In a metric space (for example, the real numbers) this means that the points within a given distance of f(x) always contain the images of all the points within some other distance of x, giving the ε-δ definition.
The most common notion of continuity in topology defines continuous functions as those functions for which the preimages of open sets are open. Similar to the open set formulation is the closed set formulation, which says that preimages of closed sets are closed.
In a metric space, it is equivalent to consider the neighbourhood system of open balls centered at x and f(x) instead of all neighborhoods. This leads to the standard ε-δ definition of a continuous function from real analysis, which says roughly that a function is continuous if all points close to x map to points close to f(x). This only really makes sense in a metric space, however, which has a notion of distance.
Note, however, that if the target space is Hausdorff, it is still true that f is continuous at a if and only if the limit of f as x approaches a is f(a). At an isolated point, every function is continuous.
In several contexts, the topology of a space is conveniently specified in terms of limit points. In many instances, this is accomplished by specifying when a point is the limit of a sequence, but for some spaces that are too large in some sense, one specifies also when a point is the limit of more general sets of points indexed by a directed set, known as nets. A function is continuous only if it takes limits of sequences to limits of sequences. In the former case, preservation of limits is also sufficient; in the latter, a function may preserve all limits of sequences yet still fail to be continuous, and preservation of nets is a necessary and sufficient condition.
In detail, a function f : X → Y is sequentially continuous if whenever a sequence (xn) in X converges to a limit x, the sequence (f(xn)) converges to f(x). Thus sequentially continuous functions "preserve sequential limits". Every continuous function is sequentially continuous. If X is a first-countable space, then the converse also holds: any function preserving sequential limits is continuous. In particular, if X is a metric space, sequential continuity and continuity are equivalent. For non first-countable spaces, sequential continuity might be strictly weaker than continuity. (The spaces for which the two properties are equivalent are called sequential spaces.) This motivates the consideration of nets instead of sequences in general topological spaces. Continuous functions preserve limits of nets, and in fact this property characterizes continuous functions.
One might therefore suspect that given two topological spaces (X,int) and (X ' ,int ') where int and int ' are two interior operators then a function
Instead, we must resort to inverse images: given two topological spaces (X,int) and (X ' ,int ') where int and int ' are two interior operators then a function
Given a set X, a partial ordering can be defined on the possible topologies on X. A continuous function between two topological spaces stays continuous if we strengthen the topology of the domain space or weaken the topology of the codomain space. Thus we can consider the continuity of a given function a topological property, depending only on the topologies of its domain and codomain spaces.
For a function f from a topological space X to a set S, one defines the final topology on S by letting the open sets of S be those subsets A of S for which f-1(A) is open in X. If S has an existing topology, f is continuous with respect to this topology if and only if the existing topology is coarser than the final topology on S. Thus the final topology can be characterized as the finest topology on S which makes f continuous. If f is surjective, this topology is canonically identified with the quotient topology under the equivalence relation defined by f. This construction can be generalized to an arbitrary family of functions X → S.
Dually, for a function f from a set S to a topological space, one defines the initial topology on S by letting the open sets of S be those subsets A of S for which f(A) is open in X. If S has an existing topology, f is continuous with respect to this topology if and only if the existing topology is finer than the initial topology on S. Thus the initial topology can be characterized as the coarsest topology on S which makes f continuous. If f is injective, this topology is canonically identified with the subspace topology of S, viewed as a subset of X. This construction can be generalized to an arbitrary family of functions S → X.
Symmetric to the concept of a continuous map is an open map, for which images of open sets are open. In fact, if an open map f has an inverse, that inverse is continuous, and if a continuous map g has an inverse, that inverse is open.
If a function is a bijection, then it has an inverse function. The inverse of a continuous bijection is open, but need not be continuous. If it is, this special function is called a homeomorphism. If a continuous bijection has as its domain a compact space and its codomain is Hausdorff, then it is automatically a homeomorphism.