The concept of homotopy colimit is a generalization of homotopy pushouts, such as the mapping cylinder used to define a cofibration. This notion is motivated by the following observation: the (ordinary) pushout
is the space obtained by contracting the n-1-sphere (which is the boundary of the n-dimensional disk) to a single point. This space is homeomorphic to the n-sphere Sn. On the other hand, the pushout
Therefore, the pushout is not well-aligned with a principle of homotopy theory, which considers weakly equivalent spaces as carrying the same information: if one (or more) of the spaces used to form the pushout is replaced by a weakly equivalent space, the pushout is not guaranteed to stay weakly equivalent. The homotopy pushout rectifies this defect.
The homotopy pushout of two maps of topological spaces is defined as
i.e., instead of glueing B in both A and C, two copies of a cylinder on B are glued together and their ends are glued to A and C. For example, the homotopy colimit of the diagram (whose maps are projections)
is the join .
It can be shown that the homotopy pushout does not share the defect of the ordinary pushout: replacing A, B and / or C by a homotopic space, the homotopy pushout will also be homotopic. In this sense, the homotopy pushouts treats homotopic spaces as well as the (ordinary) pushout does with homeomorphic spaces.
The homotopy colimit of a sequence of spaces
is the mapping telescope.
Treating examples such as the mapping telescope and the homotopy pushout on an equal footing can be achieved by considering an I-diagram of spaces, where I is some "indexing" category. This is a functor
i.e., to each object i in I, one assigns a space Xi and maps between them, according to the maps in I. The category of such diagrams is denoted SpacesI.
There is a natural functor called the diagonal,
which sends any space X to the diagram which consists of X everywhere (and the identity of X as maps between them). In (ordinary) category theory, the right adjoint to this functor is the limit. The homotopy limit is defined by altering this situation: it is the right adjoint to
which sends a space X to the I-diagram which at some object i gives
Similarly, one can define a colimit as the left adjoint to the diagonal functor Δ0 given above. To define a homotopy colimit, we must modify Δ0 in a different way. A homotopy colimit can be defined as the left adjoint to a functor Δ : Spaces → SpacesI where
- Δ(X)(i) = HomSpaces (|N(Iop /i)|, X),
where Iop is the opposite category of I. Although this is not the same as the functor Δ above, it does share the property that if the geometric realization of the nerve category (|N(-)|) is replaced with a point space, we recover the original functor Δ0.
Relation to the (ordinary) colimit and limit
There is always a map
Typically, this map is not a weak equivalence. For example, the homotopy pushout encountered above always maps to the ordinary pushout. This map is not typically a weak equivalence, for example the join is not weakly equivalent to the pushout of , which is a point.
Further examples and applications
Just as limit is used to complete a ring, holim is used to complete a spectrum.
- Hatcher's Algebraic Topology, 4.G.
- Bousfield & Kan: Homotopy limits, Completions and Localizations, Springer, LNM 304. Section XI.3.3