nLab tropical semiring

The tropical semiring

The tropical semiring


The tropical semiring is a semiring ({},,)(\mathbb{R}\cup \{\infty\},\oplus,\otimes) with addition xy=min(x,y)x\oplus y = min(x,y) and multiplication xy=x+yx\otimes y = x+y. (This is semiring in the sense of rig, hence sometimes the tropical rig.)

Tropical geometry is often thought as the algebraic geometry over the tropical semiring.


The tropical rig is also called the min-plus algebra. There is a related, in fact isomorphic rig called the max-plus algebra. (Some authors use the term ‘tropical algebra’ for the max-plus rather than the min-plus algebra. The theories, of course, run in parallel, as each is the negative of the other.)

In his survey article, cited below, Pin uses the term for a wide range of similar idempotent semirings. For instance =(,min,+)\mathcal{M} = (\mathbb{N} \cup{\infty}, min, +) is a tropical semiring introduced by Imre Simon in 1978.


  • The tropical semiring is an example of an idempotent semiring, since for all elements xx, we have xx=xx\oplus x=x.


In the min-plus algebra we have, for instance:

(56)7 =min(5,6)+7 =5+7 =12. \begin{aligned} (5\oplus 6)\otimes 7 & = min(5,6) + 7 \\ & = 5 + 7 \\ & = 12 \,. \end{aligned}


Apart from applications in tropical geometry, the min-plus and max-plus algebras have extensive use in providing algebraic models for simple discrete event systems related to timed Petri nets.


The use of the tropical algebra in discrete event systems is handled in many sources, e.g

Book collection of articles on idempotent semirings:

  • J. Gunawardena (ed.), Idempotency, Cambridge University Press, 2001,

An original source:

  • Imre Simon, (1978), Limited Subsets of a Free Monoid, in Proc. 19th Annual Symposium on Foundations of Computer Science, Piscataway, N.J., Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 143–150 (doi:10.1109/SFCS.1978.21)

See also:

and the first few pages of:

  • William Lawvere, Introduction to Linear Categories and Applications, course lecture notes (1992) [pdf, pdf]

Last revised on August 25, 2023 at 19:54:28. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.