In mathematics, more specifically abstract algebra, a finite ring is a ring (not necessarily with a multiplicative identity) that has a finite number of elements. Every finite field is an example of a finite ring, and the additive part of every finite ring is an example of an abelian finite group, but the concept of finite rings in their own right has a more recent history.
As with finite groups, the complexity of the classification depends upon the complexity of the prime factorization of m. If m is the square of a prime, for instance, there are precisely eleven rings having order m. On the other hand, there can be only two groups having order m; both of which are abelian.
The theory of finite rings is more complex than that of finite abelian groups, since any finite abelian group is the additive group of at least two nonisomorphic finite rings: the direct product of copies of , and the zero ring. On the other hand, the theory of finite rings is simpler than that of not necessarily abelian finite groups. For instance, the classification of finite simple groups was one of the major breakthroughs of 20th century mathematics, its proof spanning thousands of journal pages. On the other hand, any finite simple ring is isomorphic to the ring of n-by-n matrices over a finite field of order q.
In 1964 David Singmaster proposed the following problem in the American Mathematical Monthly: "(1) What is the order of the smallest non-trivial ring with identity which is not a field? Find two such rings with this minimal order. Are there more? (2) How many rings of order four are there?" One can find the solution by D.M. Bloom in a two-page proof  that there are eleven rings of order 4, four of which have a multiplicative identity. Indeed, four-element rings introduce the complexity of the subject. There are three rings over the cyclic group C4 and eight rings over the Klein four-group. There is an interesting display of the discriminatory tools (nilpotents, zero-divisors, idempotents, and left- and right-identities) in Gregory Dresden's lecture notes (see reference).
The occasion of non-commutativity in finite rings was described in 1968 in the same journal (75:512–14) by K. Eldrige in two theorems: If the order m of a finite ring with 1 has a cube-free factorization, then it is commutative. And if a non-commutative finite ring with 1 has the order of a prime cubed, then the ring is isomorphic to the upper triangular 2 × 2 matrix ring over the Galois field of the prime. The study of rings of order the cube of a prime was further developed by R. Raghavendran in 1969 (Compositio Mathematica 21:195–229). In 1973 the Proceedings of the Japan Academy 49:795–9 published Robert Gilmer and Joe Mott’s paper "Associative rings of order p3". Next Flor and Wessenbauer (1975) made improvements on the cube-of-a-prime case. Definitive work on the isomorphism classes came with V.G. Antipkin and V.P Elizarov (1982) writing in the Siberian Mathematical Journal (23:457–64). They prove that for p > 2, the number of classes is 3p + 50.
These are a few of the facts that are known about the number of finite rings (not necessarily with unity) of a given order (suppose p and q represent distinct prime numbers):
- There are two finite rings of order p.
- There are four finite rings of order pq.
- There are eleven finite rings of order p2.
- There are twenty-two finite rings of order p2q.
- There are fifty-two finite rings of order eight.
- There are 3p + 50 finite rings of order p3, p > 2.
There are other deep aspects to the theory of finite rings, apart from mere enumeration. For instance, Wedderburn's little theorem asserts that any finite division ring is necessarily commutative (and therefore a finite field). Nathan Jacobson later discovered yet another condition which guarantees commutativity of a ring:
If for every element r of R there exists an integer n > 1 such that rn = r, then R is commutative.
Yet another theorem by Wedderburn has, as its consequence, a result demonstrating that the theory of finite simple rings is relatively straightforward in nature. More specifically, any finite simple ring is isomorphic to the ring of n by n matrices over a finite field of order q. This follows from two theorems of Joseph Wedderburn established in 1905 and 1907 (one of which is Wedderburn's little theorem). On the other hand, the classification of finite simple groups was one of the major breakthroughs of twentieth century mathematics, its proof spanning thousands of journal pages. Therefore, in some respects, the theory of finite rings is simpler than that of finite groups.
The theory of finite fields is perhaps the most important aspect of finite ring theory due to its intimate connections with algebraic geometry, Galois theory and number theory. An important, but fairly old aspect of the theory is the classification of finite fields (Jacobson 1985, p. 287):
- The order or number of elements of a finite field equals pn, where p is a prime number called the characteristic of the field, and n is a positive integer.
- For every prime number p and positive integer n, there exists a finite field with pn elements.
- Any two finite fields with the same order are isomorphic.
Despite the classification, finite fields are still an active area of research, including recent results on the Kakeya conjecture and open problems regarding the size of smallest primitive roots (in number theory).
- proposed by David Singmaster, answered by D. M. Bloom (1964) "E1648" The American Mathematical Monthly, 71:8 (918–920)
- Robert Ballieu (1947) "Anneaux finis", Ann. Soc. Sci Bruxelles 61:222–227 MR 0022841
- Scorza (1935), see review of Ballieu by Irving Kaplansky in Mathematical Reviews
- Jacobson 1945
- Pinter-Lucke 2007
- Gregory Dresden (2005) Small Rings, a research report of the work of 13 students and Prof. Sieler at a Washington & Lee University class in Abstract algebra (Math 322).
- Gregory Dresden (2005) Rings with four elements.
- Bernard A. McDonald (1974) Finite Rings with Identity, Marcel Dekker ISBN 0-8247-6161-8.
- G Bini & F Flamini (2002) Finite commutative rings and their applications, ISBN 978-1-4020-7039-6.
- Saniga, Metod; Planat, Michel; Kibler, Maurice R.; Pracna, Petr (2007). "A classification of the projective lines over small rings". Chaos, Solitons & Fractals 33 (4): 1095–1102. MR 2318902.