Compact space

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Per the compactness criteria for Euclidean space as stated in the Heine-Borel theorem, the interval A = (-[?], -2] is not compact because it is not bounded. The interval C = (2, 4) is not compact because it is not closed. The interval B = [0, 1] is compact because it is both closed and bounded. Compact.svg
Per the compactness criteria for Euclidean space as stated in the Heine–Borel theorem, the interval A = (−∞, −2] is not compact because it is not bounded. The interval C = (2, 4) is not compact because it is not closed. The interval B = [0, 1] is compact because it is both closed and bounded.

In mathematics, more specifically in general topology, compactness is a property that generalizes the notion of a subset of Euclidean space being closed (i.e., containing all its limit points) and bounded (i.e., having all its points lie within some fixed distance of each other). [1] [2] Examples include a closed interval, a rectangle, or a finite set of points. This notion is defined for more general topological spaces than Euclidean space in various ways.


One such generalization is that a topological space is sequentially compact if every infinite sequence of points sampled from the space has an infinite subsequence that converges to some point of the space. [3] The Bolzano–Weierstrass theorem states that a subset of Euclidean space is compact in this sequential sense if and only if it is closed and bounded. Thus, if one chooses an infinite number of points in the closed unit interval [0, 1], some of those points will get arbitrarily close to some real number in that space. For instance, some of the numbers in the sequence 1/2, 4/5, 1/3, 5/6, 1/4, 6/7, accumulate to 0 (while others accumulate to 1). The same set of points would not accumulate to any point of the open unit interval (0, 1); so the open unit interval is not compact. Euclidean space itself is not compact since it is not bounded. In particular, the sequence of points 0, 1, 2, 3, …, which is not bounded, has no subsequence that converges to any real number.

The concept of a compact space was formally introduced by Maurice Fréchet in 1906 to generalize the Bolzano–Weierstrass theorem to spaces of functions, rather than geometrical points. Applications of compactness to classical analysis, such as the Arzelà–Ascoli theorem and the Peano existence theorem are of this kind. Following the initial introduction of the concept, various equivalent notions of compactness, including sequential compactness and limit point compactness, were developed in general metric spaces. [4] In general topological spaces, however, different notions of compactness are not necessarily equivalent. The most useful notion, which is the standard definition of the unqualified term compactness, is phrased in terms of the existence of finite families of open sets that "cover" the space in the sense that each point of the space lies in some set contained in the family. This more subtle notion, introduced by Pavel Alexandrov and Pavel Urysohn in 1929, exhibits compact spaces as generalizations of finite sets. In spaces that are compact in this sense, it is often possible to patch together information that holds locally that is, in a neighborhood of each pointinto corresponding statements that hold throughout the space, and many theorems are of this character.

The term compact set is sometimes used as a synonym for compact space, but often refers to a compact subspace of a topological space as well.

Historical development

In the 19th century, several disparate mathematical properties were understood that would later be seen as consequences of compactness. On the one hand, Bernard Bolzano (1817) had been aware that any bounded sequence of points (in the line or plane, for instance) has a subsequence that must eventually get arbitrarily close to some other point, called a limit point. Bolzano's proof relied on the method of bisection: the sequence was placed into an interval that was then divided into two equal parts, and a part containing infinitely many terms of the sequence was selected. The process could then be repeated by dividing the resulting smaller interval into smaller and smaller parts—until it closes down on the desired limit point. The full significance of Bolzano's theorem, and its method of proof, would not emerge until almost 50 years later when it was rediscovered by Karl Weierstrass. [5]

In the 1880s, it became clear that results similar to the Bolzano–Weierstrass theorem could be formulated for spaces of functions rather than just numbers or geometrical points. The idea of regarding functions as themselves points of a generalized space dates back to the investigations of Giulio Ascoli and Cesare Arzelà. [6] The culmination of their investigations, the Arzelà–Ascoli theorem, was a generalization of the Bolzano–Weierstrass theorem to families of continuous functions, the precise conclusion of which was that it was possible to extract a uniformly convergent sequence of functions from a suitable family of functions. The uniform limit of this sequence then played precisely the same role as Bolzano's "limit point". Towards the beginning of the twentieth century, results similar to that of Arzelà and Ascoli began to accumulate in the area of integral equations, as investigated by David Hilbert and Erhard Schmidt. For a certain class of Green's functions coming from solutions of integral equations, Schmidt had shown that a property analogous to the Arzelà–Ascoli theorem held in the sense of mean convergence or convergence in what would later be dubbed a Hilbert space. This ultimately led to the notion of a compact operator as an offshoot of the general notion of a compact space. It was Maurice Fréchet who, in 1906, had distilled the essence of the Bolzano–Weierstrass property and coined the term compactness to refer to this general phenomenon (he used the term already in his 1904 paper [7] which led to the famous 1906 thesis).

