A prime number (or a prime) is a natural number greater than 1 that has no positive divisors other than 1 and itself. A natural number greater than 1 that is not a prime number is called a composite number. For example, 5 is prime because only 1 and 5 evenly divide it, whereas 6 is composite because it has the divisors 2 and 3 in addition to 1 and 6. The fundamental theorem of arithmetic establishes the central role of primes in number theory: any integer greater than 1 can be expressed as a product of primes that is unique up to ordering. The uniqueness in this theorem requires excluding 1 as a prime because one can include arbitrarily many copies of 1 in any factorization, e.g., 3, 1 × 3, 1 × 1 × 3, etc. are all valid factorizations of 3.
The property of being prime is called primality. A simple but slow method of verifying the primality of a given number n is known as trial division. It consists of testing whether n is a multiple of any integer between 2 and . Algorithms that are much more efficient than trial division have been devised to test the primality of large numbers. Particularly fast methods are available for numbers of special forms, such as Mersenne numbers. As of February 2013 , the largest known prime number has 17,425,170 decimal digits.
There are infinitely many primes, as demonstrated by Euclid around 300 BC. There is no known useful formula that sets apart all of the prime numbers from composites. However, the distribution of primes, that is to say, the statistical behaviour of primes in the large, can be modeled. The first result in that direction is the prime number theorem, proven at the end of the 19th century, which says that the probability that a given, randomly chosen number n is prime is inversely proportional to its number of digits, or to the logarithm of n.
Many questions around prime numbers remain open, such as Goldbach's conjecture, which proposes that every even integer greater than 2 can be expressed as the sum of two primes, and the twin prime conjecture, which says that there are infinitely many pairs of primes whose difference is 2. Such questions spurred the development of various branches of number theory, focusing on analytic or algebraic aspects of numbers. Primes are used in several routines in information technology, such as public-key cryptography, which makes use of properties such as the difficulty of factoring large numbers into their prime factors. Prime numbers give rise to various generalizations in other mathematical domains, mainly algebra, such as prime elements and prime ideals.
Definition and examples [
A natural number (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc.) is called a prime or a prime number if it has exactly two positive divisors, 1 and the number itself. Natural numbers greater than 1 that are not prime are called composite.
The number 12 is not a prime, as 12 items can be placed into 3 equal-size columns of 4 each (among other ways). 11 items cannot be all placed into several equal-size columns of more than 1 item each without some extra items leftover (a remainder). Therefore the number 11 is a prime.
Among the numbers 1 to 6, the numbers 2, 3, and 5 are the prime numbers, while 1, 4, and 6 are not prime. 1 is excluded as a prime number, for reasons explained below. 2 is a prime number, since the only natural numbers dividing it are 1 and 2. Next, 3 is prime, too: 1 and 3 do divide 3 without remainder, but 3 divided by 2 gives remainder 1. Thus, 3 is prime. However, 4 is composite, since 2 is another number (in addition to 1 and 4) dividing 4 without remainder:
- 4 = 2 · 2.
5 is again prime: none of the numbers 2, 3, or 4 divide 5. Next, 6 is divisible by 2 or 3, since
- 6 = 2 · 3.
Hence, 6 is not prime. The image at the right illustrates that 12 is not prime: 12 = 3 · 4. No even number greater than 2 is prime because by definition, any such number n has at least three distinct divisors, namely 1, 2, and n. This implies that n is not prime. Accordingly, the term odd prime refers to any prime number greater than 2. In a similar vein, all prime numbers bigger than 5, written in the usual decimal system, end in 1, 3, 7, or 9, since even numbers are multiples of 2 and numbers ending in 0 or 5 are multiples of 5.
If n is a natural number, then 1 and n divide n without remainder. Therefore, the condition of being a prime can also be restated as: a number is prime if it is greater than one and if none of
- 2, 3, ..., n − 1
divides n (without remainder). Yet another way to say the same is: a number n > 1 is prime if it cannot be written as a product of two integers a and b, both of which are larger than 1:
- n = a · b.
In other words, n is prime if n items cannot be divided up into smaller equal-size groups of more than one item.
