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Concept# Characteristic (algebra)

Summary

In mathematics, the characteristic of a ring R, often denoted char(R), is defined to be the smallest number of times one must use the ring's multiplicative identity (1) in a sum to get the additive identity (0). If this sum never reaches the additive identity the ring is said to have characteristic zero.
That is, char(R) is the smallest positive number n such that:
if such a number n exists, and 0 otherwise.
The special definition of the characteristic zero is motivated by the equivalent definitions characterized in the next section, where the characteristic zero is not required to be considered separately.
The characteristic may also be taken to be the exponent of the ring's additive group, that is, the smallest positive integer n such that:
for every element a of the ring (again, if n exists; otherwise zero). Some authors do not include the multiplicative identity element in their requirements for a ring (see Multiplicative identity and the term "ring"), and this definition is suitable for that convention; otherwise the two definitions are equivalent due to the distributive law in rings.
The characteristic is the natural number n such that n is the kernel of the unique ring homomorphism from to R.
The characteristic is the natural number n such that R contains a subring isomorphic to the factor ring , which is the of the above homomorphism.
When the non-negative integers are partially ordered by divisibility, then 1 is the smallest and 0 is the largest. Then the characteristic of a ring is the smallest value of n for which n ⋅ 1 = 0. If nothing "smaller" (in this ordering) than 0 will suffice, then the characteristic is 0. This is the appropriate partial ordering because of such facts as that char(A × B) is the least common multiple of char A and char B, and that no ring homomorphism f : A → B exists unless char B divides
The characteristic of a ring R is n precisely if the statement for all implies k is a multiple of n.
If R and S are rings and there exists a ring homomorphism R → S, then the characteristic of S divides the characteristic of R.

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