Internal Hom


This is an introductory post about some easy examples of internal Hom.

Definition. Let (\mathscr C, \otimes) be a symmetric monoidal category, i.e. a category \mathscr C with a functor \otimes \colon \mathscr C \times \mathscr C \to \mathscr C that is associative, unital, and commutative up to natural isomorphism. Then an internal Hom in \mathscr C is a functor

    \[\mathbf{Hom}(-,-) \colon \mathscr C\op \times \mathscr C \to \mathscr C\]

such that -\otimes Y is a left adjoint to \mathbf{Hom}(Y,-) for any Y \in \mathscr C, i.e. there are functorial isomorphisms

    \[\operatorname{Hom}(X \otimes Y, Z) \stackrel\sim\to \operatorname{Hom}(X, \mathbf{Hom}(Y,Z)).\]

Remark. In the easiest examples, we typically think of \mathbf{Hom}(Y,Z) as ‘upgrading \operatorname{Hom}(Y,Z) to an object of \mathscr C‘:

Example. Let R be a commutative ring, and let \mathscr C = \mathbf{Mod}_R be the category of R-modules, with \otimes the tensor product. Then \mathbf{Hom}(M,N) = \operatorname{Hom}_R(M,N) with its natural R-module structure is an internal Hom, by the usual tensor-Hom adjunction:

    \[\operatorname{Hom}_R(M \otimes_R N, K) \cong \operatorname{Hom}_R(M, \mathbf{Hom}(N, K)).\]

The same is true when \mathscr C =\!\ _R\mathbf{Mod}_R is the category of (R,R)-bimodules for a not necessarily commutative ring R.

However, we cannot do this for left R-modules over a noncommutative ring, because there is no natural R-module structure on \operatorname{Hom}_R(M,N) for left R-modules M and N. In general, the tensor product takes an (A,B)-bimodule M and a (B,C)-bimodule N and produces an (A,C)-bimodule M \otimes_B N. Taking A = C = \mathbf Z gives a way to tensor a right R-module with a left R-module, but there is no standard way to tensor two left R-modules, let alone equip it with the structure of a left R-module.

Example. Let \mathscr C = \mathbf{Set}. Then \mathbf{Hom}(X,Y) = \operatorname{Hom}(X,Y) = Y^X is naturally a set, making it into an internal Hom for (\mathscr C, \times):

    \[\operatorname{Hom}(X \times Y, Z) \stackrel\sim\to \operatorname{Hom}(X, \mathbf{Hom}(Y,Z)).\]

When \otimes is the categorical product \times, the internal \mathbf{Hom}(X,Y) (if it exists) is usually called an exponential object, in analogy with the case \mathscr C = \mathbf{Set} above.

Example. Another example of exponential objects is from topology. Let \mathscr C = \mathbf{Haus} be the category of locally compact Hausdorff topological spaces. Then the compact-open topology makes \mathbf{Hom}(X,Y) := Y^X into an internal Hom of topological spaces. (There are mild generalisations of this beyond the compact Hausdorff case, but for an arbitrary topological space X the functor - \times X does not preserve colimits and hence cannot admit a right adjoint.)

Example. An example of a slightly different nature is chain complexes: let R be a commutative ring, and let \mathscr C = \mathbf{Ch}(\mathbf{Mod}_R) be the category of cochain complexes

    \[\ldots \to C^{i-1} \to C^i \to C^{i+1} \to \ldots\]

of R-modules (meaning each C^i is an R-module, and the d^i \colon C^i \to C^{i+1} are R-linear maps satisfying d \circ d = 0). Homomorphisms f \colon C \to D are commutative diagrams

    \[\begin{array}{ccccccc}\ldots & \to & C^i & \to & C^{i+1} & \to & \ldots \\ & & \!\!\!\!\! f^i\downarrow & & \downarrow f^{i+1}\!\!\!\!\!\!\! & & \\ \ldots & \to & D^i & \to & D^{i+1} & \to & \ldots,\!\!\end{array}\]

and the tensor product is given by the direct sum totalisation of the double complex of componentwise tensor products.

There isn’t a natural way to ‘endow \operatorname{Hom}(C, D) with the structure of a chain complex’, but there is an internal Hom given by

    \[\mathbf{Hom}(C, D)^i = \prod_{m \in \mathbf Z} \operatorname{Hom}(C_m, D_{m+i}),\]

with differentials given by

    \[d^if = d_D f - (-1)^i f d_C.\]

Then we get for example

    \[\operatorname{Hom}(R[0], \mathbf{Hom}(C, D)) \cong \operatorname{Hom}(C, D),\]

since a morphism R[0] \to \mathbf{Hom}(C, D) is given by an element f \in \mathbf{Hom}(C, D)^0 such that df = 0, i.e. d_Df = f d_C, meaning that f is a morphism of cochain complexes.

Example. The final example for today is presheaves and sheaves. If X is a topological space, then the category \mathbf{Ab}(X) of abelian sheaves on X has an internal Hom given by

    \[\mathbf{Hom}(\mathscr F, \mathscr G)(U) = \operatorname{Hom}(\mathscr F|_U, \mathscr G|_U),\]

with the obvious transition maps for inclusions V \subseteq U of open sets. This is usually called the sheaf Hom. A similar statement holds for presheaves.

3 thoughts on “Internal Hom

  1. These are wonderful examples! Another of my favorites is the internal hom in the preorder of propositional logic, where the objects are propositions and a morphism from P to Q exists if and only if you can deduce Q from P. Then the internal hom-object is the proposition “P implies Q”! (The symmetric monoidal structure is “and”.) There’s a lovely parallel between the hom-object for propositions being “(not P) or Q” and the hom-object for vector spaces being “(V dual) tensor W”, as if in either case to turn A into B you just get rid of A and then tack on B.

    P.S. A nice application of the Yoneda lemma is to prove that the isomorphisms of sets in your second centered equation can be promoted to internal isomorphisms between hom-objects! Something I’ve always wondered about is the relationship between a symmetric monoidal category having internal homs and being enriched over itself. Do you know what the story is there?

    • Nice example! As for your question, according to this MO question the answer is yet: symmetric closed monoidal categories (i.e. symmetric monoidal categories that have an internal hom) are always enriched over themselves. (There seems to be a statement in the non-symmetric case, but this does not apply to any of the examples above.)

      • Thanks! What the MO question asks but doesn’t get answered is to what extent the correspondence is one-to-one: if a symmetric monoidal category is enriched over itself, does it also gain an internal hom? It seems to get some similar data, but the last time I tried to write down all the axioms it didn’t seem quite to match up.

        Okay, one more example of internal homs: any commutative monoid M can be promoted to a symmetric monoidal discrete category, and then one can ask whether that category has internal homs. The answer: yes, iff M is a group! If I remember correctly, that even works if M is not commutative, and one uses the suitably non-symmetric definition of monoidal closed category.

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