The smallest 168 prime numbers (all the prime numbers under 1000) are:
- 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97, 101, 103, 107, 109, 113, 127, 131, 137, 139, 149, 151, 157, 163, 167, 173, 179, 181, 191, 193, 197, 199, 211, 223, 227, 229, 233, 239, 241, 251, 257, 263, 269, 271, 277, 281, 283, 293, 307, 311, 313, 317, 331, 337, 347, 349, 353, 359, 367, 373, 379, 383, 389, 397, 401, 409, 419, 421, 431, 433, 439, 443, 449, 457, 461, 463, 467, 479, 487, 491, 499, 503, 509, 521, 523, 541, 547, 557, 563, 569, 571, 577, 587, 593, 599, 601, 607, 613, 617, 619, 631, 641, 643, 647, 653, 659, 661, 673, 677, 683, 691, 701, 709, 719, 727, 733, 739, 743, 751, 757, 761, 769, 773, 787, 797, 809, 811, 821, 823, 827, 829, 839, 853, 857, 859, 863, 877, 881, 883, 887, 907, 911, 919, 929, 937, 941, 947, 953, 967, 971, 977, 983, 991, 997 (sequence A000040 in OEIS).
The set of all primes is often denoted P.
Fundamental theorem of arithmetic [
The crucial importance of prime numbers to number theory and mathematics in general stems from the fundamental theorem of arithmetic, which states that every positive integer larger than 1 can be written as a product of one or more primes in a way that is unique except for the order of the prime factors. Primes can thus be considered the “basic building blocks” of the natural numbers. For example:
||= 2 · 2 · 3 · 13 · 149
||= 22 · 3 · 13 · 149. (22 denotes the square or second power of 2.)
As in this example, the same prime factor may occur multiple times. A decomposition:
- n = p1 · p2 · ... · pt
of a number n into (finitely many) prime factors p1, p2, ... to pt is called prime factorization of n. The fundamental theorem of arithmetic can be rephrased so as to say that any factorization into primes will be identical except for the order of the factors. So, albeit there are many prime factorization algorithms to do this in practice for larger numbers, they all have to yield the same result.
If p is a prime number and p divides a product ab of integers, then p divides a or p divides b. This proposition is known as Euclid's lemma. It is used in some proofs of the uniqueness of prime factorizations.
Primality of one [
Most early Greeks did not even consider 1 to be a number, and so they did not consider it a prime. In the 19th century however, many mathematicians did consider the number 1 a prime. For example, Derrick Norman Lehmer's list of primes up to 10,006,721, reprinted as late as 1956, started with 1 as its first prime. Henri Lebesgue is said to be the last professional mathematician to call 1 prime. Although a large body of mathematical work is also valid when calling 1 a prime, the above fundamental theorem of arithmetic does not hold as stated. For example, the number 15 can be factored as 3 · 5 or 1 · 3 · 5. If 1 were admitted as a prime, these two presentations would be considered different factorizations of 15 into prime numbers, so the statement of that theorem would have to be modified. Furthermore, the prime numbers have several properties that the number 1 lacks, such as the relationship of the number to its corresponding value of Euler's totient function or the sum of divisors function.
There are hints in the surviving records of the ancient Egyptians that they had some knowledge of prime numbers: the Egyptian fraction expansions in the Rhind papyrus, for instance, have quite different forms for primes and for composites. However, the earliest surviving records of the explicit study of prime numbers come from the Ancient Greeks. Euclid's Elements (circa 300 BC) contain important theorems about primes, including the infinitude of primes and the fundamental theorem of arithmetic. Euclid also showed how to construct a perfect number from a Mersenne prime. The Sieve of Eratosthenes, attributed to Eratosthenes, is a simple method to compute primes, although the large primes found today with computers are not generated this way.
