A pro-object of a category CC is a “formal cofiltered limit” of objects of CC.

The category of pro-objects of CC is written propro-CC. Such a category is sometimes called a pro-category, but notice that that is not the same thing as a pro-object in Cat.

“Pro” is short for “projective”. ( Projective limit is an older term for limit.) It is in contrast to “ind” in the dual notion of ind-object, standing for “inductive”, (and corresponding to inductive limit, the old term for colimit). In some (often older) sources, the term ‘projective system’ is used more or less synonymously for pro-object.


Via formal co-filtered limits

The objects of the category propro-CC are diagrams F:DCF:D\to C where DD is a small cofiltered category. The hom set of morphisms between F:DCF:D\to C and G:ECG:E\to C is

pro-C(F,G)=limeEcolimdDC(Fd,Ge) pro\text{-}C(F,G) = \underset{e\in E}{lim}\, \underset{d\in D}{colim} C(F d, G e)

Notice that here the limit and colimit is taken in the category Set of sets.

Cofiltered limits in Set are given by sets of threads and filtered colimits by germs (classes of equivalences), thus a representative of sproC(F,G)s\in\mathrm{pro}C(F,G) is a thread whose each component is a germ:
s=(germ e(s)) eEs = (germ_e(s))_{e\in E} which can be more concretely written as ([s d e,e]) e([s_{d_e,e}])_e; thus [s d e,e]colim dDC(Fd,Ge)[s_{d_e,e}]\in colim_{d\in D} C(F d, G e) where s d e,eC(Fd e,Ge)s_{d_e,e}\in C(F d_e, G e) is some representative of the class; there is at least one d ed_e for each ee; if the domain EE is infinite, we seem to need an axiom of choice in general to find a function ed ee\mapsto d_e which will choose one representative in each class germ e(s)germ_e(s). Thus ss is given by the (equivalence class) of the following data

  • function ed ee\mapsto d_e

  • correspondence es d e,eC(Fd e,Ge)e\mapsto s_{d_e,e}\in C(F d_e, G e)

such that ([s d e,e]) e([s_{d_e,e}])_e is a thread, i.e. for any γ:ee\gamma: e\to e' we have an equality of classes (germs) [G(γ)s d e,e]=[s d e,e][G(\gamma)\circ s_{d_e,e}] = [s_{d_{e'},e'}]. This equality holds if there is a dd' and morphisms δ e:dd e\delta_e: d'\to d_e, δ e:dd e\delta_{e'}: d'\to d_{e'} such that G(γ)s d e,eFδ e=s d e,eFδ eG(\gamma)\circ s_{d_e,e}\circ F\delta_e = s_{d_{e'},e'}\circ F\delta_{e'}. (Usually in fact people consider the dual of DD and the dual of CC as filtered domains). Now if we chose a different function ed˜ ee\mapsto\tilde{d}_e instead then, ([s d e,e]) e=([s d˜ e,e]) e([s_{d_e,e}])_e = ([s_{\tilde{d}_e,e}])_e, hence by the definition od classes, for every ee there is a dDd''\in D and morphisms σ e:dd e\sigma_e : d''\to d_e, σ˜ e:dd˜ e\tilde\sigma_e:d''\to \tilde{d}_e such that s d˜ e,eF(σ˜ e)=s d e,eF(σ e)s_{\tilde{d}_e,e}\circ F(\tilde\sigma_e) = s_{d_e,e}\circ F(\sigma_e).

This definition is perhaps more intuitive in the dual case of ind-objects (pro-objects in C opC^{op}), where it can be seen as stipulating that the objects of CC are finitely presentable in indind-CC.

Via filtered limits of presheaves

Another, equivalent, definition is to let propro-CC be the full subcategory of the opposite functor category/presheaf category [C,Set] op[C,Set]^{op} determined by those functors which are cofiltered limits of representables. This is reasonable since the copresheaf category [C,Set] op[C,Set]^{op} is the free completion of CC, so propro-CC is the “free completion of CC under cofiltered limits.” See also at pro-representable functor.

