closed category



A category CC is closed if for any pair a,ba, b of objects the collection of morphisms from aa to bb can be regarded as forming itself an object of CC.

This object is often denoted hom(a,b)hom(a,b) or [a,b][a,b] or similar and often addressed as the internal hom-object or simply the internal hom.

A familiar kind of closed categories are closed monoidal categories. However, there is also a definition of closed category that does not require the category to already be monoidal. A monoidal structure \otimes, if it exists, can then be universally characterized as an (enriched) left adjoint to the internal-hom, dual to the above characterization of internal-homs as right adjoints to \otimes; see below.

Although it may seem that in general the closed structure is less intuitive to work with than the monoidal structure, in some cases it is in fact more obvious what the correct internal-homs are than what the correct tensor product is, so the latter was originally defined as an adjoint to the former. This is the case for the Gray tensor product and the projective tensor product, for example, and was probably the case for abelian groups (the original notion of tensor product) as well.


A closed category is a category CC together with the following data:

  • A functor [,]:C op×CC[-,-] : C^{op} \times C \to C, called the internal hom-functor.

  • An object ICI\in C called the unit object.

  • A natural isomorphism i:Id C[I,]i\colon Id_C \cong [I,-].

  • A transformation j X:I[X,X]j_X\colon I \to [X,X], extranatural in XX.

  • A transformation L YZ X:[Y,Z][[X,Y],[X,Z]]L^X_{Y Z} \colon [Y,Z] \to [[X,Y],[X,Z]], natural in YY and ZZ and extranatural in XX.

which is required to satisfy the following axioms.

  • The following diagram commutes for any X,YX,Y.

    I j Y [Y,Y] j [X,Y] L YY X [[X,Y],[X,Y]]\array{I & \overset{j_Y}{\to} & [Y,Y]\\ & _{\mathllap{j_{[X,Y]}}}\searrow & \downarrow^{L^X_{Y Y}}\\ & & [[X,Y],[X,Y]]}
  • The following diagram commutes for any X,YX,Y.

    [X,Y] L XY X [[X,X],[X,Y]] i [X,Y] [j X,1] [I,[X,Y]]\array{[X,Y] & \overset{L^X_{X Y}}{\to} & [[X,X],[X,Y]]\\ & _{\mathllap{i_{[X,Y]}}}\searrow & \downarrow^{[j_X,1]}\\ & & [I,[X,Y]]}
  • The following diagram commutes for any Y,ZY,Z.

    [Y,Z] L YZ I [[I,Y],[I,Z]] [1,i Z] [i Y,1] [Y,[I,Z]]\array{[Y,Z] & \overset{L^I_{Y Z}}{\to} & [[I,Y],[I,Z]]\\ & _{\mathllap{[1,i_Z]}}\searrow & \downarrow^{[i_Y,1]}\\ & & [Y,[I,Z]]}
  • The following diagram commutes for any X,Y,U,VX,Y,U,V.

    [U,V] L UV Y [[Y,U],[Y,V]] L UV X [[X,U],[X,V]] [1,L YV X] L [X,U],[X,V] [X,Y] [[[X,Y],[X,U]],[[X,Y],[X,V]]] [L YU X,1] [[Y,U],[[X,Y],[X,V]]]\array{[U,V] & \overset{L^Y_{U V}}{\to} & [[Y,U],[Y,V]]\\ ^{L^X_{U V}}\downarrow && \\ [[X,U],[X,V]] & & \downarrow^{[1,L^X_{Y V}]} \\ ^{L^{[X,Y]}_{[X,U],[X,V]}}\downarrow && \\ [[[X,Y],[X,U]],[[X,Y],[X,V]]] & \underset{[L^X_{Y U},1]}{\to} & [[Y,U],[[X,Y],[X,V]]]}
  • Finally, the map γ:C(X,Y)C(I,[X,Y])\gamma\colon C(X,Y) \to C(I,[X,Y]) defined by f[1,f](j X)f \mapsto [1,f](j_X) is a bijection.

This definition is from Manzyuk’s paper below. It differs slightly from Eilenberg-Kelly’s original definition, which omitted γ\gamma but assumed an “underlying-set-functor” U:CSetU\colon C \to Set as part of the structure, with an axiom asserting that U([X,Y])=C(X,Y)U([X,Y]) = C(X,Y) and that the resulting isomorphism

C(X,X)=U([X,X])Ui [X,X]U([I,[X,X]])=C(I,[X,X]) C(X,X) = U([X,X]) \overset{U i_{[X,X]}}{\to} U([I,[X,X]]) = C(I,[X,X])

sends 1 X1_X to j Xj_X. The two are essentially equivalent, and the one given here is perhaps a little simpler.

Tobias Fritz: I suspect there is a variant of the definition involving a transformation R XY Z:[X,Y][[Y,Z],[X,Z]]R^Z_{X Y} \colon [X,Y] \to [[Y,Z],[X,Z]] rather than LL. Is this correct? If so, how do these two definitions relate? Can one of them be expressed in terms of the other? Or is there a refined definition which comprises both LL and RR?



  • Any closed monoidal category gives a closed category, by simply forgetting the tensor product and remembering only the internal-hom. Most examples seem to be of this sort, although as remarked above it is often the case that the closed structure is “primary” and the tensor product is defined as a left adjoint to it (see below). Notice also, as discussed below that every closed category arises as the full subcategory of a closed monoidal category.

