# Programming with Finite Fields

Back when I was first exposed to programming language design, I decided it would be really cool if there were a language that let you define your own number types and then do all your programming within those number types. And since I get excited about math, I think of really exotic number types (Boolean rings, Gaussian integers, Octonions, oh my!). I imagined it would be a language feature, so I could do something like this:

use gaussianintegers as numbers

x = 1 + i
y = 2 - 3i
print(x*y)
z = 2 + 3.5i  # error


I’m not sure why I thought this would be so cool. Perhaps I felt like I would be teaching a computer math. Or maybe the next level of abstraction in playing god by writing programs is to play god by designing languages (and I secretly satisfy a massive god complex by dictating the actions of my computer).

But despite not writing a language of my own, programming with weird number systems still has a special place in my heart. It just so happens that we’re in the middle of a long series on elliptic curves, and in the next post we’ll actually implement elliptic curve arithmetic over a special kind of number type (the finite field). In this post, we’ll lay the groundwork by implementing number types in Python that allow us to work over any finite field. This is actually a pretty convoluted journey, and to be totally rigorous we’d need to prove a bunch of lemmas, develop a bunch of ring theory, and prove the correctness of a few algorithms involving polynomials.

Instead of taking the long and winding road, we’ll just state the important facts with links to proofs, prove the easy stuff, and focus more heavily than usual on the particular Python implementation details. As usual, all of the code used in this post is available on this blog’s Github page.

## Integers Modulo Primes

The simples kind of finite field is the set of integers modulo a prime. We’ve dealt with this number field extensively on this blog (in groups, rings, fields, with RSA, etc.), but let’s recall what it is. The modulo operator $\textup{mod}$ (in programming it’s often denoted %) is a binary operation on integers such that $x \mod y$ is the unique positive remainder of $x$ when divided by $y$.

Definition: Let $p$ be a prime number. The set $\mathbb{Z}/p$ consists of the numbers $\left \{ 0, 1, \dots, p-1 \right \}$. If you endow it with the operations of addition (mod $p$) and multiplication (mod $p$), it forms a field.

To say it’s a field is just to say that arithmetic more or less behaves the way we expect it to, and in particular that every nonzero element has a (unique) multiplicative inverse. Making a number type for $\mathbb{Z}/p$ in Python is quite simple.

def IntegersModP(p):
class IntegerModP(FieldElement):
def __init__(self, n):
self.n = n % p
self.field = IntegerModP

def __add__(self, other): return IntegerModP(self.n + other.n)
def __sub__(self, other): return IntegerModP(self.n - other.n)
def __mul__(self, other): return IntegerModP(self.n * other.n)
def __truediv__(self, other): return self * other.inverse()
def __div__(self, other): return self * other.inverse()
def __neg__(self): return IntegerModP(-self.n)
def __eq__(self, other): return isinstance(other, IntegerModP) and self.n == other.n
def __abs__(self): return abs(self.n)
def __str__(self): return str(self.n)
def __repr__(self): return '%d (mod %d)' % (self.n, self.p)

def __divmod__(self, divisor):
q,r = divmod(self.n, divisor.n)
return (IntegerModP(q), IntegerModP(r))

def inverse(self):
...?

IntegerModP.p = p
IntegerModP.__name__ = 'Z/%d' % (p)
return IntegerModP


We’ve done a couple of things worth note here. First, all of the double-underscore methods are operator overloads, so they are called when one tries to, e.g., add two instances of this class together. We’ve also implemented a division algorithm via __divmod__ which computes a (quotient, remainder) pair for the appropriate division. The built in Python function divmod function does this for integers, and we can overload it for a custom type. We’ll write a more complicated division algorithm later in this post. Finally, we’re dynamically creating our class so that different primes will correspond to different types. We’ll come back to why this encapsulation is a good idea later, but it’s crucial to make our next few functions reusable and elegant.

Here’s an example of the class in use:

>>> mod7 = IntegersModP(7)
>>> mod7(3) + mod7(6)
2 (mod 7)


The last (undefined) function in the IntegersModP class, the inverse function, is our only mathematical hurdle. Luckily, we can compute inverses in a generic way, using an algorithm called the extended Euclidean algorithm. Here’s the mathematics.

Definition: An element $d$ is called a greatest common divisor (gcd) of $a,b$ if it divides both $a$ and $b$, and for every other $z$ dividing both $a$ and $b$, $z$ divides $d$. For $\mathbb{Z}/p$ gcd’s and we denote it as $\gcd(a,b)$. [1]

Note that we called it ‘a’ greatest common divisor. In general gcd’s need not be unique, though for integers one often picks the positive gcd. We’ll actually see this cause a tiny programmatic bug later in this post, but let’s push on for now.

Theorem: For any two integers $a,b \in \mathbb{Z}$ there exist unique $x,y \in \mathbb{Z}$ such that $ax + by = \gcd(a,b)$.

We could beat around the bush and try to prove these things in various ways, but when it comes down to it there’s one algorithm of central importance that both computes the gcd and produces the needed linear combination $x,y$. The algorithm is called the Euclidean algorithm. Here is a simple version that just gives the gcd.

def gcd(a, b):
if abs(a) < abs(b):
return gcd(b, a)

while abs(b) > 0:
q,r = divmod(a,b)
a,b = b,r

return a


This works by the simple observation that $\gcd(a, aq+r) = \gcd(a,r)$ (this is an easy exercise to prove directly). So the Euclidean algorithm just keeps applying this rule over and over again: take the remainder when dividing the bigger argument by the smaller argument until the remainder becomes zero. Then the $\gcd(x,0) = x$ because everything divides zero.

