(also nonabelian homological algebra)

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The *kernel* of a morphism is that part of its domain which is sent to zero.

There are various definitions of the notion of kernel, depending on the properties and structures available in the ambient category. We list a few definitions and discuss (in parts) when they are equivalent.

In a category with an initial object $0$ and pullbacks, the **kernel** $ker(f)$ of a morphism $f: A \to B$ is the pullback $ker(f) \to A$ along $f$ of the unique morphism $0 \to B$

$\array{
ker(f)
&\to&
0
\\
{}^{\mathllap{p}}\downarrow && \downarrow
\\
A &\stackrel{f}{\to}& B
}
\,.$

More explicitly, this characterizes the object $ker(f)$ as the object (unique up to unique isomorphism) that satisfies the following universal property:

for every object $C$ and every morphism $h : C \to A$ such that $f\circ h = 0$ is the zero morphism, there is a unique morphism $\phi : C \to ker(f)$ such that $h = p\circ \phi$.

In a category with zero morphisms (meaning: enriched over the category of pointed sets), the **kernel** $ker(f)$ of a morphism $f : c \to d$ is, if it exists, the equalizer of $f$ and the zero morphism $0_{c,d}$.

In any category enriched over pointed sets, the kernel of a morphism $f:c\to d$ is the universal morphism $k:a\to c$ such that $f \circ k$ is the basepoint. It is a weighted limit in the sense of enriched category theory. This applies in particular in any (pre)-additive category.

This is a special case of the construction of generalized kernels in enriched categories.

Let Ab be the category of abelian groups. This has all kernels, in particular (it is the archetypical abelian category).

In every Ab-enriched category $A$, for every morphism $f \colon X\to Y$ in $A$ there is a subfunctor

$ker f \colon A^{op}\to Ab$

of the representable functor $hom(-,X)$, defined on objects by

$(ker f)(Z) = ker\big(hom(Z,X)\to hom(Z,Y)\big),$

where $ker$ on the right-hand side is the kernel in Ab.

If the category is in fact preabelian, $ker f$ is also representable with representing object $Ker f$. One has to be careful with the cokernel $Coker f$, which does not represent the functor naive $coker f$ defined as $(coker f)(Z) = coker\big(hom(Z,X)\to hom(Z,Y)\big)$ in Ab, which is often not representable at all, even in the simple example of the category of abelian groups. Instead, as a colimit construction, one should co-represent another functor, namely, the covariant functor $Z\mapsto ker\big(hom(Y,Z) \to hom(X,Z)\big)$ (which is a quotent of the corepresentable functor $hom(X,-)$). In short, $Coker f$ is defined by the “double dualization” (passing to opposite categories) of the kernel in Ab: $Coker f = (Ker f^{op})^{op}$. This is a particular case of the dualization involved in defining any colimit from its corresponding limit.

The kernel of a morphism in an (∞,1)-category with $\infty$-categorical zero object is the homotopy pullback as in the pullback definition above: the homotopy fiber.

See also stable (∞,1)-category.

In some fields, the term ‘kernel’ refers to an equivalence relation that category theorists would see as a kernel pair. This is especially important in fields such as monoid theory where both notions exist but are not equivalent (while in group theory they are equivalent).

In ring theory, even when one assumes that rings have units preserved by ring homomorphisms, the traditional notion of kernel (an ideal) exists in the category of non-unital rings (and is not itself a unital ring in general). A purely category-theoretic theory of unital rings can be recovered either by using the kernel pair instead or (to fit better the usual language) moving to a category of modules.

In universal algebra, this may be handled in the framework of Mal'cev varieties.

Kashiwara-Schapira, following the terminology of EGA, uses kernel as a synonym of equalizer (and co-kernel of co-equalizer).

By the pasting law for pullbacks we have that the total square

$\array{
ker ker f &\to& ker f &\to& 0
\\
\downarrow && \downarrow && \downarrow
\\
0 &\to& c &\stackrel{f}{\to}& d
}$

is a pullback. Since $0 \to c$ is a monomorphism and the pullback of a monomorphism along itself is the domain of the monomorphis, we have $ker ker f \simeq 0$.

This statement crucially fails to be true in higher category theory. There, the kernel of a kernel is the based loop space object of $d$. For this reason where one has short exact sequences in 1-category theory, there are instead long fiber sequences in higher category theory.

In a category $C$ with pullbacks and pushouts and zero object, kernel and cokernel form a pair of adjoint functors on the arrow categories

$(coker \dashv ker) : Arr(C) \stackrel{\overset{coker}{\leftarrow}}{\underset{ker}{\to}} Arr(C)
\,.$

We check the hom-isomorphism of a pair of adjoint functors. An element in the hom-set $Arr_C(g,ker f)$ is a diagram

$\array{
c &\to& ker(f) &\to& 0
\\
{}^{\mathllap{g}}\downarrow && \downarrow && \downarrow
\\
d &\to& a &\stackrel{f}{\to}& b
}
\,.$

By the universal property of the pullback, this is the same as a diagram

$\array{
c &\to& &\to& 0
\\
{}^{\mathllap{g}}\downarrow && && \downarrow
\\
d &\to& a &\stackrel{f}{\to}& b
}
\,.$

By the dual reasoning, an element in $Arr_C(coker g, f)$ is a diagram

$\array{
c &\stackrel{g}{\to}& d &\to& a
\\
\downarrow && \downarrow && \downarrow^{\mathrlap{f}}
\\
0 &\to& coker g &\to& b
}
\,.$

By the universal property of the pushout this is equivalently a diagram

$\array{
c &\stackrel{g}{\to}& d &\to& a
\\
\downarrow && && \downarrow^{\mathrlap{f}}
\\
0 &\to& &\to& b
}
\,.$

(This also follows from the general theory of generalized kernels.)

In the category Ab of abelian groups, the kernel of a group homomorphism $f : A \to B$ is the subgroup of $A$ on the set $f^{-1}(0)$ of elements of $A$ that are sent to the zero-element of $B$.

More generally, for $R$ any ring, this is true in $R$Mod: the kernel of a morphism of modules is the preimage of the zero-element at the level of the underlying sets, equipped with the unique sub-module structure on that set.

Last revised on April 4, 2023 at 08:21:46. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.