Einstein notation

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In mathematics, especially in applications of linear algebra to physics, the Einstein notation or Einstein summation convention is a notational convention that implies summation over a set of indexed terms in a formula, thus achieving notational brevity. As part of mathematics it is a notational subset of Ricci calculus; however, it is often used in applications in physics that do not distinguish between tangent and cotangent spaces. It was introduced to physics by Albert Einstein in 1916.[1]


Statement of convention[edit]

According to this convention, when an index variable appears twice in a single term it implies summation of that term over all the values of the index. So where the indices can range over the set {1, 2, 3},

 y = \sum_{i=1}^3 c_i x^i = c_1 x^1 + c_2 x^2 + c_3 x^3

is reduced by the convention to:

 y = c_i x^i \,.

The upper indices are not exponents but are indices of coordinates, coefficients or basis vectors. For example, x2 should be read as "x-two", not "x squared", and typically (x1, x2, x3) would be equivalent to the traditional (x, y, z).

In general relativity, a common convention is that

  • the Greek alphabet is used for space and time components, where indices take values 0,1,2,3 (frequently used letters are μ, ν, ...),
  • the Latin alphabet is used for spatial components only, where indices take values 1,2,3 (frequently used letters are i, j, ...),

In general, indices can range over any indexing set, including an infinite set. This should not be confused with a typographically similar convention used to distinguish between tensor index notation and the closely related but distinct basis-independent abstract index notation.

An index that is summed over is a summation index, in this case i. It is also called a dummy index since any symbol can replace i without changing the meaning of the expression, provided that it does not collide with index symbols in the same term.

An index that is not summed over is a free index and should be found in each term of the equation or formula if it appears in any term. Compare dummy indices and free indices with free variables and bound variables.


Einstein notation can be applied in slightly different ways. Typically, each index occurs once in an upper (superscript) and once in a lower (subscript) position in a term; however, the convention can be applied more generally to any repeated indices within a term.[2] When dealing with covariant and contravariant vectors, where the position of an index also indicates the type of vector, the first case usually applies; a covariant vector can only be contracted with a contravariant vector, corresponding to summation of the products of coefficients. On the other hand, when there is a fixed coordinate basis (or when not considering coordinate vectors), one may choose to use only subscripts; see below.

Vector representations[edit]

Superscripts and subscripts vs. only subscripts[edit]

In terms of covariance and contravariance of vectors,

In recognition of this fact, the following notation uses the same symbol both for a (co)vector and its components, as in:

\, v = v^i e_i = \begin{bmatrix}e_1&e_2&\cdots&e_n\end{bmatrix}\begin{bmatrix}v^1\\v^2\\\vdots\\v^n\end{bmatrix}
\, w = w_i e^i = \begin{bmatrix}w_1 & w_2 & \cdots & w_n\end{bmatrix}\begin{bmatrix}e^1\\e^2\\\vdots\\e^n\end{bmatrix}

where v is the vector and vi are its components (not the ith covector v) w is the covector and wi are its components.

In the presence of a non-degenerate form (an isomorphism V \to V^*, for instance a Riemannian metric or Minkowski metric), one can raise and lower indices.

A basis gives such a form (via the dual basis), hence when working on Rn with a Euclidian metric and a fixed orthonormal basis, one can work with only subscripts.

However, if one changes coordinates, the way that coefficients change depends on the variance of the object, and one cannot ignore the distinction; see covariance and contravariance of vectors.


In the above example, vectors are represented as n×1 matrices (column vectors), while covectors are represented as 1×n matrices (row covectors).

When using the column vector convention

  • "Upper indices go up to down; lower indices go left to right"
  • "COvariant tensors are ROW vectors that have indices that are belOW. Co-below-row
  • Vectors can be stacked (column matrices) side-by-side:
\begin{bmatrix}v_1 & \cdots & v_k\end{bmatrix}.
Hence the lower index indicates which column you are in.
  • You can stack covectors (row matrices) top-to-bottom:
\begin{bmatrix}w^1 \\ \vdots \\ w^k\end{bmatrix}
Hence the upper index indicates which row you are in.

