# Factorization in Polynomial Rings

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1 Factorization in Polynomial Rings Throughout these notes, F denotes a field. 1 Long division with remainder We begin with some basic definitions. Definition 1.1. Let f, g F [x]. We say that f divides g, written f g, if there exists an h F [x] such that g = fh, i.e. g is a multiple of f. Thus, for example, every f F [x] divides the zero polynomial 0, but g is divisible by 0 g = 0. By definition, f is a unit f 1. Recall also that the group of units (F [x]) of the ring F [x] is F, the group of units in the field F, and hence the group of nonzero elements of F under multiplication. Thus f divides every g F [x] f divides 1 f F is a nonzero constant polynomial. Finally note that, if c F is a unit, then f g cf g f cg. Proposition 1.2 (Long division with remainder). Let f F [x], f 0, and let g F [x]. Then there exist unique polynomials q, r F [x], with either r = 0 or deg r < deg f, such that g = fq + r. Proof. First we prove existence. The proposition is clearly true if g = 0, since then we can take q = r = 0. Otherwise, we argue by induction on deg g. If deg g = 0 and deg f = 0, then f = c F is a nonzero constant, and then g = c(c 1 g) + 0, so we can take q = c 1 g and r = 0. If deg g = 0 and deg f > 0, or more generally if n = deg g < deg f = d, then we can take q = 0 and r = g. Now assume that, for a fixed f, the existence of q and r has been proved for all polynomials of degree < n, and suppose that g is a polynomial of degree n. As above, we can assume that n d = deg f. Let f = d i=0 a ix i, with a d 0, and let g = n i=0 b ix i. In this case, g b n a 1 d xn d f is a polynomial of degree at most n 1 (or 0). By the 1

2 inductive hypothesis and the case g = 0, there exist polynomials q 1, r F [x] with either r = 0 or deg r < deg f, such that Then g b n a 1 d xn d f = fq 1 + r. g = f(b n a 1 d xn d + q 1 ) + r = fq + r, where we set q = b n a 1 d xn d + q 1. This completes the inductive step and hence the existence part of the proof. To see uniqueness, suppose that g = fq 1 + r 1 = fq 2 + r 2, where either r 1 = 0 or deg r 1 < deg f, and similarly for r 2. We have (q 1 q 2 )f = r 2 r 1, hence either q 1 q 2 = 0 or q 1 q 2 0 and then deg((q 1 q 2 )f) = deg(q 1 q 2 ) + deg f deg f. Moreover, in this case r 2 r 1 0. But then deg(r 2 r 1 ) max{deg r 1, deg r 2 } < deg f, a contradiction. Thus q 1 q 2 = 0, hence r 2 r 1 = 0 as well. It follows that q 1 = q 2 and r 2 = r 1, proving uniqueness. Remark 1.3. The analogue of Proposition 1.2 holds in an arbitrary ring R (commutative, with unity as always) provided that we assume that f is monic, in other words, f 0 and its leading coefficient is 1. The following is really just a restatement of Proposition 1.2 in more abstract language: Corollary 1.4. Let f F [x], f 0. Then every coset g + (f) has a unique representative r, where r = 0 or deg r < deg f. Proof. By Proposition 1.2, we can write g = fq + r with r = 0 or deg r < deg f. Then r g + (f) since the difference g r is a multiple of f, hence lies in (f). The uniqueness follows as in the proof of uniqueness for Proposition 1.2: if r 1 + (f) = r 2 + (f), with each r i either 0 of of degree smaller than deg f, then f r 2 r 1, and hence r 2 r 1 = 0, so that r 1 = r 2. 2

