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Distributions (or generalized functions) are objects that generalize the classical notion of functions in mathematical analysis. Distributions make it possible to differentiate functions whose derivatives do not exist in the classical sense. In particular, any locally integrable function has a distributional derivative. Distributions are widely used in the theory of partial differential equations, where it may be easier to establish the existence of distributional solutions than classical solutions, or appropriate classical solutions may not exist. Distributions are also important in physics and engineering where many problems naturally lead to differential equations whose solutions or initial conditions are distributions, such as the Dirac delta function (which is historically called a "function" even though it is not considered a genuine function mathematically).

The practical use of distributions can be traced back to the use of Green functions in the 1830's to solve ordinary differential equations, but was not formalized until much later. According to {{#invoke:Footnotes | harvard_core }}, generalized functions originated in the work of on second-order hyperbolic partial differential equations, and the ideas were developed in somewhat extended form by Laurent Schwartz in the late 1940s. According to his autobiography, Schwartz introduced the term "distribution" by analogy with a distribution of electrical charge, possibly including not only point charges but also dipoles and so on. {{#invoke:Footnotes | harvard_core }} comments that although the ideas in the transformative book by {{#invoke:Footnotes | harvard_core }} were not entirely new, it was Schwartz's broad attack and conviction that distributions would be useful almost everywhere in analysis that made the difference.

The basic idea in distribution theory is to reinterpret functions as linear functionals acting on a space of test functions. Standard functions act by integration against a test function, but many other linear functionals do not arise in this way, and these are the "generalized functions". There are different possible choices for the space of test functions, leading to different spaces of distributions. The basic space of test function consists of smooth functions with compact support, leading to standard distributions. Use of the space of smooth, rapidly decreasing test functions gives instead the tempered distributions, which are important because they have a well-defined distributional Fourier transform. Every tempered distribution is a distribution in the normal sense, but the converse is not true: in general the larger the space of test functions, the more restrictive the notion of distribution. On the other hand, the use of spaces of analytic test functions leads to Sato's theory of hyperfunctions; this theory has a different character from the previous ones because there are no analytic functions with non-empty compact support.


Distribution (mathematics) sections
Intro   Basic idea    Test functions and distributions    Operations on distributions   Localization of distributions  [[Distribution_(mathematics)?section=_Tempered_distributions_and_Fourier_transform_{{safesubst:#invoke:anchor|main}}_| Tempered distributions and Fourier transform {{safesubst:#invoke:anchor|main}} ]]  Convolution  Distributions as derivatives of continuous functions   Using holomorphic functions as test functions    Problem of multiplication   See also  References  Further reading  

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