In mathematics, specifically order theory, a well-quasi-ordering or wqo is a well-founded quasi-ordering with an additional restriction on sequences - that there is no infinite sequence with for all .
We can use well-founded induction on any set with a well-founded relation, thus one is interested in when a quasi-order is well-founded. However the class of well-founded quasiorders is not closed under certain operations - that is, when we use a quasi-order to obtain a new quasi-order on a set of structures derived from our original set, we find this quasiorder is not well-founded. By placing stronger restrictions on the original well-founded quasiordering one can hope to ensure that our derived quasiorderings are still well-founded.
An example of this is the power set operation. Given a quasiordering for a set we can define a quasiorder on 's power set by setting if and only if for each element of we can find some element of which is larger than it under . We find that this quasiordering on needn't be well-founded but that if we took our original quasi-ordering to be a well-quasi-ordering then it is.
Formal definition 
A well-quasi-ordering on a set is a quasi-ordering (i.e., a reflexive, transitive binary relation) such that any infinite sequence of elements , , , … from contains an increasing pair ≤ with <. The set is said to be well-quasi-ordered, or shortly wqo.
A well partial order, or a wpo, is a wqo that is a proper ordering relation, i.e., it is antisymmetric.
Among other ways of defining wqo's, one is to say that they do not contain infinite strictly decreasing sequences (of the form >>>…) nor infinite sequences of pairwise incomparable elements. Hence a quasi-order (,≤) is wqo if and only if it is well-founded and has no infinite antichains.
- , the set of natural numbers with standard ordering, is a well partial order. However, , the set of positive and negative integers, is not a well-quasi-order, because it is not well-founded.
- , the set of natural numbers ordered by divisibility, is not a well partial order: the prime numbers are an infinite antichain.
- , the set of vectors of natural numbers with component-wise ordering, is a well partial order (Dickson's lemma). More generally, if is well-quasi-order, then is also a well-quasi-order for all .
- Let be an arbitrary finite set with at least two elements. The set of words over ordered lexicographically (as in a dictionary) is not a well-quasi-order because it contains the infinite decreasing sequence . Similarly, ordered by the prefix relation is not a well-quasi-order, because the previous sequence is an infinite antichain of this partial order. However, ordered by the subsequence relation is a well partial order. (If has only one element, these three partial orders are identical.)
- More generally, , the set of finite -sequences ordered by embedding is a well-quasi-order if and only if is is a well-quasi-order (Higman's lemma). Recall that one embeds a sequence into a sequence by finding a subsequence of that has the same length as and that dominates it term by term. When is a finite unordered set, if and only if is a subsequence of .
- , the set of infinite sequences over a well-quasi-order , ordered by embedding, is not a well-quasi-order in general. That is, Higman's lemma does not carry over to infinite sequences. Better-quasi-orderings have been introduced to generalize Higman's lemma to sequences of arbitrary lengths.
- Embedding between finite trees with nodes labeled by elements of a wqo is a wqo (Kruskal's tree theorem).
- Embedding between infinite trees with nodes labeled by elements of a wqo is a wqo (Nash-Williams' theorem).
- Embedding between countable scattered linear order types is a well-quasi-order (Laver's theorem).
- Embedding between countable boolean algebras is a well-quasi-order. This follows from Laver's theorem and a theorem of Ketonen.
- Finite graphs ordered by a notion of embedding called "graph minor" is a well-quasi-order (Robertson–Seymour theorem).
- Graphs of finite tree-depth ordered by the induced subgraph relation form a well-quasi-order, as do the cographs ordered by induced subgraphs.
Wqo's versus well partial orders 
In practice, the wqo's one manipulates are almost always orderings (see examples above), but the theory is technically smoother if we do not require antisymmetry, so it is built with wqo's as the basic notion.
Observe that a wpo is a wqo, and that a wqo gives rise to a wpo between equivalence classes induced by the kernel of the wqo. For example, if we order by divisibility, we end up with if and only if , so that .
Infinite increasing subsequences 
If (, ≤) is wqo then every infinite sequence , , , … contains an infinite increasing subsequence ≤≤≤… (with <<<…). Such a subsequence is sometimes called perfect. This can be proved by a Ramsey argument: given some sequence , consider the set of indexes such that has no larger or equal to its right, i.e., with . If is infinite, then the -extracted subsequence contradicts the assumption that is wqo. So is finite, and any with larger than any index in can be used as the starting point of an infinite increasing subsequence.
The existence of such infinite increasing subsequences is sometimes taken as a definition for well-quasi-ordering, leading to an equivalent notion.
Properties of wqos 
- Given a quasiordering the quasiordering defined by is well-founded if and only if is a wqo.
- A quasiordering is a wqo if and only if the corresponding partial order (obtained by quotienting by ) has no infinite descending sequences or antichains. (This can be proved using a Ramsey argument as above)
- Gasarch, W. (1998), "A survey of recursive combinatorics", Handbook of Recursive Mathematics, Vol. 2, Stud. Logic Found. Math. 139, Amsterdam: North-Holland, pp. 1041–1176, doi:10.1016/S0049-237X(98)80049-9, MR 1673598. See in particular page 1160.
- Nešetřil, Jaroslav; Ossona de Mendez, Patrice (2012), "Lemma 6.13", Sparsity: Graphs, Structures, and Algorithms, Algorithms and Combinatorics 28, Heidelberg: Springer, p. 137, doi:10.1007/978-3-642-27875-4, ISBN 978-3-642-27874-7, MR 2920058.
- Damaschke, Peter (1990), "Induced subgraphs and well-quasi-ordering", Journal of Graph Theory 14 (4): 427–435, doi:10.1002/jgt.3190140406, MR 1067237.
- Forster, Thomas (2003). "Better-quasi-orderings and coinduction". Theoretical Computer Science 309 (1–3): 111–123. doi:10.1016/S0304-3975(03)00131-2.
- Dickson, L. E. (1913). "Finiteness of the odd perfect and primitive abundant numbers with r distinct prime factors". American Journal of Mathematics 35 (4): 413–422. doi:10.2307/2370405. JSTOR 2370405.
- Higman, G. (1952). "Ordering by divisibility in abstract algebras". Proc. London Math. Soc., 3rd series 2: 326–336. doi:10.1112/plms/s3-2.1.326.
- Kruskal, J. B. (1972). "The theory of well-quasi-ordering: A frequently discovered concept". Journal of Combinatorial Theory. Series A 13 (3): 297–305. doi:10.1016/0097-3165(72)90063-5.
- Ketonen, Jussi (1978). "The structure of countable Boolean algebras". Annals of Mathematics 108 (1): 41–89. doi:10.2307/1970929. JSTOR 1970929.
- Milner, E. C. (1985). "Basic WQO- and BQO-theory". In Rival, I.. Graphs and Order. The Role of Graphs in the Theory of Ordered Sets and Its Applications. D. Reidel Publishing Co. pp. 487–502. ISBN 90-277-1943-8.
- Gallier, Jean H. (1991). "What's so special about Kruskal's theorem and the ordinal Γo? A survey of some results in proof theory". Annals of Pure and Applied Logic 53 (3): 199–260. doi:10.1016/0168-0072(91)90022-E.