Now the so-called ‘extended’ Euclidean algorithm just keeps track of some additional data as it goes (the partial quotients and remainders). Here’s the algorithm.

def extendedEuclideanAlgorithm(a, b):
if abs(b) > abs(a):
(x,y,d) = extendedEuclideanAlgorithm(b, a)
return (y,x,d)

if abs(b) == 0:
return (1, 0, a)

x1, x2, y1, y2 = 0, 1, 1, 0
while abs(b) > 0:
q, r = divmod(a,b)
x = x2 - q*x1
y = y2 - q*y1
a, b, x2, x1, y2, y1 = b, r, x1, x, y1, y

return (x2, y2, a)


Indeed, the reader who hasn’t seen this stuff before is encouraged to trace out a run for the numbers 4864, 3458. Their gcd is 38 and the two integers are 32 and -45, respectively.

How does this help us compute inverses? Well, if we want to find the inverse of $a$ modulo $p$, we know that their gcd is 1. So compute the $x,y$ such that $ax + py = 1$, and then reduce both sides mod $p$. You get $ax + 0 = 1 \mod p$, which means that $x \mod p$ is the inverse of $a$. So once we have the extended Euclidean algorithm our inverse function is trivial to write!

def inverse(self):
x,y,d = extendedEuclideanAlgorithm(self.n, self.p)
return IntegerModP(x)


And indeed it works as expected:

>>> mod23 = IntegersModP(23)
>>> mod23(7).inverse()
10 (mod 23)
>>> mod23(7).inverse() * mod23(7)
1 (mod 23)


Now one very cool thing, and something that makes some basic ring theory worth understanding, is that we can compute the gcd of any number type using the exact same code for the Euclidean algorithm, provided we implement an abs function and a division algorithm. Via a chain of relatively easy-to-prove lemmas, if your number type has enough structure (in particular, if it has a division algorithm that satisfies some properties), then greatest common divisors are well-defined, and the Euclidean algorithm gives us that special linear combination. And using the same trick above in finite fields, we can use the Euclidean algorithm to compute inverses.

But in order to make things work programmatically we need to be able to deal with the literal ints 0 and 1 in the algorithm. That is, we need to be able to silently typecast integers up to whatever number type we’re working with. This makes sense because all rings have 0 and 1, but it requires a bit of scaffolding to implement. In particular, typecasting things sensibly is really difficult if you aren’t careful. And the problems are compounded in a language like Python that blatantly ignores types whenever possible. [2]

So let’s take a quick break to implement a tiny type system with implicit typecasting.

[1] The reader familiar with our series on category theory will recognize this as the product of two integers in a category whose arrows represent divisibility. So by abstract nonsense, this proves that gcd’s are unique up to multiplication by a unit in any ring.
[2] In the process of writing the code for this post, I was sorely missing the stronger type systems of Java and Haskell. Never thought I’d say that, but it’s true.

## A Tiny Generic Type System

The main driving force behind our type system will be a decorator called @typecheck. We covered decorators toward the end of our primer on dynamic programming, but in short a decorator is a Python syntax shortcut that allows some pre- or post-processing to happen to a function in a reusable way. All you need to do to apply the pre/post-processing is prefix the function definition with the name of the decorator.

Our decorator will be called typecheck, and it will decorate binary operations on our number types. In its basic form, our type checker will work as follows: if the types of the two operands are the same, then the decorator will just pass them on through to the operator. Otherwise, it will try to do some typecasting, and if that fails it will raise exceptions with reckless abandon.

def typecheck(f):
def newF(self, other):
if type(self) is not type(other):
try:
other = self.__class__(other)
except TypeError:
message = 'Not able to typecast %s of type %s to type %s in function %s'
raise TypeError(message % (other, type(other).__name__, type(self).__name__, f.__name__))
except Exception as e:
message = 'Type error on arguments %r, %r for functon %s. Reason:%s'
raise TypeError(message % (self, other, f.__name__, type(other).__name__, type(self).__name__, e))

return f(self, other)

return newF


So this is great, but there are two issues. The first is that this will only silently typecast if the thing we’re casting is on the right-hand side of the expression. In other words, the following will raise an exception complaining that you can’t add ints to Mod7 integers.

>>> x = IntegersModP(7)(1)
>>> 1 + x


What we need are the right-hand versions of all the operator overloads. They are the same as the usual operator overloads, but Python gives preference to the left-hand operator overloads. Anticipating that we will need to rewrite these silly right-hand overloads for every number type, and they’ll all be the same, we make two common base classes.

class DomainElement(object):
def __radd__(self, other): return self + other
def __rsub__(self, other): return -self + other
def __rmul__(self, other): return self * other

class FieldElement(DomainElement):
def __truediv__(self, other): return self * other.inverse()
def __rtruediv__(self, other): return self.inverse() * other
def __div__(self, other): return self.__truediv__(other)
def __rdiv__(self, other): return self.__rtruediv__(other)


And we can go ahead and make our IntegersModP a subclass of FieldElement. [3]

But now we’re wading into very deep waters. In particular, we know ahead of time that our next number type will be for Polynomials (over the integers, or fractions, or $\mathbb{Z}/p$, or whatever). And we’ll want to do silent typecasting from ints and IntegersModP to Polynomials! The astute reader will notice the discrepancy. What will happen if I try to do this?

>>> MyInteger() + MyPolynomial()


Let’s take this slowly: by our assumption both MyInteger and MyPolynomial have the __add__ and __radd__ functions defined on them, and each tries to typecast the other the appropriate type. But which is called? According to Python’s documentation if the left-hand side has an __add__ function that’s called first, and the right-hand sides’s __radd__ function is only sought if no __add__ function is found for the left operand.

Well that’s a problem, and we’ll deal with it in a half awkward and half elegant way. What we’ll do is endow our number types with an “operatorPrecedence” constant. And then inside our type checker function we’ll see if the right-hand operand is an object of higher precedence. If it is, we return the global constant NotImplemented, which Python takes to mean that no __add__ function was found, and it proceeds to look for __radd__. And so with this modification our typechecker is done. [4]

def typecheck(f):
def newF(self, other):
if (hasattr(other.__class__, 'operatorPrecedence') and
other.__class__.operatorPrecedence > self.__class__.operatorPrecedence):
return NotImplemented

if type(self) is not type(other):
try:
other = self.__class__(other)
except TypeError:
message = 'Not able to typecast %s of type %s to type %s in function %s'
raise TypeError(message % (other, type(other).__name__, type(self).__name__, f.__name__))
except Exception as e:
message = 'Type error on arguments %r, %r for functon %s. Reason:%s'
raise TypeError(message % (self, other, f.__name__, type(other).__name__, type(self).__name__, e))

return f(self, other)

return newF


We add a default operatorPrecedence of 1 to the DomainElement base class. Now this function answers our earlier question of why we want to encapsulate the prime modulus into the IntegersModP class. If this typechecker is really going to be generic, we need to be able to typecast an int by passing the single int argument to the type constructor with no additional information! Indeed, this will be the same pattern for our polynomial class and the finite field class to follow.

Now there is still one subtle problem. If we try to generate two copies of the same number type from our number-type generator (in other words, the following code snippet), we’ll get a nasty exception.

>>> mod7 = IntegersModP(7)
>>> mod7Copy = IntegersModP(7)
>>> mod7(1) + mod7Copy(2)
... error ...


The reason for this is that in the type-checker we’re using the Python built-in ‘is’ which checks for identity, not semantic equality. To fix this, we simply need to memoize the IntegersModP function (and all the other functions we’ll use to generate number types) so that there is only ever one copy of a number type in existence at a time.

So enough Python hacking: let’s get on with implementing finite fields!

[3] This also compels us to make some slight modifications to the constructor for IntegersModP, but they’re not significant enough to display here. Check out the Github repo if you want to see.
[4] This is truly a hack, and we’ve considered submitting a feature request to the Python devs. It is conceivably useful for the operator-overloading aficionado. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments as to whether this is a reasonable feature to add to Python.

## Polynomial Arithmetic

Recall from our finite field primer that every finite field can be constructed as a quotient of a polynomial ring with coefficients in $\mathbb{Z}/p$ by some prime ideal. We spelled out exactly what this means in fine detail in the primer, so check that out before reading on.

Indeed, to construct a finite field we need to find some irreducible monic polynomial $f$ with coefficients in $\mathbb{Z}/p$, and then the elements of our field will be remainders of arbitrary polynomials when divided by $f$. In order to determine if they’re irreducible we’ll need to compute a gcd. So let’s build a generic polynomial type with a polynomial division algorithm, and hook it into our gcd framework.

We start off in much the same way as with the IntegersModP:

# create a polynomial with coefficients in a field; coefficients are in
# increasing order of monomial degree so that, for example, [1,2,3]
# corresponds to 1 + 2x + 3x^2
@memoize
def polynomialsOver(field=fractions.Fraction):

class Polynomial(DomainElement):
operatorPrecedence = 2
factory = lambda L: Polynomial([field(x) for x in L])

def __init__(self, c):
if type(c) is Polynomial:
self.coefficients = c.coefficients
elif isinstance(c, field):
self.coefficients = [c]
elif not hasattr(c, '__iter__') and not hasattr(c, 'iter'):
self.coefficients = [field(c)]
else:
self.coefficients = c

self.coefficients = strip(self.coefficients, field(0))

def isZero(self): return self.coefficients == []

def __repr__(self):
if self.isZero():
return '0'

return ' + '.join(['%s x^%d' % (a,i) if i > 0 else '%s'%a
for i,a in enumerate(self.coefficients)])

def __abs__(self): return len(self.coefficients)
def __len__(self): return len(self.coefficients)
def __sub__(self, other): return self + (-other)
def __iter__(self): return iter(self.coefficients)
def __neg__(self): return Polynomial([-a for a in self])

def iter(self): return self.__iter__()
def leadingCoefficient(self): return self.coefficients[-1]
def degree(self): return abs(self) - 1


All of this code just lays down conventions. A polynomial is a list of coefficients (in increasing order of their monomial degree), the zero polynomial is the empty list of coefficients, and the abs() of a polynomial is one plus its degree. [5] Finally, instead of closing over a prime modulus, as with IntegersModP, we’re closing over the field of coefficients. In general you don’t have to have polynomials with coefficients in a field, but if they do come from a field then you’re guaranteed to get a sensible Euclidean algorithm. In the formal parlance, if $k$ is a field then $k[x]$ is a Euclidean domain. And for our goal of defining finite fields, we will always have coefficients from $\mathbb{Z}/p$, so there’s no problem.

