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Not to be confused with holomorphism or homeomorphism.

In algebra, a homomorphism is a structure-preserving map between two algebraic structures (such as groups, rings, or vector spaces). The word homomorphism comes from the ancient Greek language: ὁμός (homos) meaning "same" and μορφή (morphe) meaning "form" or "shape".

The concept of homomorphism has been generalized, under the name of morphism, to many other structures that either do not have a underlying set, or are not algebraic. This generalization is the starting point of category theory.

Isomorphisms, automorphisms, and endomorphisms are special types of morphisms, and thus of homomorphisms.

Definition and illustration[edit]


A homomorphism is a map that preserves selected structure between two algebraic structures, with the structure to be preserved being given by the naming of the homomorphism.

Particular definitions of homomorphism include the following:

  • A semigroup homomorphism is a map that preserves an associative binary operation.
  • A monoid homomorphism is a semigroup homomorphism that maps the identity element to the identity of the codomain.
  • A group homomorphism is a homomorphism that preserves the group structure. It may equivalently be defined as a semigroup homomorphism between groups.
  • A ring homomorphism is a homomorphism that preserves the ring structure. Whether the multiplicative identity is to be preserved depends upon the definition of ring in use.
  • A linear map is a homomorphism that preserves the vector space structure, namely the abelian group structure and scalar multiplication. The scalar type must further be specified to specify the homomorphism, e.g. every R-linear map is a Z-linear map, but not vice versa.
  • A module homomorphism is a map that preserves module structures.
  • An algebra homomorphism is a homomorphism that preserves the algebra structure.
  • A functor is a homomorphism between two categories.

Not all structure that an object possesses need be preserved by a homomorphism. For example, one may have a semigroup homomorphism between two monoids, and this will not be a monoid homomorphism if it does not map the identity of the domain to that of the codomain.

The algebraic structure to be preserved may include more than one operation, and a homomorphism is required to preserve each operation. For example, a ring has both addition and multiplication, and a homomorphism from the ring (R, +, ∗, 0, 1) to the ring (R′, +′, ∗′, 0′, 1′) is a function such that f(r + s) = f(r) +′ f(s), f(rs) = f(r) ∗′ f(s) and f(1) = 1′ for any elements r and s of the domain ring. If rings are not required to be unital, the last condition is omitted. In addition, if defining structures of (e.g. 0 and additive inverses in the case of a ring) were not necessarily preserved by the above, preserving these would be added requirements.

The notion of a homomorphism can be given a formal definition in the context of universal algebra, a field which studies ideas common to all algebraic structures. In this setting, a homomorphism f : AB is a function between two algebraic structures of the same type such that

fA(a1, ..., an)) = μB(f(a1), ..., f(an))

for each n-ary operation μ and for all elements a1, ..., anA.

The function between two algebraic structures of the same type is a reduction of the structure group. H to G is also called the G-structure. For example, a group is an algebraic object consisting of a set together with a single binary operation, satisfying certain axioms. If (G, ∗) and (H, ∗′) are groups, a homomorphism from (G, ∗) to (H, ∗′) is a function f : (G, ∗) → (H, ∗′) such that f(g1g2) = f(g1) ∗′ f(g2) for all elements g1, g2G. Since inverses exist in G and H, one can show that the identity of G maps to the identity of H and that inverses are preserved.

Basic examples[edit]

Monoid homomorphism f from the monoid (N, +, 0) to the monoid (N, ×, 1), defined by f(x) = 2x. It is injective, but not surjective.

The real numbers are a ring, having both addition and multiplication. The set of all 2 × 2 matrices is also a ring, under matrix addition and matrix multiplication. If we define a function between these rings as follows:

where r is a real number, then f is a homomorphism of rings, since f preserves both addition:

and multiplication:

For another example, the nonzero complex numbers form a group under the operation of multiplication, as do the nonzero real numbers. (Zero must be excluded from both groups since it does not have a multiplicative inverse, which is required for elements of a group.) Define a function f from the nonzero complex numbers to the nonzero real numbers by

f(z) = |z|.

That is, ƒ(z) is the absolute value (or modulus) of the complex number z. Then f is a homomorphism of groups, since it preserves multiplication:

f(z1 z2) = |z1 z2| = |z1| |z2| = f(z1) f(z2).

Note that ƒ cannot be extended to a homomorphism of rings (from the complex numbers to the real numbers), since it does not preserve addition:

|z1 + z2| ≠ |z1| + |z2|.

As another example, the picture shows a monoid homomorphism f from the monoid (N, +, 0) to the monoid (N, ×, 1). Due to the different names of corresponding operations, the structure preservation properties satisfied by f amount to f(x + y) = f(x) × f(y) and f(0) = 1.

Informal discussion[edit]

Because abstract algebra studies sets endowed with operations that generate interesting structure or properties on the set, functions which preserve the operations are especially important. These functions are known as homomorphisms.

For example, consider the natural numbers with addition as the operation. A function which preserves addition should have this property: f(a + b) = f(a) + f(b). For example, f(x) = 3x is one such homomorphism, since f(a + b) = 3(a + b) = 3a + 3b = f(a) + f(b). Note that this homomorphism maps the natural numbers back into themselves.

Homomorphisms do not have to map between sets which have the same operations. For example, operation-preserving functions exist between the set of real numbers ℝ with addition and the positive real numbers+ with multiplication. A function which preserves operation should have this property: f(a + b) = f(a) · f(b), since addition is the operation in the first set and multiplication is the operation in the second. Given the laws of exponents, f(x) = ex satisfies this condition: 2 + 3 = 5 translates into e2 · e3 = e5.

