Boolean ring

Boolean ring

In mathematics, a Boolean ring R is a ring (with identity) for which x2 = x for all x in R; that is, R consists only of idempotent elements.

Boolean rings are automatically commutative and of characteristic 2 (see below for proof). A Boolean ring is essentially the same thing as a Boolean algebra, with ring multiplication corresponding to conjunction or meet ∧, and ring addition to exclusive disjunction or symmetric difference (not disjunction ∨).

Notational problems

There are (at least) 4 different and incompatible systems of notation for Boolean rings and algebras.

  • In commutative algebra the standard notation is to use x+y = x∧¬y ∨ ¬xyfor the ring sum of x and y, and use xy for their product.
  • In logic, a common notation is to use xy for the join (same as the ring product) and use xy for the meet, given in terms of ring notation by x+y+xy.
  • In set theory and logic it is also common to use x.y for the join, and x+y for the meet xy. This use of + is different from the use in ring theory.
  • A rare convention is to use xy for the product and xy for the ring sum, in an effort to avoid the ambiguity of +.

The old terminology was to use "Boolean ring" to mean a "Boolean ring possibly without an identity", and "Boolean algebra" to mean a Boolean ring with an identity. (This is the same as the old use of the terms "ring" and "algebra" in measure theory.)


One example of a Boolean ring is the power set of any set X, where the addition in the ring is symmetric difference, and the multiplication is intersection. As another example, we can also consider the set of all finite or cofinite subsets of X, again with symmetric difference and intersection as operations. More generally with these operations any field of sets is a Boolean ring. By Stone's representation theorem every Boolean ring is isomorphic to a field of sets (treated as a ring with these operations).

Relation to Boolean algebras

Since the join operation ∨ in a Boolean algebra is often written additively, it makes sense in this context to denote ring addition by ⊕ (which is the same as subtraction in any Boolean algebra), a symbol that is often used to denote exclusive or.

Given a Boolean ring R, for x and y in R we can define

xy = xy,

xy = xyxy,

¬x = 1 ⊕ x.

These operations then satisfy all of the axioms for meets, joins, and complements in a Boolean algebra. Thus every Boolean ring becomes a Boolean algebra. Similarly, every Boolean algebra becomes a Boolean ring thus:

xy = xy,

xy = (xy) ∧ ¬(xy).

If a Boolean ring is translated into a Boolean algebra in this way, and then the Boolean algebra is translated into a ring, the result is the original ring. The analogous result holds beginning with a Boolean algebra.

A map between two Boolean rings is a ring homomorphism if and only if it is a homomorphism of the corresponding Boolean algebras. Furthermore, a subset of a Boolean ring is a ring ideal (prime ring ideal, maximal ring ideal) if and only if it is an order ideal (prime order ideal, maximal order ideal) of the Boolean algebra. The quotient ring of a Boolean ring modulo a ring ideal corresponds to the factor algebra of the corresponding Boolean algebra modulo the corresponding order ideal.

Properties of Boolean rings

Every Boolean ring R satisfies xx = 0 for all x in R, because we know

xx = (xx)2 = x2 ⊕ 2x2x2 = x ⊕ 2xx = xxxx

and since <R,⊕> is an abelian group, we can subtract xx from both sides of this equation, which gives xx = 0. A similar proof shows that every Boolean ring is commutative:

xy = (xy)2 = x2xyyxy2 = xxyyxy

and this yields xyyx = 0, which means xy = yx (using the first property above).

The property xx = 0 shows that any Boolean ring is an associative algebra over the field F2 with two elements, in just one way. In particular, any finite Boolean ring has as cardinality a power of two. Not every associative algebra with one over F2 is a Boolean ring: consider for instance the polynomial ring F2[X].

The quotient ring R/I of any Boolean ring R modulo any ideal I is again a Boolean ring. Likewise, any subring of a Boolean ring is a Boolean ring.

Every prime ideal P in a Boolean ring R is maximal: the quotient ring R/P is an integral domain and also a Boolean ring, so it is isomorphic to the field F2, which shows the maximality of P. Since maximal ideals are always prime, prime ideals and maximal ideals coincide in Boolean rings.

Boolean rings are von Neumann regular rings.

Boolean rings are absolutely flat: this means that every module over them is flat.

Every finitely generated ideal of a Boolean ring is principal.


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