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Compact space

In mathematics, a compact space is a space that resembles a closed and bounded subset of Euclidean space Rn in that it is "small" in a certain sense and "contains all its limit points". The modern general definition calls a topological space compact if every open cover of it has a finite subcover. That is, any collection of open sets whose union is the whole space has a finite subcollection whose union is still the whole space. Some authors use the term 'quasicompact' instead and reserve the term 'compact' for compact Hausdorff spaces, but Wikipedia follows the usual current practice of allowing compact spaces to be non-Hausdorff.

Table of contents
1 Motivation for compactness
2 Generally equivalent definitions of compact sets
3 Equivalent definitions of a compact set in Rn
4 Examples of compact spaces
5 Theorems
6 Other forms of compactness
7 Some history of the term 'compact'\

Motivation for compactness

One of the main reasons for studying compact spaces is because they are very nice generalisations of finite sets. In other words, there are many results which are easy to show for finite sets, and the proofs carry over with only miminal tinkering into the context of compact spaces. For this reason, it is often said that "compactness is the next best thing to finiteness". Here is an example:

Note that if A is infinite, the proof fails, because the intersection of arbitrarily many neighbourhoods of x might not be a neighbourhood of x. The proof can be "rescued", however, if A is compact: we simply take a finite subcover of the cover {V(a)} of A. In this way, we see that in a Hausdorff space, any point can be separated by neighbourhoods from any compact set not containing it. In fact, repeating the argument shows that any two disjoint compact sets in a Hausdorff space can be separated by neighbourhoods -- note that this is precisely what we get if we replace "point" (i.e. singleton set) with "compact set" in the Hausdorff separation axiom. Many of the arguments and results involving compact spaces follow such a pattern.

Generally equivalent definitions of compact sets

An equivalent definition of compact spaces, sometimes useful, is based on the finite intersection property. This definition says that X is compact if and only if for every collection of closed sets which has the finite intersection property, the intersection over this collection is also nonempty. In other words, if all finite subsets of a collection of closed sets have nonempty intersection, so must the entire collection. For example, (0,1] is not compact, since the sequence (0,1/n] of closed sets (in (0,1]) is nested, and so clearly has the finite intersection property, but has empty intersection. This definition is used in some proofs of Tychonoff's theorem and the uncountability of the real numbers.

Equivalent definitions of a compact set in Rn

For any subset of Euclidean space Rn, the following three conditions are equivalent:

In other spaces, these conditions may or may not be equivalent, depending on the properties of the space.

Examples of compact spaces


Some theorems related to compactness (see the Topology Glossary for the definitions):

Other forms of compactness

There are a number of topological properties which are equivalent to compactness in metric spaces, but are inequivalent in general topological spaces. These include the following.

While all these conditions are equivalent for metric spaces, in general we have the following implications:

Compact spaces are countably compact. Sequentially compact spaces are countably compact. Countably compact spaces are pseudocompact and weakly countably compact.

Another related notion that is usually strictly weaker than compactness is local compactness.

Some history of the term 'compact'\

It has been recognized for a long time that a property like compactness was needed to prove many useful results. At one time, when primarily metric spaces were studied, compact was taken to mean the weaker sequentially compact, that every sequence has a convergent subsequence. The definition based on open coverings has surpassed it by allowing many useful results that could be proven about metric spaces using the old definition to be proven in general.