nLab accessible category




An accessible category is a possibly large category which is however essentially determined by a small category, in a certain way.


Let κ\kappa be a regular cardinal. Recall an object X:𝒞X: \mathcal{C} is κ\kappa-compact iff 𝒞(X,)\mathcal{C}(X,-) commutes with κ\kappa-filtered colimits.


A locally small category 𝒞\mathcal{C} is κ\kappa-accessible if:

  1. the category has κ\kappa-directed colimits (or, equivalently, κ\kappa-filtered colimits), and

  2. there is a set of κ\kappa-compact objects that generate the category under κ\kappa-directed colimits.

Then 𝒞\mathcal{C} is an accessible category if there exists a κ\kappa such that it is κ\kappa-accessible.


Unlike for locally presentable categories, it does not follow that if 𝒞\mathcal{C} is κ\kappa-accessible and κ<λ\kappa\lt \lambda then 𝒞\mathcal{C} is also λ\lambda-accessible. It is true, however, that for any accessible category, there are arbitrarily large cardinals λ\lambda such that CC is λ\lambda-accessible.


Equivalent characterizations include that CC is accessible iff:

  • it is the category of models (in Set) of some small sketch.

  • it is of the form Ind κ(S)\mathrm{Ind}_\kappa(S) for SS small, i.e. the κ\kappa-ind-completion of a small category, for some κ\kappa.

  • it is of the form κFlat(S)\kappa\,\mathrm{Flat}(S) for SS small and some κ\kappa, i.e. the category of κ\kappa-flat functors from some small category to SetSet.

  • it is the category of models (in Set\mathbf{Set}) of a suitable type of logical theory.

The relevant notion of functor between accessible categories is


A functor F:CDF\colon C\to D between accessible categories is an accessible functor if there exists a κ\kappa such that CC and DD are both κ\kappa-accessible and FF preserves κ\kappa-filtered colimits.


Raising the index of accessibility

If 𝒞\mathcal{C} is λ\lambda-accessible and λμ\lambda\unlhd\mu (see sharply smaller cardinal), then 𝒞\mathcal{C} is μ\mu-accessible. Thus, any accessible category is μ\mu-accessible for arbitrarily large cardinals μ\mu.

Stability under various constructions


If 𝒞\mathcal{C} is an accessible category and KK is a small category, then the functor category Func(K op,𝒞)Func(K^{op}, \mathcal{C}) is again accessible.

(Lurie, prop.


(preservation of accessibility under inverse images)

Let F:𝒞𝒟F : \mathcal{C} \to \mathcal{D} be a functor between locally presentable categories which preserves κ\kappa-filtered colimits, and let 𝒟 0𝒟\mathcal{D}_0 \subset \mathcal{D} be an accessible subcategory. Then the inverse image f 1(𝒟 0)Cf^{-1}(\mathcal{D}_0) \subset C is a κ\kappa-accessible subcategory.

This appears as HTT, corollary A.2.6.5.


(accessibility of fibrations and weak equivalences in a combinatorial model category)

Let 𝒞\mathcal{C} be a combinatorial model category, Arr(𝒞)Arr(\mathcal{C}) its arrow category, WArr(𝒞)W \subset Arr(\mathcal{C}) the full subcategory on the weak equivalences and FArr(𝒞)F \subset Arr(\mathcal{C}) the full subcategory on the fibrations. Then FF, WW and FWF \cap W are accessible subcategories of Arr(𝒞)Arr(\mathcal{C}).

This appears as HTT, corollary A.2.6.6.

Adjoint functor theorem


(adjoint functors)

Every accessible functor satisfies the solution set condition, and every left or right adjoint between accessible categories is accessible. Therefore, the adjoint functor theorem takes an especially pleasing form for accessible categories that are complete and cocomplete (i.e. are locally presentable): a functor between such categories is a left (resp. right) adjoint iff it is accessible and preserves all small colimits (resp. limits).

Idempotence completeness


A small category is accessible precisely when it is idempotent complete.

Makkai & Paré (1989) say that this means accessibility is an “almost pure smallness condition.”

