Support (mathematics)

In mathematics, the support of a numerical function f on a set X is sometimes defined as the subset of X on which f is nonzero. The most common situation occurs when X is a topological space (such as the real line) and f is a continuous function. In this case, the support of f is defined as the smallest closed subset of X, outside of which f is zero. The topological support is the closure of the settheoretic support.
Functions with compact support in X are those with support that is a compact subset of X. For example, if X is the real line, they are examples of functions that vanish at infinity. In good cases, functions with compact support are dense in the space of functions that vanish at infinity, but this requires some technical work to justify in a given example. Note that every function on a compact space has compact support since every closed subset of a compact space is compact.
It is possible also to talk about the support of a distribution, such as the Dirac delta function δ(x) on the real line. In that example, we can consider test functions F, which are smooth functions with support not including the point 0. Since δ(F) (the distribution δ applied as linear functional to F) is 0 for such functions, we can say that the support of δ is {0} only. Since measures (including probability measures) on the real line are special cases of distributions, we can also speak of the support of a measure in the same way.
In Fourier analysis in particular, it is interesting to study the singular support of a distribution. This has the intuitive interpretation as the set of points at which a distribution fails to be a function.
For example, the Fourier transform of the Heaviside step function can up to constant factors be considered to be 1/x (a function) except at x = 0. While this is clearly a special point, it is more precise to say that the transform qua distribution has singular support {0}: it cannot accurately be expressed as a function in relation to test functions with support including 0. It can be expressed as an application of a Cauchy principal value improper integral.
For distributions in several variables, singular supports allow one to define wave fronts and understand Huygens' principle in terms of mathematical analysis. Singular supports may also be used to understand phenomena special to distribution theory, such as attempts to 'multiply' distributions (squaring the Dirac delta function fails  essentially because the singular supports of two distributions to multiply should be disjoint).
An abstract notion of family of supports on a topological space, suitable for sheaf theory, was defined by Henri Cartan.