Modular arithmetic

Last updated
Time-keeping on this clock uses arithmetic modulo 12. Clock group.svg
Time-keeping on this clock uses arithmetic modulo 12.

In mathematics, modular arithmetic is a system of arithmetic for integers, where numbers "wrap around" when reaching a certain value, called the modulus. The modern approach to modular arithmetic was developed by Carl Friedrich Gauss in his book Disquisitiones Arithmeticae , published in 1801.


A familiar use of modular arithmetic is in the 12-hour clock, in which the day is divided into two 12-hour periods. If the time is 7:00 now, then 8 hours later it will be 3:00. Simple addition would result in 7 + 8 = 15, but clocks "wrap around" every 12 hours. Because the hour number starts over after it reaches 12, this is arithmetic modulo 12. In terms of the definition below, 15 is congruent to 3 modulo 12, so "15:00" on a 24-hour clock is displayed "3:00" on a 12-hour clock.


Given an integer n > 1, called a modulus, two integers are said to be congruent modulo n, if n is a divisor of their difference (i.e., if there is an integer k such that ab = kn).

Congruence modulo n is a congruence relation, meaning that it is an equivalence relation that is compatible with the operations of addition, subtraction, and multiplication. Congruence modulo n is denoted:

The parentheses mean that (mod n) applies to the entire equation, not just to the right-hand side (here b). This notation is not to be confused with the notation b mod n (without parentheses), which refers to the modulo operation. Indeed, b mod n denotes the unique integer a such that 0 ≤ a < n and (i.e., the remainder of when divided by [1] ).

The congruence relation may be rewritten as

explicitly showing its relationship with Euclidean division. However, the b here need not be the remainder of the division of a by n. Instead, what the statement ab (mod n) asserts is that a and b have the same remainder when divided by n. That is,

where 0 ≤ r < n is the common remainder. Subtracting these two expressions, we recover the previous relation:

by setting k = pq.


In modulus 12, one can assert that:

because 38 − 14 = 24, which is a multiple of 12. Another way to express this is to say that both 38 and 14 have the same remainder 2, when divided by 12.

The definition of congruence also applies to negative values. For example:


The congruence relation satisfies all the conditions of an equivalence relation:

If a1b1 (mod n) and a2b2 (mod n), or if ab (mod n), then:

If ab (mod n), then it is generally false that kakb (mod n). However, the following is true:

For cancellation of common terms, we have the following rules:

The modular multiplicative inverse is defined by the following rules:

The multiplicative inverse xa–1 (mod n) may be efficiently computed by solving Bézout's equation for —using the Extended Euclidean algorithm.

In particular, if p is a prime number, then a is coprime with p for every a such that 0 < a < p; thus a multiplicative inverse exists for all a that is not congruent to zero modulo p.

Some of the more advanced properties of congruence relations are the following:

Congruence classes

Like any congruence relation, congruence modulo n is an equivalence relation, and the equivalence class of the integer a, denoted by an, is the set {… , a − 2n, an, a, a + n, a + 2n, …}. This set, consisting of all the integers congruent to a modulo n, is called the congruence class, residue class, or simply residue of the integer a modulo n. When the modulus n is known from the context, that residue may also be denoted [a].

Residue systems

Each residue class modulo n may be represented by any one of its members, although we usually represent each residue class by the smallest nonnegative integer which belongs to that class [2] (since this is the proper remainder which results from division). Any two members of different residue classes modulo n are incongruent modulo n. Furthermore, every integer belongs to one and only one residue class modulo n. [3]

The set of integers {0, 1, 2, …, n − 1} is called the least residue system modulo n. Any set of n integers, no two of which are congruent modulo n, is called a complete residue system modulo n.

The least residue system is a complete residue system, and a complete residue system is simply a set containing precisely one representative of each residue class modulo n. [4] For example. the least residue system modulo 4 is {0, 1, 2, 3}. Some other complete residue systems modulo 4 include:

Some sets which are not complete residue systems modulo 4 are:

Reduced residue systems

Given the Euler's totient function φ(n), any set of φ(n) integers that are relatively prime to n and mutually incongruent under modulus n is called a reduced residue system modulo n. [5] The set {5,15} from above, for example, is an instance of a reduced residue system modulo 4.

