In mathematics, ring theory is the study of rings, algebraic structures in which addition and multiplication are defined and have similar properties to those familiar from the integers.

Please refer to the glossary of ring theory for the definitions of terms used throughout ring theory.




The study of rings originated from the theory of polynomial rings and the theory of algebraic integers. Furthermore, the appearance of hypercomplex numbers in the mid-nineteenth century undercut the pre-eminence of fields in mathematical analysis.

Richard Dedekind introduced the concept of a ring.

The term ring (Zahlring) was coined by David Hilbert in the article Die Theorie der algebraischen Zahlkrper, Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, Vol. 4, 1897.

The first axiomatic definition of a ring was given by Adolf Fraenkel in an essay in Journal fr die reine und angewandte Mathematik (A. L. Crelle), vol. 145, 1914.

In 1921, Emmy Noether gave the first axiomatic foundation of the theory of commutative rings in her monumental paper Ideal Theory in Rings.


Elementary introduction



Formally, a ring is an abelian group (R, +), together with a second binary operation * such that for all a, b and c in R,

a * (b * c) = (a * b) * c
a * (b + c) = (a * b) + (a * c)
(a + b) * c = (a * c) + (b * c)

and such that there exists a multiplicative identity, or unity, that is, an element 1 so that for all a in R,

a * 1 = 1 * a = a

It is simple to show that any ring in which 1 = 0 must have just one element; any such ring is called a zero ring.

Rings that sit inside other rings are called subrings. Maps between rings which respect the ring operations are called ring homomorphisms. Rings, together with ring homomorphisms, form a category. Closely related is the notion of ideals, certain subsets of rings which arise as kernels of homomorphisms and can serve to define factor rings. Basic facts about ideals, homomorphisms and factor rings are recorded in the isomorphism theorems and in the Chinese remainder theorem.

A ring is called commutative if its multiplication is commutative. Commutative rings resemble familiar number systems, and various definitions for commutative rings are designed to recover properties known from the integers. Commutative rings are also important in algebraic geometry. In commutative ring theory, numbers are often replaced by ideals, and the definition of prime ideal tries to capture the essence of prime numbers. Integral domains, non-trivial commutative rings where no two non-zero elements multiply to give zero, generalize another property of the integers and serve as the proper realm to study divisibility. Principal ideal domains are integral domains in which every ideal can be generated by a single element, another property shared by the integers. Euclidean domains are integral domains in which the Euclidean algorithm can be carried out. Important examples of commutative rings can be constructed as rings of polynomials and their factor rings. Summary: Euclidean domain => principal ideal domain => unique factorization domain => integral domain => Commutative ring.

Non-commutative rings resemble rings of matrices in many respects. Following the model of algebraic geometry, attempts have been made recently at defining non-commutative geometry based on non-commutative rings. Non-commutative rings and associative algebras (rings that are also vector spaces) are often studied via their categories of modules. A module over a ring is an abelian group that the ring acts on as a ring of endomorphisms, very much akin to the way fields (integral domains in which every non-zero element is invertible) act on vector spaces. Examples of non-commutative rings are given by rings of square matrices or more generally by rings of endomorphisms of abelian groups or modules, and by monoid rings.


Some useful theorems



Any ring can be seen as a preadditive category with a single object. It is therefore natural to consider arbitrary preadditive categories to be generalizations of rings. And indeed, many definitions and theorems originally given for rings can be translated to this more general context. Additive functors between preadditive categories generalize the concept of ring homomorphism, and ideals in additive categories can be defined as sets of morphisms closed under addition and under composition with arbitrary morphisms.


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