Commutative algebra is the branch of abstract algebra that studies commutative rings, their ideals, and modules over such rings. Both algebraic geometry and algebraic number theory build on commutative algebra. Prominent examples of commutative rings include polynomial rings, rings of algebraic integers, including the ordinary integers \mathbb{Z}, and p-adic integers.

Commutative algebra is the main technical tool in the local study of schemes.

The study of rings which are not necessarily commutative is known as noncommutative algebra; it includes ring theory, representation theory, and the theory of Banach algebras.


The subject, first known as ideal theory, began with Richard Dedekind's work on ideals, itself based on the earlier work of Ernst Kummer and Leopold Kronecker. Later, David Hilbert introduced the term ring to generalize the earlier term number ring. Hilbert introduced a more abstract approach to replace the more concrete and computationally oriented methods grounded in such things as complex analysis and classical invariant theory. In turn, Hilbert strongly influenced Emmy Noether, to whom we owe much of the abstract and axiomatic approach to the subject. Another important milestone was the work of Hilbert's student Emanuel Lasker, who introduced primary ideals and proved the first version of the Lasker–Noether theorem.

Much of the modern development of commutative algebra emphasizes modules. Both ideals of a ring R and R-algebras are special cases of R-modules, so module theory encompasses both ideal theory and the theory of ring extensions. Though it was already incipient in Kronecker's work, the modern approach to commutative algebra using module theory is usually credited to Emmy Noether.

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