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Exponential function

The natural exponential function y = ex

In mathematics, an exponential function is a function of the form

in which the argument x occurs as an exponent. A function of the form is also an exponential function, as it can be rewritten as

As functions of a real variable, exponential functions are uniquely characterized by the fact that the growth rate of such a function (that is, its derivative) is directly proportional to the value of the function. The constant of proportionality of this relationship is the natural logarithm of the base b:

The constant e = 2.71828... is the unique base for which the constant of proportionality is 1, so that the function's derivative is itself:

Since changing the base of the exponential function merely results in the appearance of an additional constant factor, it is computationally convenient to reduce the study of exponential functions in mathematical analysis to the study of this particular function, conventionally called the "natural exponential function",[1][2] or simply, "the exponential function" and denoted by


While both notations are common, the former notation is generally used for simpler exponents, while the latter tends to be used when the exponent is a complicated expression.

The exponential function satisfies the fundamental multiplicative identity

for all

This identity extends to complex-valued exponents. It can be shown that every continuous, nonzero solution of the functional equation is an exponential function, with The fundamental multiplicative identity, along with the definition of the number e as e1, shows that for positive integers n and relates the exponential function to the elementary notion of exponentiation.

The argument of the exponential function can be any real or complex number or even an entirely different kind of mathematical object (for example, a matrix).

Its ubiquitous occurrence in pure and applied mathematics has led mathematician W. Rudin to opine that the exponential function is "the most important function in mathematics".[3] In applied settings, exponential functions model a relationship in which a constant change in the independent variable gives the same proportional change (that is, percentage increase or decrease) in the dependent variable. This occurs widely in the natural and social sciences; thus, the exponential function also appears in a variety of contexts within physics, chemistry, engineering, mathematical biology, and economics.

The graph of is upward-sloping, and increases faster as x increases. The graph always lies above the x-axis but can be arbitrarily close to it for negative x; thus, the x-axis is a horizontal asymptote. The slope of the tangent to the graph at each point is equal to its y-coordinate at that point, as implied by its derivative function (see above). Its inverse function is the natural logarithm, denoted [4] [5] or because of this, some old texts[6] refer to the exponential function as the antilogarithm.


Formal definitionEdit

The exponential function (in blue), and the sum of the first n + 1 terms of its power series (in red).

The real exponential function   can be characterized in a variety of equivalent ways. Most commonly, it is defined by the following power series:[3]


Since the radius of convergence of this power series is infinite, this definition is, in fact, applicable to all complex numbers   (see below for the extension of   to the complex plane). The constant e can then be defined as  

The term-by-term differentiation of this power series reveals that   for all real x, leading to another common characterization of   as the unique solution of the differential equation


satisfying the initial condition  

Based on this characterization, the chain rule shows that its inverse function, the natural logarithm, satisfies   for   or   This relationship leads to a less common definition of the real exponential function   as the solution   to the equation


By way of the binomial theorem and the power series definition, the exponential function can also be defined as the following limit:[7]



The red curve is the exponential function. The black horizontal lines show where it crosses the green vertical lines.

The exponential function arises whenever a quantity grows or decays at a rate proportional to its current value. One such situation is continuously compounded interest, and in fact it was this observation that led Jacob Bernoulli in 1683[8] to the number


now known as e. Later, in 1697, Johann Bernoulli studied the calculus of the exponential function.[8]

If a principal amount of 1 earns interest at an annual rate of x compounded monthly, then the interest earned each month is x/12 times the current value, so each month the total value is multiplied by (1 + x/12), and the value at the end of the year is (1 + x/12)12. If instead interest is compounded daily, this becomes (1 + x/365)365. Letting the number of time intervals per year grow without bound leads to the limit definition of the exponential function,


first given by Leonhard Euler.[7] This is one of a number of characterizations of the exponential function; others involve series or differential equations.