Now we can define things like addition, multiplication, and equality using our typechecker to silently cast and watch for errors.

      @typecheck
def __eq__(self, other):
return self.degree() == other.degree() and all([x==y for (x,y) in zip(self, other)])

@typecheck
def __add__(self, other):
newCoefficients = [sum(x) for x in itertools.zip_longest(self, other, fillvalue=self.field(0))]
return Polynomial(newCoefficients)

@typecheck
def __mul__(self, other):
if self.isZero() or other.isZero():
return Zero()

newCoeffs = [self.field(0) for _ in range(len(self) + len(other) - 1)]

for i,a in enumerate(self):
for j,b in enumerate(other):
newCoeffs[i+j] += a*b

return Polynomial(newCoeffs)


Notice that, if the underlying field of coefficients correctly implements the operator overloads, none of this depends on the coefficients. Reusability, baby!

And we can finish off with the division algorithm for polynomials.

      @typecheck
def __divmod__(self, divisor):
quotient, remainder = Zero(), self
divisorDeg = divisor.degree()
divisorLC = divisor.leadingCoefficient()

while remainder.degree() >= divisorDeg:
monomialExponent = remainder.degree() - divisorDeg
monomialZeros = [self.field(0) for _ in range(monomialExponent)]
monomialDivisor = Polynomial(monomialZeros + [remainder.leadingCoefficient() / divisorLC])

quotient += monomialDivisor
remainder -= monomialDivisor * divisor

return quotient, remainder


Indeed, we’re doing nothing here but formalizing the grade-school algorithm for doing polynomial long division [6]. And we can finish off the function for generating this class by assigning the field member variable along with a class name. And we give it a higher operator precedence than the underlying field of coefficients so that an isolated coefficient is cast up to a constant polynomial.

@memoize
def polynomialsOver(field=fractions.Fraction):

class Polynomial(DomainElement):
operatorPrecedence = 2

[... methods defined above ...]

def Zero():
return Polynomial([])

Polynomial.field = field
Polynomial.__name__ = '(%s)[x]' % field.__name__
return Polynomial


We provide a modest test suite in the Github repository for this post, but here’s a sample test:

>>> Mod5 = IntegersModP(5)
>>> Mod11 = IntegersModP(11)
>>> polysOverQ = polynomialsOver(Fraction).factory
>>> polysMod5 = polynomialsOver(Mod5).factory
>>> polysMod11 = polynomialsOver(Mod11).factory
>>> polysOverQ([1,7,49]) / polysOverQ([7])
1/7 + 1 x^1 + 7 x^2
>>> polysMod5([1,7,49]) / polysMod5([7])
3 + 1 x^1 + 2 x^2
>>> polysMod11([1,7,49]) / polysMod11([7])
8 + 1 x^1 + 7 x^2


And indeed, the extended Euclidean algorithm works without modification, so we know our typecasting is doing what’s expected:

>>> p = polynomialsOver(Mod2).factory
>>> f = p([1,0,0,0,1,1,1,0,1,1,1]) # x^10 + x^9 + x^8 + x^6 + x^5 + x^4 + 1
>>> g = p([1,0,1,1,0,1,1,0,0,1])   # x^9 + x^6 + x^5 + x^3 + x^1 + 1
>>> theGcd = p([1,1,0,1]) # x^3 + x + 1
>>> x = p([0,0,0,0,1]) # x^4
>>> y = p([1,1,1,1,1,1]) # x^5 + x^4 + x^3 + x^2 + x + 1
>>> (x,y,theGcd) == extendedEuclideanAlgorithm(f, g)
True


[5] The mathematical name for the abs() function that we’re using is a valuation.
[6] One day we will talk a lot more about polynomial long division on this blog. You can do a lot of cool algebraic geometry with it, and the ideas there lead you to awesome applications like robot motion planning and automated geometry theorem proving.

## Generating Irreducible Polynomials

Now that we’ve gotten Polynomials out of the way, we need to be able to generate irreducible polynomials over $\mathbb{Z}/p$ of any degree we want. It might be surprising that irreducible polynomials of any degree exist [7], but in fact we know a lot more.

Theorem: The product of all irreducible monic polynomials of degree dividing $m$ is equal to $x^{p^m} – x$.

This is an important theorem, but it takes a little bit more field theory than we have under our belts right now. You could summarize the proof by saying there is a one-to-one correspondence between elements of a field and monic irreducible polynomials, and then you say some things about splitting fields. You can see a more detailed proof outline here, but it assumes you’re familiar with the notion of a minimal polynomial. We will probably cover this in a future primer.

But just using the theorem we can get a really nice algorithm for determining if a polynomial $f(x)$ of degree $m$ is irreducible: we just look at its gcd with all the $x^{p^k} – x$ for $k$ smaller than $m$. If all the gcds are constants, then we know it’s irreducible, and if even one is a non-constant polynomial then it has to be irreducible. Why’s that? Because if you have some nontrivial gcd $d(x) = \gcd(f(x), x^{p^k} – x)$ for $k < m$, then it’s a factor of $f(x)$ by definition. And since we know all irreducible monic polynomials are factors of that this collection of polynomials, if the gcd is always 1 then there are no other possible factors to be divisors. (If there is any divisor then there will be a monic irreducible one!) So the candidate polynomial must be irreducible. In fact, with a moment of thought it’s clear that we can stop at $k= m/2$, as any factor of large degree will necessarily require corresponding factors of small degree. So the algorithm to check for irreducibility is just this simple loop:

def isIrreducible(polynomial, p):
ZmodP = IntegersModP(p)
poly = polynomialsOver(ZmodP).factory
x = poly([0,1])
powerTerm = x
isUnit = lambda p: p.degree() == 0

for _ in range(int(polynomial.degree() / 2)):
powerTerm = powerTerm.powmod(p, polynomial)
gcdOverZmodp = gcd(polynomial, powerTerm - x)
if not isUnit(gcdOverZmodp):
return False

return True


We’re just computing the powers iteratively as $x^p, (x^p)^p = x^{p^2}, \dots, x^{p^j}$ and in each step of the loop subtracting $x$ and computing the relevant gcd. The powmod function is just there so that we can reduce the power mod our irreducible polynomial after each multiplication, keeping the degree of the polynomial small and efficient to work with.

Now generating an irreducible polynomial is a little bit harder than testing for one. With a lot of hard work, however, field theorists discovered that irreducible polynomials are quite common. In fact, if you just generate the coefficients of your degree $n$ monic polynomial at random, the chance that you’ll get something irreducible is at least $1/n$. So this suggests an obvious randomized algorithm: keep guessing until you find one.

def generateIrreduciblePolynomial(modulus, degree):
Zp = IntegersModP(modulus)
Polynomial = polynomialsOver(Zp)

while True:
coefficients = [Zp(random.randint(0, modulus-1)) for _ in range(degree)]
randomMonicPolynomial = Polynomial(coefficients + [Zp(1)])

if isIrreducible(randomMonicPolynomial, modulus):
return randomMonicPolynomial


Since the probability of getting an irreducible polynomial is close to $1/n$, we expect to require $n$ trials before we find one. Moreover we could give a pretty tight bound on how likely it is to deviate from the expected number of trials. So now we can generate some irreducible polynomials!

>>> F23 = FiniteField(2,3)
>>> generateIrreduciblePolynomial(23, 3)
21 + 12 x^1 + 11 x^2 + 1 x^3


And so now we are well-equipped to generate any finite field we want! It’s just a matter of generating the polynomial and taking a modulus after every operation.

@memoize
def FiniteField(p, m, polynomialModulus=None):
Zp = IntegersModP(p)
if m == 1:
return Zp

Polynomial = polynomialsOver(Zp)
if polynomialModulus is None:
polynomialModulus = generateIrreduciblePolynomial(modulus=p, degree=m)

class Fq(FieldElement):
fieldSize = int(p ** m)
primeSubfield = Zp
idealGenerator = polynomialModulus
operatorPrecedence = 3

def __init__(self, poly):
if type(poly) is Fq:
self.poly = poly.poly
elif type(poly) is int or type(poly) is Zp:
self.poly = Polynomial([Zp(poly)])
elif isinstance(poly, Polynomial):
self.poly = poly % polynomialModulus
else:
self.poly = Polynomial([Zp(x) for x in poly]) % polynomialModulus

self.field = Fq

@typecheck
def __add__(self, other): return Fq(self.poly + other.poly)
@typecheck
def __sub__(self, other): return Fq(self.poly - other.poly)
@typecheck
def __mul__(self, other): return Fq(self.poly * other.poly)
@typecheck
def __eq__(self, other): return isinstance(other, Fq) and self.poly == other.poly

def __pow__(self, n): return Fq(pow(self.poly, n))
def __neg__(self): return Fq(-self.poly)
def __abs__(self): return abs(self.poly)
def __repr__(self): return repr(self.poly) + ' \u2208 ' + self.__class__.__name__

@typecheck
def __divmod__(self, divisor):
q,r = divmod(self.poly, divisor.poly)
return (Fq(q), Fq(r))

def inverse(self):
if self == Fq(0):
raise ZeroDivisionError

x,y,d = extendedEuclideanAlgorithm(self.poly, self.idealGenerator)
return Fq(x) * Fq(d.coefficients[0].inverse())

Fq.__name__ = 'F_{%d^%d}' % (p,m)
return Fq


And some examples of using it:

>>> F23 = FiniteField(2,3)
>>> x = F23([1,1])
>>> x
1 + 1 x^1 ∈ F_{2^3}
>>> x*x
1 + 0 x^1 + 1 x^2 ∈ F_{2^3}
>>> x**10
0 + 0 x^1 + 1 x^2 ∈ F_{2^3}
>>> 1 / x
0 + 1 x^1 + 1 x^2 ∈ F_{2^3}
>>> x * (1 / x)
1 ∈ F_{2^3}

>>> k = FiniteField(23, 4)
>>> k.fieldSize
279841
>>> k.idealGenerator
6 + 8 x^1 + 10 x^2 + 10 x^3 + 1 x^4
>>> y
9 + 21 x^1 + 14 x^2 + 12 x^3 ∈ F_{23^4}
>>> y*y
13 + 19 x^1 + 7 x^2 + 14 x^3 ∈ F_{23^4}
>>> y**5 - y
15 + 22 x^1 + 15 x^2 + 5 x^3 ∈ F_{23^4}


And that’s it! Now we can do arithmetic over any finite field we want.

