# nLab displayed category

Displayed categories

# Displayed categories

## Idea

A displayed category over a category $C$ is the “classifying map” of a category over $C$. That is, it is equivalent to the data of a category $D$ and a functor $F:D\to C$, but organized differently as a “functor” associating to each object or morphism of $C$ the fiber over it. The operation (which is an equivalence) taking a displayed category to the corresponding functor $F:D\to C$ is a generalization of the Grothendieck construction. This Grothendieck construction is an instance of the T-Grothendieck construction where $T$ is the theory of categories.

Displayed categories are particularly useful in type theory (especially internal categories in homotopy type theory) and to preserve the principle of equivalence, since they allow a more “category-theoretic” formulation of various notions (such as identity-on-objects and Grothendieck fibrations and strict creation of limits) that, if stated in terms of a functor $F:D\to C$, would involve equality of objects.

## Definitions

### By components

A displayed category $D$ over a category $C$ consists of

• for each object $a:C$, a type $D(a)$
• for each object $a:C$ and $b:C$, morphism $f:a \to b$, and element $x:D(a)$ and $y:D(b)$, a set of morphisms $Hom_f(x, y)$ from $x$ to $y$ over $f$
• for each object $a:C$ and element $x:D(a)$, a morphism $id_x:Hom_{id_a}(x, x)$
• for each object $a:C$, $b:C$, and $c:C$, morphism $f:a \to b$ and $g:b \to c$, and elements $x:D(a)$, $y:D(b)$, $z:D(c)$, a function:
$(-)\circ_{a, b, c, f, g, x, y, z}(-):Hom_g(y, z) \times Hom_f(x, y) \to Hom_{g \circ f}(x, z)$

such that

• for all morphisms $k:Hom_f(x, y)$, there is the dependent identification
$\lambda(k):id_y \circ k =_* k$
• for all morphisms $k:Hom_f(x, y)$, there is the dependent identification
$\rho(k):k \circ id_x =_* k$
• for all morphisms $k:Hom_f(x, y)$, $l:Hom_f(y, z)$, $m:Hom_f(z, w)$,
$(k \circ l) \circ m =_* k \circ (l \circ m)$

### Abstract definition

A displayed category over a category $C$ is a lax functor from $C$, regarded as a bicategory with only identity 2-cells, to the bicategory Span.

Better, it is a lax double functor from $C$, regarded as a double category “horizontally” with only identity vertical arrows and 2-cells, to the (pseudo) double category $Span$ with sets as objects, functions as vertical arrows, and spans as horizontal arrows. Although this produces an equivalent notion, it is better because a displayed functor is then a vertical transformation between such lax double functors.

A displayed category may equivalently be described as a normal lax functor from $C$ to Prof (either the bicategory or the double category, as appropriate), meaning one that strictly preserves identities. Formally, this is because $Prof = Mod(Span)$, where $Mod(-)$ denotes the double category of horizontal monads and modules, and $Mod$ is a right adjoint to the inclusion of virtual double categories and normal (lax) functors into all (lax) functors; see (CS, Prop. 5.14).

Equivalently, it is a double profunctor between $C$ and the terminal double category $1$, i.e., a double presheaf on $C$.

## Correspondence to slices

The category over $C$ corresponding to a displayed category $D:C\to Span$ is the pullback

$\array{ D & \to & Span_* \\ \downarrow & & \downarrow \\ C & \to & Span }$

Where $Span_*=Span(Set_*)$ is the bicategory (or double category) of pointed sets and pointed spans. This is a strict pullback, which exists in the 2-category of bicategories (or double categories) and lax functors because the projection $Span_* \to Span$ is not just lax but strong. Equivalently, it is the pullback

$\array{ D & \to & Prof_* \\ \downarrow & & \downarrow \\ C & \to & Prof }$

where $Prof_*$ consists of pointed categories and pointed profunctors, a pointed profunctor $H:(A,a_0)⇸(B,b_0)$ being equipped with an element of $H(a_0,b_0)$.