From any of these definitions it can be shown that the exponential function obeys the basic exponentiation identity,


which justifies the notation ex.

The derivative (rate of change) of the exponential function is the exponential function itself. More generally, a function with a rate of change proportional to the function itself (rather than equal to it) is expressible in terms of the exponential function. This function property leads to exponential growth or exponential decay.

The exponential function extends to an entire function on the complex plane. Euler's formula relates its values at purely imaginary arguments to trigonometric functions. The exponential function also has analogues for which the argument is a matrix, or even an element of a Banach algebra or a Lie algebra.

Derivatives and differential equationsEdit

The derivative of the exponential function is equal to the value of the function. From any point P on the curve (blue), let a tangent line (red), and a vertical line (green) with height h be drawn, forming a right triangle with a base b on the x-axis. Since the slope of the red tangent line (the derivative) at P is equal to the ratio of the triangle's height to the triangle's base (rise over run), and the derivative is equal to the value of the function, h must be equal to the ratio of h to b. Therefore, the base b must always be 1.

The importance of the exponential function in mathematics and the sciences stems mainly from its definition as the unique function which is equal to its derivative and is equal to 1 when x = 0. That is,


Functions of the form cex for constant c are the only functions that are equal to their derivative (by the Picard–Lindelöf theorem). Other ways of saying the same thing include:

  • The slope of the graph at any point is the height of the function at that point.
  • The rate of increase of the function at x is equal to the value of the function at x.
  • The function solves the differential equation y′ = y.
  • exp is a fixed point of derivative as a functional.

If a variable's growth or decay rate is proportional to its size—as is the case in unlimited population growth (see Malthusian catastrophe), continuously compounded interest, or radioactive decay—then the variable can be written as a constant times an exponential function of time. Explicitly for any real constant k, a function f: RR satisfies f′ = kf if and only if f(x) = cekx for some constant c.

Furthermore, for any differentiable function f(x), we find, by the chain rule:


Continued fractions for exEdit

A continued fraction for ex can be obtained via an identity of Euler:


The following generalized continued fraction for ez converges more quickly:[9]


or, by applying the substitution z = x/y:


with a special case for z = 2:


This formula also converges, though more slowly, for z > 2. For example:


Complex planeEdit

Exponential function on the complex plane. The transition from dark to light colors shows that the magnitude of the exponential function is increasing to the right. The periodic horizontal bands indicate that the exponential function is periodic in the imaginary part of its argument.

As in the real case, the exponential function can be defined on the complex plane in several equivalent forms. The most common definition of the complex exponential function parallels the power series definition for real arguments, where the real variable is replaced by a complex one:


Term-wise multiplication of two copies of these power series in the Cauchy sense, permitted by Mertens' theorem, shows that the defining multiplicative property of exponential functions continues to hold for all complex arguments:

  for all  

The definition of the complex exponential function in turn leads to the appropriate definitions extending the trigonometric functions to complex arguments.

In particular, when   (  real), the series definition yields the expansion


In this expansion, the rearrangement of the terms into real and imaginary parts is justified by the absolute convergence of the series. The real and imaginary parts of the above expression in fact correspond to the series expansions of   and  , respectively.

This correspondence provides motivation for defining cosine and sine for all complex arguments in terms of   and the equivalent power series:[10]

  and   for all  

The functions exp, cos, and sin so defined have infinite radii of convergence by the ratio test and are therefore entire functions (i.e., holomorphic on  ). The range of the exponential function is  , while the ranges of the complex sine and cosine functions are both   in its entirety, in accord with Picard's theorem, which asserts that the range of a nonconstant entire function is either all of  , or   excluding one lacunary value.