After the Greeks, little happened with the study of prime numbers until the 17th century. In 1640 Pierre de Fermat stated (without proof) Fermat's little theorem (later proved by Leibniz and Euler). Fermat conjectured that all numbers of the form 22n + 1 are prime (they are called Fermat numbers) and he verified this up to n = 4 (or 216 + 1). However, the very next Fermat number 232 + 1 is composite (one of its prime factors is 641), as Euler discovered later, and in fact no further Fermat numbers are known to be prime. The French monk Marin Mersenne looked at primes of the form 2p − 1, with p a prime. They are called Mersenne primes in his honor.
Euler's work in number theory included many results about primes. He showed the infinite series 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/5 + 1/7 + 1/11 + … is divergent. In 1747 he showed that the even perfect numbers are precisely the integers of the form 2p−1(2p − 1), where the second factor is a Mersenne prime.
At the start of the 19th century, Legendre and Gauss independently conjectured that as x tends to infinity, the number of primes up to x is asymptotic to x/ln(x), where ln(x) is the natural logarithm of x. Ideas of Riemann in his 1859 paper on the zeta-function sketched a program that would lead to a proof of the prime number theorem. This outline was completed by Hadamard and de la Vallée Poussin, who independently proved the prime number theorem in 1896.
Proving a number is prime is not done (for large numbers) by trial division. Many mathematicians have worked on primality tests for large numbers, often restricted to specific number forms. This includes Pépin's test for Fermat numbers (1877), Proth's theorem (around 1878), the Lucas–Lehmer primality test (originated 1856), and the generalized Lucas primality test. More recent algorithms like APRT-CL, ECPP, and AKS work on arbitrary numbers but remain much slower.
For a long time, prime numbers were thought to have extremely limited application outside of pure mathematics; this changed in the 1970s when the concepts of public-key cryptography were invented, in which prime numbers formed the basis of the first algorithms such as the RSA cryptosystem algorithm.
Since 1951 all the largest known primes have been found by computers. The search for ever larger primes has generated interest outside mathematical circles. The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search and other distributed computing projects to find large primes have become popular in the last ten to fifteen years, while mathematicians continue to struggle with the theory of primes.
Number of prime numbers [
There are infinitely many prime numbers. Another way of saying this is that the sequence
- 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, ...
of prime numbers never ends. This statement is referred to as Euclid's theorem in honor of the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid, since the first known proof for this statement is attributed to him. Many more proofs of the infinitude of primes are known, including an analytical proof by Euler, Goldbach's proof based on Fermat numbers, Furstenberg's proof using general topology, and Kummer's elegant proof.
Euclid's proof [
Euclid's proof (Book IX, Proposition 20) considers any finite set S of primes. The key idea is to consider the product of all these numbers plus one:
Like any other natural number, N is divisible by at least one prime number (it is possible that N itself is prime).
None of the primes by which N is divisible can be members of the finite set S of primes with which we started, because dividing N by any one of these leaves a remainder of 1. Therefore the primes by which N is divisible are additional primes beyond the ones we started with. Thus any finite set of primes can be extended to a larger finite set of primes.
It is often erroneously reported that Euclid begins with the assumption that the set initially considered contains all prime numbers, leading to a contradiction, or that it contains precisely the n smallest primes rather than any arbitrary finite set of primes. Today, the product of the smallest n primes plus 1 is conventionally called the nth Euclid number.
Euler's analytical proof [
Euler's proof uses the sum of the reciprocals of primes,
This sum becomes bigger than any arbitrary real number provided that p is big enough. This shows that there are infinitely many primes, since otherwise this sum would grow only until the biggest prime p is reached. The growth of S(p) is quantified by Mertens' second theorem. For comparison, the sum
does not grow to infinity as n goes to infinity. In this sense, prime numbers occur more often than squares of natural numbers. Brun's theorem states that the sum of the reciprocals of twin primes,
Testing primality and integer factorization [
There are various methods to determine whether a given number n is prime. The most basic routine, trial division, is of little practical use because of its slowness. One group of modern primality tests is applicable to arbitrary numbers, while more efficient tests are available for particular numbers. Most such methods only tell whether n is prime or not. Routines also yielding one (or all) prime factors of n are called factorization algorithms.
