Waring problem

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2020 Mathematics Subject Classification: Primary: 11P05 [MSN][ZBL]

A problem in number theory formulated in 1770 by E. Waring in the following form: Any natural number is a sum of 4 squares, of 9 cubes and of 19 fourth-powers. In other words, for all $k\geq2$ there exists a $s=s(k)$, depending only on $k$, such that every natural number is the sum of $s$ $k$-th powers of non-negative integers. D. Hilbert in 1909 was the first to give a general solution of Waring's problem with a very rough estimate of the value of $s$ as a function of $k$; this is why the problem is sometimes known as the Hilbert–Waring problem. Let $J_{s,k}(N)$ be the number of solutions of the equation


in non-negative integers. Hilbert's theorem then states that there exists a $s=s(k)$ for which $J_{s,k}(N)\geq1$ for any $N\geq1$. G.H. Hardy and J.E. Littlewood, who applied the circle method to the Waring problem, demonstrated in 1928 that for $s\geq(k-2)2^{k-1}+5$ the value of $J_{s,k}(N)$ is given by an asymptotic formula of the type


where $A=A(N)\geq c_0>0$, while $c_0$ and $\gamma>0$ are constants. Consequently, if $N\geq N_0(k)$, equation \ref{war} has a solution.

An elementary proof of Waring's problem was given in 1942 by Yu. V. Linnik. There exist many different generalizations of Waring's problem (the variables run through a certain subset of the set of natural numbers; the number $N$ is represented by polynomials $f_1(x_1),\ldots,f_s(x_s)$ rather than by monomials $x_1^k,\ldots,x_s^k$; equation (1) is replaced by a congruence, etc.).

Research on Waring's problem has mainly focused on sharpening estimates for the following three questions:

  1. Find the smallest $s$ such that \ref{war} has solutions for all sufficiently large $N$;
  2. Find the smallest $s$ such that \ref{war} has solutions for all $N$;
  3. Find the smallest $s$ such that the number of solutions to \ref{war}, $J_{s,k}(N)$, is given by the asymptotic formula \ref{asym}.

These quantities are known as $G(k)$, $g(k)$, and $\tilde{G}(k)$ respectively. Clearly, $\tilde{G}(k)\geq G(k)$ and $g(k)\geq G(k)$. The progress on bounds for these quantities is detailed below.

Solvable for $N$ sufficiently large

Let $G(k)$ be the smallest integer such that equation \ref{war} is solvable for $s\geq G(k)$ and $N$ sufficiently large depending on $k$.

It is known that $G(k)\geq k+1$. It was proved in 1934 by I.M. Vinogradov, using his own method, that

$$G(k)\leq 3k(\ln k+9).$$

Moreover, many results are available concerning $G(k)$ for small values of $k$: $G(4)=16$ (H. Davenport, 1939); $G(3)=7$ (Yu.V. Linnik, 1942).

Solvable for all $N$

Let $g(k)$ be the smallest integer such that equation \ref{war} is solvable for $s\geq g(k)$ and $N\geq1$.

It was shown in 1936 by L. Dickson and S. Pillai, who also used the Vinogradov method, that


for all $k>6$ for which


The last condition was demonstrated in 1957 by K. Mahler for all sufficiently large $k$.

It is known that $g(2)=4$ (J.L. Lagrange, 1770), $g(3)=9$ (A. Wieferich, A. Kempner, 1912), $g(4)=19$ (R. Balusabramanian, J. Deshouillers, F. Dress, 1986), $g(5)=37$ (Chen-Jingrun, 1964). See also Circle method and [HaWr][Sh].

Asymptotic formula

Let $\tilde{G}(k)$ be the smallest integer such that the asymptotic formula \ref{asym} applies to $J_{s,k}(N)$ if $s\geq \tilde{G}(k)$. The result of Hardy and Littlewood mentioned above shows that


The first substantial improvement for large values of $k$ was obtained by Vinogradov, who showed that

$$\tilde{G}(k)\leq 4k^2\ln k.$$

The current best bound for large values of $k$ was obtained by Wooley who showed that

$$\tilde{G}(k)\leq 2k^2-k^{4/3}+O(k).$$


[De] B.N. Delone, "The St Petersburg school of number theory", Moscow-Leningrad (1947) (In Russian) Zbl 0033.10403 Translated, American Mathematical Society (2005) ISBN 0-8218-3457-6 Zbl 1074.11002
[Hu] L.-K. Hua, "Abschätzungen von Exponentialsummen und ihre Anwendung in der Zahlentheorie", Enzyklopaedie der Mathematischen Wissenschaften mit Einschluss ihrer Anwendungen, 1 : 2 (1959) (Heft 13, Teil 1)
[Kh] A.Ya. Khinchin, "Three pearls of number theory" , Graylock (1952) Translation from the second, revised Russian ed. [1948] Zbl 0048.27202 Reprinted Dover (2003) ISBN 0486400263
[Vi] I.M. Vinogradov, "Selected works", Springer (1985) (Translated from Russian)
[Vi2] I.M. Vinogradov, "The method of trigonometric sums in the theory of numbers", Interscience (1954) (Translated from Russian)
[HaWr] G.H. Hardy, E.M. Wright, "An introduction to the theory of numbers", Oxford Univ. Press (1979) pp. Chapt. 6
[Sh] D. Shanks, "Solved and unsolved problems in number theory", Chelsea, reprint (1978)
[Va] R.C. Vaughan, "The Hardy–Littlewood method", Cambridge Univ. Press (1981)
[Wo] T. D. Wooley, "Vinogradov's mean value theorem via efficient congruencing", Annals of Math. 175 (2012), 1575--1627.
How to Cite This Entry:
Waring problem. Encyclopedia of Mathematics. URL:
This article was adapted from an original article by A.A. Karatsuba (originator), which appeared in Encyclopedia of Mathematics - ISBN 1402006098. See original article