nLab locally presentable categories - introduction



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(,1)(\infty,1)-Category theory

This page means to give an introduction to the notion of locally presentable category, and its related notions in higher category theory and survey some fundamental properties.

Expected background of the reader:


Basic idea in category theory

The general idea is that a locally presentable category is a large category generated from small data: from small objects under small colimits.

Generation from generators

The notion of locally presentable category is, at least roughly, an analogue for categories of the notion of a finitely generated module.


An abelian group AA is called finitely generated if there is a finite subset

ι:SU(A) \iota \colon S \hookrightarrow U(A)

of the underlying set U(A)U(A) of AA, such that every element of AA is a sum of such generating elements.


We always have the maximal such presentation where S=U(A)S = U(A) is the whole underlying set and ι:F(U(A))A\iota \colon F(U(A)) \to A is the counit of the free-forgetful adjunction. But the presentation is all the more interesting/useful the smaller SS is.

Now, the categorification of “commutative sum” is colimit. Hence let now 𝒞\mathcal{C} be a category with all small colimits.


We say a subclass SObj(𝒞)S \hookrightarrow Obj(\mathcal{C}) of objects or equivalently the full subcategory 𝒞 0𝒞\mathcal{C}^0 \hookrightarrow \mathcal{C} on this subclass generates 𝒞\mathcal{C} if every object in 𝒞\mathcal{C} is a colimit of objects in 𝒞 0\mathcal{C}^0, hence the colimit over a diagram of the form

D𝒞 0𝒞. D \to \mathcal{C}^0 \hookrightarrow \mathcal{C} \,.

As before, such a presentation is all the more useful the “smaller” the generating data is. In order to grasp the various aspects of the notion of “smallness” in category theory we need to recall the notion of regular cardinal.

Small data


The cardinality κ=|S|\kappa = {\vert S\vert} of a set SS is regular if every coproduct/disjoint union of sets of cardinality smaller than κ\kappa and indexed by a set of cardinality smaller than κ\kappa is itself of cardinality smaller than κ\kappa.


The smallest regular cardinal is 0=||\aleph_0 = {\vert \mathbb{N}\vert}: every finite union of finite sets is itself a finite set. (See the entry on regular cardinals for a discussion as to whether one might consider some finite cardinals as being `regular'.)

We can now speak of objects that are “κ\kappa-small sums” using the notion of κ\kappa-filtered colimits:


For κ\kappa a regular cardinal, a κ\kappa-filtered category is one where every diagram of size <κ\lt \kappa has a cocone.


In an 0\aleph_0-filtered category every finite diagram has a cocone. This is equivalent to:

  1. for every pair of objects there is a third object such that both have a morphism to it;

  2. for every pair of parallel morphisms there is a morphism out of their codomain such that the two composites are equal.


The tower diagram category (,)(\mathbb{N}, \leq)

X 0X 1X 2 X_0 \to X_1 \to X_2 \to \cdots

is filtered.


For λ>κ\lambda \gt \kappa a bigger regular cardinal, every λ\lambda-filtered category is in particular also κ\kappa-filtered.

Using this we have the central definition now:


A κ\kappa-filtered colimit is a colimit over a κ\kappa-filtered diagram.

A crucial characterizing property of κ\kappa-filtered colimits is the following:


A colimit in Set is κ\kappa-filtered precisely if it commutes with all κ\kappa-small limits.

In particular a colimit in Set is filtered (meaning: 0\aleph_0-filtered) precisely if it commutes with all finite limits.


An object A𝒞A \in \mathcal{C} is a κ\kappa-compact object if it commutes with κ\kappa-filtered colimits, hence if for X:I𝒞X \colon I \to \mathcal{C} any κ\kappa-filtered diagram, the canonical function

lim i𝒞(A,X i)𝒞(A,lim iX i) \underset{\to_i}{\lim} \mathcal{C}(A,X_i) \to \mathcal{C}(A, \underset{\to_i}{\lim} X_i)

is a bijection.

We say XX is a small object if it is κ\kappa-compact for some regular cardinal κ\kappa.


If λ>κ\lambda \gt \kappa, then being λ\lambda-compact is a weaker condition than being κ\kappa-compact.