If we are considering multiple operations on a set, then all operations must be preserved for a function to be considered as a homomorphism. Even though the set may be the same, the same function might be a group homomorphism, (a single binary operation, an inverse operation, being a unary operation, and identity, being a nullary operation) but not a ring isomorphism (two binary operations, the additive inverse and the identity elements), because it may fail to preserve the additional monoid structure required by the definition of a ring.


Several kinds of homomorphisms have a specific name, which is also defined for general morphisms. The general definition of the three first kinds of (homo)morphisms is given below.

  • An isomorphism is a homomorphism that has an inverse. For structures with a underlying set, this implies that an isomorphism is bijective. For most algebraic structures a bijective homomorphism is an isomorphism.
  • A monomorphism is generally injective. For most algebraic structures, an injective homomorphism is a monomorphism. An homomorphism that has a left inverse is a monomorphism, but the converse is not true, for example for module homomorphisms
  • An epimorphism is often surjective, but this is not true for ring homomorphisms. For most algebraic structures, a surjective homomorphism is an epimorphism. An homomorphism that has a right inverse is a epimorphism, but the converse is not true, for example for module homomorphisms.
  • An endomorphism is a homomorphism from a structure to itself.
  • An automorphism is an endomorphism which is also an isomorphism, i.e., an isomorphism from a structure to itself.[1]

If there is an isomorphism between two structures, they are completely indistinguishable as far as the structure in question is concerned; in this case, they are said to be isomorphic.

The inclusion of Z in Q is a ring homomorphism, which is not surjective. This is an example of a ring epimorphism, which is not surjective.[2][3] This is also an example of a ring homomorphism which is both a monomorphism and an epimorphism, but not an isomorphism.

Category theory[edit]

The general definitions of isomorphism, monomorphisms and epimorphisms belongs to category theory, and are recalled here.

A morphism f : AB is called:

  • a monomorphism if fg1 = fg2 implies g1 = g2 for all morphisms g1, g2: XA, where "∘" denotes (homo)morphism composition (a sufficient condition for this is f having a left inverse).
  • an epimorphism if g1f = g2f implies g1 = g2 for all morphisms g1, g2: BX (a sufficient condition for this is f having a right inverse).
  • an isomorphism if there exists a morphism g: BA such that fg = 1B and gf = 1A, where "1X" denotes the identity morphism on the object X.


Main article: Kernel (algebra)

Any homomorphism f : XY defines an equivalence relation ~ on X by a ~ b if and only if f(a) = f(b). The relation ~ is called the kernel of f. It is a congruence relation on X. The quotient set X / ~ can then be given an object-structure in a natural way, i.e. [x] ∗ [y] = [xy]. In that case the image of X in Y under the homomorphism f is necessarily isomorphic to X / ~; this fact is one of the isomorphism theorems. Note in some cases (e.g. groups or rings), a single equivalence class K suffices to specify the structure of the quotient, in which case we can write it X/K. (X/K is usually read as "X mod K".) Also in these cases, it is K, rather than ~, that is called the kernel of f (cf. normal subgroup).

Relational structures[edit]

In model theory, the notion of an algebraic structure is generalized to structures involving both operations and relations. Let L be a signature consisting of function and relation symbols, and A, B be two L-structures. Then a homomorphism from A to B is a mapping h from the domain of A to the domain of B such that

  • h(FA(a1,…,an)) = FB(h(a1),…,h(an)) for each n-ary function symbol F in L,
  • RA(a1,…,an) implies RB(h(a1),…,h(an)) for each n-ary relation symbol R in L.

In the special case with just one binary relation, we obtain the notion of a graph homomorphism. For a detailed discussion of relational homomorphisms and isomorphisms see.[4]

Formal language theory[edit]

Homomorphisms are also used in the study of formal languages[5] (although within this context, often they are briefly referred to as morphisms[6]). Given alphabets Σ1 and Σ2, a function h : Σ1 → Σ2 such that h(uv) = h(u) h(v) for all u and v in Σ1 is called a homomorphism (or simply morphism) on Σ1.[note 1] Let e denote the empty word. If h is a homomorphism on Σ1 and h(x) ≠ e for all xe in Σ1, then h is called an e-free homomorphism.

This type of homomorphism can be thought of as (and is equivalent to) a monoid homomorphism where Σ the set of all words over a finite alphabet Σ is a monoid (in fact it is the free monoid on Σ) with operation concatenation and the empty word as the identity.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In homomorphisms on formal languages, the ∗ operation is the Kleene star operation. The ⋅ and ∘ are both concatenation, commonly denoted by juxtaposition.


  1. ^ Birkhoff, Garrett (1967) [1940], Lattice theory, American Mathematical Society Colloquium Publications, 25 (3rd ed.), Providence, R.I.: American Mathematical Society, ISBN 978-0-8218-1025-5, MR 598630  Here: Sect.VI.3, p.134
  2. ^ Mac Lane, Saunders (1971). Categories for the Working Mathematician. Graduate Texts in Mathematics. 5. Springer-Verlag. Exercise 4 in section I.5. ISBN 0-387-90036-5. Zbl 0232.18001. 
  3. ^ Dăscălescu, Sorin; Năstăsescu, Constantin; Raianu, Şerban (2001). Hopf Algebra: An Introduction. Pure and Applied Mathematics. 235. New York, NY: Marcel Dekker. p. 363. ISBN 0824704819. Zbl 0962.16026. 
  4. ^ Section 17.4, in Gunther Schmidt, 2010. Relational Mathematics. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-76268-7
  5. ^ Seymour Ginsburg, Algebraic and automata theoretic properties of formal languages, North-Holland, 1975, ISBN 0-7204-2506-9.
  6. ^ T. Harju, J. Karhumӓki, Morphisms in Handbook of Formal Languages, Volume I, edited by G. Rozenberg, A. Salomaa, Springer, 1997, ISBN 3-540-61486-9.

A monograph available free online: