The integral is most commonly understood as an improper integral, which converges if and only if both integrals
exist. There seems to be no generally accepted notation for the two-sided transform; the
used here recalls "bilateral". The two-sided transform
used by some authors is
In pure mathematics the argument t can be any variable, and Laplace transforms are used to study how differential operators transform the function.
In science and engineering applications, the argument t often represents time (in seconds), and the function f(t) often represents a signal or waveform that varies with time. In these cases, the signals are transformed by filters, that work like a mathematical operator, but with a restriction. They have to be causal, which means that the output in a given time t cannot depend on an output which is a higher value of t.
In population ecology, the argument t often represents spatial displacement in a dispersal kernel.
When working with functions of time, f(t) is called the time domain representation of the signal, while F(s) is called the s-domain (or Laplace domain) representation. The inverse transformation then represents a synthesis of the signal as the sum of its frequency components taken over all frequencies, whereas the forward transformation represents the analysis of the signal into its frequency components.
Note that definitions of the Fourier transform differ, and in particular
is often used instead. In terms of the Fourier transform, we may also obtain the two-sided Laplace transform, as
The Fourier transform is normally defined so that it exists for real values; the above definition defines the image in a strip which may not include the real axis where the Fourier transform is supposed to converge.
This is then why Laplace transforms retain their value in control theory and signal processing: the convergence of a Fourier transform integral within its domain only means that a linear, shift-invariant system described by it is stable or critical. The Laplace one on the other hand will somewhere converge for every impulse response which is at most exponentially growing, because it involves an extra term which can be taken as an exponential regulator. Since there are no superexponentially growing linear feedback networks, Laplace transform based analysis and solution of linear, shift-invariant systems, takes its most general form in the context of Laplace, not Fourier, transforms.
At the same time, nowadays Laplace transform theory falls within the ambit of more general integral transforms, or even general harmonical analysis. In that framework and nomenclature, Laplace transforms are simply another form of Fourier analysis, even if more general in hindsight.
Relationship to other integral transforms
If u is the Heaviside step function, equal to zero when its argument is less than zero, to one-half when its argument equals zero, and to one when its argument is greater than zero, then the Laplace transform may be defined in terms of the two-sided Laplace transform by
On the other hand, we also have
where is the function that multiplies by minus one (), so either version of the Laplace transform can be defined in terms of the other.
The Mellin transform may be defined in terms of the two-sided Laplace transform by
with as above, and conversely we can get the two-sided transform from the Mellin transform by
Let and be functions with bilateral Laplace transforms
and in the strips of convergence
Let with .
Then Parseval's theorem holds:
This theorem is proved by applying the inverse Laplace transform on the convolution theorem in form of the cross-correlation.
Let be a function with bilateral Laplace transform
in the strip of convergence .
Let with .
Then the Plancherel theorem holds:
For any two functions for which the two-sided Laplace transforms exist, if i.e. for every value of then almost everywhere.
Region of convergence
Bilateral transform requirements for convergence are more difficult than for unilateral transforms. The region of convergence will be normally smaller.
If f is a locally integrable function (or more generally a Borel measure locally of bounded variation), then the Laplace transform F(s) of f converges provided that the limit
exists. The Laplace transform converges absolutely if the integral
exists (as a proper Lebesgue integral). The Laplace transform is usually understood as conditionally convergent, meaning that it converges in the former instead of the latter sense.
The set of values for which F(s) converges absolutely is either of the form Re(s) > a or else Re(s) ≥ a, where a is an extended real constant, −∞ ≤ a ≤ ∞. (This follows from the dominated convergence theorem.) The constant a is known as the abscissa of absolute convergence, and depends on the growth behavior of f(t). Analogously, the two-sided transform converges absolutely in a strip of the form a < Re(s) < b, and possibly including the lines Re(s) = a or Re(s) = b. The subset of values of s for which the Laplace transform converges absolutely is called the region of absolute convergence or the domain of absolute convergence. In the two-sided case, it is sometimes called the strip of absolute convergence. The Laplace transform is analytic in the region of absolute convergence.
Similarly, the set of values for which F(s) converges (conditionally or absolutely) is known as the region of conditional convergence, or simply the region of convergence (ROC). If the Laplace transform converges (conditionally) at s = s0, then it automatically converges for all s with Re(s) > Re(s0). Therefore, the region of convergence is a half-plane of the form Re(s) > a, possibly including some points of the boundary line Re(s) = a. In the region of convergence Re(s) > Re(s0), the Laplace transform of f can be expressed by integrating by parts as the integral
That is, in the region of convergence F(s) can effectively be expressed as the absolutely convergent Laplace transform of some other function. In particular, it is analytic.
There are several Paley–Wiener theorems concerning the relationship between the decay properties of f and the properties of the Laplace transform within the region of convergence.