However, a different notion of compactness altogether had also slowly emerged at the end of the 19th century from the study of the continuum, which was seen as fundamental for the rigorous formulation of analysis. In 1870, Eduard Heine showed that a continuous function defined on a closed and bounded interval was in fact uniformly continuous. In the course of the proof, he made use of a lemma that from any countable cover of the interval by smaller open intervals, it was possible to select a finite number of these that also covered it. The significance of this lemma was recognized by Émile Borel (1895), and it was generalized to arbitrary collections of intervals by Pierre Cousin (1895) and Henri Lebesgue (1904). The Heine–Borel theorem, as the result is now known, is another special property possessed by closed and bounded sets of real numbers.

This property was significant because it allowed for the passage from local information about a set (such as the continuity of a function) to global information about the set (such as the uniform continuity of a function). This sentiment was expressed by Lebesgue (1904), who also exploited it in the development of the integral now bearing his name. Ultimately, the Russian school of point-set topology, under the direction of Pavel Alexandrov and Pavel Urysohn, formulated Heine–Borel compactness in a way that could be applied to the modern notion of a topological space. Alexandrov & Urysohn (1929) showed that the earlier version of compactness due to Fréchet, now called (relative) sequential compactness, under appropriate conditions followed from the version of compactness that was formulated in terms of the existence of finite subcovers. It was this notion of compactness that became the dominant one, because it was not only a stronger property, but it could be formulated in a more general setting with a minimum of additional technical machinery, as it relied only on the structure of the open sets in a space.

Basic examples

Any finite space is trivially compact. A non-trivial example of a compact space is the (closed) unit interval [0,1] of real numbers. If one chooses an infinite number of distinct points in the unit interval, then there must be some accumulation point in that interval. For instance, the odd-numbered terms of the sequence 1, 1/2, 1/3, 3/4, 1/5, 5/6, 1/7, 1/8, ... get arbitrarily close to 0, while the even-numbered ones get arbitrarily close to 1. The given example sequence shows the importance of including the boundary points of the interval, since the limit points must be in the space itself — an open (or half-open) interval of the real numbers is not compact. It is also crucial that the interval be bounded, since in the interval [0,∞), one could choose the sequence of points 0, 1, 2, 3, ..., of which no sub-sequence ultimately gets arbitrarily close to any given real number.

In two dimensions, closed disks are compact since for any infinite number of points sampled from a disk, some subset of those points must get arbitrarily close either to a point within the disc, or to a point on the boundary. However, an open disk is not compact, because a sequence of points can tend to the boundary—without getting arbitrarily close to any point in the interior. Likewise, spheres are compact, but a sphere missing a point is not since a sequence of points can still tend to the missing point, thereby not getting arbitrarily close to any point within the space. Lines and planes are not compact, since one can take a set of equally-spaced points in any given direction without approaching any point.


Various definitions of compactness may apply, depending on the level of generality. A subset of Euclidean space in particular is called compact if it is closed and bounded. This implies, by the Bolzano–Weierstrass theorem, that any infinite sequence from the set has a subsequence that converges to a point in the set. Various equivalent notions of compactness, such as sequential compactness and limit point compactness, can be developed in general metric spaces. [4]

In contrast, the different notions of compactness are not equivalent in general topological spaces, and the most useful notion of compactnessoriginally called bicompactnessis defined using covers consisting of open sets (see Open cover definition below). That this form of compactness holds for closed and bounded subsets of Euclidean space is known as the Heine–Borel theorem. Compactness, when defined in this manner, often allows one to take information that is known locally in a neighbourhood of each point of the spaceand to extend it to information that holds globally throughout the space. An example of this phenomenon is Dirichlet's theorem, to which it was originally applied by Heine, that a continuous function on a compact interval is uniformly continuous; here, continuity is a local property of the function, and uniform continuity the corresponding global property.

Open cover definition

Formally, a topological space X is called compact if each of its open covers has a finite subcover. [8] That is, X is compact if for every collection C of open subsets of X such that


there is a finite subset F of C such that

Some branches of mathematics such as algebraic geometry, typically influenced by the French school of Bourbaki, use the term quasi-compact for the general notion, and reserve the term compact for topological spaces that are both Hausdorff and quasi-compact. A compact set is sometimes referred to as a compactum, plural compacta.

Compactness of subsets

A subset K of a topological space X is said to be compact if it is compact as a subspace (in the subspace topology). That is, K is compact if for every arbitrary collection C of open subsets of X such that


there is a finite subset F of C such that


Compactness is a "topological" property. That is, if , with subset Z equipped with the subspace topology, then K is compact in Z if and only if K is compact in Y.

Equivalent definitions

If X is a topological space then the following are equivalent:

  1. X is compact.
  2. Every open cover of X has a finite subcover.
  3. X has a sub-base such that every cover of the space, by members of the sub-base, has a finite subcover (Alexander's sub-base theorem)
  4. X is Lindelöf and countably compact [9]
  5. Any collection of closed subsets of X with the finite intersection property has nonempty intersection.
  6. Every net on X has a convergent subnet (see the article on nets for a proof).
  7. Every filter on X has a convergent refinement.
  8. Every net on X has a cluster point.
  9. Every filter on X has a cluster point.
  10. Every ultrafilter on X converges to at least one point.
  11. Every infinite subset of X has a complete accumulation point. [10]

Euclidean space

For any subset A of Euclidean space, A is compact if and only if it is closed and bounded; this is the Heine–Borel theorem.

