Integral test for convergence

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The integral test applied to the harmonic series. Since the area under the curve y = 1/x for x[1, ∞) is infinite, the total area of the rectangles must be infinite as well.

In mathematics, the integral test for convergence is a method used to test infinite series of monotonous terms for convergence. It was developed by Colin Maclaurin and Augustin-Louis Cauchy and is sometimes known as the Maclaurin–Cauchy test.

Statement of the test[edit]

Consider an integer N and a function f defined on the unbounded interval [N, ∞), on which it is monotone decreasing. Then the infinite series

converges to a real number if and only if the improper integral

is finite. In particular, if the integral diverges, then the series diverges as well.


If the improper integral is finite, then the proof also gives the lower and upper bounds






for the infinite series.

Note that if the function is increasing, then the function is decreasing and the above theorem applies.


The proof basically uses the comparison test, comparing the term f(n) with the integral of f over the intervals [n − 1, n) and [n, n + 1), respectively.

The monotonous function is continuous almost everywhere. To show this, let . For every , there exists by the density of a so that . Note that this set contains an open non-empty interval precisely if is discontinuous at . We can uniquely identify as the rational number that has the least index in an enumeration and satisfies the above property. Since is monotone, this defines an injective mapping and thus is countable. It follows that is continuous almost everywhere. This is sufficient for Riemann integrability.[1]

Since f is a monotone decreasing function, we know that


Hence, for every integer nN,






and, for every integer nN + 1,






By summation over all n from N to some larger integer M, we get from (2)

and from (3)

Combining these two estimates yields

Letting M tend to infinity, the bounds in (1) and the result follow.


The harmonic series

diverges because, using the natural logarithm, its antiderivative, and the fundamental theorem of calculus, we get

On the other hand, the series

(cf. Riemann zeta function) converges for every ε > 0, because by the power rule

From (1) we get the upper estimate

which can be compared with some of the particular values of Riemann zeta function.

Borderline between divergence and convergence[edit]

The above examples involving the harmonic series raise the question of whether there are monotone sequences such that f(n) decreases to 0 faster than 1/n but slower than 1/n1+ε in the sense that

for every ε > 0, and whether the corresponding series of the f(n) still diverges. Once such a sequence is found, a similar question can be asked with f(n) taking the role of 1/n, and so on. In this way it is possible to investigate the borderline between divergence and convergence of infinite series.

Using the integral test for convergence, one can show (see below) that, for every natural number k, the series






still diverges (cf. proof that the sum of the reciprocals of the primes diverges for k = 1) but






converges for every ε > 0. Here lnk denotes the k-fold composition of the natural logarithm defined recursively by

Furthermore, Nk denotes the smallest natural number such that the k-fold composition is well-defined and lnk(Nk) ≥ 1, i.e.

using tetration or Knuth's up-arrow notation.

To see the divergence of the series (4) using the integral test, note that by repeated application of the chain rule


To see the convergence of the series (5), note that by the power rule, the chain rule and the above result


and (1) gives bounds for the infinite series in (5).

See also[edit]


  • Knopp, Konrad, "Infinite Sequences and Series", Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1956. (§ 3.3) ISBN 0-486-60153-6
  • Whittaker, E. T., and Watson, G. N., A Course in Modern Analysis, fourth edition, Cambridge University Press, 1963. (§ 4.43) ISBN 0-521-58807-3
  • Ferreira, Jaime Campos, Ed Calouste Gulbenkian, 1987, ISBN 972-31-0179-3
  1. ^ Brown, A. B. (September 1936). "A Proof of the Lebesgue Condition for Riemann Integrability". The American Mathematical Monthly. 43 (7): 396–398. doi:10.2307/2301737. ISSN 0002-9890. JSTOR 2301737.