The object AA commutes with the colimit over II precisely if every morphism Alim iX iA \to \underset{\to_i}{\lim} X_i lifts to a morphism AX jA \to X_j into one of the X jX_j. Schematically, depicting specifically a sequential colimit, this means that we have:

X j1 X j X j+1 f^ A f limX i. \array{ \cdots&\to&X_{j-1} &\to& X_j &\to& X_{j+1} &\to& \cdots \\ &&&{}^{\mathllap{\exists \hat f}}\nearrow&\downarrow & \swarrow \\ &&A& \stackrel{f}{\to} & \underset{\to}{\lim} X_i } \,.

Hence AA is “small enough” such that mapping it into the sum of all the X iX_i it always entirely lands inside one of the X iX_i.


There is a close relation between the notion of “compact” as in, on the one hand, compact topological space and compact topos, and on the other as in compact object as above. This is mediated by proposition . But the relation is a bit more subtle and takes a bit more discussion than we maybe want to get into here.

Locally presentable category: generated from colimits over small objects

Using this we can now say:


A locally small category 𝒞\mathcal{C} is a locally presentable category if it has all small colimits and there is a small set SObj(𝒞)S \hookrightarrow Obj(\mathcal{C}) of small objects such that this generates 𝒞\mathcal{C}, by def. .


The adjective “locally” in “locally presentable category” is to indicate that the condition is all about the objects, only. There is a different notion of “presented category”.

There are a bunch of equivalent reformulations of the notion of locally presentable category. One of the more important ones we again motivate first by analogy with presentable modules:

Generation exhibited by epimorphism from a free object


If an abelian group AA is generated by a set SU(A)S \hookrightarrow U(A) as in example , this means equivalently that there is an epimorphism

L:F(S)A L \colon F(S) \to A

from the free abelian group F(S)F(S) generated by SS, hence the group obtained by forming formal sums of elements in SS. Here the epimorphism sends formal sums to actual sums in AA:

L( ks k) kι(s k). L(\sum_k s_k) \coloneqq \sum_k \iota(s_k) \,.

The categorification of the notion free abelian group is the notion of free cocompletion of a category 𝒞 0\mathcal{C}^0: the category of presheaves PSh(𝒞 0)PSh(\mathcal{C}^0).



If a full subcategory ι:𝒞 0𝒞\iota \colon \mathcal{C}^0 \hookrightarrow \mathcal{C} generates 𝒞\mathcal{C} under colimits as in defn. , then there is a functor

L:PSh(𝒞 0)𝒞 L \colon PSh(\mathcal{C}^0) \to \mathcal{C}

which sends formal colimits to actual colimits in 𝒞\mathcal{C}

L(lim ks k)lim kι(s k). L(\underset{\to_k}{\lim} s_k) \coloneqq \underset{\to_k}{\lim} \iota(s_k) \,.

Here LL by construction preserves all colimits.

Therefore conversely, given a colimit-preserving functor L:PSh(𝒞 0)𝒞L \colon PSh(\mathcal{C}^0) \to \mathcal{C} we want to say that it locally presents 𝒞\mathcal{C} if LL is “suitably epi”.

It turns out that “suitably epi” is to be the following:


A functor L:PSh(𝒞 0)𝒞L \colon PSh(\mathcal{C}^0) \to \mathcal{C} from the category of presheaves over a small category 𝒞 0\mathcal{C}^0 is an accessible localization if

With this notion we have the following analog of the familiar statement that an abelian group is generated by SS precisely if there is an epimorphism L:F(S)AL \colon F(S) \to A:


A category 𝒞\mathcal{C} is locally presentable according to def. precisely if it is an accessible localization, def. ,

L:PSh(𝒞 0)𝒞 L \colon PSh(\mathcal{C}^0) \to \mathcal{C}

for some small category 𝒞 0\mathcal{C}^0.

This is due to (Adámek-Rosický, prop 1.46).

Left exact localizations


A locally presentable category 𝒞\mathcal{C} is called a topos, precisely if the localization functor L:PSh(𝒞 0)𝒞L \colon PSh(\mathcal{C}^0) \to \mathcal{C} from theorem in addition is a left exact functor, meaning that it preserves finite limits.

Summary and overview

In summary the discussion above says that the notion of locally presentable categories sits in a sequence of notions as indicated in the row labeled “category theory” in the following table. The other rows are supposed to indicate that regarding a category as a (1,1)-category and simply varying in this story the parameters (n,r)(n,r) in “(n,r)-category” one obtains fairly straightforward analogs of the notion of locally presentable category in other fragments of higher category theory. These we discuss in more detail further below.