As a Euclidean space is a metric space, the conditions in the next subsection also apply to all of its subsets. Of all of the equivalent conditions, it is in practice easiest to verify that a subset is closed and bounded, for example, for a closed interval or closed n-ball.

Metric spaces

For any metric space (X, d), the following are equivalent (assuming countable choice):

  1. (X, d) is compact.
  2. (X, d) is complete and totally bounded (this is also equivalent to compactness for uniform spaces). [11]
  3. (X, d) is sequentially compact; that is, every sequence in X has a convergent subsequence whose limit is in X (this is also equivalent to compactness for first-countable uniform spaces).
  4. (X, d) is limit point compact (also called weakly countably compact); that is, every infinite subset of X has at least one limit point in X.
  5. (X, d) is countably compact; that is, every countable open cover of X has a finite subcover.
  6. (X, d) is an image of a continuous function from the Cantor set. [12]

A compact metric space (X, d) also satisfies the following properties:

  1. Lebesgue's number lemma: For every open cover of X, there exists a number δ > 0 such that every subset of X of diameter < δ is contained in some member of the cover.
  2. (X, d) is second-countable, separable and Lindelöf – these three conditions are equivalent for metric spaces. The converse is not true; e.g., a countable discrete space satisfies these three conditions, but is not compact.
  3. X is closed and bounded (as a subset of any metric space whose restricted metric is d). The converse may fail for a non-Euclidean space; e.g. the real line equipped with the discrete metric is closed and bounded but not compact, as the collection of all singletons of the space is an open cover which admits no finite subcover. It is complete but not totally bounded.

Characterization by continuous functions

Let X be a topological space and C(X) the ring of real continuous functions on X. For each pX, the evaluation map given by evp(f)=f(p) is a ring homomorphism. The kernel of evp is a maximal ideal, since the residue field C(X)/ker evp is the field of real numbers, by the first isomorphism theorem. A topological space X is pseudocompact if and only if every maximal ideal in C(X) has residue field the real numbers. For completely regular spaces, this is equivalent to every maximal ideal being the kernel of an evaluation homomorphism. [13] There are pseudocompact spaces that are not compact, though.

In general, for non-pseudocompact spaces there are always maximal ideals m in C(X) such that the residue field C(X)/m is a (non-Archimedean) hyperreal field. The framework of non-standard analysis allows for the following alternative characterization of compactness: [14] a topological space X is compact if and only if every point x of the natural extension *X is infinitely close to a point x0 of X (more precisely, x is contained in the monad of x0).

Hyperreal definition

A space X is compact if its hyperreal extension *X (constructed, for example, by the ultrapower construction) has the property that every point of *X is infinitely close to some point of X*X. For example, an open real interval X = (0, 1) is not compact because its hyperreal extension *(0,1) contains infinitesimals, which are infinitely close to 0, which is not a point of X.

Sufficient conditions

Properties of compact spaces

Functions and compact spaces

Since a continuous image of a compact space is compact, the extreme value theorem: a continuous real-valued function on a nonempty compact space is bounded above and attains its supremum. [17] (Slightly more generally, this is true for an upper semicontinuous function.) As a sort of converse to the above statements, the pre-image of a compact space under a proper map is compact.


Every topological space X is an open dense subspace of a compact space having at most one point more than X, by the Alexandroff one-point compactification. By the same construction, every locally compact Hausdorff space X is an open dense subspace of a compact Hausdorff space having at most one point more than X.

Ordered compact spaces

A nonempty compact subset of the real numbers has a greatest element and a least element.

Let X be a simply ordered set endowed with the order topology. Then X is compact if and only if X is a complete lattice (i.e. all subsets have suprema and infima). [18]


Algebraic examples

See also


  1. Let X = { a, b } , U = { a } , and V = { b } . Endow X with the topology generated by the following basic open sets: every subset of is open; the only open sets containing a are X and U; and the only open sets containing b are X and V. Then U and V are both compact subsets but their intersection, which is , is not compact. Note that both U and V are compact open subsets, neither one of which is closed.
  2. Let X = { a, b} and endow X with the topology { X, ∅, { a}}. Then { a} is a compact set but it is not closed.
  3. Let X be the set of non-negative integers. We endow X with the particular point topology by defining a subset UX to be open if and only if 0 ∈ U. Then S := { 0} is compact, the closure of S is all of X, but X is not compact since the collection of open subsets { { 0, x } : xX} does not have a finite subcover.

Related Research Articles

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  11. Arkhangel'skii & Fedorchuk 1990 , Theorem 5.3.7
  12. Willard 1970 Theorem 30.7.
  13. Gillman & Jerison 1976 , §5.6
  14. Robinson 1996 , Theorem 4.1.13
  15. Arkhangel'skii & Fedorchuk 1990 , Theorem 5.2.3; Closed set in a compact space is compact at PlanetMath .; Closed subsets of a compact set are compact at PlanetMath .
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  17. Arkhangel'skii & Fedorchuk 1990 , Corollary 5.2.1
  18. Steen & Seebach 1995 , p. 67


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