nLab function



Category theory

Type theory

natural deduction metalanguage, practical foundations

  1. type formation rule
  2. term introduction rule
  3. term elimination rule
  4. computation rule

type theory (dependent, intensional, observational type theory, homotopy type theory)

syntax object language

computational trinitarianism =
propositions as types +programs as proofs +relation type theory/category theory

logicset theory (internal logic of)category theorytype theory
predicatefamily of setsdisplay morphismdependent type
proofelementgeneralized elementterm/program
cut rulecomposition of classifying morphisms / pullback of display mapssubstitution
cut elimination for implicationcounit for hom-tensor adjunctionbeta reduction
introduction rule for implicationunit for hom-tensor adjunctioneta conversion
truesingletonterminal object/(-2)-truncated objecth-level 0-type/unit type
falseempty setinitial objectempty type
proposition, truth valuesubsingletonsubterminal object/(-1)-truncated objecth-proposition, mere proposition
logical conjunctioncartesian productproductproduct type
disjunctiondisjoint union (support of)coproduct ((-1)-truncation of)sum type (bracket type of)
implicationfunction setinternal homfunction type
negationfunction set into empty setinternal hom into initial objectfunction type into empty type
universal quantificationindexed cartesian productdependent productdependent product type
existential quantificationindexed disjoint union (support of)dependent sum ((-1)-truncation of)dependent sum type (bracket type of)
logical equivalencebijectionisomorphism/adjoint equivalenceequivalence of types
support setsupport object/(-1)-truncationpropositional truncation/bracket type
n-image of morphism into terminal object/n-truncationn-truncation modality
equalitydiagonal function/diagonal subset/diagonal relationpath space objectidentity type/path type
completely presented setsetdiscrete object/0-truncated objecth-level 2-type/set/h-set
setset with equivalence relationinternal 0-groupoidBishop set/setoid with its pseudo-equivalence relation an actual equivalence relation
equivalence class/quotient setquotientquotient type
inductioncolimitinductive type, W-type, M-type
higher inductionhigher colimithigher inductive type
-0-truncated higher colimitquotient inductive type
coinductionlimitcoinductive type
presettype without identity types
set of truth valuessubobject classifiertype of propositions
domain of discourseuniverseobject classifiertype universe
modalityclosure operator, (idempotent) monadmodal type theory, monad (in computer science)
linear logic(symmetric, closed) monoidal categorylinear type theory/quantum computation
proof netstring diagramquantum circuit
(absence of) contraction rule(absence of) diagonalno-cloning theorem
synthetic mathematicsdomain specific embedded programming language

homotopy levels




In a strict sense of the term, a function is a homomorphism f:STf \colon S \to T of sets: a prescription which takes any element sSs \in S to a unique element f(s)Tf(s) \in T, this also called the value of the function at ss.

Instead of “function” one also speaks of map or mapping, but those terms are used in other ways in other contexts.

A function from a set AA to a set BB is determined by giving, for each element of AA, a specified element of BB. The process of passing from elements of AA to elements of BB is called function application. The set AA is called the domain of ff, and BB is called its codomain.

A function is sometimes called a total function to distinguish it from a partial function.

More generally, every morphism between objects in a category may be thought of as a function in a generalized sense. This generalized use of the word is wide spread (and justified) in type theory, where for SS and TT two types, there is a function type denoted STS \to T and then the expression f:STf : S \to T means that ff is a term of function type, hence is a function.

In this generalized sense, functions between sets are the morphisms in the category Set. This is cartesian closed, and the function type STS \to T is then the function set.

For more on this more general use of “function” see at function type.


The formal definition of a function depends on the foundations chosen.

  • In material set theory, a function ff is often defined to be a set of ordered pairs such that for every xx, there is at most one yy such that (x,y)f(x,y)\in f. The domain of ff is then the set of all xx for which there exists some such yy. This definition is not entirely satisfactory since it does not determine the codomain (since not every element of the codomain may be in the image); thus to be completely precise it is better to define a function to be an ordered triple (f,A,B)(f,A,B) where AA is the domain and BB the codomain.

  • In structural set theory, the role of functions depends on the particular axiomatization chosen. In ETCS, functions are among the undefined things, whereas in SEAR, functions are defined to be particular relations (which in turn are undefined things).

  • In type theory, functions are simply terms belonging to function types.

See set theory and type theory for more details.

As morphisms of discrete categories

If we regard sets as discrete categories, then a function is a functor between sets. The functoriality structure becomes the property that a function preserves equality:

x=yf(x)=f(y). x = y \Rightarrow f(x) = f(y) .

For classes

One can also speak of functions between proper classes, although the precise details may vary depending on the status of classes with respect to the formal theory.

In ZFC for example, proper classes are by design not formal objects in the theory; rather they are proxied by a formula in the language (for instance, the class VV of all sets is proxied by the formula x=xx = x; intuitively we may think of VV as consisting of all xx satisfying that formula). Then functions f:ABf: A \to B between classes are again classes given by suitable formulas; see for example the MathOverflow discussion what-are-maps-between-proper-classes. If (as described above for material set theory) one wants to describe a function as an ordered triple (f,A,B)(f, A, B), then this too can be accommodated if one defines ordered triples/pairs of classes appropriately; see here for one possibility. Thus functors between categories whose objects and morphisms form proper classes can similarly be described in the language.

Such technical hacks can be avoided by choosing a different foundations. For example, Mac Lane in his Categories for the Working Mathematician assumes ZFC with a universe in which some sets are considered large, such as the set of small sets, so that a category like SetSet (the category of small sets) is again a formal object of the theory.

Alternative terms

Useful terms, more or less synonymous with function, are assignment, assignation or more specifically assignation on objects. These do not have standard meanings but are useful to signal to readers that the domain of the ‘function’ under consideration is large, or that one is more interested in functorial extensions of this partial assignation (cf. e.g. Richard Garner, Homomorphisms of higher categories, Adv. Math. 224 (2010) 2269-2311 for many examples). In mathematical writing “assignment” is usually synonymous with function or map or “mapping”. For example one might speak of “assigning to each positive number its square root” to refer to the function (): 0\sqrt{(-)} \colon \mathbb{R}_{\geq 0} \to \mathbb{R}.

Authors may resort to verb forms such as “assigns” or “associates” or “sends” in informal writing, perhaps to avoid the bother of specifying an axiomatic framework in which a formal notion like “function” is ensconced. For example, according to Wikipedia, Jacobson defines a functor F:CDF: C \to D between categories as a “mapping” that “associates” to each object XX in CC an object F(X)F(X) in DD, etc. No clarity would be gained by making this any more formal (which as we saw in the case of functions between classes, such as classes of objects of categories, may involve annoyingly technical hacks).

Sometimes the word “assignment” is understood more generally as relation, often when authors define a function to be something that “assigns unique values” (for instance here).


Many functions that carry special names map some ring or field like the real numbers or complex numbers to itself:

Special properties these may have:

Last revised on May 16, 2022 at 21:39:56. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.