Module (mathematics)

In mathematics, a module is one of the fundamental algebraic structures used in abstract algebra. A module over a ring is a generalization of the notion of vector space over a field, wherein the corresponding scalars are the elements of an arbitrary given ring (with identity) and a multiplication (on the left and/or on the right) is defined between elements of the ring and elements of the module.

Thus, a module, like a vector space, is an additive abelian group; a product is defined between elements of the ring and elements of the module that is distributive over the addition operation of each parameter and is compatible with the ring multiplication.

Modules are very closely related to the representation theory of groups. They are also one of the central notions of commutative algebra and homological algebra, and are used widely in algebraic geometry and algebraic topology.



In a vector space, the set of scalars is a field and acts on the vectors by scalar multiplication, subject to certain axioms such as the distributive law. In a module, the scalars need only be a ring, so the module concept represents a significant generalization. In commutative algebra, both ideals and quotient rings are modules, so that many arguments about ideals or quotient rings can be combined into a single argument about modules. In non-commutative algebra the distinction between left ideals, ideals, and modules becomes more pronounced, though some ring-theoretic conditions can be expressed either about left ideals or left modules.

Much of the theory of modules consists of extending as many as possible of the desirable properties of vector spaces to the realm of modules over a "well-behaved" ring, such as a principal ideal domain. However, modules can be quite a bit more complicated than vector spaces; for instance, not all modules have a basis, and even those that do, free modules, need not have a unique rank if the underlying ring does not satisfy the invariant basis number condition, unlike vector spaces, which always have a (possibly infinite) basis whose cardinality is then unique. (These last two assertions require the axiom of choice in general, but not in the case of finite-dimensional spaces, or certain well-behaved infinite-dimensional spaces such as Lp spaces.)

Formal definition

Suppose that R is a ring and 1R is its multiplicative identity. A left R-module M consists of an abelian group (M, +) and an operation  : R × MM such that for all r, s in R and x, y in M, we have:

The operation of the ring on M is called scalar multiplication, and is usually written by juxtaposition, i.e. as rx for r in R and x in M, though here it is denoted as rx to distinguish it from the ring multiplication operation, denoted here by juxtaposition. The notation RM indicates a left R-module M. A right R-module M or MR is defined similarly, except that the ring acts on the right; i.e., scalar multiplication takes the form  : M × RM, and the above axioms are written with scalars r and s on the right of x and y.

Authors who do not require rings to be unital omit condition 4 above in the definition of an R-module, and so would call the structures defined above "unital left R-modules". In this article, consistent with the glossary of ring theory, all rings and modules are assumed to be unital.[1]

If one writes the scalar action as fr so that fr(x) = rx, and f for the map that takes each r to its corresponding map fr , then the first axiom states that every fr is a group homomorphism of M, and the other three axioms assert that the map f : R → End(M) given by rfr is a ring homomorphism from R to the endomorphism ring End(M).[2] Thus a module is a ring action on an abelian group (cf. group action. Also consider monoid action of multiplicative structure of R). In this sense, module theory generalizes representation theory, which deals with group actions on vector spaces, or equivalently group ring actions.

A bimodule is a module that is a left module and a right module such that the two multiplications are compatible.

If R is commutative, then left R-modules are the same as right R-modules and are simply called R-modules.


Submodules and homomorphisms

Suppose M is a left R-module and N is a subgroup of M. Then N is a submodule (or R-submodule, to be more explicit) if, for any n in N and any r in R, the product rn is in N (or nr for a right module).

The set of submodules of a given module M, together with the two binary operations + and ∩, forms a lattice which satisfies the modular law: Given submodules U, N1, N2 of M such that N1N2, then the following two submodules are equal: (N1 + U) ∩ N2 = N1 + (UN2).

If M and N are left R-modules, then a map f : MN is a homomorphism of R-modules if, for any m, n in M and r, s in R,

This, like any homomorphism of mathematical objects, is just a mapping which preserves the structure of the objects. Another name for a homomorphism of modules over R is an R-linear map.

A bijective module homomorphism is an isomorphism of modules, and the two modules are called isomorphic. Two isomorphic modules are identical for all practical purposes, differing solely in the notation for their elements.

The kernel of a module homomorphism f : MN is the submodule of M consisting of all elements that are sent to zero by f. The isomorphism theorems familiar from groups and vector spaces are also valid for R-modules.

The left R-modules, together with their module homomorphisms, form a category, written as R-Mod (see category of modules for more.) This is an abelian category.