Abstract description[edit]

The virtue of Einstein notation is that it represents the invariant quantities with a simple notation.

Any scalar is invariant under transformations of basis; the individual terms in the sum are not. When the basis is changed, the components of a vector change by a linear transformation described by a matrix. This led Einstein to propose the convention that repeated indices imply the summation is to be done.

As for covectors, they change by the inverse matrix. This is designed to guarantee that the linear function associated with the covector, the sum above, is the same no matter what the basis is.

The value of the Einstein convention is that it applies to other vector spaces built from V using the tensor product and duality. For example, V\otimes V, the tensor product of V with itself, has a basis consisting of tensors of the form \mathbf{e}_{ij} = \mathbf{e}_i \otimes \mathbf{e}_j. Any tensor \mathbf{T} in V\otimes V can be written as:

\mathbf{T} = T^{ij}\mathbf{e}_{ij}.

V^*, the dual of V, has a basis e1, e2, ..., en which obeys the rule

\mathbf{e}^i (\mathbf{e}_j) = \delta^i_j.

where δ is the Kronecker delta. As

\mathrm{Hom}(V,W) = V^* \otimes W

the row-column coordinates on a matrix correspond to the upper-lower indices on the tensor product.

Common operations in this notation[edit]

In Einstein notation, the usual element reference A_{mn} for the mth row and nth column of matrix A becomes A^n{}_m. We can then write the following operations in Einstein notation as follows.

Inner product (hence also Vector dot product)

Using an orthogonal basis, the inner product is the sum of corresponding components multiplied together:

 \mathbf{u} \cdot \mathbf{v} = u_j v^j

This can also be calculated by multiplying the covector on the vector.

Vector cross product

Again using an orthogonal basis (in 3d) the cross product intrisically involves summations over permutations of components:

 \mathbf{u} \times \mathbf{v}= u^j v^k\epsilon^i{}_{jk} \mathbf{e}_i



and  \epsilon_{ijk} is the Levi-Civita symbol.

Matrix multiplication

The matrix product of two matrices A_{ij} and B_{jk} is:

 \mathbf{C}_{ik} = (\mathbf{A} \, \mathbf{B})_{ik}  =\sum_{j=1}^N A_{ij} B_{jk}

equivalent to

C^i{}_k = A^i{}_j \, B^j{}_k

For a square matrix A^i{}_j, the trace is the sum of the diagonal elements, hence the sum over a common index A^i{}_i.

Outer product

The outer product of the column vector u^i by the row vector v_j yields an m×n matrix A:

A^i{}_j = u^i \, v_j  = (uv)^i{}_j

Since i and j represent two different indices, there is no summation and the indices are not eliminated by the multiplication.

Tensor contraction

The contraction of a tensor with the metric tensor, g_{\mu \nu}, is a common operation used to raise or lower indices (typically for convenience) on a tensor. For example, the index in superscript of \Lambda^\sigma{}_{\nu}, can be lowered like so:

\Lambda_{\mu \nu} = g_{\mu \sigma} \Lambda^\sigma{}_{\nu}.

In this case, only summation over the "\sigma" index is implied.

See also[edit]


  1. This applies only for numerical indices. The situation is the opposite for abstract indices. Then, vectors themselves carry upper abstract indices and covectors carry lower abstract indices, as per the example in the introduction of this article. Elements of a basis of vectors may carry a lower numerical index and an upper abstract index.


  1. ^ Einstein, Albert (1916). "The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity" (PDF). Annalen der Physik. Bibcode:1916AnP...354..769E. doi:10.1002/andp.19163540702. Archived from the original on 2006-08-29. Retrieved 2006-09-03. 
  2. ^ "Einstein Summation". Wolfram Mathworld. Retrieved 13 April 2011. 


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