Monthly Archives: August 2016

Jordan-Hölder theorem

I am cramming for my algebra comprehensive exam so I will probably be posting stuff like this for a while.

A chain of subgroups \{e\}=H_0\triangleleft H_1\triangleleft\cdots\triangleleft H_n=G of a finite group G with H_{i+1}/H_i simple for all i is called a composition series of G. (The H_{i+1}/H_i are called composition factors.) The theorem in question states that every group has a composition series, and the composition factors in any two such series are unique up to reordering.

We can easily prove the first part of the theorem, that any finite group has a composition series, using the extreme principle. Let n\ge 0 be the largest integer for which there is a chain \{e\}=H_0\triangleleft H_1\triangleleft\cdots\triangleleft H_n=G of subgroups. (Such an n exists because there is trivially a chain with n=1, and our group is finite.) We claim that the composition factors in this case are simple. If not, WLOG H_{i+1}/H_i has a non-trivial normal subgroup \widetilde N. By correspondence, \widetilde N=N/H_i for some H_i\triangleleft N\triangleleft H_{i+1}. But then

\{e\}=H_0\triangleleft H_1\triangleleft\cdots\triangleleft H_i\triangleleft N\triangleleft H_{i+1}\cdots\triangleleft H_n=G

is a longer chain, a contradiction.

While the proof of the general theorem requires some non-trivial group theory (e.g. see here), we can easily prove the theorem for finite abelian groups using elementary number theory. For such a group, the orders of the composition factors must exactly be the prime factors—listed with multiplicity—of the order of the group. So the result follows immediately from the fundamental theorem of arithmetic.

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Filed under Algebra, Number theory