This construction induces an equivalence of categories $Disp(C) \to Cat/C$, which restricts to the following equivalences:

• A displayed category factors through the inclusion $Set \hookrightarrow Span$ (or equivalently $Set \hookrightarrow Prof$) if and only if $F:D\to C$ is a discrete opfibration. Similarly, it factors through $Set^{op}$ if and only if $F$ is a discrete fibration.

• A factorization of a displayed category $C\to Prof$ through the inclusion $Cat^{op} \hookrightarrow Prof$ (as corepresentable profunctors) is equivalent to giving $F:D\to C$ the structure of a cloven prefibred category, i.e. equipped with a choice of weakly cartesian liftings. The factorization is a pseudofunctor precisely when $F:D\to C$ is a Grothendieck fibration; in this case we see the usual Grothendieck construction of a pseudofunctor.

• Similarly, factorizations through $Cat\hookrightarrow Prof$ corresponds to cloven Grothendieck (pre)opfibrations.

• An arbitrary displayed category $C\to Prof$ is a pseudofunctor if and only if $F:D\to C$ is a Conduché functor, i.e. an exponentiable morphism in $Cat$.

### The construction, explicitly

As mentioned above, there is a construction $\int$ turning a normal lax functor $F:C \to Prof$ into a functor $\pi_F : \int F \to C$. Here we spell it out.

But first, let us explictly remark how the opposite construction works. Using notation from Benaboù’s lectures, the normal lax functor $dP : C \to Prof$ associated to a functor $P:E \to C$ is obtained by ‘taking fibers’. On objects, it maps $x:C$ to the category $P^{-1}x$ of objects and maps of $E$ mapping to $x$ and its identity arrow, respectively. On morphisms, it maps an arrow $f:x \to y$ to the profunctor $P^{-1}y^{op} \times P^{-1}x \to Set$ mapping a choice of objects $y'$ and $x'$ ‘lifting’ $y$ and $x$ respectively to the set of maps $f^\sharp : x'\to y'$ that project down to $f$, i.e.~the ‘fiber over $f$’ of the arrow part of $P$ (which is defined given two objects).

#### The generalized Grothendieck construction

The category $\int F$ is built as follows:

• objects are pairs $(x:C, x' : Fx)$

• a morphism $(x,x') \to (y,y')$ is given by a pair of morphisms $(f,f^\sharp)$ where $f:x \to y$ is an arrow in $C$ and $f^\sharp \in Ff(y',x')$

• identities are given by picking $1_x : x \to x$ and $1_x^\sharp = 1_{x'} \in F(1_x)(x',x') = \mathrm{Hom}_{Fx}(x',x')$

• composition is defined componentwise: given $(f,f^\sharp) : (x,x') \to (y,y')$ and $(g,g^\sharp):(y,y') \to (z,z')$, the composite is the pair $(gf, \ell_{f,g}(y', f^\sharp, g^\sharp))$, where $(y', f^\sharp, g^\sharp)$ is the equivalence class of the coend defining the composition $Fg \circ Ff$ (see profunctor) and $\ell_{f,g}$ is the laxator of $F$.

Finally, the functor $\pi_F$ simply discards the second component on objects and morphisms.

One can readily observe how this construction reduces to the usual Grothendieck construction when $F$ factors through $Cat$.

##### On morphisms

The above construction is functorial and turns ‘morphisms of normal lax functors into $Prof$’ into morphisms in $Cat/C$. To describe this, is useful to notice the category of normal lax functors into Prof is given by $Dbl_{normal,lax}^{vertical}(hC, Cat)$, where $hC$ is the casting of $C$, a category, as a double category whose vertical and 2-cells are all trivial.

This category has as objects normal lax double functors $C \to Cat$, where $Cat$ is the proarrow equipment of categories, functors (in the vertical/tight direction), profunctors (in the horizontal/loose direction) and suitable natural transformations as 2-cells. The morphisms are then vertical natural transformations between them.