Trial division [
The most basic method of checking the primality of a given integer n is called trial division. This routine consists of dividing n by each integer m that is greater than 1 and less than or equal to the square root of n. If the result of any of these divisions is an integer, then n is not a prime, otherwise it is a prime. Indeed, if is composite (with a and b ≠ 1) then one of the factors a or b is necessarily at most . For example, for , the trial divisions are by m = 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. None of these numbers divides 37, so 37 is prime. This routine can be implemented more efficiently if a complete list of primes up to is known—then trial divisions need to be checked only for those m that are prime. For example, to check the primality of 37, only three divisions are necessary (m = 2, 3, and 5), given that 4 and 6 are composite.
While a simple method, trial division quickly becomes impractical for testing large integers because the number of possible factors grows too rapidly as n increases. According to the prime number theorem explained below, the number of prime numbers less than is approximately given by , so the algorithm may need up to this number of trial divisions to check the primality of n. For n = 1020, this number is 450 million—too large for many practical applications.
An algorithm yielding all primes up to a given limit, such as required in the trial division method, is called a prime number sieve. The oldest example, the sieve of Eratosthenes (see above) is useful for relatively small primes. The modern sieve of Atkin is more complicated, but faster when properly optimized. Before the advent of computers, lists of primes up to bounds like 107 were also used.
Primality testing versus primality proving [
Modern primality tests for general numbers n can be divided into two main classes, probabilistic (or "Monte Carlo") and deterministic algorithms. The former merely "test" whether n is prime in the sense that they declare n to be (definitely) composite or "probably prime", the latter meaning that n may or may not be a prime number. Composite numbers that do pass a given primality test are referred to as pseudoprimes. For example, Fermat's primality test relies on Fermat's little theorem. This theorem says that for any prime number p and any integer a not divisible by p, ap − 1 − 1 is divisible by p. Thus, if an − 1 − 1 is not divisible by n, n cannot be prime. However, n may be composite even if this divisibility holds. In fact, there are infinitely many composite numbers n that pass the Fermat primality test for every choice of a that is coprime with n (Carmichael numbers), for example n = 561.
Deterministic algorithms do not erroneously report composite numbers as prime. In practice, the fastest such method is known as elliptic curve primality proving. Analyzing its run time is based on heuristic arguments, as opposed to the rigorously proven complexity of the more recent AKS primality test. Deterministic methods are typically slower than probabilistic ones, so the latter ones are typically applied first before a more time-consuming deterministic routine is employed.
The following table lists a number of prime tests. The running time is given in terms of n, the number to be tested and, for probabilistic algorithms, the number k of tests performed. Moreover, ε is an arbitrarily small positive number, and log is the logarithm to an unspecified base. The big O notation means that, for example, elliptic curve primality proving requires a time that is bounded by a factor (not depending on n, but on ε) times log5+ε(n).
Special-purpose algorithms and the largest known prime [
Construction of a regular pentagon. 5 is a Fermat prime.
In addition to the aforementioned tests applying to any natural number n, a number of much more efficient primality tests is available for special numbers. For example, to run Lucas' primality test requires the knowledge of the prime factors of n − 1, while the Lucas–Lehmer primality test needs the prime factors of n + 1 as input. For example, these tests can be applied to check whether
- n! ± 1 = 1 · 2 · 3 · ... · n ± 1
are prime. Prime numbers of this form are known as factorial primes. Other primes where either p + 1 or p − 1 is of a particular shape include the Sophie Germain primes (primes of the form 2p + 1 with p prime), primorial primes, Fermat primes and Mersenne primes, that is, prime numbers that are of the form 2p − 1, where p is an arbitrary prime. The Lucas–Lehmer test is particularly fast for numbers of this form. This is why the largest known prime has almost always been a Mersenne prime since the dawn of electronic computers.
Fermat primes are of the form
- Fk = 22k + 1,
with k an arbitrary natural number. They are named after Pierre de Fermat who conjectured that all such numbers Fk are prime. This was based on the evidence of the first five numbers in this series—3, 5, 17, 257, and 65,537—being prime. However, F5 is composite and so are all other Fermat numbers that have been verified as of 2011. A regular n-gon is constructible using straightedge and compass if and only if
- n = 2i · m
where m is a product of any number of distinct Fermat primes and i is any natural number, including zero.
