nLab synthetic differential geometry



Synthetic differential geometry

synthetic differential geometry


from point-set topology to differentiable manifolds

geometry of physics: coordinate systems, smooth spaces, manifolds, smooth homotopy types, supergeometry



smooth space


The magic algebraic facts




infinitesimal cohesion

tangent cohesion

differential cohesion

graded differential cohesion

singular cohesion

id id fermionic bosonic bosonic Rh rheonomic reduced infinitesimal infinitesimal & étale cohesive ʃ discrete discrete continuous * \array{ && id &\dashv& id \\ && \vee && \vee \\ &\stackrel{fermionic}{}& \rightrightarrows &\dashv& \rightsquigarrow & \stackrel{bosonic}{} \\ && \bot && \bot \\ &\stackrel{bosonic}{} & \rightsquigarrow &\dashv& \mathrm{R}\!\!\mathrm{h} & \stackrel{rheonomic}{} \\ && \vee && \vee \\ &\stackrel{reduced}{} & \Re &\dashv& \Im & \stackrel{infinitesimal}{} \\ && \bot && \bot \\ &\stackrel{infinitesimal}{}& \Im &\dashv& \& & \stackrel{\text{étale}}{} \\ && \vee && \vee \\ &\stackrel{cohesive}{}& \esh &\dashv& \flat & \stackrel{discrete}{} \\ && \bot && \bot \\ &\stackrel{discrete}{}& \flat &\dashv& \sharp & \stackrel{continuous}{} \\ && \vee && \vee \\ && \emptyset &\dashv& \ast }


Lie theory, ∞-Lie theory

differential equations, variational calculus

Chern-Weil theory, ∞-Chern-Weil theory

Cartan geometry (super, higher)

Topos Theory

topos theory



Internal Logic

Topos morphisms

Extra stuff, structure, properties

Cohomology and homotopy

In higher category theory


Formal geometry



Der unendlich kleinste Theil des Raumes ist immer ein Raum, etwas, das Continuität hat, nicht aber ein blosser Punct, oder die Grenze zwischen bestimmten Stellen im Raume; (Fichte 1795, Grundriss, §4.IV)

In synthetic differential geometry one formulates differential geometry axiomatically in toposes – called smooth toposes – of generalized smooth spaces by assuming the explicit existence of infinitesimal neighbourhoods of points.

The main point of the axioms is to ensure that a well defined notion of the infinitesimal spaces exists in the topos, whose existence concretely and usefully formalizes the wide-spread but often vague intuition about the role of infinitesimals in differential geometry.

In particular, in such toposes EE there exists an infinitesimal space DD that behaves like the infinitesimal interval in such a way that for any space XEX \in E the tangent bundle of XX, is, again as an object of the topos, just the internal hom TX:=X DT X \;\text{:=}\; X^D (using the notation of exponential objects in the cartesian closed category EE). So a tangent vector in this context is literally an infinitesimal path in XX.

This way, in smooth toposes it is possible to give precise well-defined meaning to many of the familiar computations – wide-spread in particular in the physics literature – that compute with supposedly “infinitesimal” quantities.


As quoted by Anders Kock in his first book (p. 9), Sophus Lie – one of the founding fathers of differential geometry and, of course Lie theory – once said that he found his main theorems in Lie theory using “synthetic reasoning”, but had to write them up in non-synthetic style (see analytic versus synthetic) just due to lack of a formalized language:

“The reason why I have postponed for so long these investigations, which are basic to my other work in this field, is essentially the following: I found these theories originally by synthetic considerations. But I soon realized that, as expedient ( zweckmässig ) the synthetic method is for discovery, as difficult it is to give a clear exposition on synthetic investigations, which lead to deal with objects that till now have almost exclusively been considered analytically. After long vacillations, I have decided to use a half synthetic, half analytic form. I hope my work will serve to bring justification to the synthetic method besides the analytical one.” (Sophus Lie, Allgemeine Theorie der partiellen Differentialgleichungen erster Ordnung, Math. Ann. 9 (1876).)

Synthetic differential geometry provides this formalized language.