3 Corollary 1.5. Let a F. Then every f F [x] is of the form f = (x a)g + f(a). Thus f(a) = 0 (x a) f. Proof. Applying long division with remainder to x a and f, we see that f = (x a)g + c, where either c = 0 or deg c = 0, hence c F. (This also follows directly, for an arbitrary ring: if f = d i=0 a ix i, write f = f(x a + a) = d i=0 a i(x a + a) i. Expanding out each term via the binomial theorem then shows that f = d i=0 b i(x a) i for some b i F, and then we take c = b 0.) Finally,to determine c, we evaluate f at a: Hence c = f(a). f(a) = ev a (f) = ev a ((x a)g + c) = 0 + c = c. Recall that, for a polynomial f F [x], a root or zero of f in F is an a F such that f(a) = ev a (f) = 0. Corollary 1.6. Let f F [x], f 0, and suppose that deg f = d. Then there are at most d roots of f in any field E containing F. In other words, suppose that F is a subfield of a field E. Then #{a E : f(a) = 0} d. Proof. We can clearly assume that E = F. Argue by induction on deg f, the case deg f = 0 being obvious. Suppose that the corollary has been proved for all polynomials of degree d 1. If deg f = d and there is no root of f in F, then we are done because d 0. Otherwise, let a 1 be a root. Then we can write f = (x a 1 )g, where deg g = d 1. Let a 2 be a root of f with a 2 a 1. Then 0 = f(a 2 ) = (a 2 a 1 )g(a 2 ). Since F is a field and a 2 a 1, a 2 a 1 0 and we can cancel it to obtain g(a 2 ) = 0, i.e. a 2 is a root of g (here we must use the fact that F is a field). By induction, g has at most d 1 roots in F (where we allow for the possibility that a 1 is also a root of g). Then {a F : f(a) = 0} = {a 1 } {a F : g(a) = 0}. Since #{a F : g(a) = 0} d 1, it follows that #{a F : f(a) = 0} d. 3

4 Corollary 1.7. Let F be an infinite field. Then the evaluation homomorphism E from F [x] to F F is injective. In other words, if f 1, f 2 F [x] are two polynomials which define the same function, i.e. are such that f 1 (a) = f 2 (a) for all a F, then f 1 = f 2. Proof. It suffices to prove that Ker E = {0}, i.e. that if f F [x] and f(a) = 0 for all a F, then f = 0. This is clear from Corollary 1.6, since a nonzero polynomial can have at most finitely many roots and F was assumed infinite. Corollary 1.6 has the following surprising consequence concerning the structure of finite fields, or more generally finite subgroups of the group F under multiplication: Theorem 1.8 (Existence of a primitive root). Let F be a field and let G be a finite subgroup of the multiplicative group (F, ). Then G is cyclic. In particular, if F is a finite field, then the group (F, ) is cyclic. Proof. Let n = #(G) be the order of G. First we claim that, for each d n, the set {a G : a d = 1} has at most d elements. In fact, clearly {a G : a d = 1} {a F : a d = 1}. But the set {a F : a d = 1} is the set of roots of the polynomial x d 1 in F. Since the degree of x d 1 is d, by Corollary 1.6, #{a F : a d = 1} d. Hence #{a G : a d = 1} d as well. The theorem now follows from the following purely group-theoretic result, whose proof we include for completeness. Proposition 1.9. Let G be a finite group of order n, written multiplicatively. Suppose that, for each d n, the set {g G : g d = 1} has at most n elements. Then G is cyclic. Proof. Let ϕ be the Euler ϕ-function. The key point of the proof is the identity (proved in Modern Algebra I, or in courses in elementary number theory) ϕ(d) = n. d n Now, given a finite group G as in the statement of the proposition, define a new function ψ : N N via: ψ(d) is the number of elements of G of order exactly d. By Lagrange s theorem, if ψ(d) 0, then d n. Since every element of G has some well-defined finite order, adding up all of values of ψ(d) is the same as counting all of the elements of G. Hence #(G) = n = d N ψ(d) = d n ψ(d). 4

5 Next we claim that, for all d n, ψ(d) ϕ(d); more precisely, { 0, if there is no element of G of order d; ψ(d) = ϕ(d), if there is an element of G of order d. Clearly, if there is no element of G of order d, then ψ(d) = 0. Conversely, suppose that there is an element a of G of order d. Then #( a ) = d, and every element g a has order dividing d, hence g d = 1 for all g a. But since there at most d elements g in G such that g d = 1, the set of all such elements must be exactly a. In particular, an element g of order exactly d must both lie in a and be a generator of a. Since the number of generators of a is the same as the number of generators of any cyclic group of order d, namely ϕ(d), the number of elements of G of order d is then ϕ(d). Thus, if there is an element of G of order d, then by definition ψ(d) = ϕ(d). Now compare the two expressions n = d n ψ(d) d n ϕ(d) = n. Since, for each value of d n, ψ(d) ϕ(d), and the sums are the same, we must have ψ(d) = ϕ(d) for all d n. In particular, taking d = n, we see that ψ(n) = ϕ(n) 0. It follows that there exists an element of G of order n = #(G), and hence G is cyclic. Example (1) In case p is a prime and F = F p generator for (Z/pZ) is called a primitive root. = Z/pZ, then a (2) For F = C, the finite multiplicative subgroups of C are the groups µ n of n th roots of unity. A generator of µ n, in other words a complex number whose order in the group (C, ) is exactly n, is called a primitive n th root of unity. The standard such generator is e 2πi/n. Remark If on the other hand G is an infinite subgroup of F, then G is not in general cyclic. For example, Q is not a cyclic group. The situation for R is even more drastic: R is uncountable, but every cyclic group is either finite or isomorphic to Z, hence countable. 2 Factorization and principal ideals The outline of the discussion of factorization in F [x] is very similar to that for factorization in Z. We begin with: 5