Let’s spell out the definition of one of these vertical natural transformations $\phi : F \Rightarrow G$. Its components are given by functors (i.e. vertical cells in $Cat$) $\phi_x : Fx \to Gx$, indexed by objects $x:C$, and squares

indexed by morphisms $f:x\to y$ in $C$. These have, moreover, to satisfy various ‘natural’ conditions of compatibility with horizontal composition of squares in $Cat$ and so on.

The equivalence $\int$ converts this data back to a commutative triangle

The crucial thing to notice here is that, fundamentally, such a functor over $C$ is defined ‘fiberwise’, in the sense that, choosen an object $x:C$, $\int \phi$ has to restrict to a functor $\int\phi_x : \pi_F^{-1}x \to \pi_G^{-1}x$. But these categories are, by definition, $Fx$ and $Gx$, so that $\int \phi_x$ can be naturally defined to be $\phi_x$ itself.

Now what’s left to define is the action of $\int \phi$ on those arrows that cross fibers (in a sense, all the arrows except those that map to identities in $C$ – or, put differently again, the above discussion pinned down the object part of $\int \phi$).

Thus let $(f,f^\sharp):(x,x') \to (y,y')$ be a morphism in $\int F$. We know how to map $(x,x')$ and $(y,y')$ using $\phi_x$ and $\phi_y$ respectively, so that $\int \phi(f,f^\sharp)$ has to be an arrow $(x,\phi_x(x')) \to (y,\phi_y(y'))$. The exact arrow is picked by the last piece of data from the vertical transformation $\phi$, the ‘strength’ $\mathrm{st}^{\phi}$. In fact this is a natural transformation whose components are $\mathrm{st}^{\phi}_{x',y'} : Ff(x',y') \to Gf(\phi_x(x'),\phi_y(y'))$, which is exactly the data needed to define the arrow part of $\int \phi$.

Functoriality of $\int \phi$ is a direct consequence of the properties required to $\phi$, which are spelled out at vertical natural transformation.

## Properties of functors through properties of the reindexing

Let $F:E \to B$ be a functor, call $dF : B^{op} \to Prof$ the associated lax normal functor. By requiring a different degree of laxity to $dF$ or which subcategory of $Prof$ it hits, we can express different properties of $F$:

1. If $dF$ is a pseudofunctor, then $F$ is a Conduché fibration, i.e. an exponential morphism in $Cat$
2. If $dF$ factors through the inclusion $Cat \to Prof$, then $F$ is a prefibration
3. If $dF$ is both Conduché and a prefibration, then $F$ is a Grothendieck fibration
4. Call partial functor a profunctor $\phi : X \to Psh(Y)$ that factors through $(y,0) : Y + 1 \to Psh(Y)$, which is the Yoneda embedding on $Y$ and picks the empty presheaf otherwise. When $dF$ factors through the subcategory of partial functors it is called a foliation.

These and more examples are discussed in Benabou.

## References

The correspondence between categories over $C$ and normal lax functors $C\to Prof$ was observed by Bénabou already in 1972:

• Jean Bénabou, 2-dimensional limits and colimits of distributors (or how to glue together categories), Oberwolfach ‘Tagungsbericht’, 1972, (web)

A more detailed account of Benabou’s work on this topic can be found at:

• Jean Bénabou, Distributors at work, Notes by Thomas Streicher from lectures given at TU Darmstadt, 2000, pdf

• Graham Manuell?, Monoid extensions and the Grothendieck construction, Semigroup Forum 105 (2022) 488–507 [doi:10.1007/s00233-022-10294-2]

The term “displayed category”, and the applications to type theory, are due to:

An unpacking of the definition as lax functors into Span is in 2.2 of

Also cited above:

• Geoff Cruttwell, Mike Shulman, A unified framework for generalized multicategories, Theory and Applications of Categories 24 21 (2010) 580-655. [TAC]

Last revised on February 28, 2024 at 12:57:17. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.