[7] Especially considering that other wacky things happen like this: $x^4 +1$ is reducible over every finite field!

## Some Words on Efficiency

There are a few things that go without stating about this program, but I’ll state them anyway.

The first is that we pay a big efficiency price for being so generic. All the typecasting we’re doing isn’t cheap, and in general cryptography needs to be efficient. For example, if I try to create a finite field of order $104729^{20}$, it takes about ten to fifteen seconds to complete. This might not seem so bad for a one-time initialization, but it’s clear that our representation is somewhat bloated. We would display a graph of the expected time to perform various operations in various finite fields, but this post is already way too long.

In general, the larger and more complicated the polynomial you use to define your finite field, the longer operations will take (since dividing by a complicated polynomial is more expensive than dividing by a simple polynomial). For this reason and a few other reasons, a lot of research has gone into efficiently finding irreducible polynomials with, say, only three nonzero terms. Moreover, if we know in advance that we’ll only work over fields of characteristic two we can make a whole lot of additional optimizations. Essentially, all of the arithmetic reduces to really fast bitwise operations, and things like exponentiation can easily be implemented in hardware. But it also seems that the expense coming with large field characteristics corresponds to higher security, so some researchers have tried to meet in the middle an get efficient representations of other field characteristics.

In any case, the real purpose of our implementation in this post is not for efficiency. We care first and foremost about understanding the mathematics, and to have a concrete object to play with and use in the future for other projects. And we have accomplished just that.

Until next time!

# Rings — A Primer

Previously on this blog, we’ve covered two major kinds of algebraic objects: the vector space and the group. There are at least two more fundamental algebraic objects every mathematician should something know about. The first, and the focus of this primer, is the ring. The second, which we’ve mentioned briefly in passing on this blog, is the field. There are a few others important to the pure mathematician, such as the $R$-module (here $R$ is a ring). These do have some nice computational properties, but in order to even begin to talk about them we need to know about rings.

## A Very Special Kind of Group

Recall that an abelian group $(G, +)$ is a set $G$ paired with a commutative binary operation $+$, where $G$ has a special identity element called 0 which acts as an identity for $+$. The archetypal example of an abelian group is, of course, the integers $\mathbb{Z}$ under addition, with zero playing the role of the identity element.

The easiest way to think of a ring is as an abelian group with more structure. This structure comes in the form of a multiplication operation which is “compatible” with the addition coming from the group structure.

Definition:ring $(R, +, \cdot)$ is a set $R$ which forms an abelian group under $+$ (with additive identity 0), and has an additional associative binary operation $\cdot$ with an element 1 serving as a (two-sided) multiplicative identity. Furthermore, $\cdot$ distributes over $+$ in the sense that for all $x,y,z \in R$

$x(y+z) = xy + xz$ and $(y+z)x = yx + zx$

The most important thing to note is that multiplication is not commutative both in general rings and for most rings in practice. If multiplication is commutative, then the ring is called commutative. Some easy examples of commutative rings include rings of numbers like $\mathbb{Z}, \mathbb{Z}/n\mathbb{Z}, \mathbb{Q}, \mathbb{R}$, which are just the abelian groups we know and love with multiplication added on.

If the reader takes anything away from this post, it should be the following:

Rings generalize arithmetic with integers.

Of course, this would imply that all rings are commutative, but this is not the case. More meaty and tempestuous examples of rings are very visibly noncommutative. One of the most important examples are rings of matrices. In particular, denote by $M_n(\mathbb{R})$ the set of all $n \times n$ matrices with real valued entries. This forms a ring under addition and multiplication of matrices, and has as a multiplicative identity the $n \times n$ identity matrix $I_n$.

Commutative rings are much more well-understood than noncommutative rings, and the study of the former is called commutative algebra. This is the main prerequisite for fields like algebraic geometry, which (in the simplest examples) associate commutative rings to geometric objects.

For us, all rings will have an identity, but many ring theorists will point out that one can just as easily define a ring to not have a multiplicative identity. We will call these non-unital rings, and will rarely, if ever, see them on this blog.

Another very important example of a concrete ring is the polynomial ring in $n$ variables with coefficients in $\mathbb{Q}$ or $\mathbb{R}$. This ring is denoted with square brackets denoting the variables, e.g. $\mathbb{R}[x_1, x_2, \dots , x_n]$. We rest assured that the reader is familiar with addition and multiplication of polynomials, and that this indeed forms a ring.

## Kindergarten Math

Let’s start with some easy properties of rings. We will denote our generic ring by $R$.

First, the multiplicative identity of a ring is unique. The proof is exactly the same as it was for groups, but note that identities must be two-sided for this to work. If $1, 1’$ are two identities, then $1 = 1 \cdot 1′ = 1’$.

Next, we prove that $0a = a0 = 0$ for all $a \in R$. Indeed, by the fact that multiplication distributes across addition, $0a = (0 + 0)a = 0a + 0a$, and additively canceling $0a$ from both sides gives $0a = 0$. An identical proof works for $a0$.

