Uniform convergence

In mathematical analysis, a sequence { fn } of functions converges uniformly to a limiting function f if the speed of convergence of fn(x) to f(x) does not depend on x. This notion is used because several important properties of the functions fn, such as continuity, differentiability and Riemann integrability, are only transferred to the limit f if the convergence is uniform.


Definition and comparison with pointwise convergence

Suppose S is a set and fn : SR are real-valued functions for every natural number n. We say that the sequence (fn) converges uniformly with limit f : SR if and only if

for every ε > 0, there exists a natural number N, such that for all x in S and all nN: |fn(x) − f(x)| < ε.

Compare this to the concept of pointwise convergence: The sequence (fn) converges pointwise with limit f : SR if and only if

for every x in S and every ε > 0, there exists a natural number N, such that for all nN: |fn(x) − f(x)| < ε.

In the case of uniform convergence, N can only depend on ε, while in the case of pointwise convergence N may depend on ε and x. It is therefore plain that uniform convergence implies pointwise convergence. The converse is not true, as the following example shows: take S to be the unit interval [0,1] and define fn(x) = xn for every natural number n. Then (fn) converges pointwise to the function f defined by f(x) = 0 if x < 1 and f(1) = 1. This convergence is not uniform: for instance for ε = 1/4, there exists no N as required by the definition.

Topological reformulation

Given a topological space X, we can equip the space of real or complex-valued functions over X with the uniform norm topology. Then, uniform convergence simply means convergence in the uniform norm topology.


If S is a real interval (or indeed any topological space), we can talk about the continuity of the functions fn and f. The following is the more important result about uniform continuity:

Uniform convergence theorem. If (fn) is a sequence of continuous functions which converges uniformly towards the function f, then f is continuous as well.
Missing image
Counterexample to the converse of the uniform convergence theorem. The continuous green functions sinn(x) converge to the non-continuous red function because convergence is not uniform

The former theorem is important, since pointwise convergence of functions is not enough to guarantee convergence of the limit function as the image illustrates.

If S is an interval and all the functions fn are differentiable and converge to a limit f, it is often desirable to differentiate the limit function f by taking the limit of the derivatives of fn. This is however in general not possible: even if the convergence is uniform, the limit function need not be differentiable, and even if it is differentiable, the derivative of the limit function need not be equal to the limit of the derivatives. Consider for instance fn(x) = 1/n sin(nx) with uniform limit 0, but the derivatives do not approach 0. The precise statement covering this situation is as follows:

If fn converges uniformly to f, and if all the fn are differentiable, and if the derivatives f'n converge uniformly to g, then f is differentiable and its derivative is g.

Similarly, one often wants to exchange integrals and limit processes. For the Riemann integral, one needs to require uniform convergence:

If (fn) is a sequence of Riemann integrable functions which uniformly converge with limit f, then f is Riemann integrable and its integral can be computed as the limit of the integrals of the fn.

Much stronger theorems in this respect, which require not much more than pointwise convergence, can be obtained if one abandons the Riemann integral and uses the Lebesgue integral instead.

If S is a compact interval (or in general a compact topological space), and (fn) is a monotone increasing sequence (meaning fn(x) ≤ fn+1(x) for all n and x) of continuous functions with a pointwise limit f which is also continuous, then the convergence is necessarily uniform ("Dini's theorem"). Uniform convergence is also guaranteed if S is a compact interval and (fn) is an equicontinuous sequence that converges pointwise.


One may straightforwardly extend the concept to functions SM, where (M, d) is a metric space, by replacing |fn(x) - f(x)| with d(fn(x), f(x)).

The most general setting is the uniform convergence of nets of functions SX, where X is a uniform space. We say that the net (fα) converges uniformly with limit f : SX iff

for every entourage V in X, there exists an α0, such that for every x in I and every α => α0: (fα(x), f(x)) is in V.

The above mentioned theorem, stating that the uniform limit of continuous functions is continuous, remains correct in these settings.


Augustin Louis Cauchy in 1821 published a faulty proof of the false statement that the pointwise limit of a sequence of continuous functions is always continuous. Joseph Fourier and Niels Henrik Abel found counter examples in the context of Fourier series. Dirichlet then analyzed Cauchy's proof and found the mistake: the notion of pointwise convergence had to be replaced by uniform convergence.


Theory and Application of Infinite Series, Konrad Knopp, Blackie and Son, London, 1954, reprinted by Dover Publications, ISBN 0486661652.

See also

he:התכנסות במידה שווה


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