Compactification (mathematics)

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In mathematics, compactification is the process or result of making a topological space compact.[1] The methods of compactification are various, but each is a way of controlling points from "going off to infinity" by in some way adding "points at infinity" or preventing such an "escape".


An example

Consider the real line with its ordinary topology. This space is not compact; in a sense, points can go off to infinity to the left or to the right. It is possible to turn the real line into a compact space by adding a single "point at infinity" which we will denote by ∞. The resulting compactification can be thought of as a circle (which is compact as a closed and bounded subset of the Euclidean plane). Every sequence that ran off to infinity in the real line will then converge to ∞ in this compactification.

Intuitively, the process can be pictured as follows: first shrink the real line to the open interval (-π,π) on the x-axis; then bend the ends of this interval upwards (in positive y-direction) and move them towards each other, until you get a circle with one point (the topmost one) missing. This point is our new point ∞ "at infinity"; adding it in completes the compact circle.

A bit more formally: we represent a point on the unit circle by its angle, in radians, going from -π to π for simplicity. Identify each such point θ on the circle with the corresponding point on the real line tan(θ/2). This function is undefined at the point π, since tan(π/2) is undefined there; we will identify this point with our point ∞.

Since tangents and inverse tangents are both continuous, our identification function is a homeomorphism between the real line and the unit circle without ∞. What we have constructed is called the Alexandroff one-point compactification of the real line, discussed in more generality below. It is also possible to compactify the real line by adding two points, +∞ and -∞; this results in the extended real line.


An embedding of a topological space X as a dense subset of a compact space is called a compactification of X. It is often useful to embed topological spaces in compact spaces, because of the special properties compact spaces have.

Embeddings into compact Hausdorff spaces may be of particular interest. Since every compact Hausdorff space is a Tychonoff space, and every subspace of a Tychonoff space is Tychonoff, we conclude that any space possessing a Hausdorff compactification must be a Tychonoff space. In fact, the converse is also true; being a Tychonoff space is both necessary and sufficient for possessing a Hausdorff compactification.

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