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In mathematics, ideal theory is the theory of ideals in commutative rings; and is the precursor name for the contemporary subject of commutative algebra. The name grew out of the central considerations, such as the Lasker–Noether theorem in algebraic geometry, and the ideal class group in algebraic number theory, of the commutative algebra of the first quarter of the twentieth century. It was used in the influential van der Waerden text on abstract algebra from around 1930.

The ideal theory in question had been based on elimination theory, but in line with David Hilbert's taste moved away from algorithmic methods. Gröbner basis theory has now reversed the trend, for computer algebra.

The importance of the ideal in general of a module, more general than an ideal, probably led to the perception that ideal theory was too narrow a description. Valuation theory, too, was an important technical extension, and was used by Helmut Hasse and Oscar Zariski. Bourbaki used commutative algebra; sometimes local algebra is applied to the theory of local rings. D. G. Northcott's 1953 Cambridge Tract Ideal Theory (reissued 2004 under the same title) was one of the final appearances of the name.

Topology determined by an idealEdit

Let R be a ring and M an R-module. Then each ideal   of R determines a topology on M called the  -adic topology such that a subset U of M is open if and only if for each x in U there exists a positive integer n such that


With respect to this  -adic topology, the module operations are continuous; in particular,   is a possibly non-Hausdorff topological group. Also, M is a Hausdorff topological space if and only if   Moreover, when   is Hausdorff, the topology is the same as the metric space topology given by defining the distance function:   for  , where   is an integer such that  .

Given a submodule N of M, the  -closure of N in M is equal to  , as shown easily.

Now, a priori, on a submodule N of M, there are two natural  -topologies: the subspace topology induced by the  -adic topology on M and the  -adic topology on N. However, when   is Noetherian and   is finite over it, those two topologies coincide as a consequence of the Artin–Rees lemma.

When   is Hausdorff,   can be completed as a metric space; the resulting space is denoted by   and has the module structure obtained by extending the module operations by continuity. It is also the same as (or canonically isomorphic to):


where the right-hand side is the completion of the module   with respect to  .

Example: Let   be a polynomial ring over a field and   the maximal ideal. Then   is a formal power series ring.

R is called a Zariski ring with respect to   if every ideal in R is  -closed. There is a characterization:

R is a Zariski ring with respect to   if and only if   is contained in the Jacobson radical of R.

In particular a Noetherian local ring is a Zariski ring with respect to the maximal ideal.

System of parametersEdit

A system of parameters for a local Noetherian ring of Krull dimension d with maximal ideal m is a set of elements x1, ..., xd that satisfies any of the following equivalent conditions:

  1. m is a minimal prime over (x1, ..., xd).
  2. The radical of (x1, ..., xd) is m.
  3. Some power of m is contained in (x1, ..., xd).
  4. (x1, ..., xd) is m-primary.

Every local Noetherian ring admits a system of parameters.

It is not possible for fewer than d elements to generate an ideal whose radical is m because then the dimension of R would be less than d.

If M is a k-dimensional module over a local ring, then x1, ..., xk is a system of parameters for M if the length of M / (x1, ..., xk)M is finite.


  • Atiyah, Michael Francis; Macdonald, I.G. (1969), Introduction to Commutative Algebra, Westview Press, ISBN 978-0-201-40751-8
  • Eisenbud, David, Commutative Algebra with a View Toward Algebraic Geometry, Graduate Texts in Mathematics, 150, Springer-Verlag, 1995, ISBN 0-387-94268-8.