  • Any multicategory which has a unit, i.e. an object II such that C(;Y)C(I;Y)C(;Y) \cong C(I;Y) naturally, and is closed in the sense that for any Y,ZY,Z there is an object [Y,Z][Y,Z] with natural isomorphisms C(X 1,,X n,Y;Z)C(X 1,,X n;[Y,Z])C(X_1,\dots,X_n,Y;Z) \cong C(X_1,\dots,X_n; [Y,Z]), gives rise to a closed category. Conversely, from any closed category we can construct a multicategory of this sort, by defining the multimaps as C(X 1,,X n;Z)=C(X 1,[X 2,,[X n,Z]])C(X_1,\dots,X_n; Z) = C(X_1, [X_2,\dots,[X_n,Z]]). Thus closed categories are essentially equivalent to closed unital multicategories.


The closed enrichment context

The closed structure on a category 𝒱 0\mathcal{V}_0 is an enrichment context 𝒱\mathcal{V} relative to which we can define a category of V-enriched categories. From this point of view, a closed structure is more natural than a monoidal structure since most (if not all) of this structure is forced if one insists for an enrichment context 𝒱\mathcal{V} for which 𝒱 0\mathcal{V}_0 is self-enriched, that is, isomorphic to the underlying category 𝒱 0 e\mathcal{V}^e_0 of some 𝒱\mathcal{V}-enriched category 𝒱 e\mathcal{V}^e. See category of V-enriched categories for details.

Reconstruction of monoidal structure

Suppose CC is a closed category such that the functor [A,[B,]]:CC[A,[B,-]] : C \to C is representable as a CC-enriched functor. This means we have an object ABA\otimes B and a CC-natural isomorphism

[A,[B,X]][AB,X]. [A,[B,X]] \cong [A\otimes B,X].

Then CC is a (closed) monoidal category. See Eilenberg–Kelly (1965) for details.

Note that although this is analogous to the fact that a monoidal category with right adjoints to tensor product is a closed category, the requisite hypothesis is stronger. When CC is given as monoidal, we need only SetSet-natural isomorphisms of hom-sets C(AB,X)C(A,[B,X])C(A\otimes B,X) \cong C(A,[B,X]) to make it closed, whereas when CC is closed we need the above CC-natural isomorphism of internal hom-objects to make it monoidal.

Embedding into closed monoidal categories

By a result due to Miguel LaPlaza (1977), every closed category embeds fully and faithfully into a closed monoidal category by a strong closed functor, i.e., one respecting closed structure up to suitably coherent isomorphism, and this closed functor is also strong monoidal if the original closed category is closed monoidal. In particular, this functor is defined as the composition q=ypq = y \circ p of the functor

p:CE opp : C \to E^\op

sending an object XCX \in C to the object (endofunctor) [X,]E=[C,C][X,-] \in E = [C,C], together with the Yoneda embedding y:E op[E,Set]y : E^\op \to [E, Set]. The closed monoidal structure on the presheaf category [E,Set][E,Set] is given by Day convolution, using the monoidal structure of the category of endofunctors EE (see closed monoidal structure on presheaves over a monoidal category).

An alternative embedding was also sketched by Day (1974), and later studied by Day and LaPlaza (1978) in the case of symmetric closed categories. This embedding is based on the fact that the construction of a closed monoidal category of presheaves does not actually require the base category to be monoidal: it suffices for it to be a promonoidal category, and any closed category gives rise to such a promonoidal structure. So, instead of using the monoidal category of endofunctors E=[C,C]E = [C,C] as in (LaPlaza 1977), the embedding in (Day 1974) and (Day and LaPlaza 1978) uses a small subcategory AA of the category of presheaves [C,Set][C,Set], and then again composes with the Yoneda embedding A op[A,Set]A^{op} \to [A,Set].

Monadicity and 2-categories

Since the notion of closed category involves a contravariant functor and extranatural transformations, it cannot be expected to be 2-monadic over the 2-category Cat. It is, however, 2-monadic over the 2-category Cat gCat_g of categories, functors, and natural isomorphisms, the core of Cat. In this way we obtain a 2-category ClCatClCat of closed categories, strong closed functors, and closed natural transformations. One can also define a notion of non-strong, or “lax,” closed functor; although these do not seemingly arise from the 2-monad in question, they generalize lax monoidal functors between closed monoidal categories.


Closed categories were first defined here:

Their coherence theorem was considered in terms of Kelly-Mac Lane graphs in

They were shown to be equivalent to closed unital multicategories here:

  • Oleksandr Manzyuk, Closed categories vs. closed multicategories, arXiv.

You can get some of the idea from a post by Owen Biesel at the nn-Café.

LaPlaza’s theorem on embedding closed categories in closed monoidal categories is given in

The alternative embedding of closed categories based on promonoidal Day convolution is discussed in

  • Brian Day, An embedding theorem for closed categories, Lecture Notes in Mathematics 420 (1974), 55-64.

  • B. J. Day and M. L. Laplaza, On Embedding Closed Categories, Bull. Austral. Math. Soc. 18 (1978), 357-371.

Last revised on March 26, 2018 at 12:35:50. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.