Integers modulo n

The set of all congruence classes of the integers for a modulus n is called the ring of integers modulo n, [6] and is denoted , , or . [1] [7] The notation is, however, not recommended because it can be confused with the set of n-adic integers. The ring is fundamental to various branches of mathematics (see § Applications below).

The set is defined for n > 0 as:

(When n = 0, is not an empty set; rather, it is isomorphic to , since a0 = {a}.)

We define addition, subtraction, and multiplication on by the following rules:

The verification that this is a proper definition uses the properties given before.

In this way, becomes a commutative ring. For example, in the ring , we have

as in the arithmetic for the 24-hour clock.

We use the notation because this is the quotient ring of by the ideal , a set containing all integers divisible by n, where is the singleton set {0}. Thus is a field when is a maximal ideal (i.e., when n is prime).

This can also be constructed from the group under the addition operation alone. The residue class an is the group coset of a in the quotient group , a cyclic group. [8]

Rather than excluding the special case n = 0, it is more useful to include (which, as mentioned before, is isomorphic to the ring of integers). In fact, this inclusion is useful when discussing the characteristic of a ring.

The ring of integers modulo n is a finite field if and only if n is prime (this ensures that every nonzero element has a multiplicative inverse). If is a prime power with k > 1, there exists a unique (up to isomorphism) finite field with n elements, but this is not, which fails to be a field because it has zero-divisors.

The multiplicative subgroup of integers modulo n is denoted by . This consists of (where a is coprime to n), which are precisely the classes possessing a multiplicative inverse. This forms a commutative group under multiplication, with order .


In theoretical mathematics, modular arithmetic is one of the foundations of number theory, touching on almost every aspect of its study, and it is also used extensively in group theory, ring theory, knot theory, and abstract algebra. In applied mathematics, it is used in computer algebra, cryptography, computer science, chemistry and the visual and musical arts.

A very practical application is to calculate checksums within serial number identifiers. For example, International Standard Book Number (ISBN) uses modulo 11 (for 10 digit ISBN) or modulo 10 (for 13 digit ISBN) arithmetic for error detection. Likewise, International Bank Account Numbers (IBANs), for example, make use of modulo 97 arithmetic to spot user input errors in bank account numbers. In chemistry, the last digit of the CAS registry number (a unique identifying number for each chemical compound) is a check digit, which is calculated by taking the last digit of the first two parts of the CAS registry number times 1, the previous digit times 2, the previous digit times 3 etc., adding all these up and computing the sum modulo 10.

In cryptography, modular arithmetic directly underpins public key systems such as RSA and Diffie–Hellman, and provides finite fields which underlie elliptic curves, and is used in a variety of symmetric key algorithms including Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), International Data Encryption Algorithm (IDEA), and RC4. RSA and Diffie–Hellman use modular exponentiation.

In computer algebra, modular arithmetic is commonly used to limit the size of integer coefficients in intermediate calculations and data. It is used in polynomial factorization, a problem for which all known efficient algorithms use modular arithmetic. It is used by the most efficient implementations of polynomial greatest common divisor, exact linear algebra and Gröbner basis algorithms over the integers and the rational numbers. As posted on Fidonet in the 1980s and archived at Rosetta Code, modular arithmetic was used to disprove Euler's sum of powers conjecture on a Sinclair QL microcomputer using just one-fourth of the integer precision used by a CDC 6600 supercomputer to disprove it two decades earlier via a brute force search. [9]

In computer science, modular arithmetic is often applied in bitwise operations and other operations involving fixed-width, cyclic data structures. The modulo operation, as implemented in many programming languages and calculators, is an application of modular arithmetic that is often used in this context. The logical operator XOR sums 2 bits, modulo 2.

In music, arithmetic modulo 12 is used in the consideration of the system of twelve-tone equal temperament, where octave and enharmonic equivalency occurs (that is, pitches in a 1∶2 or 2∶1 ratio are equivalent, and C-sharp is considered the same as D-flat).

