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A local isomorphism in a presheaf category PSh(S)PSh(S) is a morphism that becomes an isomorphism after passing to sheaves with respect to a given Grothendieck topology on SS.

The collection of all local isomorphisms not only determines the Grothendieck topology but is precisely the collection of morphisms that are inverted when passing to sheaves. Hence local isomorphisms serve to understand sheaves and sheafification in terms of the passage to a homotopy category of PSh(S)PSh(S).

This is a particular case of the notion of reflective factorization system, applied to the sheafification reflector. It is discussed in more detail at category of sheaves:

In terms of the discussion at geometric embedding, local isomorphisms in PSh(S)PSh(S) are precisely the multiplicative system WW that is sent to isomorphisms by the sheafification functor

()¯:PSh(S)Sh(S) \bar{(-)} : PSh(S) \to Sh(S)

which is left exact left adjoint to the full and faithful inclusion

Sh(S)PSh(S). Sh(S) \hookrightarrow PSh(S) \,.


A system of local isomorphisms on PSh(S)PSh(S) is any collection of morphisms satisfying

  1. local isomorphisms are a system of weak equivalences (i.e. every isomorphism is a local isomorphism and they satisfy 2-out-of-3);

  2. a morphism YXY\to X is a local isomorphism if and only if its pullback

    U× XY Y lociso lociso U X \array{ U \times_X Y &\to& Y \\ {}^{\mathllap{loc iso}}\downarrow && \downarrow^{\mathrlap{\Leftrightarrow loc iso}} \\ U &\to& X }

    along any morphism UXU \to X, where UU is representable, is a local isomorphism.

Relation to Grothendieck topologies

Systems of local isomorphisms on PSh(S)PSh(S) are equivalent to Grothendieck topologies on SS.

The following indicates how choices of systems of local isomorphisms are equivalent to choices of systems of local epimorphisms. The claim follows by the discussion at local epimorphism.

Local epimorphisms from local isomorphisms

A system of local epimorphisms is defined from a system of local isomorphisms by declaring that f:YXf : Y \to X is a local epimorphism precisely if im(f)Xim(f) \to X is a local isomorphism.

Local isomorphisms from local epimorphisms

Given a Grothendieck topology in terms of a system of local epimorphisms, a system of local isomorphisms is constructed as follows.

A local monomorphism with respect to this topology is a morphism f:ABf : A \to B in [S op,Set][S^{op}, Set] such that the canonical morphism AA× BAA \to A \times_B A is a local epimorphism.

A local isomorphism with respect to a Grothendieck topology is a morphism in [S op,Set][S^{op}, Set] that is both a local epimorphism as well as a local monomorphism in the above sense.

Relation to Lawvere-Tierney topologies

Recall that Grothendieck topologies on a small category SS are in bijection with Lawvere-Tierney-topologies on PSh(S)PSh(S) and that sheafification with respect to a Lawvere-Tierney topology is encoded in terms of monomorphisms in PSh(S)PSh(S) which are dense with respect to the Lawvere-Tierney topology.

We have:

the dense monomorphisms are precisely the local isomorphisms which are also ordinary monomorphisms.



The sheafification functor which sends a presheaf FF to its weakly equivalent sheaf F¯\bar F can be realized using a colimit over local isomorphisms. See there.

Characterization and relation to sieves

Often one concentrates on the local isomorphisms whose codomain is a representable presheaf, i.e. those of the form

AY(U), A \to Y(U) \,,

where UU is an object in SS and YY is the Yoneda embedding. These come from covering sieves of a Grothendieck topology on SS: for USU \in S and {V iU} i\{V_i \to U\}_i a covering sieve on UU, the coresponding local isomorphism is the presheaf which is the image of the joint injection map

iY(V i)Y(U). \sqcup_i Y(V_i) \to Y(U) \,.

Using the fact that morphisms in a presheaf category are strict morphisms, so that image and coimage coincide, it is useful, with an eye towards generalizations from sheaves to stacks and ∞-stacks (see in particular descent for simplicial presheaves), to say this equivalently in terms of the coimage: the local isomorphism corresponding to the covering sieve {V iU}\{V_i \to U\} is

colim(( iY(V i))× Y(U)( iY(V i))( iY(V i)))Y(U) colim ( (\sqcup_i Y(V_i))\times_{Y(U)} (\sqcup_i Y(V_i)) \stackrel{\to}{\to} (\sqcup_i Y(V_i)) ) \to Y(U)

Notice that in general these are not all the local isomorphism with representable codomain (more generally these are hypercovers, where ( iY(V i))× Y(U)( iY(V i))(\sqcup_i Y(V_i))\times_{Y(U)} (\sqcup_i Y(V_i)) is replaced in turn by one of its covers).


Notice that local isomorphism with codomain a representable already induce general local isomorphisms using the fact that every presheaf is a colimit of representables (the co-Yoneda lemma) and that local isomorphisms/sieves are stable under pullback:


If APSh(S)A \in PSh(S) is a local object with respect to local isomorphisms whose codomain is a representable, then every morphism XYX \to Y of presheaves such that for every representble UU and every morphism UYU \to Y the pullback X× YUUX \times_Y U \to U is a local isomorphism, the canonical morphism

Hom(Y,A)Hom(X,A) Hom(Y,A) \to Hom(X,A)

is an isomorphism.


We may first rewrite trivially

XX× YY X \simeq X \times_Y Y

and then use the co-Yoneda lemma to write (suppressing notationally the Yoneda embedding)

Ycolim UYU Y \simeq colim_{U \to Y} U

and hence rewrite (XY)(X \to Y) as

X× Y(colim UYU)colim UYU. X \times_Y (\colim_{U \to Y} U) \to colim_{U \to Y} U \,.

Then using that colimits of presheaves are stable under base change this is

(colim UY(X× YU))colim UYU. (\colim_{U \to Y}(X \times_Y U)) \to colim_{U \to Y} U \,.

Recall that by assumption the components X× YUUX \times_Y U \to U of this are local isomorphisms. Hence

(Hom(Y,A)Hom(X,A))=lim UYHom(U,A)lim UYHom(X× YU,A) (Hom(Y,A) \to Hom(X,A)) = lim_{U \to Y} Hom(U, A) \to \lim_{U \to Y} Hom(X \times_Y U, A)

is a limit over isomorphisms, hence an isomorphism.


This is in section 16.2 of

See in particular exercise 16.5 there for the characterization of Grothendieck topologies in terms of local isomorphisms.

Last revised on January 23, 2017 at 07:32:23. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.