Product ring

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In mathematics, it is possible to combine several rings into one large product ring. This is done as follows: if I is some index set and Ri is a ring for every i in I, then the cartesian product ΠiI Ri can be turned into a ring by defining the operations coordinate-wise.

The resulting ring is called a direct product of the rings Ri.


An important example is the ring Z/nZ of integers modulo n. If n is written as a product of prime powers (see fundamental theorem of arithmetic),

where the pi are distinct primes, then Z/nZ is naturally isomorphic to the product ring

This follows from the Chinese remainder theorem.


If R = ΠiI Ri is a product of rings, then for every i in I we have a surjective ring homomorphism pi: RRi which projects the product on the ith coordinate. The product R, together with the projections pi, has the following universal property:

if S is any ring and fi: SRi is a ring homomorphism for every i in I, then there exists precisely one ring homomorphism f: SR such that pif = fi for every i in I.

This shows that the product of rings is an instance of products in the sense of category theory.

When I is finite, the underlying additive group of ΠiI Ri coincides with the direct sum of the additive groups of the Ri. In this case, some authors call R the "direct sum of the rings Ri" and write iI Ri, but this is incorrect from the point of view of category theory, since it is usually not a coproduct in the category of rings: for example, when two or more of the Ri are nonzero, the inclusion map RiR fails to map 1 to 1 and hence is not a ring homomorphism.

If Ai in Ri is an ideal for each i in I, then A = ΠiI Ai is an ideal of R. If I is finite, then the converse is true, i.e., every ideal of R is of this form. However, if I is infinite and the rings Ri are non-zero, then the converse is false: the set of elements with all but finitely many nonzero coordinates forms an ideal which is not a direct product of ideals of the Ri. The ideal A is a prime ideal in R if all but one of the Ai are equal to Ri and the remaining Ai is a prime ideal in Ri. However, the converse is not true when I is infinite. For example, the direct sum of the Ri form an ideal not contained in any such A, but the axiom of choice gives that it is contained in some maximal ideal which is a fortiori prime.

An element x in R is a unit if and only if all of its components are units, i.e., if and only if pi(x) is a unit in Ri for every i in I. The group of units of R is the product of the groups of units of Ri.

A product of more than one non-zero rings always has zero divisors: if x is an element of the product all of whose coordinates are zero except pi(x), and y is an element of the product with all coordinates zero except pj(y) (with ij), then xy = 0 in the product ring.

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