nLab extension of scalars




The extension of scalars of a module along a homomorphism of rings is the algebraic dual of what geometrically is the pullback of bundles along a map of their base spaces (with respect to the discussion at modules - as generalized vector bundles).

Explicitly, extension of scalars along a ring homomorphism f:RSf : R \to S is the operation on RR-modules given by forming the tensor product of modules with SS regarded as an RR-module via ff.

There are similar functors for bimodules and in some other categories.


Let RR and SS be commutative rings and let f:RSf \colon R\to S be a homomorphism of rings.

We discuss extension of scalars along ff first general abstractly and then explicitly in components.

General abstract

Write RRMod and SSMod for the categories of modules over RR and SS, respectively.


Given a ring homomorphism f:RSf : R \to S the restriction of scalars functor

f *:SModRMod f^* : S Mod \to R Mod

is the functor that takes an SS-module NN to the RR-module f *Nf^*N whose underlying abelian group is that of NN and whose RR-action is given by

rnf(r)nforrR,nN. r \cdot n \coloneqq f(r)\cdot n \;\;\;\; for \; r \in R, n \in N \,.

The restriction of scalars functor, def. , is the right adjoint in a pair of adjoint functors

(f !f *):SModf *f !RMod. ( f_! \dashv f^* ) \;\colon\; S Mod \stackrel{\overset{f_!}{\longleftarrow}} {\underset{f^*}{\longrightarrow}} R Mod \,.

The left adjoint f !:RModSModf_! \colon R Mod \to S Mod in prop. is called extension of scalars along ff.


A further right adjoint f *f_* would be called coextension of scalars along ff.

See also induced representation \dashv restricted representation.

In components


Given a ring homomorphism f:RSf : R \to S, the extension of scalars functor f !f_! of def. is the functor

f !S R():RModSMod f_! \coloneqq S \otimes_R (-) \,:\, R Mod \to S Mod

given by tensor product of modules with SS regarded as an SS-RR-bimodule: the left action being the canonical action of SS on itself, the right being the restriction of scalars-action along ff.

Explicitly, for NRModN \in R Mod

  • the elements of f !Nf_! N are equivalence classes of pairs (s,n)S×N(s,n) \in S \times N under the equivalence relation (sf(r),n)=(s,rn) (s \cdot f(r), n) = (s, r\cdot n) for all sSs \in S;

  • the left SS-action is given by s(s,n)=(ss,n)s' \cdot(s,n) = (s' \cdot s,n).


Geometric interpretation

Under Isbell duality extension of scalars turns into a statement about geometry.

By definition the category

Ring opSpec:Aff Ring^{op} \underoverset{Spec}{\colon \simeq}{\to} Aff

of (absolute) affine schemes is the opposite category of Ring.

Hence for f:RSf : R \to S a ring homomorphism, we have equivalently a morphism

Spec(f):Spec(S)Spec(R) Spec(f) : Spec(S) \to Spec(R)

of affine schemes.

An RR-module NN corresponds to the collection of sections of a “generalized vector bundle” over Spec(R)Spec(R): something that has a quasicoherent sheaf of sections.

The pullback of this “bundle” along Spec(f)Spec(f) has sections forming the module f !Nf_! N.

Generally, for any fibered category like ModAff\to Aff we may regard the inverse image functor as the extension of scalars.

For that reason if there is some other fibered category \mathcal{F} over the opposite of some algebraic category 𝒜\mathcal{A} whose objects are considered “objects of scalars” one is inclined to call the inverse image functor, the extension of scalars.

Frobenius extensions

Extension of scalars coincides with coextension of scalars (to make an ambidextrous adjunction with restriction of scalars) in the case of Frobenius extensions, see there for more.


Last revised on December 12, 2023 at 15:52:03. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.