Types of modules

Finitely generated. An R-module M is finitely generated if there exist finitely many elements x1, ..., xn in M such that every element of M is a linear combination of those elements with coefficients from the ring R.

Cyclic. A module is called a cyclic module if it is generated by one element.

Free. A free R-module is a module that has a basis, or equivalently, one that is isomorphic to a direct sum of copies of the ring R. These are the modules that behave very much like vector spaces.

Projective. Projective modules are direct summands of free modules and share many of their desirable properties.

Injective. Injective modules are defined dually to projective modules.

Flat. A module is called flat if taking the tensor product of it with any exact sequence of R-modules preserves exactness.

Torsionless module. A module is called torsionless if it embeds into its algebraic dual.

Simple. A simple module S is a module that is not {0} and whose only submodules are {0} and S. Simple modules are sometimes called irreducible.[3]

Semisimple. A semisimple module is a direct sum (finite or not) of simple modules. Historically these modules are also called completely reducible.

Indecomposable. An indecomposable module is a non-zero module that cannot be written as a direct sum of two non-zero submodules. Every simple module is indecomposable, but there are indecomposable modules which are not simple (e.g. uniform modules).

Faithful. A faithful module M is one where the action of each r ≠ 0 in R on M is nontrivial (i.e. rx ≠ 0 for some x in M). Equivalently, the annihilator of M is the zero ideal.

Torsion-free. A torsion-free module is a module over a ring such that 0 is the only element annihilated by a regular element (non zero-divisor) of the ring.

Noetherian. A Noetherian module is a module which satisfies the ascending chain condition on submodules, that is, every increasing chain of submodules becomes stationary after finitely many steps. Equivalently, every submodule is finitely generated.

Artinian. An Artinian module is a module which satisfies the descending chain condition on submodules, that is, every decreasing chain of submodules becomes stationary after finitely many steps.

Graded. A graded module is a module with a decomposition as a direct sum M = ⨁x Mx over a graded ring R = ⨁x Rx such that RxMyMx + y for all x and y.

Uniform. A uniform module is a module in which all pairs of nonzero submodules have nonzero intersection.

Further notions

Relation to representation theory

If M is a left R-module, then the action of an element r in R is defined to be the map MM that sends each x to rx (or xr in the case of a right module), and is necessarily a group endomorphism of the abelian group (M,+). The set of all group endomorphisms of M is denoted EndZ(M) and forms a ring under addition and composition, and sending a ring element r of R to its action actually defines a ring homomorphism from R to EndZ(M).

Such a ring homomorphism R → EndZ(M) is called a representation of R over the abelian group M; an alternative and equivalent way of defining left R-modules is to say that a left R-module is an abelian group M together with a representation of R over it.

A representation is called faithful if and only if the map R → EndZ(M) is injective. In terms of modules, this means that if r is an element of R such that rx = 0 for all x in M, then r = 0. Every abelian group is a faithful module over the integers or over some modular arithmetic Z/nZ.


Any ring R can be viewed as a preadditive category with a single object. With this understanding, a left R-module is nothing but a (covariant) additive functor from R to the category Ab of abelian groups. Right R-modules are contravariant additive functors. This suggests that, if C is any preadditive category, a covariant additive functor from C to Ab should be considered a generalized left module over C; these functors form a functor category C-Mod which is the natural generalization of the module category R-Mod.

Modules over commutative rings can be generalized in a different direction: take a ringed space (X, OX) and consider the sheaves of OX-modules; see sheaf of modules for more. These form a category OX-Mod, and play an important role in modern algebraic geometry. If X has only a single point, then this is a module category in the old sense over the commutative ring OX(X).

One can also consider modules over a semiring. Modules over rings are abelian groups, but modules over semirings are only commutative monoids. Most applications of modules are still possible. In particular, for any semiring S the matrices over S form a semiring over which the tuples of elements from S are a module (in this generalized sense only). This allows a further generalization of the concept of vector space incorporating the semirings from theoretical computer science.

Over near-rings, one can consider near-ring modules, a nonabelian generalization of modules.

See also


  1. Dummit, David S. & Foote, Richard M. (2004). Abstract Algebra. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 978-0-471-43334-7.
  2. This is the endomorphism ring of the additive group M. If R is commutative, then these endomorphisms are additionally R linear.
  3. Jacobson (1964), p. 4, Def. 1; Irreducible Module at


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