Categories of models over a theory


For a category \mathcal{M} the following are equivalent:

Moreover, one has the following result due to Christian Lair:


For a category \mathcal{M} the following are equivalent:

See also at categorical model theory.

Well-poweredness and well-copoweredness

  • Every accessible category 𝒞\mathcal{C} is well-powered, since it has a small dense subcategory 𝒜\mathcal{A}, for which the restricted Yoneda embedding 𝒞[𝒜 op,Set]\mathcal{C} \to [\mathcal{A}^{op},Set] is fully faithful and preserves monomorphisms, hence embeds the subobject posets of 𝒞\mathcal{C} as sub-posets of those of [𝒜 op,Set][\mathcal{A}^{op},Set].

  • Every accessible category with pushouts is well-copowered. This is shown in Adamek-Rosicky, Proposition 1.57 and Theorem 2.49. Whether this is true for all accessible categories depends on what large cardinal properties hold: by Corollary 6.8 of Adamek-Rosicky, if Vopenka's principle holds then all accessible categories are well-copowered, while by Example A.19 of Adamek-Rosicky, if all accessible categories are well-copowered then there exist arbitrarily large measurable cardinals.

The 2-category of accessible categories

Write AccCat for the 2-category whose


The 2-category AccCat has all (lax) 2-limits and these are preserved by the inclusion AccCatAccCat \to Cat.

This appears as Makkai & Paré (1989), Thm. 5.1.6, Cor. 5.1.8, Adámek & Rosický (1994) around Thm. 2.77.


Given a cosmos for enrichment 𝒱\mathcal{V} which is (symmetric monoidal closed and) locally presentable, then the 2-category 𝒱\mathcal{V}-AccCat of 𝒱\mathcal{V}-enriched accessible categories has all PIE 2-limits and splittings of idempotent equivalences (equivalently it has all flexible 2-limits), as well as 2-pullbacks along isofibrations.

The analogous statements holds for 𝒱\mathcal{V}-enriched and conically accessible categories, in which case the forgetful functor 𝒱-ConAccCat𝒱-Cat\mathcal{V}\text{-}ConAccCat \to \mathcal{V}\text{-}Cat preserves these 2-limits.

This is Lack & Tendas (2023), Thm. 5.5, Thm. 5.9.


(directed unions)
The 2-category AccCat has directed 2-colimits of systems of fully faithful functors. If there is a proper class of strongly compact cardinals, then it has directed colimits of systems of faithful functors.

Paré & Rosický (2013)


Functor categories

See at Functor category – Accessibility.

Locally presentable categories: Cocomplete possibly-large categories generated under filtered colimits by small generators under small relations. Equivalently, accessible reflective localizations of free cocompletions. Accessible categories omit the cocompleteness requirement; toposes add the requirement of a left exact localization.

A\phantom{A}(n,r)-categoriesA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}toposesA\phantom{A}locally presentableloc finitely preslocalization theoremfree cocompletionaccessible
(0,1)-category theorylocalessuplatticealgebraic latticesPorst’s theorempowersetposet
category theorytoposeslocally presentable categorieslocally finitely presentable categoriesAdámek-Rosický‘s theorempresheaf categoryaccessible categories
model category theorymodel toposescombinatorial model categoriesDugger's theoremglobal model structures on simplicial presheavesn/a
(∞,1)-category theory(∞,1)-toposeslocally presentable (∞,1)-categoriesSimpson’s theorem(∞,1)-presheaf (∞,1)-categoriesaccessible (∞,1)-categories



The term accessible category is due to

Further monographs (with focus on locally presentable categories):

See also

which further stratifies the accessible categories in terms of sound doctrines.

The concept is studied in a 2-categorical setting in

A discussion of accessible (∞,1)-categories is in section 5.4, p. 341 of

Some recent developments in the theory of accessible categories can be found in a series of papers on categorical model theory and abstract elementary classes (many of which also contain some results about arbitrary accessible categories), such as:

See also:

In enriched category theory

Discussion of accessible enriched categories (see also references on enriched locally presentable categories):

Last revised on December 3, 2023 at 13:31:04. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.