nLab differential topology




topology (point-set topology, point-free topology)

see also differential topology, algebraic topology, functional analysis and topological homotopy theory


Basic concepts

Universal constructions

Extra stuff, structure, properties


Basic statements


Analysis Theorems

topological homotopy theory

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)



Differential topology is the subject devoted to the study of algebro-topological and homotopy-theoretic properties of differentiable manifolds, smooth manifolds and related differential geometric spaces such as stratifolds, orbifolds and more generally differentiable stacks.

A key part of differential topology is cobordism theory, where the Pontryagin-Thom theorem relates the stable homotopy theory of Thom spectra to cobordism classes of smooth (sub-)manifolds (for instance cohomotopy to normally framed cobordism).

Differential topology is also concerned with the problem of finding out which topological (or PL) manifolds allow a differentiable structure and the degree of nonuniqueness of that structure if they do (e.g. exotic smooth structures). It is also concerned with concrete constructions of (co)homology classes (e.g. characteristic classes) for differentiable manifolds and of differential refinements of cohomology theories.

More recently, the smooth Oka principle reveals a deep structure in differential topology which is visible in the full generality of higher differential geometry (smooth \infty -stacks).


Many considerations, and classification problems, depend crucially on dimension, and the case of high-dimensional manifolds (the notion of ‘high’ depends on the problem) is often very different from the situation in each of the low dimensions; thus there are specialists’ subjects like 33-(dimensional) topology and 44-topology. There are restrictions on an underlying topology which is allowed for some sorts of additional structures on a differentiable manifold.

For example, only some even-dimensional differentiable manifolds allow for symplectic structure and only some odd-dimensional one allow for a contact structure; in these cases moreover special constructions of topological invariants like Floer homology and symplectic field theory exist.

This yields the relatively young subjects of symplectic and contact topologies, with the first significant results coming from Gromov. Any (Hausdorff paracompact finite-dimensional) differentiable manifold allows for riemannian structure however; therefore there is no special subject of ‘riemannian topology’.

Entries in differential topology


Though some of the basic results, methods and conjectures of differential topology go back to Poincaré, Whitney, Morse and Pontrjagin, it became an independent field only in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the seminal works of Smale, Thom, Milnor and Hirsch. Soon after the initial effort on foundations, mainly in the American school, a strong activity started in Soviet Union (Albert Schwarz, A. S. Mishchenko, S. Novikov, V. A. Rokhlin, M. Gromov…).

Introductions and monographs:

Survey with connections to algebraic topology:

See also

Generalization to equivariant differential topology:

  • Arthur Wasserman, Equivariant differential topology, Topology Vol. 8, pp. 127-150, 1969 (pdf)

Last revised on February 3, 2024 at 04:01:04. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.