Another advocate of the use of infinitesimals in the late 19th century was the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce:

The illumination of the subject by a strict notation for the logic of relatives had shown me clearly and evidently that the idea of an infinitesimal involves no contradiction…As a mathematician, I prefer the method of infinitesimals to that of limits, as far easier and less infested with snares. Charles Sanders Peirce, The Law of Mind, The Monist 2 (1892)

According to Bell (1998, p.5):

Peirce was aware, even before Brouwer, that a faithful account of the truly continuous will involve jettisoning the law of excluded(.)


The axioms of synthetic differential geometry demand that the topos EE of smooth spaces is

in which in particular

Depending on applications one imposes further axioms, such as the

With that little bit of axiomatics alone, a large amount of differential geometry may be formulated. This has been carried through quite comprehensively by Anders Kock, see the reference below.

In his work he particularly makes use of the fact that as sophisticated as a smooth topos may be when explicitly constructed (see the section on models), being a topos means that one can reason inside it almost literally as in Set. Using this Kock’s work gives descriptions of synthetic differential geometry which are entirely intuitive and have no esoteric topos-theoretic flavor. All he needs is the assumption that the Kock-Lawvere axiom is satisfied for “numbers”. Here “numbers” is really to be interpreted in the topos, but if one just accepts that they satisfy the KL axiom, one may work with infinitesimals in this context in essentially precisely the naive way, with the topos theory in the background just ensuring that everything makes good sense.


Being axiomatic, reasoning in synthetic differential geometry applies in every model for the axioms, i.e. in every concrete choice of smooth topos TT.

Models of smooth toposes tend to be inspired by, but more general than, constructions familiar from algebraic geometry. In particular the old insight promoted by Grothendieck in his work, that nilpotent ideals in rings are formal duals of spaces with infinitesimal extension is typically used to model infinitesimal spaces in synthetic differential geometry.

See at synthetic differential geometry applied to algebraic geometry for more on this.

The main difference between models for smooth toposes and algebraic geometry from this perspective is that models for smooth topos tend to employ test spaces that are richer than plain formal duals to commutative rings or algebras, as in algebraic geometry: typical models for synthetic differential geometry use test spaces given by formal duals of generalized smooth algebras that remember “smooth structure” in the usual sense of differential geometry (and different from, though not entirely unrelated to, the notion of smooth scheme in algebraic geometry). This is in particular true for the well adapted models.

However, with a a sufficiently general perspective on higher geometry one finds that algebraic geometry and synthetic differential geometry are both special cases of a more general notion of theories of generalized spaces. For more on this see generalized scheme.

Well adapted models

A topos EE modelling the axioms of synthetic differential geometry is called (well) adapted if the ordinary differential geometry of manifolds embeds into it, in particular if there is a full and faithful functor Diff E\to E from the category of ordinary smooth manifolds into EE.

A standard model for well adapted synthetic toposes is obtained in terms of sheaves on duals of “germ determined” C C^\infty-rings. This is described in great detail in the textbook Models for Smooth Infinitesimal Analysis.

The conception and discussion of these well adapted toposes goes back to Eduardo Dubuc, who studied them in a long series of articles. He asks people to refer to this topos as the Dubuc topos.

This theory of well-adapted models was later summarized and extended in the standard textbook


Higher categorical versions

Supergeometric versions

The notion of synthetic differential geometry extends to the context of supergeometry. See

Constructions in synthetic differential geometry

Tangent bundle

The tangent bundle of an object XX in a smooth topos is just the exponential object TX:=X DT X := X^D. The unique inclusion *D{*} \to D induces a canonical projection TXXT X \to X. A section XTXX \to T X of that projection is a tangent vector field on XX. Its adjunct is a morphism DX XD \to X^X that sends the unique point of DD to the identity Id XX XId_X \in X^X.

Differential equation

A differential equation is an extension problem in a smooth topos along a morphism that includes an infinitesimal object into another object.

For instance the ordinary first order homogeneous differential equation that asks the derivative of a function f:XAf : X \to A along a vector field v:DX Xv : D \to X^X to be given by a specified map α:XTA\alpha: X \to T A is given by a diagram of the form

D v X X α f A X, \array{ D &\stackrel{v}{\to}& X^X \\ {}^{\mathllap{\alpha}}\downarrow & \swarrow_{\mathrlap{f}} \\ A^X } \,,

where we have freely identified morphisms with their adjuncts. See differential equation for details.