Locally presentable categories: Large categories whose objects arise from small generators under small relations.

(n,r)-categoriessatisfying Giraud's axiomsinclusion of left exact localizations?generated under colimits from small objectslocalization of free cocompletiongenerated under filtered colimits from small objects
(0,1)-category theory(0,1)-toposes\hookrightarrowalgebraic lattices\simeq Porst’s theoremsubobject lattices in accessible reflective subcategories of presheaf categories
category theorytoposes\hookrightarrowlocally presentable categories\simeq Adámek-Rosický‘s theoremaccessible reflective subcategories of presheaf categories\hookrightarrowaccessible categories
model category theorymodel toposes\hookrightarrowcombinatorial model categories\simeq Dugger’s theoremleft Bousfield localization of global model structures on simplicial presheaves
(∞,1)-topos theory(∞,1)-toposes\hookrightarrowlocally presentable (∞,1)-categories\simeq
Simpson’s theorem
accessible reflective sub-(∞,1)-categories of (∞,1)-presheaf (∞,1)-categories\hookrightarrowaccessible (∞,1)-categories

Basic idea in model category theory

Model structure on simplicial presheaves

The analog of a category of presheaves in model category theory is the model structure on simplicial presheaves, which we now briefly indicate.

Write sSet for the category of simplicial sets. Here we always regard this as equipped with the standard model structure on simplicial sets sSet QuillensSet_{Quillen}.


For CC a small category write [C op,sSet][C op,Set] Δ op[C^{op}, sSet]\simeq [C^{op}, Set]^{\Delta^{op}} for the category of simplicial presheaves. The global projective model structure on simplicial presheaves [C op,sSet] proj[C^{op}, sSet]_{proj} has as


Accordingly [C op,sSet][C^{op}, sSet] is a cofibrantly generated model category with generating (acyclic) cofibrations the tensoring of objects of CC with the generating (acyclic) cofibrations of sSet QuillensSet_{Quillen}.

Left Bousfield localization


Given a model category [C op,Set] proj[C^{op}, Set]_{proj} and set 𝒮Mor([C op,Set])\mathcal{S} \subset Mor([C^{op}, Set]) of morphisms, the left Bousfield localization is the model structure with the same cofibrations and weak equivalences the 𝒮\mathcal{S}-local morphisms.

[C op,Set] proj,𝒮idid[C op,Set] proj. [C^{op}, Set]_{proj,\mathcal{S}} \stackrel{\overset{id}{\leftarrow}}{\underset{id}{\to}} [C^{op}, Set]_{proj} \,.

Combinatorial model categories

The simple idea of the following definition is to say that the model category analog of locally presentable category is simply a model structure on a locally presentable category.


A model category is a combinatorial model category if

  1. the underlying category is a locally presentable category;

  2. the model structure is a cofibrantly generated model category.

Dugger’s theorem

See at combinatorial model category - Dugger’s theorem.

Basic idea in (,1)(\infty,1)-category theory



For 𝒞\mathcal{C} and 𝒟\mathcal{D} two (∞,1)-categories and 𝒞 s,𝒟 ssSet\mathcal{C}_{s}, \mathcal{D}_s \in sSet two models as quasi-categories, an (∞,1)-functor F:𝒞𝒟F \colon \mathcal{C} \to \mathcal{D} is simply a homomorphism of simplicial set 𝒞 s𝒟 s\mathcal{C}_s \to \mathcal{D}_s.

The (∞,1)-category of (∞,1)-functors Func(𝒞,𝒟) sFunc(\mathcal{C}, \mathcal{D})_s as a quasi-category is simply the hom object of simplicial set

Func(𝒞,𝒟) s=sSet(𝒞 s,𝒟 s)QuasiCatsSet. Func(\mathcal{C}, \mathcal{D})_s = sSet(\mathcal{C}_s, \mathcal{D}_s) \in QuasiCat \hookrightarrow sSet \,.

For 𝒟\mathcal{D} an (∞,1)-category, the (∞,1)-category of (∞,1)-presheaves on 𝒟\mathcal{D} is the functor category

PSh (𝒟)=Func(𝒟 op,Grpd) PSh_\infty(\mathcal{D}) = Func(\mathcal{D}^{op}, \infty Grpd)

out of the opposite (∞,1)-category of 𝒟\mathcal{D} into the (∞,1)-category of ∞-groupoids.

