In mathematics, a block matrix or a partitioned matrix is a matrix that is interpreted as having been broken into sections called blocks or submatrices. Intuitively, a matrix interpreted as a block matrix can be visualized as the original matrix with a collection of horizontal and vertical lines, which break it up, or partition it, into a collection of smaller matrices. Any matrix may be interpreted as a block matrix in one or more ways, with each interpretation defined by how its rows and columns are partitioned.
This notion can be made more precise for an by matrix by partitioning into a collection , and then partitioning into a collection . The original matrix is then considered as the "total" of these groups, in the sense that the entry of the original matrix corresponds in a 1-to-1 way with some offset entry of some , where and .
It is possible to use a block partitioned matrix product that involves only algebra on submatrices of the factors. The partitioning of the factors is not arbitrary, however, and requires "conformable partitions" between two matrices and such that all submatrix products that will be used are defined. Given an matrix with row partitions and column partitions
and a matrix with row partitions and column partitions
that are compatible with the partitions of , the matrix product
can be formed blockwise, yielding as an matrix with row partitions and column partitions. The matrices in the resulting matrix are calculated by multiplying:
The formula for the determinant of a -matrix above continues to hold, under appropriate further assumptions, for a matrix composed of four submatrices . The easiest such formula, which can be proven using either the Leibniz formula or a factorization involving the Schur complement, is
A block diagonal matrix is a block matrix that is a square matrix such that the main-diagonal blocks are square matrices and all off-diagonal blocks are zero matrices. That is, a block diagonal matrix A has the form
where Ak is a square matrix for all k = 1, ..., n. In other words, matrix A is the direct sum of A1, ..., An. It can also be indicated as A1 ⊕ A2 ⊕ ... ⊕ An or diag(A1, A2, ..., An) (the latter being the same formalism used for a diagonal matrix). Any square matrix can trivially be considered a block diagonal matrix with only one block.
A block tridiagonal matrix is another special block matrix, which is just like the block diagonal matrix a square matrix, having square matrices (blocks) in the lower diagonal, main diagonal and upper diagonal, with all other blocks being zero matrices. It is essentially a tridiagonal matrix but has submatrices in places of scalars. A block tridiagonal matrix A has the form
where Ak, Bk and Ck are square sub-matrices of the lower, main and upper diagonal respectively.
Block tridiagonal matrices are often encountered in numerical solutions of engineering problems (e.g., computational fluid dynamics). Optimized numerical methods for LU factorization are available and hence efficient solution algorithms for equation systems with a block tridiagonal matrix as coefficient matrix. The Thomas algorithm, used for efficient solution of equation systems involving a tridiagonal matrix can also be applied using matrix operations to block tridiagonal matrices (see also Block LU decomposition).
A block Toeplitz matrix is another special block matrix, which contains blocks that are repeated down the diagonals of the matrix, as a Toeplitz matrix has elements repeated down the diagonal. The individual block matrix elements, Aij, must also be a Toeplitz matrix.
A special form of matrix transpose can also be defined for block matrices, where individual blocks are reordered but not transposed. Let be a block matrix with blocks , the block transpose of is the block matrix with blocks .
As with the conventional trace operator, the block transpose is a linear mapping such that . However, in general the property does not hold unless the blocks of and commute.
In linear algebra terms, the use of a block matrix corresponds to having a linear mapping thought of in terms of corresponding 'bunches' of basis vectors. That again matches the idea of having distinguished direct sum decompositions of the domain and range. It is always particularly significant if a block is the zero matrix; that carries the information that a summand maps into a sub-sum.
Given the interpretation via linear mappings and direct sums, there is a special type of block matrix that occurs for square matrices (the case m = n). For those we can assume an interpretation as an endomorphism of an n-dimensional space V; the block structure in which the bunching of rows and columns is the same is of importance because it corresponds to having a single direct sum decomposition on V (rather than two). In that case, for example, the diagonal blocks in the obvious sense are all square. This type of structure is required to describe the Jordan normal form.
^Eves, Howard (1980). Elementary Matrix Theory (reprint ed.). New York: Dover. p. 37. ISBN0-486-63946-0. Retrieved 24 April 2013. We shall find that it is sometimes convenient to subdivide a matrix into rectangular blocks of elements. This leads us to consider so-called partitioned, or block, matrices.
^Anton, Howard (1994). Elementary Linear Algebra (7th ed.). New York: John Wiley. p. 30. ISBN0-471-58742-7. A matrix can be subdivided or partitioned into smaller matrices by inserting horizontal and vertical rules between selected rows and columns.
^Anton, Howard (1994). Elementary Linear Algebra (7th ed.). New York: John Wiley. p. 36. ISBN0-471-58742-7. ...provided the sizes of the submatrices of A and B are such that the indicated operations can be performed.
Bernstein, Dennis (2005). Matrix Mathematics. Princeton University Press. p. 44. ISBN0-691-11802-7.