In mathematics:

- Unknown things are often written using
*x*,*y*, or*z*. - Known things are often written using
*a*,*b*, or*c*. - Functions are often written using
*f*,*g*, or*h*.

A function is an abstraction. Just as using a variable lets you talk about an unknown value in an equation:

x^{2} + 2 = 6

x^{2}+ y = 7

using a function lets you generalize about mathematical operations:

*f(x)*

*g(x, y)*

The actual mathematical operation doesn’t matter because all functions have certain properties and behaviours in common. Besides, it is a lot easier to write *f(x)* than some long equation.

In mathematical terms:

*A function f is a mapping from the set A to the set B, where set A is called the domain and set B is called the codomain*.

It is written as *f* : **A** → **B**.

This simply means that a function

- takes things found in
**A**(the**domain**) - does something to them
- and returns things found in
**B**(the**codomain**)

There is no restriction on what sets **A** and **B** are. They could be

- a set of integers,
- a set of real numbers
- a set of functions returning positive integers
- a set of convex polygons
- a set of two dimensional data representing images

They don’t even have to be the same sets – the **codomain** can be different from the **domain**.

The only restriction is that there can only be one mapping from **A** to **B**. In other words, every single item in the set** A**, when processed by the function, can only map to a single item from the set **B**. Although, multiple items in **A** can map to the same item in **B**.

For example, given

*f(x)* = √x

- If the
**domain**is the set of positive real numbers (i.e. all numbers greater than 0) and if the**codomain**is the set of all positive real numbers, then*f(x)*is a function. - If the
**domain**is the set of positive real numbers and if the**codomain**is the set of all real numbers (both positive and negative), then*f(x)*is not a function (hint, √4 can be 2 or –2).

If we are given

*f(x)* = x – x

then no matter what the **domain** is, the **codomain** is always the set containing 0. Therefore, every element in the **domain** (set **A**) maps to exactly one element in the **codomain** (set **B**). They just all happen to map to the same element.

Given this restriction, our mathematical definition now looks like this:

*A function f is a mapping from the set A to the set B, such that each element of A maps to exactly one element in B. Set A is called the domain and set B is called the codomain*.

It is written as *f* : **A** → **B**.

## Notation

Functions can be referred to by just a letter – *f* being the most common.

You can have a whole bunch of functions and refer to them as *f _{1}*,

*f*,

_{2}*f*, …

_{3}*f*.

_{n}Functions can be written with parameters – *f(x)* being common. It should be read as *“the value of x being evaluated / processed by the function f”. *

Functions can have a whole bunch of parameters:

*f(x, y)*

*f(x, y, z, w)*

*f(x _{1}, x_{2}, … x_{n})*

The function can be defined for you:

*f(x)* = x^{2} + 3x + 2

It can also be defined in terms of other functions:

*g(x, y)* = ∫∫*f(x,y)*

(Here, *g(x, y)* is being defined as the double integration of function *f(x, y)*)

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