Internal Hom in the category of graphs

In this earlier post, I described what products in the category of graphs look like. In my previous post, I gave some basic examples of internal Hom. Today we will combine these and describe the internal Hom in the category of graphs.

Definition. Let G and H be graphs. Then the graph \mathbf{Hom}(G, H) has vertices \operatorname{Map}(V(G), V(H)), and an edge from f \colon V(G) \to V(H) to g \colon V(G) \to V(H) if and only if \{x,y\} \in E(G) implies \{f(x), g(y)\} \in E(H) (where we allow x = y as usual).

Lemma. If G, H, and K are graphs, then there is a natural isomorphism

    \[\operatorname{Hom}(G \times H, K) \stackrel\sim\to \operatorname{Hom}(G, \mathbf{Hom}(H, K)).\]

In other words, \mathbf{Hom}(H,K) is the internal Hom in the symmetric monoidal category (\mathbf{Grph}, \times).

Proof. There is a bijection

    \begin{align*}\alpha \colon \operatorname{Map}(V(G), V(\mathbf{Hom}(H, K))) &\stackrel\sim\to \operatorname{Map}(V(G \times H), V(K))\\\phi &\mapsto \bigg((g,h) \mapsto \phi(g)(h)\bigg).\end{align*}

So it suffices to show that \phi is a graph homomorphism if and only if \psi = \alpha(\phi) is. The condition that \phi is a graph homomorphism means that for any \{x,y\} \in E(G), the functions \phi(x), \phi(y) \colon V(H) \to V(K) have the property that \{a,b\} \in E(H) implies \{\phi(x)(a), \phi(y)(b)\} \in E(K). This is equivalent to \{\psi(x,a),\psi(y,b)\} \in E(K) for all \{x,y\} \in E(G) and all \{a,b\} \in E(H). By the construction of the product graph G \times H, this is exactly the condition that \psi is a graph homomorphism. \qedsymbol

Because the symmetric monoidal structure on \mathbf{Grph} is given by the categorical product, it is customary to refer to the internal \mathbf{Hom}(G,H) as the exponential graph H^G.

Example 1. Let S^{\operatorname{disc}} be the discrete graph on a set S. Then \mathbf{Hom}(S^{\operatorname{disc}}, K) is the complete graph with loops on the set V(K)^S. Indeed, the condition for two functions f, g \colon S \to V(K) to be adjacent is vacuous since S^{\operatorname{disc}} has no edges.

In particular, any function V(G) \to V(\mathbf{Hom}(S^{\operatorname{disc}}, K)) is a graph homomorphism. Under the adjunction above, this corresponds to the fact that any function V(G \times S^{\operatorname{disc}}) \to V(H) is a graph homomorphism, since G \times S^{\operatorname{disc}} is a discrete graph.

Example 2. Conversely, \mathbf{Hom}(H, S^{\operatorname{disc}}) is discrete as soon as H has an edge, and complete with loops otherwise. Indeed, the condition

    \[\{x,y\} \in E(H) \Rightarrow \{f(x),g(y)\} \in E(S^{\operatorname{disc}}) = \varnothing\]

can only be satisfied if E(H) = \varnothing, and in that case is true for all f and g.

In particular, a function V(G) \to V(\mathbf{Hom}(H, S^{\operatorname{disc}})) is a graph homomorphism if and only if either G or H has no edges. Under the adjunction above, this corresponds to the fact that a function V(G \times H) \to S is a graph homomorphism to S^{\operatorname{disc}} if and only if G \times H has no edges, which means either G or H has no edges.

Example 3. Let S^{\operatorname{loop}} be the discrete graph on a set S with loops at every point. Then \mathbf{Hom}(S^{\operatorname{loop}}, K) = K^S is the S-fold power of K. Indeed, the condition that two functions f, g \colon S \to V(K) are adjacent is that \{f(s), g(s)\} \in E(K) for all s \in S, which means exactly that \{\pi_s(f), \pi_s(g)\} \in E(K) for each of the projections \pi_s \colon K^S \to K.

In particular, graph homomorphisms f \colon G \to \mathbf{Hom}(S^{\operatorname{loop}}, K) correspond to giving S graph homomorphisms f_s \colon G \to K. Under the adjunction above, this corresponds to the fact that a graph homomorphism g \colon G \times S^{\operatorname{loop}} \to K is the same thing as S graph homomorphisms g_s \colon G \to K, since G \times S^{\operatorname{loop}} is the S-fold disjoint union of G.

Example 4. Let * = \{\operatorname{pt}\}^{\operatorname{loop}} be the terminal graph consisting of a single point with a loop (note that we used * instead for \{\operatorname{pt}\}^{\operatorname{disc}} in this earlier post). The observation above that G \times * \cong G also works the other way around: * \times G \cong G. Then the adjunction gives

    \[\operatorname{Hom}(G, K) \cong \operatorname{Hom}(*, \mathbf{Hom}(G,K)).\]

This is actually true in any symmetric monoidal category with internal hom and identity object *. We conclude that a function f \colon V(G) \to V(K) is a graph homomorphism if and only if \mathbf{Hom}(G, K) has a loop at f. This is also immediately seen from the definition: \mathbf{Hom}(G, K) has a loop at f if and only if \{x,y\} \in E(G) implies \{f(x), f(y)\} \in E(H).

Example 5. Let K_n and K_m be the complete graphs on n and m vertices respectively. Then \mathbf{Hom}(K_n, K_m) has as vertices all n-tuples (a_1,\ldots,a_n) \in \{1,\ldots,m\}^n, and an edge from (a_1,\ldots,a_n) to (b_1,\ldots,b_n) if and only if a_i \neq b_j when i \neq j. For example, for n = 2 we get an edge between (a_1, a_2) and (b_1, b_2) if and only if a_1 \neq b_2 and a_2 \neq b_1.

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