nLab connection on a cubical set



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In a cubical set, you are guaranteed for every nn-cell (which can be drawn as a 1-cell)


that there is the identity (n+1)(n+1)-cell (which can be drawn as a 2-cell) of the form

a f b Id Id Id a f b\array{ a & \stackrel{f}{\to} & b \\ \darr^{Id} & \Downarrow^{Id} & \darr^{Id} \\ a & \stackrel{f}{\to} & b }

A cubical set is said to have connections if in addition it has for every nn-cell afba\stackrel{f}{\to}b also (n+1)(n+1)-cells of the form

a f b f Id b Id b\array{ a & \stackrel{f}{\to} & b \\ \darr^{f} & \Downarrow & \darr^{Id} \\ b & \stackrel{Id}{\to} & b }

And so forth. You should think of this as saying that the “thin” cell


is regarded as a degenerate cube by the cubical set in all the possible ways.

So it’s a very natural condition, particularly if you think of all these cubical cells as cubical paths in some space.

Symmetric and asymmetric connections

In the literature, two different definitions of connections on a cubical set are considered. The first definition treats edges of cubes as directed from 0 to 1, whereas the second definition assumes them to be completely symmetric. Hence, we talk about symmetric or asymmetric connections.

We emphasize that ordering of edges has nothing to do with the ordering of coordinates, the latter is always present and is analogous to the ordering of vertices in simplices.

In complete analogy to simplicial sets, cubical sets with symmetric or asymmetric connections can be defined as presheaves on certain categories, which happen to be strict test categories.

Definition of symmetric connections using generators and relations

If K={K n|n0}K= \{K_n| n \geq 0\} is a cubical set, then a connection structure on KK consists of functions Γ i +,Γ i :K nK n+1\Gamma^+_i, \Gamma^- _i: K_n \to K_{n+1}, i=1,,n;n1i=1, \ldots \, , n; n \geq 1, satisfying the relations for α,β=±\alpha, \beta=\pm:

  1. Γ i αΓ j β=Γ j+1 βΓ i α\Gamma^\alpha_i\Gamma^\beta_j= \Gamma^\beta_{j+1} \Gamma^\alpha _i if i<ji \lt j;

  2. Γ i αΓ i α=Γ i+1 αΓ i α\Gamma^\alpha_i\Gamma^\alpha_i= \Gamma^\alpha_{i+1} \Gamma^\alpha _i;

  3. j αΓ j α= j+1 αΓ j α=id\partial^\alpha_j \Gamma^\alpha_j= \partial ^\alpha_{j+1} \Gamma ^\alpha_j = id;

  4. j αΓ j α= j+1 αΓ j α=ε j j α\partial^\alpha_j \Gamma^{-\alpha}_j= \partial ^\alpha_{j+1} \Gamma ^{-\alpha}_j = \varepsilon _j \partial^\alpha_j;

  5. i αΓ j β={Γ j1 β i α if i<j Γ j β i1 α if i>j+1; \partial^\alpha_i \Gamma ^\beta_j = \begin{cases}\Gamma^\beta_{j-1} \partial ^\alpha _i & \text{if }\; i \lt j \\ \Gamma^\beta_j \partial ^\alpha _{i-1} & \text{if }\; i \gt j+1; \end{cases}

  6. Γ j αε j=ε j 2=ε j+1ε j \Gamma^\alpha_j \varepsilon_j = \varepsilon^2_j = \varepsilon_{j+1}\varepsilon _j;

  7. Γ i αε j={ε j+1Γ i α if i<j ε jΓ i1 α if i>j;\Gamma^\alpha_i \varepsilon _j = \begin{cases} \varepsilon_{j+1} \Gamma^\alpha _i & \text {if }\; i \lt j \\ \varepsilon _j \Gamma^\alpha_{i-1} & \text{if }\; i \gt j ; \end{cases}

The connections are to be thought of as “extra degeneracies”. A degenerate cube of type ε jx\varepsilon_j x has opposite faces equal and all other faces degenerate.