These definitions for the exponential and trigonometric functions lead trivially to Euler's formula:

  for all  

We could alternatively define the complex exponential function based on this relationship. If  , where   and   are both real, then we could define its exponential as


where exp, cos, and sin on the right-hand side of the definition sign are to be interpreted as functions of a real variable, previously defined by other means.[11]

For  , the relationship   holds, so that   for real   and   maps the real line (mod  ) to the unit circle. Based on the relationship between   and the unit circle, it is easy to see that, restricted to real arguments, the definitions of sine and cosine given above coincide with their more elementary definitions based on geometric notions.

The complex exponential function is periodic with period   and   holds for all  .

When its domain is extended from the real line to the complex plane, the exponential function retains the following properties:


for all  .

Extending the natural logarithm to complex arguments yields the complex logarithm log z, which is a multivalued function.

We can then define a more general exponentiation:


for all complex numbers z and w. This is also a multivalued function, even when z is real. This distinction is problematic, as the multivalued functions log z and zw are easily confused with their single-valued equivalents when substituting a real number for z. The rule about multiplying exponents for the case of positive real numbers must be modified in a multivalued context:

, but rather (ez)w
= e(z + 2πin)w
multivalued over integers n

See failure of power and logarithm identities for more about problems with combining powers.

The exponential function maps any line in the complex plane to a logarithmic spiral in the complex plane with the center at the origin. Two special cases might be noted: when the original line is parallel to the real axis, the resulting spiral never closes in on itself; when the original line is parallel to the imaginary axis, the resulting spiral is a circle of some radius.

Considering the complex exponential function as a function involving four real variables:


the graph of the exponential function is a two-dimensional surface curving through four dimensions.

Starting with a color-coded portion of the   domain, the following are depictions of the graph as variously projected into two or three dimensions.

The second image shows how the domain complex plane is mapped into the range complex plane:

  • zero is mapped to 1
  • the real   axis is mapped to the positive real   axis
  • the imaginary   axis is wrapped around the unit circle at a constant angular rate
  • values with negative real parts are mapped inside the unit circle
  • values with positive real parts are mapped outside of the unit circle
  • values with a constant real part are mapped to circles centered at zero
  • values with a constant imaginary part are mapped to rays extending from zero

The third and fourth images show how the graph in the second image extends into one of the other two dimensions not shown in the second image.

The third image shows the graph extended along the real   axis. It shows the graph is a surface of revolution about the   axis of the graph of the real exponential function, producing a horn or funnel shape.

The fourth image shows the graph extended along the imaginary   axis. It shows that the graph's surface for positive and negative   values doesn't really meet along the negative real   axis, but instead forms a spiral surface about the   axis. Because its   values have been extended to ±2π, this image also better depicts the 2π periodicity in the imaginary   value.

Computation of ab where both a and b are complexEdit

Complex exponentiation ab can be defined by converting a to polar coordinates and using the identity (eln(a))b
= ab


However, when b is not an integer, this function is multivalued, because θ is not unique (see failure of power and logarithm identities).

Matrices and Banach algebrasEdit

The power series definition of the exponential function makes sense for square matrices (for which the function is called the matrix exponential) and more generally in any Banach algebra B. In this setting, e0 = 1, and ex is invertible with inverse ex for any x in B. If xy = yx, then ex + y = exey, but this identity can fail for noncommuting x and y.

Some alternative definitions lead to the same function. For instance, ex can be defined as


Or ex can be defined as f(1), where f: RB is the solution to the differential equation f ′(t) = xf(t) with initial condition f(0) = 1.

Lie algebrasEdit

Given a Lie group G and its associated Lie algebra  , the exponential map is a map   G satisfying similar properties. In fact, since R is the Lie algebra of the Lie group of all positive real numbers under multiplication, the ordinary exponential function for real arguments is a special case of the Lie algebra situation. Similarly, since the Lie group GL(n,R) of invertible n × n matrices has as Lie algebra M(n,R), the space of all n × n matrices, the exponential function for square matrices is a special case of the Lie algebra exponential map.

The identity exp(x + y) = exp(x)exp(y) can fail for Lie algebra elements x and y that do not commute; the Baker–Campbell–Hausdorff formula supplies the necessary correction terms.