The following table gives the largest known primes of the mentioned types. Some of these primes have been found using distributed computing. In 2009, the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search project was awarded a US$100,000 prize for first discovering a prime with at least 10 million digits. The Electronic Frontier Foundation also offers $150,000 and $250,000 for primes with at least 100 million digits and 1 billion digits, respectively. Some of the largest primes not known to have any particular form (that is, no simple formula such as that of Mersenne primes) have been found by taking a piece of semi-random binary data, converting it to a number n, multiplying it by 256k for some positive integer k, and searching for possible primes within the interval [256kn + 1, 256k(n + 1) − 1].
||Number of decimal digits
||257,885,161 − 1
||January 25, 2013
||Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search
|not a Mersenne prime (Proth number)
||19,249 × 213,018,586 + 1
||March 26, 2007
||Seventeen or Bust
||150209! + 1
||1098133# - 1
||3756801695685 × 2666669 ± 1
Integer factorization [
Given a composite integer n, the task of providing one (or all) prime factors is referred to as factorization of n. Elliptic curve factorization is an algorithm relying on arithmetic on an elliptic curve.
In 1975, number theorist Don Zagier commented that primes both
||grow like weeds among the natural numbers, seeming to obey no other law than that of chance [but also] exhibit stunning regularity [and] that there are laws governing their behavior, and that they obey these laws with almost military precision.
The distribution of primes in the large, such as the question how many primes are smaller than a given, large threshold, is described by the prime number theorem, but no efficient formula for the n-th prime is known.
There are arbitrarily long sequences of consecutive non-primes, as for every positive integer the consecutive integers from to (inclusive) are all composite (as is divisible by for between and ).
Dirichlet's theorem on arithmetic progressions, in its basic form, asserts that linear polynomials
with coprime integers a and b take infinitely many prime values. Stronger forms of the theorem state that the sum of the reciprocals of these prime values diverges, and that different such polynomials with the same b have approximately the same proportions of primes.
The corresponding question for quadratic polynomials is less well-understood.
Formulas for primes [
There is no known efficient formula for primes. For example, Mills' theorem and a theorem of Wright assert that there are real constants A>1 and μ such that
are prime for any natural number n. Here represents the floor function, i.e., largest integer not greater than the number in question. The latter formula can be shown using Bertrand's postulate (proven first by Chebyshev), which states that there always exists at least one prime number p with n < p < 2n − 2, for any natural number n > 3. However, computing A or μ requires the knowledge of infinitely many primes to begin with. Another formula is based on Wilson's theorem and generates the number 2 many times and all other primes exactly once.
There is no non-constant polynomial, even in several variables, that takes only prime values. However, there is a set of Diophantine equations in 9 variables and one parameter with the following property: the parameter is prime if and only if the resulting system of equations has a solution over the natural numbers. This can be used to obtain a single formula with the property that all its positive values are prime.
Number of prime numbers below a given number [
A chart depicting π(n
) (blue), n
/ ln (n
) (green) and Li(n
The prime counting function π(n) is defined as the number of primes up to n. For example π(11) = 5, since there are five primes less than or equal to 11. There are known algorithms to compute exact values of π(n) faster than it would be possible to compute each prime up to n. The prime number theorem states that π(n) is approximately given by
in the sense that the ratio of π(n) and the right hand fraction approaches 1 when n grows to infinity. This implies that the likelihood that a number less than n is prime is (approximately) inversely proportional to the number of digits in n. A more accurate estimate for π(n) is given by the offset logarithmic integral
The prime number theorem also implies estimates for the size of the n-th prime number pn (i.e., p1 = 2, p2 = 3, etc.): up to a bounded factor, pn grows like n log(n). In particular, the prime gaps, i.e. the differences pn − pn−1 of two consecutive primes, become arbitrarily large. This latter statement can also be seen in a more elementary way by noting that thee sequence n! + 2, n! + 3, …, n! + n (fSource: this wikipedia article, under CC-BY-SA.