A cube of type Γ i αx \Gamma_i^\alpha x has a pair of adjacent faces equal and all other faces of type Γ j αy\Gamma_j^\alpha y or ε jy\varepsilon_j y . So this makes the cubical theory nearer to the simplicial. Cubical complexes with this, and other, structures have also been considered by Evrard.

The first appearance of this notion in dimension 22 was in the paper by Brown and Spencer listed below, and used to obtain an equivalence between crossed modules and edge symmetric double groupoids with connection.

Such connections on cubical sets were introduced in 1981 by Brown and Higgins in order to obtain the equivalence of their “cubical ∞-groupoids” with crossed complexes. They are also essential to allow the notion of “commutative nn-shell” in such a structure.

Definition as presheaves on strict test categories


The category of cubes with symmetric connections is defined as follows. We start with the monoidal category whose objects are finite ordered sets?, denoted (S,)(S,\le), morphisms (S,)(T,)(S,\le)\to(T,\le) are maps of sets {0,1} S{0,1} T\{0,1\}^S\to\{0,1\}^T, and monoidal products are given by disjoint unions on objects and cartesian products on morphisms. The category of cubes with symmetric connection is the monoidal subcategory of this monoidal category generated by the following four types of morphisms: all morphisms (S,)(,)(S,\le)\to(\emptyset,\le) and (,)(S,)(\emptyset,\le)\to(S,\le), and morphisms (S,)(1,)(S,\le)\to(1,\le) that compute the maximum or minimum of an SS-tuple of zeros and ones. For cubes with asymmetric connection we take the maps that compute the maximum, but not the minimum.


The category of cubical sets with symmetric or asymmetric connections is the category of presheaves of sets? on the category of cubes with symmetric or asymmetric connections.

It would seem that…

Alternatively, let 𝒫 \mathcal{P}_{\subset} be the category whose objects are finite sets with morphisms from mm to nn the functions 𝒫m𝒫n\mathcal{P}m \to \mathcal{P}n preserving \subseteq. There is a faithful essentially-surjective functor J:box𝒫 J : \box \to \mathcal{P}_{\subset} such that restriction of presheaves along JJ is exactly “forget connection structure”.

There is also a faithful representation of 𝒫 \mathcal{P}_{\subset} in polyhedra-with-boundary and piecewise-linear maps, valued on objects n[0,1] nn\mapsto [0,1]^n with the coordinate-ordered simplicial subdivision of [0,1] n[0,1]^n. This induces a connection structure on the singular cubical set of a topological space.


As a model for homotopy theory

The ordinary cube category is a test category. This means that bare cubical sets carry the structure of a category with weak equivalences whose homotopy category is that of ∞-groupoids.

But the category of cubes with connection is even a strict test category (Maltsiniotis, 2008). This means that under geometric realization (see the discussion at homotopy hypothesis) the cartesian product of cubical sets with connection is sent to the correct product homotopy type.

The lack of this property for cubical sets without connections was one of the original reasons for abandoning Kan’s initial cubical approach to combinatorial homotopy theory in favour of the simplicial approach; the implications of this new result have yet to be thought through. Another reason was that cubical groups were in general not Kan complexes; however cubical groups with connection are Kan complexes. See the paper by Tonks listed below.


The prime example of a cubical set with connections is the singular cubical complex KXKX of a topological space XX. Here for n0n \ge 0 K nK_n is the set of singular nn-cubes in XX (i.e. continuous maps I nXI^n \to X) and the connection Γ i α:K nK n+1 \Gamma_i^\alpha :K_{n } \to K_{n+1} is induced by the map γ i α:I n+1I n\gamma_i^\alpha : I^{n+1} \to I^{n} defined by

γ i α(t 1,t 2,,t n+1)=(t 1,t 2,,t i1,A(t i,t i+1),t i+2,,t n+1) \gamma _i^\alpha (t_1 ,t_2 ,\ldots \, ,t_{n+1} ) = (t_1 ,t_2 ,\ldots\, ,t_{i-1},A(t_i ,t_{i+1}),t_{i+2},\ldots \, ,t_{n+1} )

where A(s,t)=max(s,t),min(s,t)A(s,t)=\max(s,t), \min(s,t) as α=,+\alpha=-,+ respectively.