The function ez is not in C(z) (i.e., is not the quotient of two polynomials with complex coefficients).

For n distinct complex numbers {a1, …, an}, the set {ea1z, …, eanz} is linearly independent over C(z).

The function ez is transcendental over C(z).


When computing (an approximation of) the exponential function, if the argument is close to 0, the result will be close to 1, and computing the difference   may produce a loss of accuracy.

Following a proposal by William Kahan, it may thus be useful to have a dedicated routine, often called expm1, for computing ex − 1 directly, bypassing computation of ex. For example, if the exponential is computed by using its Taylor series


one may use the Taylor series of  


This was first implemented in 1979 in the Hewlett-Packard HP-41C calculator, and provided by several calculators,[12][13] computer algebra systems, and programming languages (for example C99).[14]

A similar approach has been used for the logarithm (see lnp1).[nb 1]

An identity in terms of the hyperbolic tangent,


gives a high-precision value for small values of x on systems that do not implement expm1(x).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ A similar approach to reduce round-off errors of calculations for certain input values of trigonometric functions consists of using the less common trigonometric functions versine, vercosine, coversine, covercosine, haversine, havercosine, hacoversine, hacovercosine, exsecant and excosecant.


  1. ^ Goldstein, Lay; Schneider, Asmar (2006). Brief calculus and its applications (11th ed.). Prentice–Hall. ISBN 0-13-191965-2.
  2. ^ Courant; Robbins (1996). Stewart, ed. What is Mathematics? An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods (2nd revised ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 448. ISBN 0-13-191965-2. This natural exponential function is identical with its derivative. This is really the source of all the properties of the exponential function, and the basic reason for its importance in applications…
  3. ^ a b Rudin, Walter (1987). Real and complex analysis (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-07-054234-1.
  4. ^ In pure mathematics, the notation log x generally refers to the natural logarithm of x or a logarithm in general if the base is immaterial.
  5. ^ The notation ln x is the ISO standard and is prevalent in the natural sciences and secondary education (US). However, some mathematicians (e.g., Paul Halmos) have criticized this notation and prefer to use log x for the natural logarithm of x.
  6. ^ Converse; Durrell (1911). Plane and spherical trigonometry. C. E. Merrill Co. p. 12. Inverse Use of a Table of Logarithms; that is, given a logarithm, to find the number corresponding to it, (called its antilogarithm) ...
  7. ^ a b Eli Maor, e: the Story of a Number, p.156.
  8. ^ a b John J O'Connor; Edmund F Robertson. "The number e". School of Mathematics and Statistics. University of St Andrews, Scotland. Retrieved 2011-06-13.
  9. ^ "A.2.2 The exponential function." L. Lorentzen and H. Waadeland, Continued Fractions, Atlantis Studies in Mathematics, page 268.
  10. ^ Rudin, Walter (1976). Principles of Mathematical Analysis. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 182. ISBN 9780070542358.
  11. ^ Apostol, Tom M. (1974). Mathematical Analysis (2nd ed.). Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley. p. 19. ISBN 978-0201002881.
  12. ^ HP 48G Series – Advanced User's Reference Manual (AUR) (4 ed.). Hewlett-Packard. December 1994 [1993]. HP 00048-90136, 0-88698-01574-2. Retrieved 2015-09-06.
  13. ^ HP 50g / 49g+ / 48gII graphing calculator advanced user’s reference manual (AUR) (2 ed.). Hewlett-Packard. 2009-07-14 [2005]. HP F2228-90010. Retrieved 2015-10-10.Searchable PDF
  14. ^ Beebe, Nelson H. F. (2002-07-09). "Computation of expm1 = exp(x)−1" (PDF). 1.00. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Department of Mathematics, Center for Scientific Computing, University of Utah. Retrieved 2015-11-02.

External linksEdit