Möbius inversion formula

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In mathematics, the classic Möbius inversion formula is a relation between pairs of arithmetic functions, each defined from the other by sums over divisors. It was introduced into number theory in 1832 by August Ferdinand Möbius.[1]

A large generalization of this formula applies to summation over an arbitrary locally finite partially ordered set, with Möbius' classical formula applying to the set of the natural numbers ordered by divisibility: see incidence algebra.

Statement of the formula[edit]

The classic version states that if g and f are arithmetic functions satisfying


where μ is the Möbius function and the sums extend over all positive divisors d of n (indicated by in the above formulae). In effect, the original f(n) can be determined given g(n) by using the inversion formula. The two sequences are said to be Möbius transforms of each other.

The formula is also correct if f and g are functions from the positive integers into some abelian group (viewed as a Z-module).

In the language of Dirichlet convolutions, the first formula may be written as

where denotes the Dirichlet convolution, and 1 is the constant function 1(n) = 1. The second formula is then written as

Many specific examples are given in the article on multiplicative functions.

The theorem follows because is (commutative and) associative, and 1μ = ε, where ε is the identity function for the Dirichlet convolution, taking values ε(1) = 1, ε(n) = 0 for all n > 1. Thus


There is a product version of the summation-based Möbius inversion formula stated above:

Series relations[edit]


so that

is its transform. The transforms are related by means of series: the Lambert series

and the Dirichlet series:

where ζ(s) is the Riemann zeta function.

Repeated transformations[edit]

Given an arithmetic function, one can generate a bi-infinite sequence of other arithmetic functions by repeatedly applying the first summation.

For example, if one starts with Euler's totient function φ, and repeatedly applies the transformation process, one obtains:

  1. φ the totient function
  2. φ1 = I, where I(n) = n is the identity function
  3. I1 = σ1 = σ, the divisor function

If the starting function is the Möbius function itself, the list of functions is:

  1. μ, the Möbius function
  2. μ1 = ε where
    is the unit function
  3. ε1 = 1, the constant function
  4. 11 = σ0 = d = τ, where d = τ is the number of divisors of n, (see divisor function).

Both of these lists of functions extend infinitely in both directions. The Möbius inversion formula enables these lists to be traversed backwards.

As an example the sequence starting with φ is:

The generated sequences can perhaps be more easily understood by considering the corresponding Dirichlet series: each repeated application of the transform corresponds to multiplication by the Riemann zeta function.


A related inversion formula more useful in combinatorics is as follows: suppose F(x) and G(x) are complex-valued functions defined on the interval [1, ∞) such that


Here the sums extend over all positive integers n which are less than or equal to x.

This in turn is a special case of a more general form. If α(n) is an arithmetic function possessing a Dirichlet inverse α−1(n), then if one defines


The previous formula arises in the special case of the constant function α(n) = 1, whose Dirichlet inverse is α−1(n) = μ(n).

A particular application of the first of these extensions arises if we have (complex-valued) functions f(n) and g(n) defined on the positive integers, with

By defining F(x) = f(⌊x⌋) and G(x) = g(⌊x⌋), we deduce that

A simple example of the use of this formula is counting the number of reduced fractions 0 < a/b < 1, where a and b are coprime and bn. If we let f(n) be this number, then g(n) is the total number of fractions 0 < a/b < 1 with bn, where a and b are not necessarily coprime. (This is because every fraction a/b with gcd(a,b) = d and bn can be reduced to the fraction a/d/b/d with b/dn/d, and vice versa.) Here it is straightforward to determine g(n) = n(n − 1)/2, but f(n) is harder to compute.

Another inversion formula is (where we assume that the series involved are absolutely convergent):

As above, this generalises to the case where α(n) is an arithmetic function possessing a Dirichlet inverse α−1(n):

For example, there is a well known proof relating the Riemann zeta function to the prime zeta function that uses the series-based form of Möbius inversion in the previous equation when . Namely, by the Euler product representation of for

These identities for alternate forms of Möbius inversion are found in.[2] A more general theory of Möbius inversion formulas partially cited in the next section on incidence algebras is constructed by Rota in.[3]

Multiplicative notation[edit]

As Möbius inversion applies to any abelian group, it makes no difference whether the group operation is written as addition or as multiplication. This gives rise to the following notational variant of the inversion formula:

Proofs of generalizations[edit]

The first generalization can be proved as follows. We use Iverson's convention that [condition] is the indicator function of the condition, being 1 if the condition is true and 0 if false. We use the result that

that is, , where is the unit function.

We have the following:

The proof in the more general case where α(n) replaces 1 is essentially identical, as is the second generalisation.

On posets[edit]

For a poset P, a set endowed with a partial order relation , define the Möbius function of P recursively by

(Here one assumes the summations are finite.) Then for , where K is a commutative ring, we have

if and only if

(See Stanley's Enumerative Combinatorics, Vol 1, Section 3.7.)

Contributions of Weisner, Hall, and Rota[edit]

The statement of the general Möbius inversion formula [for partially ordered sets] was first given independently by Weisner (1935) and Philip Hall (1936); both authors were motivated by group theory problems. Neither author seems to have been aware of the combinatorial implications of his work and neither developed the theory of Möbius functions. In a fundamental paper on Möbius functions, Rota showed the importance of this theory in combinatorial mathematics and gave a deep treatment of it. He noted the relation between such topics as inclusion-exclusion, classical number theoretic Möbius inversion, coloring problems and flows in networks. Since then, under the strong influence of Rota, the theory of Möbius inversion and related topics has become an active area of combinatorics.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Möbius 1832, pp. 105–123
  2. ^ NIST Handbook of Mathematical Functions, Section 27.5.
  3. ^ [On the foundations of combinatorial theory, I. Theory of Möbius Functions|https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/BF00531932.pdf]
  4. ^ Bender & Goldman 1975, pp. 789–803


  • Apostol, Tom M. (1976), Introduction to analytic number theory, Undergraduate Texts in Mathematics, New York-Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, ISBN 978-0-387-90163-3, MR 0434929, Zbl 0335.10001
  • Bender, Edward A.; Goldman, J. R. (1975), "On the applications of Möbius inversion in combinatorial analysis", Amer. Math. Monthly, 82 (8): 789–803, doi:10.2307/2319793, JSTOR 2319793
  • Ireland, K.; Rosen, M. (2010), A Classical Introduction to Modern Number Theory, Graduate Texts in Mathematics (Book 84) (2nd ed.), Springer-Verlag, ISBN 978-1-4419-3094-1
  • Kung, Joseph P.S. (2001) [1994], "Möbius inversion", Encyclopedia of Mathematics, EMS Press
  • Möbius, A. F. (1832), "Über eine besondere Art von Umkehrung der Reihen.", Journal für die reine und angewandte Mathematik, 9: 105–123
  • Stanley, Richard P. (1997), Enumerative Combinatorics, vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-55309-1
  • Stanley, Richard P. (1999), Enumerative Combinatorics, vol. 2, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-56069-1

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