cotangent complex in derived geometry




A cotangent complex is a certain spectrum object which exerts full control of the linear-order deformation & obstruction theory in a moduli problem. Consequently, a construction of a cotangent complex constitutes a complete understanding of the deformation theory of the situation.

There’s both a local and global version of this idea. Let XX be a derived prestack. One can seek the following objects:

  • 𝕃 X,x∈QCoh(U)\mathbb{L}_{X, x} \in QCoh(U), for a β€œpoint” Uβ†’xX∈Aff /XU \xrightarrow{x} X \in Aff_{/X}. The local/point-wise cotangent complex.

  • 𝕃 X∈QCoh(X)\mathbb{L}_X \in QCoh(X). The global cotangent complex.

In the case that XX is a nice geometric object (e.g. an n-geometric stack), 𝕃 X,x\mathbb {L}_{X, x} can be viewed as the (derived) cotangent space at a point, and 𝕃 X\mathbb {L}_X the global cotangent bundle.

That being said, the global cotangent complex exist for a much broader class of prestacks XX than just the geometric ones, allowing one to talk about the β€œexistence of a good deformation theory everywhere” even when the moduli problem is not representable.

Universal Properties

Ideas & Summary

Before diving into the various variants of cotangent complexes, we summarize their relationships here.

  • Local cotangent complex can be obtained from global tangent complex by restriction (when the latter exists)
  • The absolute tangent complexes can be obtained from the relative ones by considering the morphism Xβ†’ptX \to pt.

We’ve already explained the global/local distinction above, we briefly discuss the absolute/relative distinction now.

In algebraic geometry, relative notions are notions about families. e.g. flatness/smoothness/etaleness over a base scheme/stack. Relative cotangent complexes encode deformation theory of families. Of course these are analogous to relative cotangent bundles in differential geometry.

We also note that even if one is only interested in finding an absolute cotangent complex, some of the most useful computational lemmas require you to compute relative cotangent complexes. Hence the notion is truly ubiquitous in deformation theory.

Local Cotangent Complex

We begin by discussing what it means for the cotangent complex to control deformation/obstruction theory.


  • x:Uβ†’X∈Aff /Xx: U \rightarrow X \in Aff_{/X}
  • ΞΉ M:Uβ†ͺU M\iota_M: U \hookrightarrow U^M the trivial square-0 thickening by a M∈QCoh(U)M \in QCoh(U).

The ∞ \infty -groupoid encoding all extensions of xx along ι M\iota_M is called the space of derivations. This can be written as a (homotopy) fiber diagram in the ∞\infty-category of spaces:


Der X,x(M):=Map pSt(U M,X)Γ— Map pSt(U,X){x}Der_{X, x}(M) := Map_{pSt}(U^M, X) \times_{Map_{pSt}(U, X)}\{x\}

Formation of these homotopy fibers is functorial in M∈QCoh(U)M \in QCoh(U), hence determines a functor

Der X,x:QCoh(U)β†’SpacesDer_{X, x}: QCoh(U) \rightarrow Spaces


A cotangent complex for XX and xx is a object in QCoh(U)QCoh(U) corepresenting the functor Der X,xDer_{X, x}. Such an object is denoted 𝕃 X,x\mathbb {L}_{X, x}

Hence, a cotangent complex controls, up to homotopy, the deformation theory of xx in XX by the following mechanism.

[extensions of x along Uβ†ͺU M]≃[𝕃 X,xβ†’M] [\text{extensions of x along } U\hookrightarrow U^M] \simeq [\mathbb {L}_{X, x} \to M]

Hence this construction translates the geometric situation on the left to the linear situation on the right.

Global Cotangent Complex


An object 𝕃 X∈QCoh(X)\mathbb{L}_X \in QCoh(X) is said to be a global cotangent complex if for all x:Uβ†’X∈Aff /Xx: U \rightarrow X \in Aff_{/X}, x *𝕃 X∈QCoh(U)x^*\mathbb {L}_X \in QCoh(U) is a cotangent local complex at xx.

Hence, one can informally write the condition as existence of a compatible system of equivalences x *𝕃 X≃𝕃 X,xx^*\mathbb {L}_X \simeq \mathbb {L}_{X, x}.

Relative Cotangent Complexes

Both the local and global notions above can be relativized…

Basic Properties

Cotangent Exact Sequence


Let Xβ†’aYβ†’bZ∈Fun(Ξ” 2,pSt)X \xrightarrow{a} Y \xrightarrow{b} Z \in Fun(\Delta^2, pSt) such that each arrow has a global relative cotangent complex, the following diagram

a *𝕃 Y/Z→𝕃 X/Z→𝕃 X/Y a^*\mathbb{L}_{Y/Z} \to \mathbb{L}_{X/Z} \to \mathbb{L}_{X/Y}

is a fiber (and hence cofiber) diagram in the stable ∞\infty category QCoh(X)QCoh(X).

For example, taking Z≃ptZ \simeq pt exhibits the 𝕃 X/Y\mathbb{L}_{X/Y} as the cofiber of f *𝕃 Y→𝕃 Xf^*\mathbb{L}_{Y} \to \mathbb{L}_{X}



There are several ways to demonstrate the existence of cotangent complexes via explicit constructions:

  • Derived functors: in the setting of dg-algebras, one can take left derived functors of the classical Kahler differentials functor LΞ© (βˆ’)L\Omega_{(-)}. For example, concretely one can take a quasi-free resolution and apply Ξ©\Omega degree-wise.
  • Stabilization: when XX is geometric (e.g. a spectral Deligne Mumford stack), there is a construction via the β€œtangent ∞\infty-category”, which is a sort of relative stabilization procedure.

Some elaboration of these ideas are found in the article cotangent complex.

Last revised on February 26, 2020 at 12:51:06. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.