Quotient space

For quotient spaces in linear algebra, see quotient space (linear algebra).

In topology and related areas of mathematics, a quotient space (also called an identification space) is, intuitively speaking, the result of identifying or "gluing together" certain points of a given space. The points to be identified are specified by an equivalence relation. This is commonly done in order to construct new spaces from given ones.



Suppose X is a topological space and ~ is an equivalence relation on X. We define a topology on the quotient set X/~ (the set consisting of all equivalence classes of ~) as follows: a set of equivalence classes in X/~ is open if and only if their union is open in X. This is the quotient topology on the quotient set X/~.

Equivalently, the quotient topology can be characterized in the following manner: Let q : XX/~ be the projection map which sends each element of X to its equivalence class. Then the quotient topology on X/~ is the finest topology for which q is continuous.

Given a surjective map f : XY from a topological space X to a set Y we can define the quotient topology on Y as the finest topology for which f is continuous. This is equivalent to saying that a subset VY is open in Y if and only if its preimage f−1(V) is open in X. The map f induces an equivalence relation on X by saying x~y iff f(x) = f(y). The quotient space X/~ is then homeomorphic to Y (with its quotient topology) via the homeomorphism which sends the equivalence class of x to f(x).

In general, a surjective, continuous map f : XY is said to be a quotient map if Y has the quotient topology determined by f.


  • Consider the unit square I2 = [0,1]×[0,1] and the equivalence relation ~ generated by the requirement that all boundary points be equivalent, thus identifying all boundary points to a single equivalence class. Then I2/~ is homeomorphic to the unit sphere S2.
  • More generally, suppose X is a space and A is a subspace of X. One can identify all points in A to a single equivalence class and leave points outside of A equivalent only to themselves. The resulting quotient space is denoted X/A. The 2-sphere is then homeomorphic to the unit disc with its boundary identified to a single point: D2/∂D2.
  • Consider the set X = R of all real numbers with the ordinary topology, and write x ~ y iff xy is an integer. Then the quotient space X/~ is homeomorphic to the unit circle S1 via the homeomorphism which sends the equivalence class of x to exp(2πix).
  • A vast generalization of the previous example is the following: Suppose a topological group G acts continuously on a space X. One can form an equivalence relation on X by saying points are equivalent iff they lie in the same orbit. The quotient space under this relation is called the orbit space, denoted X/G. In the previous example G = Z acts on R by translation. The orbit space R/Z is homeomorphic to S1.

Warning: The notation R/Z is somewhat ambiguous. If Z is understood to be a group acting on R then the quotient is the circle. However, if Z is thought of as a subspace of R, then the quotient is an infinite bouquet of circles joined at a single point.


Quotient maps q : XY are characterized by the following property: if Z is any topological space and f : YZ is any function, then f is continuous if and only if f O q is continuous.

Missing image
Characteristic property of the quotient topology

The quotient space X/~ together with the quotient map q : XX/~ is characterized by the following universal property: if g : XZ is a continuous map such that a~b implies g(a)=g(b) for all a and b in X, then there exists a unique continuous map f : X/~ → Z such that g = f O q. We say that g descends to the quotient.

The continuous maps defined on X/~ are therefore precisely those maps which arise from continuous maps defined on X that respect the equivalence relation (in the sense that they send equivalent elements to the same image). This criterion is constantly being used when studying quotient spaces.

Given a continuous surjection f : XY it is useful to have criteria by which one can determine if f is a quotient map. Two sufficient criteria are that f be open or closed. Note that these conditions are only sufficient, not necessary. It is easy to construct examples of quotient maps which are neither open nor closed.

Compatibility with other topological notions

  • Separation
    • In general, quotient spaces are ill-behaved with respect to separation axioms. The separation properties of X need not be inherited by X/~, and X/~ may have separation properties not shared by X.
    • X/~ is a T1 space if and only if every equivalence class of ~ is closed in X.
    • If the quotient map is open then X/~ is a Hausdorff space if and only if ~ is a closed subset of the product space X×X.
  • Connectedness
  • Compactness
    • If a space is compact, then so are all its quotient spaces.
    • A quotient space of a locally compact space need not be locally compact.
  • Dimension

Please add more results like this.

Related topics

In topology:

In algebra:


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