In fact, pretty much any “obvious property” from elementary arithmetic is satisfied for rings. For instance, $-(-a) = a$ and $(-a)b = a(-b) = -(ab)$ and $(-1)^2 = 1$ are all trivial to prove. Here is a list of these and more properties which we invite the reader to prove.

## Zero Divisors, Integral Domains, and Units

One thing that is very much not automatically given in the general theory of rings is multiplicative cancellation. That is, if I have $ac = bc$ then it is not guaranteed to be the case that $a = b$. It is quite easy to come up with examples in modular arithmetic on integers; if $R = \mathbb{Z}/8\mathbb{Z}$ then $2*6 = 6*6 = 4 \mod 8$, but $2 \neq 6$.

The reason for this phenomenon is that many rings have elements that lack multiplicative inverses. In $\mathbb{Z}/8\mathbb{Z}$, for instance, $2$ has no multiplicative inverse (and neither does 6). Indeed, one is often interested in determining which elements are invertible in a ring and which elements are not. In a seemingly unrelated issue, one is interested in determining whether one can multiply any given element $x \in R$ by some $y$ to get zero. It turns out that these two conditions are disjoint, and closely related to our further inspection of special classes of rings.

Definition: An element $x$ of a ring $R$ is said to be a left zero-divisor if there is some $y \neq 0$ such that $xy = 0$. Similarly, $x$ is a right zero-divisor if there is a $z$ for which $zx = 0$. If $x$ is a left and right zero-divisor (e.g. if $R$ is commutative), it is just called a zero-divisor.

Definition: Let $x,y \in R$. The element $y$ is said to be a left inverse to $x$ if $yx = 1$, and a right inverse if $xy = 1$. If there is some $z \neq 0$ for which $xz = zx = 1$, then $x$ is said to be a two-sided inverse and $z$ is called the inverse of $x$, and $x$ is called a unit.

As a quick warmup, we prove that if $x$ has a left  and a right inverse then it has a two-sided inverse. Indeed, if $zx = 1 = xy$, then $z = z(xy) = (zx)y = y$, so in fact the left and right inverses are the same.

The salient fact here is that having a (left- or right-) inverse allows one to do (left- or right-) cancellation, since obviously when $ac = bc$ and $c$ has a right inverse, we can multiply $acc^{-1} = bcc^{-1}$ to get $a=b$. We will usually work with two-sided inverses and zero-divisors (since we will usually work in a commutative ring). But in non-commutative rings, like rings of matrices, one-sided phenomena do run rampant, and one must distinguish between them.

The right way to relate these two concepts is as follows. If $c$ has a right inverse, then define the right-multiplication function $(- \cdot c) : R \to R$ which takes $x$ and spits out $xc$. In fact, this function is an injection. Indeed, we already proved that (because $c$ has a right inverse) if $xc = yc$ then $x = y$. In particular, there is a unique preimage of $0$ under this map. Since $0c = 0$ is always true, then it must be the case that the only way to left-multiply $c$ times something to get zero is $0c$. That is, $c$ is not a right zero-divisor if right-multiplication by $c$ is injective. On the other hand, if the map is not injective, then there are some $x \neq y$ such that $xc = yc$, implying $(x-y)c = 0$, and this proves that $c$ is a right zero-divisor. We can do exactly the same argument with left-multiplication.

But there is one minor complication: what if right-multiplication is injective, but $c$ has no inverses? It’s not hard to come up with an example: 2 as an element of the ring of integers $\mathbb{Z}$ is a perfectly good one. It’s neither a zero-divisor nor a unit.

This basic study of zero-divisors gives us some natural definitions:

Definition: A division ring is a ring in which every element has a two-sided inverse.

If we allow that $R$ is commutative, we get something even better (more familiar: $\mathbb{Q}, \mathbb{R}, \mathbb{C}$ are the standard examples of fields).

Definition: field is a nonzero commutative division ring.

The “nonzero” part here is just to avoid the case when the ring is the trivial ring (sometimes called the zero ring) with one element. i.e., the set $\left \{ 0 \right \}$ is a ring in which zero satisfies both the additive and multiplicative identities. The zero ring is excluded from being a field for silly reasons: elegant theorems will hold for all fields except the zero ring, and it would be messy to require every theorem to add the condition that the field in question is nonzero.

We will have much more to say about fields later on this blog, but for now let’s just state one very non-obvious and interesting result in non-commutative algebra, known as Wedderburn’s Little Theorem.

Theorem: Every finite divison ring is a field.

That is, simply having finitely many elements in a division ring is enough to prove that multiplication is commutative. Pretty neat stuff. We will actually see a simpler version of this theorem in a moment.

Now as we saw units and zero-divisors are disjoint, but not quite opposites of each other. Since we have defined a division ring as a ring where all (non-zero) elements are units, it is natural to define a ring in which the only zero-divisor is zero. This is considered a natural generalization of our favorite ring $\mathbb{Z}$, hence the name “integral.”

Definition: An integral domain is a commutative ring in which zero is the only zero-divisor.

Note the requirement that the ring is commutative. Often we will simply call it a domain, although most authors allow domains to be noncommutative.