6 Proposition 2.1. Every ideal in F [x] is a principal ideal. Proof. Let I be an ideal in F [x]. If I = {0}, then clearly I = (0) as well, and so I is principal. Thus we may assume that I {0}. Let f I be a non-zero polynomial such that deg f is the minimal possible value among nonnegative integers of the form deg g, where g I and g 0. More precisely, the set of nonnegative integers {deg g : g I and g 0} is a nonempty subset of N {0} and hence by the well-ordering principle has a smallest element, necessarily of the form deg f for some non-zero polynomial f I. We claim that f is a generator of I, i.e. that I = (f). Clearly, as f I, (f) I. To see the opposite inclusion, let g I. Then we can apply long division with remainder to f and g: there exist q, r F [x], with either r = 0 or deg r < deg f, such that g = fq + r. Since g I and (f) I, r = g fq I. But, if r 0, then deg r < deg f, contradicting the choice of f. Hence r = 0, so that g = fq (f). Since g was an arbitrary element of I, it follows that I (f) and hence that I = (f). Hence I is principal. Definition 2.2. Let f, g F [x], where not both of f, g are zero. A greatest common divisor of f and g, written gcd(f, g), is a polynomial d such that 1. The polynomial d is a divisor of both f and g: d f and d g. 2. If e is a polynomial such that e f and e g, then e d. Proposition 2.3. Let f, g F [x], not both 0. (i) If d is a greatest common divisor of f and g, then so is cd for every c F. (ii) If d 1 and d 2 are two greatest common divisors of f and g, then there exists a c F such that d 2 = cd 1. (iii) A greatest common divisor d of f and g exists and is of the form d = rf + sg for some r, s F [x]. Proof. (i) This is clear from the definition. (ii) if d 1 and d 2 are two greatest common divisors of f and g, then by definition d 1 d 2 and d 2 d 1. Thus there exist u, v F [x] such that d 2 = ud 1 and d 1 = vd 2. Hence d 1 = uvd 1. Since a greatest common divisor can never be 0 (it must divide both f and g and at least one of these is non-zero) and 6

7 F [x] is an integral domain, it follows that 1 = uv, i.e. both u and v are units in F [x], hence elements of F. Thus d 2 = cd 1 for some c F. (iii) To see existence, define (f, g) = (f) + (g) = {rf + sg : r, s F [x]}. It is easy to see that (f, g) is an ideal (it is the ideal sum of the principal ideals (f) and (g)) and that f, g (f, g). By Proposition 2.1, there exists a d F [x] such that (f, g) = (d). In particular, d = rf + sg for some r, s F [x], and, as f, g (d), d f and d g. Finally, if e f and e g, then it is easy to check that e divides every expression of the form rf + sg. Hence e d, and so d is a greatest common divisor of f and g. Remark 2.4. We could specify the gcd of f and g uniquely by requiring that it be monic. However, for more general rings, this choice is not available, and we will allow there to be many different gcds of f and g, all related by multiplication by a unit of F [x], in other words a nonzero constant polynomial. Remark 2.5. In fact, we can find the polynomials r, s described in (iii) of the proposition quite explicitly by a variant of the Euclidean algorithm. We will discuss this later. Definition 2.6. Let f, g F [x]. Then f and g are relatively prime if 1 is a gcd of f and g. It is easy to see that this definition is equivalent to: there exist r, s F [x] such that 1 = rf + sg. (If 1 is a gcd of f and g, then 1 = rf + sg for some r, s F [x] by Proposition 2.3. Conversely, if 1 = rf + sg, then a gcd d of f, g must divide 1 and hence is a unit c, and hence after multiplying by c 1 we see that 1 is a gcd of f and g.) Proposition 2.7. Let f, g F [x] be relatively prime, and suppose that f gh for some h F [x]. Then f h. Proof. Let r, s F [x] be such that 1 = rf + sg. Then h = rfh + sgh. Clearly f rfh, and by assumption f gh and hence f sgh. Thus f divides the sum rfh + sgh = h. Definition 2.8. Let p F [x]. Then p is irreducible if p is neither 0 nor a unit (i.e. p is a non-constant polynomial), and if p = fg for some f, g F [x], then either f = c F and hence g = c 1 p, or g = c F and f = c 1 p. 7

