Current (mathematics)

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In mathematics, more particularly in functional analysis, differential topology, and geometric measure theory, a k-current in the sense of Georges de Rham is a functional on the space of compactly supported differential k-forms, on a smooth manifold M. Currents formally behave like Schwartz distributions on a space of differential forms, but in a geometric setting, they can represent integration over a submanifold, generalizing the Dirac delta function, or more generally even directional derivatives of delta functions (multipoles) spread out along subsets of M.


Let denote the space of smooth m-forms with compact support on a smooth manifold . A current is a linear functional on which is continuous in the sense of distributions. Thus a linear functional

is an m-dimensional current if it is continuous in the following sense: If a sequence of smooth forms, all supported in the same compact set, is such that all derivatives of all their coefficients tend uniformly to 0 when tends to infinity, then tends to 0.

The space of m-dimensional currents on is a real vector space with operations defined by

Much of the theory of distributions carries over to currents with minimal adjustments. For example, one may define the support of a current as the complement of the biggest open set such that


The linear subspace of consisting of currents with support (in the sense above) that is a compact subset of is denoted .

Homological theory[edit]

Integration over a compact rectifiable oriented submanifold M (with boundary) of dimension m defines an m-current, denoted by :

If the boundaryM of M is rectifiable, then it too defines a current by integration, and by virtue of Stokes' theorem one has:

This relates the exterior derivative d with the boundary operator ∂ on the homology of M.

In view of this formula we can define a boundary operator on arbitrary currents

via duality with the exterior derivative by

for all compactly supported m-forms ω.

Certain subclasses of currents which are closed under can be used instead of all currents to create a homology theory, which can satisfy the Eilenberg–Steenrod axioms in certain cases. A classical example is the subclass of integral currents on Lipschitz neighborhood retracts.

Topology and norms[edit]

The space of currents is naturally endowed with the weak-* topology, which will be further simply called weak convergence. A sequence Tk of currents, converges to a current T if

It is possible to define several norms on subspaces of the space of all currents. One such norm is the mass norm. If ω is an m-form, then define its comass by

So if ω is a simple m-form, then its mass norm is the usual L-norm of its coefficient. The mass of a current T is then defined as

The mass of a current represents the weighted area of the generalized surface. A current such that M(T) < ∞ is representable by integration of a regular Borel measure by a version of the Riesz representation theorem. This is the starting point of homological integration.

An intermediate norm is Whitney's flat norm, defined by

Two currents are close in the mass norm if they coincide away from a small part. On the other hand, they are close in the flat norm if they coincide up to a small deformation.


Recall that

so that the following defines a 0-current:

In particular every signed regular measure is a 0-current:

Let (x, y, z) be the coordinates in ℝ3. Then the following defines a 2-current (one of many):

See also[edit]


  • de Rham, G. (1973), Variétés Différentiables, Actualites Scientifiques et Industrielles (in French), 1222 (3rd ed.), Paris: Hermann, pp. X+198, Zbl 0284.58001.
  • Federer, Herbert (1969), Geometric measure theory, Die Grundlehren der mathematischen Wissenschaften, 153, Berlin–Heidelberg–New York: Springer-Verlag, pp. xiv+676, ISBN 978-3-540-60656-7, MR 0257325, Zbl 0176.00801.
  • Whitney, H. (1957), Geometric Integration Theory, Princeton Mathematical Series, 21, Princeton, NJ and London: Princeton University Press and Oxford University Press, pp. XV+387, MR 0087148, Zbl 0083.28204.
  • Lin, Fanghua; Yang, Xiaoping (2003), Geometric Measure Theory: An Introduction, Advanced Mathematics (Beijing/Boston), 1, Beijing/Boston: Science Press/International Press, pp. x+237, ISBN 978-1-57146-125-4, MR 2030862, Zbl 1074.49011

This article incorporates material from Current on PlanetMath, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.