Localizations of (,1)(\infty,1)-categories

The notions of adjoint functors, full and faithful functors etc. have straightforward, essentially verbatim generalizations to (,1)(\infty,1)-categories:


A pair of (∞,1)-functors

CRLD C \stackrel{\overset{L}{\leftarrow}}{\underset{R}{\to}} D

is a pair of adjoint (∞,1)-functors, if there exists a unit transformation ϵ:Id CRL\epsilon : Id_C \to R \circ L – a morphism in the (∞,1)-category of (∞,1)-functors Func(C,D)Func(C,D) – such that for all cCc \in C and dDd \in D the induced morphism

Hom C(L(c),d)R L(c),dHom D(R(L(c)),R(d))Hom D(ϵ,R(d))Hom D(c,R(d)) Hom_C(L(c),d) \stackrel{R_{L(c), d}}{\to} Hom_D(R(L(c)), R(d)) \stackrel{Hom_D(\epsilon, R(d))}{\to} Hom_D(c,R(d))

is an equivalence of ∞-groupoids.


An (∞,1)-functor F:𝒞𝒟F \colon \mathcal{C} \to \mathcal{D} is a full and faithful (∞,1)-functor if for all objects X,Y𝒞X,Y \in \mathcal{C} the component

F X,Y:𝒞(X,Y)𝒟(F(X),F(Y)) F_{X,Y} \colon \mathcal{C}(X,Y) \stackrel{\simeq}{\to} \mathcal{D}(F(X), F(Y))

is an equivalence of ∞-groupoids.


A reflective sub-(∞,1)-category 𝒞𝒟\mathcal{C} \hookrightarrow \mathcal{D} is a full and faithful (∞,1)-functor with a left adjoint (∞,1)-functor.

Locally presentable (,1)(\infty,1)-categories

We have then the essentially verbatim analog of the situation for ordinary categories:


An (∞,1)-category 𝒞\mathcal{C} is a locally presentable (∞,1)-category if there exists a small set of objects such that the full sub-(∞,1)-category 𝒞 0𝒞\mathcal{C}^0 \hookrightarrow \mathcal{C} on it generates 𝒞\mathcal{C} under (∞,1)-colimits.

And the equivalent characterization is now as before


An (∞,1)-category is a locally presentable (∞,1)-category, def. , precisely if it is equivalent to localization, def. ,

𝒞RLPSh (𝒞 0) \mathcal{C} \stackrel{\overset{L}{\leftarrow}}{\underset{R}{\hookrightarrow}} PSh_\infty(\mathcal{C}^0)

of an (∞,1)-category of (∞,1)-presheaves, def. , such that RLR \circ L preserves κ\kappa-filtered (∞,1)-colimits for some regular cardinal κ\kappa.

This appears as Lurie, theorem, attributed there to Carlos Simpson.


As before, if a locally presentable (,1)(\infty,1)-category arises as the localization L:PSh (𝒞 0)𝒞L \colon PSh_\infty(\mathcal{C}^0) \to \mathcal{C} of a left exact (∞,1)-functor, then it is an (∞,1)-topos.

Presentation by combinatorial model categories

There is a close match between the theory of combinatorial model categories and locally presentable (∞,1)-categories.

This is part of Lurie, theorem

Accordingly, every simplicial Quillen adjunction between combinatorial model categories gives rise to a pair of adjoint (∞,1)-functors between the corresponding locally presentable (,1)(\infty,1)-categories.

Hence a left Bousfield localization of a model structure on simplicial presheaves presents a corresponding localization of an (∞,1)-category of (∞,1)-presheaves to a locally presentable (∞,1)-category.

𝒞 PSh (C) [C op,sSet] proj,𝒮 idid [C op,sSet] proj \array{ \mathcal{C} &\stackrel{\overset{}{\leftarrow}}{\hookrightarrow}& PSh_\infty(C) \\ \left[C^{op}, sSet\right]_{proj,\mathcal{S}} &\stackrel{\overset{id}{\leftarrow}}{\underset{id}{\to}}& [C^{op}, sSet]_{proj} }


The standard textbook for locally presentable categories is

Decent accounts of combinatorial model categories include secton A.2.6 of


The standard text for locally presentable (∞,1)-categories is section 5 of Lurie.

Last revised on April 27, 2023 at 07:03:03. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.