8 Equivalently, p is not a product fg of two polynomials f, g F [x] such that both deg f < deg p and deg g < deg p. In other words: an irreducible polynomial is a non-constant polynomial that does not factor into a product of polynomials of strictly smaller degrees. Finally, we say that a polynomial is reducible if it is not irreducible. Example 2.9. A linear polynomial (polynomial of degree one) is irreducible. A quadratic (degree 2) or cubic (degree 3) polynomial is reducible it has a linear factor in F [x] it has a root in F. Thus for example x 2 2 is irreducible in Q[x] but not in R[x]. Proposition Let p be irreducible in F [x]. (i) For every f F [x], either p f or p and f are relatively prime. (ii) For all f, g F [x], if p fg, then either p f or p g. Proof. (i) Let d = gcd(p, f). Then d p, so d is either a unit or a unit times p, hence we can take for d either 1 or p. If 1 is a gcd of p and f, then p and f are relatively prime. If p is a gcd of p and f, then p f. (ii) Suppose that p fg but that p does not divide f. By (i), p and f are relatively prime. By Proposition 2.7, since p fg and p and f are relatively prime, p g. Thus either p f or p g. Corollary Let p be irreducible in F [x], let f 1,..., f n F [x], and suppose that p f 1 f n. Then there exists an i such that p f i. Proof. This is a straightforward inductive argument starting with the case n = 2 above. Theorem 2.12 (Unique factorization in polynomial rings). Let f be a non constant polynomial in F [x], i.e. f is neither 0 nor a unit. Then there exist irreducible polynomials p 1,..., p k, not necessarily distinct, such that f = p 1 p k. In other words, f can be factored into a product of irreducible polynomials (where, in case f is itself irreducible, we let k = 1 and view f as a one element product ). Moreover, the factorization is unique up to multiplying by units, in the sense that, if q 1,..., q l are irreducible polynomials such that f = p 1 p k = q 1 q l, then k = l, and, possibly after reordering the q i, for every i, 1 i k, there exists a c i F such that q i = c i p i. 8

9 Proof. The theorem contains both an existence and a uniqueness statement. To prove existence, we argue by complete induction on the degree deg f of f. If deg f = 1, then f is irreducible and we can just take k = 1 and p 1 = f. Now suppose that existence has been shown for all polynomials of degree less than n, where n > 1, and let f be a polynomial of degree n. If f is irreducible, then as in the case n = 1 we take k = 1 and p 1 = f. Otherwise f = gh, where both g and h are nonconstant polynomials of degrees less than n. By the inductive hypothesis, both g and h factor into products of irreducible polynomials. Hence the same is the true of the product gh = f. Thus every polynomial of degree n can be factored into a product of irreducible polynomials, completing the inductive step and hence the proof of existence. To prove the uniqueness part, suppose that f = p 1 p k = q 1 q l where the p i and q j are irreducible. The proof is by induction on the number k of factors in the first product. If k = 1, then f = p 1 and p 1 divides the product q 1 q l. By Corollary 2.11, there exists an i such that p 1 q i. After relabeling the q i, we can assume that i = 1. Since q 1 is irreducible and p 1 is not a unit, there exists a c F such that q 1 = cp 1. We claim that l = 1 and hence that q 1 = f = p 1. To see this, suppose that l 2. Then p 1 = cp 1 q 2 q l. Since p 1 0, we can cancel it to obtain 1 = cq 2 q l. Thus q i is a unit for i 2, contradicting the fact that q i is irreducible. This proves uniqueness when k = 1. For the inductive step, suppose that uniqueness has been proved for all polynomials which are a product of k 1 irreducible polynomials, and let f = p 1 p k = q 1 q l where the p i and q j are irreducible as above. As before, p 1 q 1 q l hence, there exists an i such that p 1 q i. After relabeling the q i, we can assume that i = 1 and that there exists a c 1 F such that q 1 = c 1 p 1. Thus p 1 p k = c 1 p 1 q 2 q l, and so canceling we obtain p 2 p k = (c 1 q 2 ) q l. Then, since the product on the left hand side involves k 1 factors, by induction k 1 = l 1 and hence k = l. Moreover there exist c i F such that q i = c i p i if i > 2, and c 1 q 2 = c 2 p 2. After renaming c 1 1 c 2 by c 2, we see that q i = c i p i for all i 1. This completes the inductive step and hence the proof of uniqueness. 9