The first hint of such a general structure came in the paper by Brown and Spencer given below. The term “connection” was used there because of a relation of a generalisation of this idea to path-connections in differential geometry. A principal GG-bundle EE over BB gives rise to the Ehresmann groupoid Equ(E)Equ(E) of GG-maps between the fibres, and the Moore paths Λ\Lambda on this form a double category DD with Equ(E)Equ(E) and Λ(B)\Lambda(B) as edge categories. A connection Γ\Gamma is then a functor from Λ(B)\Lambda(B) to one of the category structures on DD which gives a smooth lifting of paths to transport of the fibres. This is the origin of the term transport law? for the relation of connections to composition.


There is a discussion of cubical vs simplicial singular homology and for other aspects at (this mathoverflow).

A complete cubical approach to algebraic topology at the border between homotopy and homology is given in the book discussed in these pages at Nonabelian Algebraic Topology see (here). As an example, the theory shows how the Relative Hurewicz Theorem? follows from a Higher Homotopy Seifert-van Kampen Theorem, withut using singular homology.

Model structure

The category of cubical sets with connections is a strict test category and therefore admits a cartesian model structure that is Quillen equivalent to the Kan–Quillen model structure on simplicial sets. This was proved by Maltsiniotis.

See also the article model structure on cubical sets.

Joyal-type model structures

In complete analogy to simplicial sets, there is also an analogue of the Joyal model structure on cubical sets, with or without connection. See the article model structures for cubical quasicategories.


  • Ronnie Brown and C.B. Spencer, “Double groupoids and crossed modules’’, Cah. Top. Géom. Diff. 17 (1976) 343–362.

  • Evrard, M., “Homotopie des complexes simpliciaux et cubiques”, Preprint(1976).

  • Brown, R. and Higgins, P.J., “On the algebra of cubes”, J. Pure Appl. Algebra 21 (1981) 233–260.

  • F. Al-Agl, R. Brown and R. Steiner, “Multiple categories: the equivalence between a globular and cubical approach”, Advances in Mathematics, 170 (2002), 71–118.

  • M. Grandis and L. Mauri, “Cubical sets and their site”, Theory Applic. Categories, 11 (2003) 185–201.

  • P.J. Higgins, “Thin elements and commutative shells in cubical ω\omega-categories”, Theory Appl. Categ. 14 (2005) 60–74.

The statement that cubical groups with connections are Kan complexes is due to

  • A. Tonks, “Cubical groups which are Kan”, J. Pure Appl. Algebra, 81 (1992) 83–87.

Cubical sets with connection are used in the following paper:

  • I. Patchkoria “Cubical approach to derived functors” Homology Homotopy Appl. Volume 14, Number 1 (2012), 133-158.

and in the following in preference to simplicial methods to take resolutions in an analytic motivic setting:

  • J. Ayoub - “L’algèbre de Hopf et le groupe de Galois motiviques d’un corps de caractéristique nulle, I” pdf,

  • A Vezzani - “A motivic version of the theorem of Fontaine and Wintenberger” arXiv:1405.4548,

The statement that cubes with max-connections form a strict test category is due to

  • Georges Maltsiniotis, La catégorie cubique avec connections est une catégorie test stricte, HHA 11:2 (2009), 1–16. (web)

based on

The case of cubes with both max-connections and min-connections is analogous and was treated explicitly in Corollary 3 and Theorem 3 of

  • Ulrik Buchholtz, Edward Morehouse, Varieties of Cubical Sets, arXiv.

Last revised on October 12, 2022 at 11:40:38. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.