The equivalence with the previous definition is seen as follows. To a functor F:ICF: I \to C, compose with the co-Yoneda embedding C[C,Set] opC \to [C,Set]^{op} to obtain a functor F˜:I[C,Set] op\tilde F: I \to [C, Set]^{op}, and then take |F|=limF˜[C,Set] op|F| = lim \tilde F \in [C,Set]^\mathrm{op}. Explicitly, |F|(c)=colimF˜ op|F|(c) = colim \tilde F^{op}. This yields a functor Pro(C)[C,Set] opPro(C) \to [C,Set]^{op}, and its essential image manifestly consists of the functors which are cofiltered limits of the duals of representables. To see that this functor is fully faithful, we compute, for F:ICF: I \to C and G:JCG: J \to C:

Hom(|F|,|G|)=Nat(colimG˜ op,colimF˜ op) Hom(|F|,|G|) = Nat(colim \tilde G^\mathrm{op}, colim \tilde F^\mathrm{op})

=lim J opNat(G˜ op,colimF˜ op)= lim_{J^{op}} Nat(\tilde G^\mathrm{op}, colim \tilde F^\mathrm{op})

=lim J opcolim I opNat(G˜ op,F˜ op)= lim_{J^{op}} colim_{I^\mathrm{op}} Nat(\tilde G^\mathrm{op}, \tilde F^\mathrm{op})

=lim J opcolim I opHom 𝒞(F,G)= lim_{J^{op}}colim_{I^\mathrm{op}} Hom_\mathcal{C}(F,G)

as in Pro(C)Pro(C). Here we have used the definition of a colimit, the fact that representables are compact objects (this follows from the fact that colimits are computed “levelwise” in a functor category), and the Yoneda lemma.

As formal duals of ind-objects


The category of pro-objects in 𝒞\mathcal{C} is the opposite category of that of ind-objects in the opposite catgegory of 𝒞\mathcal{C}:

Pro(𝒞)(Ind(𝒞 op)) op. Pro(\mathcal{C}) \simeq (Ind(\mathcal{C}^{op}))^{op} \,.

(e.g. Kashiwara-Schapira 06, p. 138)



Étale homotopy theory.

Procategories were used by Artin and Mazur in their work on étale homotopy theory. They associated to a scheme a ‘pro-homotopy type’. (This is discussed briefly at étale homotopy.) The important thing to note is that this was a pro-object in the homotopy category of simplicial sets, i.e., in the pro-homotopy category. Friedlander rigidified their construction to get an object in the pro-category of simplicial sets, and this opened the door to use of ‘homotopy pro-categories’.

Shape theory.

The form of shape theory developed by Mardešić and Segal, at about the same time as the work in algebraic geometry, again used the pro-homotopy category. Strong shape, developed by Edwards and Hastings, Porter and also in further work by Mardešić and Segal, used various forms of rigidification to get to the pro-category of spaces, or of simplicial sets. There methods of model category theory could be used.


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  • (SGA4-1) Alexander Grothendieck, Jean-Louis Verdier, Préfaisceaux, Exp. 1 (retyped pdf) in Théorie des topos et cohomologie étale des schémas. Tome 1: Théorie des topos, Séminaire de Géométrie Algébrique du Bois-Marie 1963–1964 (SGA 4). Dirigé par M. Artin, A. Grothendieck, et J. L. Verdier. Avec la collaboration de N. Bourbaki, P. Deligne et B. Saint-Donat. Lecture Notes in Mathematics 269, Springer 1972. pdf of SGA 4, Tome 1

  • Michael Artin, Barry Mazur, appendix of Étale homotopy theory, Lecture Notes in Maths. 100, Springer-Verlag, Berlin 1969.

  • Jean-Marc Cordier, and Tim Porter, Shape Theory, categorical methods of approximation, Dover (2008) (This is a reprint of the 1989 edition without amendments.)

  • Masaki Kashiwara, and Pierre Schapira, section 6 of Categories and Sheaves, Grundlehren der mathematischen Wissenschaften 332 (2006)

  • Peter Johnstone, section VI.1 of Stone Spaces

  • Dan Isaksen, Calculating limits and colimits in pro-categories, Fund. Math. 175 (2002),

  • S. Mardešić, J. Segal, Shape theory, North Holland 1982

  • Jean-Louis Verdier, Equivalence essentielle des systèmes projectifs, C. R.A.S. Paris261 (1965), 4950 - 4953.

  • John Duskin, Pro-objects (after Verdier), Sém. Heidelberg- Strasbourg1966 -67, Exposé 6, I.R.M.A.Strasbourg.

  • A. Deleanu, P. Hilton, Borsuk shape and Grothendieck categories of pro-objects, Math. Proc. Camb. Phil. Soc.79-3 (1976), 473-482 MR400220

no. 2, 175–194.

  • Tholen

Last revised on January 14, 2019 at 05:23:23. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.