The method of casting out nines offers a quick check of decimal arithmetic computations performed by hand. It is based on modular arithmetic modulo 9, and specifically on the crucial property that 10 ≡ 1 (mod 9).

Arithmetic modulo 7 is used in algorithms that determine the day of the week for a given date. In particular, Zeller's congruence and the Doomsday algorithm make heavy use of modulo-7 arithmetic.

More generally, modular arithmetic also has application in disciplines such as law (e.g., apportionment), economics (e.g., game theory) and other areas of the social sciences, where proportional division and allocation of resources plays a central part of the analysis.

Computational complexity

Since modular arithmetic has such a wide range of applications, it is important to know how hard it is to solve a system of congruences. A linear system of congruences can be solved in polynomial time with a form of Gaussian elimination, for details see linear congruence theorem. Algorithms, such as Montgomery reduction, also exist to allow simple arithmetic operations, such as multiplication and exponentiation modulo n, to be performed efficiently on large numbers.

Some operations, like finding a discrete logarithm or a quadratic congruence appear to be as hard as integer factorization and thus are a starting point for cryptographic algorithms and encryption. These problems might be NP-intermediate.

Solving a system of non-linear modular arithmetic equations is NP-complete. [10]

Example implementations

Below are three reasonably fast C functions, two for performing modular multiplication and one for modular exponentiation on unsigned integers not larger than 63 bits, without overflow of the transient operations.

An algorithmic way to compute : [11]


On computer architectures where an extended precision format with at least 64 bits of mantissa is available (such as the long double type of most x86 C compilers), the following routine is [ clarification needed ], by employing the trick that, by hardware, floating-point multiplication results in the most significant bits of the product kept, while integer multiplication results in the least significant bits kept:[ citation needed ]


Below is a C function for performing modular exponentiation, that uses the mul_mod function implemented above.

An algorithmic way to compute :


However, for all above routines to work, m must not exceed 63 bits.

See also


  1. 1 2 "Comprehensive List of Algebra Symbols". Math Vault. 2020-03-25. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
  2. Weisstein, Eric W. "Modular Arithmetic". Retrieved 2020-08-12.
  3. Pettofrezzo & Byrkit (1970 , p. 90)
  4. Long (1972 , p. 78)
  5. Long (1972 , p. 85)
  6. It is a ring, as shown below.
  7. "2.3: Integers Modulo n". Mathematics LibreTexts. 2013-11-16. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
  8. Sengadir T., Discrete Mathematics and Combinatorics , p. 293, at Google Books
  9. "Euler's sum of powers conjecture". Retrieved 2020-11-11.
  10. Garey, M. R.; Johnson, D. S. (1979). Computers and Intractability, a Guide to the Theory of NP-Completeness . W. H. Freeman. ISBN   0716710447.
  11. This code uses the C literal notation for unsigned long long hexadecimal numbers, which end with ULL. See also section 6.4.4 of the language specification n1570.

Related Research Articles

In number theory, two integers a and b are coprime, relatively prime or mutually prime if the only positive integer that evenly divides both of them is 1. One says also a is prime to b or a is coprime with b. Consequently, any prime number that divides one of a or b does not divide the other. This is equivalent to their greatest common divisor (gcd) being 1.

Chinese remainder theorem Theorem for solving simultaneous congruences

In number theory, the Chinese remainder theorem states that if one knows the remainders of the Euclidean division of an integer n by several integers, then one can determine uniquely the remainder of the division of n by the product of these integers, under the condition that the divisors are pairwise coprime.

In mathematics, a finite field or Galois field is a field that contains a finite number of elements. As with any field, a finite field is a set on which the operations of multiplication, addition, subtraction and division are defined and satisfy certain basic rules. The most common examples of finite fields are given by the integers mod p when p is a prime number.

Gaussian integer Complex number whose real and imaginary parts are both integers

In number theory, a Gaussian integer is a complex number whose real and imaginary parts are both integers. The Gaussian integers, with ordinary addition and multiplication of complex numbers, form an integral domain, usually written as Z[i]. This integral domain is a particular case of a commutative ring of quadratic integers. It does not have a total ordering that respects arithmetic.

