# Principal branch

In mathematics, a **principal branch** is a function which selects one branch ("slice") of a multi-valued function. Most often, this applies to functions defined on the complex plane.

## Examples

### Trigonometric inverses

Principal branches are used in the definition of many inverse trigonometric functions, such as the selection either to define that

or that

- .

### Exponentiation to fractional powers

A more familiar principal branch function, limited to real numbers, is that of a positive real number raised to the power of 1/2.

For example, take the relation *y* = *x*^{1/2}, where *x* is any positive real number.

This relation can be satisfied by any value of *y* equal to a square root of *x* (either positive or negative). By convention, √x is used to denote the positive square root of *x*.

In this instance, the positive square root function is taken as the principal branch of the multi-valued relation *x*^{1/2}.

### Complex logarithms

One way to view a principal branch is to look specifically at the exponential function, and the logarithm, as it is defined in complex analysis.

The exponential function is single-valued, where *e ^{z}* is defined as:

where .

However, the periodic nature of the trigonometric functions involved makes it clear that the logarithm is not so uniquely determined. One way to see this is to look at the following:

and

where *k* is any integer and atan2 continues the values of the arctan(b/a)-function from their principal value range , corresponding to into the principal value range of the arg(z)-function , covering all four quadrants in the complex plane.

Any number log *z* defined by such criteria has the property that *e*^{log z} = *z*.

In this manner log function is a multi-valued function (often referred to as a "multifunction" in the context of complex analysis). A branch cut, usually along the negative real axis, can limit the imaginary part so it lies between −π and π. These are the chosen principal values.

This is the principal branch of the log function. Often it is defined using a capital letter, Log *z*.