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The integers consist of the positive natural numbers (1, 2, 3, …), their negatives (−1, −2, −3, ...) and the number zero. They are also known as the whole numbers, although that term is also used to refer only to the positive integers (with or without zero). Like the natural numbers, the integers form a countably infinite set.

The term rational integer is used, in algebraic number theory, to distinguish these 'ordinary' integers, in the rational numbers, from other concepts such as the Gaussian integers.

The set of all integers is usually denoted in mathematics by a boldface Z (or blackboard bold, {\mathbb  {Z}}), which stands for Zahlen (German for "numbers").

Algebraic properties

Like the natural numbers, Z is closed under the operations of addition and multiplication, that is, the sum and product of any two integers is an integer. However, with the inclusion of the negative natural numbers, and, importantly, zero, Z (unlike the natural numbers) is also closed under subtraction. Z is not closed under the operation of division, since the quotient of two integers (e.g., 1 divided by 2), need not be an integer.

The following table lists some of the basic properties of addition and multiplication for any integers a, b and c.

addition multiplication
closure: a + b   is an integer a × b   is an integer
associativity: a + (b + c)  =  (a + b) + c a × (b × c)  =  (a × b) × c
commutativity: a + b  =  b + a a × b  =  b × a
existence of an identity element: a + 0  =  a a × 1  =  a
existence of inverse elements: a + (−a)  =  0
distributivity: a × (b + c)  =  (a × b) + (a × c)

In the language of abstract algebra, the first five properties listed above for addition say that Z under addition is an abelian group. As a group under addition, Z is a cyclic group, since every nonzero integer can be written as a finite sum 1 + 1 + ... 1 or (−1) + (−1) + ... + (−1). In fact, Z under addition is the only infinite cyclic group, in the sense that any infinite cyclic group is isomorphic to Z.

The first four properties listed above for multiplication say that Z under multiplication is a commutative monoid. However, note that not every integer has a multiplicative inverse; e.g. there is no integer x such that 2x = 1, because the left hand side is even, while the right hand side is odd. This means that Z under multiplication is not a group.

All the properties from the above table taken together say that Z together with addition and multiplication is a commutative ring with unity. In fact, Z provides the motivation for defining such a structure. The lack of multiplicative inverses, which is equivalent to the fact that Z is not closed under division, means that Z is not a field. The smallest field containing the integers is the field of rational numbers. This process can be mimicked to form the quotient field of any integral domain, where an integral domain is a commutative ring with unity such that whenever ab = 0, either a = 0 or b = 0.

Although ordinary division is not defined on Z, it does possess an important property called the division algorithm: that is, given two integers a and b with b ≠ 0, there exist unique integers q and r such that a = q × b + r and 0 ≤ r < |b|, where |b| denotes the absolute value of b. The integer q is called the quotient and r is called the remainder, resulting from division of a by b. This is the basis for the Euclidean algorithm for computing greatest common divisors.

Again, in the language of abstract algebra, the above says that Z is a Euclidean domain. This implies that Z is a principal ideal domain and any positive integer can be written as the products of primes in an essentially unique way. This is the fundamental theorem of arithmetic.

Order-theoretic properties

Z is a totally ordered set without upper or lower bound. The ordering of Z is given by

... < −2 < −1 < 0 < 1 < 2 < ...

An integer is positive if it is greater than zero and negative if it is less than zero. Zero is defined as neither negative nor positive.

The ordering of integers is compatible with the algebraic operations in the following way:

  1. if a < b and c < d, then a + c < b + d
  2. if a < b and 0 < c, then ac < bc. (From this fact, one can show that if c < 0, then ac > bc.)

Integers in computing

Main article: Integer (computer science)

An integer (sometimes known as an "int", from the name of a datatype in the C programming language) is often a primitive datatype in computer languages. However, integer datatypes can only represent a subset of all integers, since practical computers are of finite capacity.

Variable-length representations of integers, such as bignums, can store any integer that fits in the computers memory. Other integer datatypes are implemented with a fixed size, usually a number of bits which is a power of 2 (4, 8, 16, etc.) or a memorable number of decimal digits (e.g., 9 or 10).

In contrast, theoretical models of digital computers, such asTuring machines, typically do have infinite (but only countable) capacity.


God invented the integers, all else is the work of man. Kronecker

External links

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