Fermat's little theorem states that if p is a prime number, then for any integer a, the number apa is an integer multiple of p. In the notation of modular arithmetic, this is expressed as

In number theory, Euler's theorem states that if n and a are coprime positive integers, then a raised to the power of the totient of n is congruent to one, modulo n, or:

In number theory, Euler's criterion is a formula for determining whether an integer is a quadratic residue modulo a prime. Precisely,

In mathematics, specifically number theory, Dirichlet characters are certain arithmetic functions which arise from completely multiplicative characters on the units of . Dirichlet characters are used to define Dirichlet L-functions, which are meromorphic functions with a variety of interesting analytic properties.

In modular arithmetic, a branch of number theory, a number g is a primitive root modulo n if every number a coprime to n is congruent to a power of g modulo n. That is, g is a primitive root modulo n, if for every integer a coprime to n, there is some integer k for which gka. Such a value k is called the index or discrete logarithm of a to the base g modulo n. Note that g is a primitive root modulo n if and only if g is a generator of the multiplicative group of integers modulo n.

In number theory, an integer q is called a quadratic residue modulo n if it is congruent to a perfect square modulo n; i.e., if there exists an integer x such that:

In number theory, given an integer a and a positive integer n coprime to a, the multiplicative order of a modulo n is the smallest positive integer k with

In mathematics, a congruence subgroup of a matrix group with integer entries is a subgroup defined by congruence conditions on the entries. A very simple example would be invertible 2 × 2 integer matrices of determinant 1, in which the off-diagonal entries are even. More generally, the notion of congruence subgroup can be defined for arithmetic subgroups of algebraic groups; that is, those for which we have a notion of 'integral structure' and can define reduction maps modulo an integer.

In modular arithmetic computation, Montgomery modular multiplication, more commonly referred to as Montgomery multiplication, is a method for performing fast modular multiplication. It was introduced in 1985 by the American mathematician Peter L. Montgomery.

A residue numeral system (RNS) is a numeral system representing integers by their values modulo several pairwise coprime integers called the moduli. This representation is allowed by the Chinese remainder theorem, which asserts that, if N is the product of the moduli, there is, in an interval of length N, exactly one integer having any given set of modular values. The arithmetic of a residue numeral system is also called multi-modular arithmetic.

Multiplicative group of integers modulo <i>n</i> the group of units of the ring of integers modulo n

In modular arithmetic, the integers coprime to n from the set of n non-negative integers form a group under multiplication modulo n, called the multiplicative group of integers modulo n. Equivalently, the elements of this group can be thought of as the congruence classes, also known as residues modulo n, that are coprime to n. Hence another name is the group of primitive residue classes modulo n. In the theory of rings, a branch of abstract algebra, it is described as the group of units of the ring of integers modulo n. Here units refers to elements with a multiplicative inverse, which in this ring are exactly those coprime to n.

Gauss's lemma in number theory gives a condition for an integer to be a quadratic residue. Although it is not useful computationally, it has theoretical significance, being involved in some proofs of quadratic reciprocity.

In number theory, the law of quadratic reciprocity, like the Pythagorean theorem, has lent itself to an unusual number of proofs. Several hundred proofs of the law of quadratic reciprocity have been published.

Cubic reciprocity is a collection of theorems in elementary and algebraic number theory that state conditions under which the congruence x3 ≡ p (mod q) is solvable; the word "reciprocity" comes from the form of the main theorem, which states that if p and q are primary numbers in the ring of Eisenstein integers, both coprime to 3, the congruence x3p is solvable if and only if x3q is solvable.

In mathematics, particularly in the area of number theory, a modular multiplicative inverse of an integer a is an integer x such that the product ax is congruent to 1 with respect to the modulus m. In the standard notation of modular arithmetic this congruence is written as

In mathematics, namely ring theory, a k-th root of unity modulo n for positive integers k, n ≥ 2, is a root of unity in the ring of integers modulo n, that is, a solution x to the equation . If k is the smallest such exponent for x, then x is called a primitive k-th root of unity modulo n. See modular arithmetic for notation and terminology.