Already we can prove a very nice theorem:

Theorem: Every finite integral domain is a field.

Proof. Integral domains are commutative by definition, and so it suffices to show that every non-zero element has an inverse. Let $R$ be our integral domain in question, and $x \in R$ the element whose inverse we seek. By our discussion of above, right multiplication by $x$ is an injective map $R \to R$, and since $R$ is finite this map must be a bijection. Hence $x$ must have some $y \neq 0$ so that $yx = 1$. And so $y$ is the inverse of $x$.

$\square$

We could continue traveling down this road of studying special kinds of rings and their related properties, but we won’t often use these ideas on this blog. We do think the reader should be familiar with the names of these special classes of rings, and we will state the main theorems relating them.

Definition: A nonzero element $p \in R$ is called prime if whenever $p$ divides a product $ab$ it either divides $a$ or $b$ (or both). A unique factorization domain (abbreviated UFD) is an integral domain in which every element can be written uniquely as a product of primes.

Definition:Euclidean domain is a ring in which the division algorithm can be performed. That is, there is a norm function $| \cdot | : R \ \left \{ 0 \right \} \to \mathbb{N}$, for which every pair $a,b \neq 0$ can be written as $a = bq + r$ with r satisfying $|r| < |b|$.

Paolo Aluffi has a wonderful diagram showing the relations among the various special classes of integral domains. This image comes from his book, Algebra: Chapter 0, which is a must-have for the enterprising mathematics student interested in algebra.

In terms of what we have already seen, this diagram says that every field is a Euclidean domain, and in turn every Euclidean domain is a unique factorization domain. These are standard, but non-trivial theorems. We will not prove them here.

The two big areas in this diagram we haven’t yet mentioned on this blog are PIDs and Noetherian domains. The reason for that is because they both require a theory of ideals in rings (perhaps most briefly described as a generalization of the even numbers). We will begin next time with a discussion of ideals, and their important properties in studying rings, but before we finish we want to focus on one main example that will show up later on this blog.

## Polynomial Rings

Let us formally define the polynomial ring.

Definition: Let $R$ be a commutative ring. Define the ring $R[x]$, to be the set of all polynomials in $x$ with coefficients in $R$, where addition and multiplication are the usual addition and multiplication of polynomials. We will often call $R[x]$ the polynomial ring in one variable over $R$.

We will often replace $x$ by some other letter representing an “indeterminate” variable, such as $t$, or $y$, or multiple indexed variables as in the following definition.

Definition: Let $R$ be a commutative ring. The ring $R[x_1, x_2, \dots, x_n]$ is the set of all polynomials in the $n$ variables with the usual addition and multiplication of polynomials.

What can we say about the polynomial ring in one variable $R[x]$? It’s additive and multiplicative identities are clear: the constant 0 and 1 polynomials, respectively. Other than that, we can’t quite get much more. There are some very bizarre features of polynomial rings with bizarre coefficient rings, such as multiplication decreasing degree.

However, when we impose additional conditions on $R$, the situation becomes much nicer.

Theorem: If $R$ is a unique factorization domain, then so is $R[x]$.

Proof. As we have yet to discuss ideals, we refer the reader to this proof, and recommend the reader return to it after our next primer.

$\square$

On the other hand, we will most often be working with polynomial rings over a field. And here the situation is even better:

Theorem: If $k$ is a field, then $k[x]$ is a Euclidean domain.

Proof. The norm function here is precisely the degree of the polynomial (the highest power of a monomial in the polynomial). Then given $f,g$, the usual algorithm for polynomial division gives a quotient and a remainder $q, r$ so that $f = qg + r$. In following the steps of the algorithm, one will note that all multiplication and division operations are performed in the field $k$, and the remainder always has a smaller degree than the quotient. Indeed, one can explicitly describe the algorithm and prove its correctness, and we will do so in full generality in the future of this blog when we discuss computational algebraic geometry.

$\square$

For multiple variables, things are a bit murkier. For instance, it is not even the case that $k[x,y]$ is a euclidean domain. One of the strongest things we can say originates from this simple observation:

Lemma: $R[x,y]$ is isomorphic to $R[x][y]$.

We haven’t quite yet talked about isomorphisms of rings (we will next time), but the idea is clear: every polynomial in two variables $x,y$ can be thought of as a polynomial in $y$ where the coefficients are polynomials in $x$ (gathered together by factoring out common factors of $y^k$). Similarly, $R[x_1, \dots, x_n]$ is the same thing as $R[x_1, \dots, x_{n-1}][x_n]$ by induction. This allows us to prove that any polynomial ring is a unique factorization domain:

Theorem: If $R$ is a UFD, so is $R[x_1, \dots, x_n]$.

Proof. $R[x]$ is a UFD as described above. By the lemma, $R[x_1, \dots, x_n] = R[x_1, \dots, x_{n-1}][x_n]$ so by induction $R[x_1, \dots, x_{n-1}]$ is a UFD implies $R[x_1, \dots, x_n]$ is as well.

$\square$

We’ll be very interested in exactly how to compute useful factorizations of polynomials into primes when we start our series on computational algebraic geometry. Some of the applications include robot motion planning, and automated theorem proving.

Next time we’ll visit the concept of an ideal, see quotient rings, and work toward proving Hilbert’s Nullstellensatz, a fundamental result in algebraic geometry.

Until then!