operator on Σ\Sigma
higher dimensional spaces
zeta functionsHasse-Weil zeta function


Historical references:

  • Hermann Weyl, Die Idee der Riemannschen Fläche, 1913 (The concept of a Riemann surface) (on the book, by Peter Schreiber, 2013: web)

  • Tibor Radó, Über den Begriff der Riemannschen Fläche, Acta Litt. Sci. Szeged, 2 (101-121), 10 (pdf, pdf)

    (proving the triangulation theorem)


Lecture notes:

Last revised on October 18, 2023 at 05:51:56. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.