Fourier integral

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The non-discrete analogue of a Fourier series. The representation of a function given on a finite interval of the real axis by a Fourier series is very important. An analogous role is played by the representation of a function given on the whole axis by a Fourier integral:




The representation (1) can be constructed formally by assuming the existence of the described integrals. It is valid, for example, for a smooth function of compact support. There are a great number of tests guaranteeing equation (1) in some sense or other. The substitution of (2) into (1) gives the so-called Fourier integral formula


whose proof reduces to the tests mentioned above. It can be of great advantage to use the representation of by the simple Fourier integral

which is obtained from (3) by writing the inner integral as a limit over the interval and changing the order of integration. In applied sciences the representation (1) is often interpreted as expansion into harmonics: If

then (1) takes the form:

and thus is represented by a superposition of harmonics with frequencies which continuously fill the real semi-axis , while the amplitude and the initial phase depend on .

In many cases (in particular for complex-valued functions ) it is more convenient to present (1) in exponential form:




The function is called the Fourier transform of (in applied sciences is called the frequency characteristic or the spectrum of ).

Under the condition that the function is summable , the function is bounded, uniformly continuous on the real axis and as . The function need not be integrable and so the integral (4) need not exist. However, (4) admits a reasonable interpretation if methods of summing integrals are used (here one can consider not only pointwise convergence but also convergence in the mean). For example, the arithmetical means of the truncated Fourier integrals

of a summable function converge in the mean to almost-everywhere as . With additional restrictions on one can obtain more specific assertions. For example, if and has bounded variation in a neighbourhood of , then


In applications one often uses the representation

which is true for an absolutely-integrable function that is piecewise smooth in every finite interval, where the integral on the right-hand side is taken to mean the principal value (6). The Fourier integral is also studied when is assumed to be locally summable and with some hypotheses imposing restrictions on the behaviour of at . For example, let , , then


where the limit is understood to be convergence in the mean of order , (however, the limit in (7) also exists in the sense of convergence almost-everywhere). This result acquires a simple form when (see Plancherel theorem).

The theory of multiple Fourier integrals is constructed analogously when one discusses the expansion of a function given on an -dimensional space. The concept of the Fourier integral has been extended also to generalized functions.


[1] E.C. Titchmarsh, "Introduction to the theory of Fourier integrals" , Oxford Univ. Press (1948)
[2] S. Bochner, "Lectures on Fourier integrals" , Princeton Univ. Press (1959) (Translated from German)
[3] A. Zygmund, "Trigonometric series" , 2 , Cambridge Univ. Press (1988)
How to Cite This Entry:
Fourier integral. Encyclopedia of Mathematics. URL:
This article was adapted from an original article by P.I. Lizorkin (originator), which appeared in Encyclopedia of Mathematics - ISBN 1402006098. See original article