In linear algebra, the trace of a square matrixA, denoted tr(A), is defined to be the sum of elements on the main diagonal (from the upper left to the lower right) of A. The trace is only defined for a square matrix (n × n).
It can be proven that the trace of a matrix is the sum of its (complex) eigenvalues (counted with multiplicities). It can also be proven that tr(AB) = tr(BA) for any two matrices A and B. This implies that similar matrices have the same trace. As a consequence one can define the trace of a linear operator mapping a finite-dimensional vector space into itself, since all matrices describing such an operator with respect to a basis are similar.
This follows immediately from the fact that transposing a square matrix does not affect elements along the main diagonal.
Trace of a product
The trace of a square matrix which is the product of two real matrices can be rewritten as the sum of entry-wise products of their elements, i.e. as the sum of all elements of their Hadamard product. Phrased directly, if A and B are two m × n real matrices, then:
If one views any m × n real matrix as a vector of length mn (an operation called vectorization) then the above operation on A and B coincides with the standard dot product. According to the above expression, tr(A⊤A) is a sum of squares and hence is nonnegative, equal to zero if and only if A is zero.: 7 Furthermore, as noted in the above formula, tr(A⊤B) = tr(B⊤A). These demonstrate the positive-definiteness and symmetry required of an inner product; it is common to call tr(A⊤B) the Frobenius inner product of A and B. This is a natural inner product on the vector space of all real matrices of fixed dimensions. The norm derived from this inner product is called the Frobenius norm, and it satisfies a submultiplicative property, as can be proven with the Cauchy–Schwarz inequality:
The symmetry of the Frobenius inner product may be phrased more directly as follows: the matrices in the trace of a product can be switched without changing the result. If A and B are m × n and n × m real or complex matrices, respectively, then: 34 [note 1]
This is notable both for the fact that AB does not usually equal BA, and also since the trace of either does not usually equal tr(A)tr(B).[note 2] The similarity-invariance of the trace, meaning that tr(A) = tr(P−1AP) for any square matrix A and any invertible matrix P of the same dimensions, is a fundamental consequence. This is proved by
Similarity invariance is the crucial property of the trace in order to discuss traces of linear transformations as below.
Additionally, for real column vectors and , the trace of the outer product is equivalent to the inner product:
characterize the trace up to a scalar multiple in the following sense: If is a linear functional on the space of square matrices that satisfies then and are proportional.[note 3]
For matrices, imposing the normalization makes equal to the trace.
Trace as the sum of eigenvalues
Given any n × n real or complex matrix A, there is
where λ1, ..., λn are the eigenvalues of A counted with multiplicity. This holds true even if A is a real matrix and some (or all) of the eigenvalues are complex numbers. This may be regarded as a consequence of the existence of the Jordan canonical form, together with the similarity-invariance of the trace discussed above.
Trace of commutator
When both A and B are n × n matrices, the trace of the (ring-theoretic) commutator of A and B vanishes: tr([A, B]) = 0, because tr(AB) = tr(BA) and tr is linear. One can state this as "the trace is a map of Lie algebrasgln → k from operators to scalars", as the commutator of scalars is trivial (it is an Abelian Lie algebra). In particular, using similarity invariance, it follows that the identity matrix is never similar to the commutator of any pair of matrices.
Conversely, any square matrix with zero trace is a linear combination of the commutators of pairs of matrices.[note 4] Moreover, any square matrix with zero trace is unitarily equivalent to a square matrix with diagonal consisting of all zeros.
Traces of special kinds of matrices
The trace of the n × nidentity matrix is the dimension of the space, namely n.
is more general and describes the differential of the determinant at an arbitrary square matrix, in terms of the trace and the adjugate of the matrix.
From this (or from the connection between the trace and the eigenvalues), one can derive a relation between the trace function, the matrix exponential function, and the determinant:
A related characterization of the trace applies to linear vector fields. Given a matrix A, define a vector field F on Rn by F(x) = Ax. The components of this vector field are linear functions (given by the rows of A). Its divergencediv F is a constant function, whose value is equal to tr(A).
By the divergence theorem, one can interpret this in terms of flows: if F(x) represents the velocity of a fluid at location x and U is a region in Rn, the net flow of the fluid out of U is given by tr(A) · vol(U), where vol(U) is the volume of U.
The trace is a linear operator, hence it commutes with the derivative:
Trace of a linear operator
In general, given some linear map f : V → V (where V is a finite-dimensionalvector space), we can define the trace of this map by considering the trace of a matrix representation of f, that is, choosing a basis for V and describing f as a matrix relative to this basis, and taking the trace of this square matrix. The result will not depend on the basis chosen, since different bases will give rise to similar matrices, allowing for the possibility of a basis-independent definition for the trace of a linear map.
Such a definition can be given using the canonical isomorphism between the space End(V) of linear maps on V and V ⊗ V*, where V* is the dual space of V. Let v be in V and let f be in V*. Then the trace of the indecomposable element v ⊗ f is defined to be f(v); the trace of a general element is defined by linearity. Using an explicit basis for V and the corresponding dual basis for V*, one can show that this gives the same definition of the trace as given above.