10 3 Prime and maximal ideals in F [x] Theorem 3.1. Let I be an ideal in F [x]. Then the following are equivalent: (i) I is a maximal ideal. (ii) I is a prime ideal and I {0}. (iii) There exists an irreducible polynomial p such that I = (p). Proof. (i) = (ii): We know that if an ideal I (in any ring R) is maximal, then it is prime. Also, the ideal {0} is not a maximal ideal in F [x], since there are other proper ideals which contain it, for example ; alternatively, F [x]/{0} = F [x] is not a field. Hence if I is a maximal ideal in F [x], then I is a prime ideal and I {0}. (ii) = (iii): Since every ideal in F [x] is principal by Proposition 2.1, we know that I = (p) for some polynomial p, and must show that p is irreducible. Note that p 0, since I {0}, and p is not a unit, since I F [x] is not the whole ring. Now suppose that p = fg. Then fg = p (p), and hence either f (p) or g (p). Say for example that f (p). Then f = hp for some h F [x] and hence p = fg = hgp. Canceling the factors p, which is possible since p 0, we see that hg = 1. Hence g is a unit, say g = c F, and thus f = c 1 p. It follows that p is irreducible. (iii) = (i): Suppose that I = (p) for an irreducible polynomial p. Since p is not a unit, no multiple of p is equal to 1, and hence I R. Suppose that J is an ideal of R and that I J. We must show that J = I or that J = R. In any case, we know by Proposition 2.1 that J = (f) for some f F [x]. Since p (p) = I J = (f), we know that f p. As p is irreducible, either f is a unit or f = cp for some c F. In the first case, J = (f) = R, and in the second case f (p), hence J = (f) (p) = I. Since by assumption I J, I = J. Thus I is maximal. Corollary 3.2. Let f F [x]. Then F [x]/(f) is a field f is irreducible. Remark 3.3. While the above corollary may seem very surprising, one way to think about it is as follows: if f is irreducible, and given a nonzero coset g + (f) F [x]/(f), we must find a multiplicative inverse for g + (f). Now, 10

11 assuming that f is irreducible, g + (f) is not the zero coset f does not divide g f and g are relatively prime, by Proposition 2.10 there exist r, s F [x] such that 1 = rf + sg. In this case, the coset s + (f) is a multiplicative inverse for the coset g + (f), since then (s + (f))(g + (f)) = sg + (f) = 1 rf + (f) = 1 + (f). Thus, the Euclidean algorithm for polynomials gives an effective way to find inverses. Given a field F and a nonconstant polynomial f F [x], we now use the above to construct a possibly larger field E containing a subfield isomorphic to F such that f has a root in E. Here, and in the following discussion, if ρ: F E is an isomorphism from F to a subfield ρ(f ) of E, we use ρ to identify F [x] with ρ(f )[x] E[x]. Theorem 3.4. Let f F [x] be a nonconstant polynomial. Then there exists a field E containing a subfield isomorphic to F such that f has a root in E. Proof. Let p be an irreducible factor of f. It suffices to find a field E containing a subfield isomorphic to F such that p has a root α in E, for then f = pg for some g F [x] and f(α) = p(α)g(α) = 0. The quotient ring E = F [x]/(p) is a field by Corollary 3.2, the homomorphism ρ(a) = a + (p) is an injective homomorphism from F to E, and the coset α = x + (p) is a root of f in E. Corollary 3.5. Let f F [x] be a nonconstant polynomial. Then there exists a field E containing a subfield isomorphic to F such that f factors into linear factors in E[x]. In other words, every irreducible factor of f in E[x] is linear. Proof. The proof is by induction on n = deg f and the case n = 1 is obvious. Suppose that the corollary has been proved for all fields F and for all polynomials in F [x] of degree n 1. If deg f = n, by Corollary 3.4 there exists a field E 1 containing a subfield isomorphic to F and a root α of f in E 1. Thus, in E 1 [x], f = (x α)g, where g E 1 [x] and deg g = n 1. By the inductive hypothesis applied to the field E 1 and the polynomial g E 1 [x], there exists a field E containing a subfield isomorphic to E 1 such that g factors into linear factors in E[x]. Since E contains a subfield isomorphic to E 1 and E 1 contains a subfield isomorphic to F, the composition of the two isomorphisms gives an isomorphism from F to a subfield of E. Then, 11

12 in E[x], f is a product of x α and a product of linear factors, and is thus a product of linear factors. This completes the inductive step. 12

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