Differential forms

A differential 1-form is a morphism ω:TXR\omega : T X \to R that is “fiberwise linear”. One elegant way to say this is obtained by considering all higher differential forms at once:

for a sufficiently well behaved object XX in a smooth topos, there is the simplicial object which is the infinitesimal singular simplicial complex X (Δ inf )X^{(\Delta^\bullet_{inf})} of XX. Taking functions on this produces the cosimplicial algebra Hom(X Δ inf ,R)Hom(X^{\Delta^\bullet_{inf}}, R). Its normalized Moore cochain complex is isomorphic to the de Rham dg-algebra of differential forms on XX:

N (Hom(X (Δ inf)),R)=Ω dR (X). N^\bullet(Hom(X^{(\Delta^{inf}_\bullet)}),R) = \Omega^\bullet_{dR}(X) \,.

This is discussed at

Flow of a vector field

See at flow of a vector field.

geometries of physics

A\phantom{A}(higher) geometryA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}siteA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}sheaf toposA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}∞-sheaf ∞-toposA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}discrete geometryA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}PointA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}SetA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}Discrete∞GrpdA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}differential geometryA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}CartSpA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}SmoothSetA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}Smooth∞GrpdA\phantom{A}
A\phantom{A}formal geometryA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}FormalCartSpA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}FormalSmoothSetA\phantom{A}A\phantom{A}FormalSmooth∞GrpdA\phantom{A}


The idea of axiomatizing differential geometry using ideas inspired by topos theory originates in

They were published as pp.1-28 in

  • Anders Kock (ed.), Topos Theoretic Methods in Geometry , Aarhus Univ. Var. Pub. Ser. 30 (1979).

The first model for the axioms presented there served to demonstrate that the theory is non-empty, but was hard to work with. Much of the later work was concerned with refining the model-building. For instance

  • Eduardo Dubuc, Sur les modèles de la géométrie différentielle synthétique, Cahier Top et Géom. Diff. XX-3 (1979) pp.231-279. (pdf)

These models are constructed in terms of sheaf toposes on the category of smooth loci, formal duals to C^∞-rings. See there for a detailed list of references.

Transcripts or notes of further talks by Bill Lawvere on the subject are

Two articles that exhibit the link to continuum mechanics:

  • F. W. Lawvere, Toward the description in a smooth topos of the dynamically possible motions and deformations of a continuous body , Cah. Top. Géom. Diff. Cat. 21 no.4 (1980) pp.377-392. (pdf)

  • F. W. Lawvere, Categorical algebra for continuum microphysics , JPAA 175 (2002) pp.267-287.

See also

  • Marta Bunge, Eduardo Dubuc, Archimedian local C C^\infty-rings and models of synthetic differential geometry Cahiers de Topologie et Géométrie Différentielle Catégoriques, XXVII-3 (1986) pp.3-22. (numdam).

For the early French connection see:

  • André Weil, Théorie des points proches sur les variétés différentiables , Colloq. Top. et Géom. Diff., Strasbourg (1953) pp.111-117.

  • Jean Penon, De l’infinitésimal au local (Thèse de Doctorat d’État) Diagrammes S13 (1985), pp.1-191. (pdf)

Discussion in differential cohesion is in

Discussion in differentially cohesive homotopy type theory is in


A nice elementary introduction which emphasizes calculations and the application as engineering mathematics can be found in

The textbooks

develop in great detail the theory of differential geometry using the axioms of synthetic differential geometry. The main goal in these books is to demonstrate how these axioms lead to a very elegant, very intuitive and very comprehensive conception of differential geometry. Accordingly, concrete models (whose explicit description is typically much more evolved than the nice axiomatics that holds once they have been constructed) play a minor role in these books.

Somewhat complementary to that, the book

focuses on concrete constructions of well-adapted models using the technology of generalized smooth algebras (C C^\infty-rings).

Another textbook is


Introductory survey includes

Introductory expositions of basic ideas of synthetic differential geometry are

Last revised on February 21, 2024 at 07:57:46. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.