In mathematics, a function on the real numbers is called a step function if it can be written as a finite linear combination of indicator functions of intervals. Informally speaking, a step function is a piecewise constant function having only finitely many pieces.

An example of step functions (the red graph). In this function, each constant subfunction with a function value αi (i = 0, 1, 2, ...) is defined by an interval Ai and intervals are distinguished by points xj (j = 1, 2, ...). This particular step function is right-continuous.

Definition and first consequences

A function is called a step function if it can be written as [citation needed]

, for all real numbers

where , are real numbers, are intervals, and is the indicator function of :

In this definition, the intervals can be assumed to have the following two properties:

  1. The intervals are pairwise disjoint: for
  2. The union of the intervals is the entire real line:

Indeed, if that is not the case to start with, a different set of intervals can be picked for which these assumptions hold. For example, the step function

can be written as

Variations in the definition

Sometimes, the intervals are required to be right-open[1] or allowed to be singleton.[2] The condition that the collection of intervals must be finite is often dropped, especially in school mathematics,[3][4][5] though it must still be locally finite, resulting in the definition of piecewise constant functions.


The Heaviside step function is an often-used step function.
The rectangular function, the next simplest step function.



See also


  1. ^ "Step Function".
  2. ^ "Step Functions - Mathonline".
  3. ^ "Mathwords: Step Function".
  4. ^ [bare URL]
  5. ^ "Step Function".
  6. ^ a b Bachman, Narici, Beckenstein (5 April 2002). "Example 7.2.2". Fourier and Wavelet Analysis. Springer, New York, 2000. ISBN 0-387-98899-8.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Weir, Alan J (10 May 1973). "3". Lebesgue integration and measure. Cambridge University Press, 1973. ISBN 0-521-09751-7.
  8. ^ Bertsekas, Dimitri P. (2002). Introduction to Probability. Tsitsiklis, John N., Τσιτσικλής, Γιάννης Ν. Belmont, Mass.: Athena Scientific. ISBN 188652940X. OCLC 51441829.