The trace can be estimated unbiasedly by "Hutchinson's trick":
Given any matrix , and any random with , we have . (Proof: expand the expectation directly.)
The trace is used to define characters of group representations. Two representations A, B : G → GL(V) of a group G are equivalent (up to change of basis on V) if tr(A(g)) = tr(B(g)) for all g ∈ G.
The trace also plays a central role in the distribution of quadratic forms.
The trace is a map of Lie algebras from the Lie algebra of linear operators on an n-dimensional space (n × n matrices with entries in ) to the Lie algebra K of scalars; as K is Abelian (the Lie bracket vanishes), the fact that this is a map of Lie algebras is exactly the statement that the trace of a bracket vanishes:
The kernel of this map, a matrix whose trace is zero, is often said to be traceless or trace free, and these matrices form the simple Lie algebra, which is the Lie algebra of the special linear group of matrices with determinant 1. The special linear group consists of the matrices which do not change volume, while the special linear Lie algebra is the matrices which do not alter volume of infinitesimal sets.
In fact, there is an internal direct sum decomposition of operators/matrices into traceless operators/matrices and scalars operators/matrices. The projection map onto scalar operators can be expressed in terms of the trace, concretely as:
Formally, one can compose the trace (the counit map) with the unit map of "inclusion of scalars" to obtain a map mapping onto scalars, and multiplying by n. Dividing by n makes this a projection, yielding the formula above.
(where ) for Lie groups. However, the trace splits naturally (via times scalars) so , but the splitting of the determinant would be as the nth root times scalars, and this does not in general define a function, so the determinant does not split and the general linear group does not decompose:
If A is a general associative algebra over a field k, then a trace on A is often defined to be any map tr : A ↦ k which vanishes on commutators; tr([a,b]) = 0 for all a, b ∈ A. Such a trace is not uniquely defined; it can always at least be modified by multiplication by a nonzero scalar.
Given a vector space V, there is a natural bilinear map V × V∗ → F given by sending (v, φ) to the scalar φ(v). The universal property of the tensor productV ⊗ V∗ automatically implies that this bilinear map is induced by a linear functional on V ⊗ V∗.
Similarly, there is a natural bilinear map V × V∗ → Hom(V, V) given by sending (v, φ) to the linear map w ↦ φ(w)v. The universal property of the tensor product, just as used previously, says that this bilinear map is induced by a linear map V ⊗ V∗ → Hom(V, V). If V is finite-dimensional, then this linear map is a linear isomorphism. This fundamental fact is a straightforward consequence of the existence of a (finite) basis of V, and can also be phrased as saying that any linear map V → V can be written as the sum of (finitely many) rank-one linear maps. Composing the inverse of the isomorphism with the linear functional obtained above results in a linear functional on Hom(V, V). This linear functional is exactly the same as the trace.
Using the definition of trace as the sum of diagonal elements, the matrix formula tr(AB) = tr(BA) is straightforward to prove, and was given above. In the present perspective, one is considering linear maps S and T, and viewing them as sums of rank-one maps, so that there are linear functionals φi and ψj and nonzero vectors vi and wj such that S(u) = Σφi(u)vi and T(u) = Σψj(u)wj for any u in V. Then
for any u in V. The rank-one linear map u ↦ ψj(u)φi(wj)vi has trace ψj(vi)φi(wj) and so
Following the same procedure with S and T reversed, one finds exactly the same formula, proving that tr(S ∘ T) equals tr(T ∘ S).
The above proof can be regarded as being based upon tensor products, given that the fundamental identity of End(V) with V ⊗ V∗ is equivalent to the expressibility of any linear map as the sum of rank-one linear maps. As such, the proof may be written in the notation of tensor products. Then one may consider the multilinear map V × V∗ × V × V∗ → V ⊗ V∗ given by sending (v, φ, w, ψ) to φ(w)v ⊗ ψ. Further composition with the trace map then results in φ(w)ψ(v), and this is unchanged if one were to have started with (w, ψ, v, φ) instead. One may also consider the bilinear map End(V) × End(V) → End(V) given by sending (f, g) to the composition f ∘ g, which is then induced by a linear map End(V) ⊗ End(V) → End(V). It can be seen that this coincides with the linear map V ⊗ V∗ ⊗ V ⊗ V∗ → V ⊗ V∗. The established symmetry upon composition with the trace map then establishes the equality of the two traces.
For any finite dimensional vector space V, there is a natural linear map F → V ⊗ V'; in the language of linear maps, it assigns to a scalar c the linear map c⋅idV. Sometimes this is called coevaluation map, and the trace V ⊗ V' → F is called evaluation map. These structures can be axiomatized to define categorical traces in the abstract setting of category theory.
and the traces are tr(AB) = 1 ≠ 0 ⋅ 0 = tr(A)tr(B).
^Proof: Let the standard basis and note that if and only if and
More abstractly, this corresponds to the decomposition
as (equivalently, ) defines the trace on which has complement the scalar matrices, and leaves one degree of freedom: any such map is determined by its value on scalars, which is one scalar parameter and hence all are multiple of the trace, a nonzero such map.