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In mathematics, a **family**, or **indexed family**, is informally a collection of objects, each associated with an index from some index set. For example, a *family of real numbers, indexed by the set of integers* is a collection of real numbers, where a given function selects one real number for each integer (possibly the same).

More formally, an indexed family is a mathematical function together with its domain I and image X. Often the elements of the set X are referred to as making up the family. In this view, indexed families are interpreted as collections of indexed elements instead of functions. The set I is called the *index set* of the family, and X is the *indexed set*.

Sequences are one type of family indexed by the natural numbers. In general, the index set I is not restricted to be countable. For example, one could consider an uncountable family of subsets of the natural numbers indexed by the real numbers.

**Definition.** Let I and X be sets and f a function such that

where is an element of I and the image of under the function f is denoted by . For example, is denoted by . The symbol is used to indicate that is the element of X indexed by . The function f thus establishes a **family of elements in** X **indexed by** I, which is denoted by , or simply (*x _{i}*) if the index set is assumed to be known. Sometimes angle brackets or braces are used instead of parentheses, although the use of braces risks confusing indexed families with sets.

Functions and indexed families are formally equivalent, since any function *f* with a domain *I* induces a family (*f*(*i*))_{i∈I} and conversely. Being an element of a family is equivalent to being in the range of the corresponding function. In practice, however, a family is viewed as a collection, rather than a function.

Any set X gives rise to a family (*x _{x}*)

An indexed family defines a set , that is, the image of I under f. Since the mapping f is not required to be injective, there may exist with *i* ≠ *j* such that *x _{i}* =

For example, consider the following sentence:

The vectors

v_{1}, ...,v_{n}are linearly independent.

Here (*v*_{i})_{i ∈ {1, ..., n}} denotes a family of vectors. The i-th vector *v*_{i} only makes sense with respect to this family, as sets are unordered so there is no i-th vector of a set. Furthermore, linear independence is defined as a property of a collection; it therefore is important if those vectors are linearly independent as a set or as a family. For example, if we consider *n* = 2 and *v*_{1} = *v*_{2} = (1, 0) as the same vector, then the *set* of them consists of only one element (as a set is a collection of unordered distinct elements) and is linearly independent, but the family contains the same element twice (since indexed differently) and is linearly dependent (same vectors are linearly dependent).

Suppose a text states the following:

A square matrix

Ais invertible, if and only if the rows ofAare linearly independent.

As in the previous example, it is important that the rows of *A* are linearly independent as a family, not as a set. For example, consider the matrix

The *set* of the rows consists of a single element (1, 1) as a set is made of unique elements so it is linearly independent, but the matrix is not invertible as the matrix determinant is 0. On the other hands, the *family* of the rows contains two elements indexed differently such as the 1st row (1, 1) and the 2nd row (1,1) so it is linearly dependent. The statement is therefore correct if it refers to the family of rows, but wrong if it refers to the set of rows. (The statement is also correct when "the rows" is interpreted as referring to a multiset, in which the elements are also kept distinct but which lacks some of the structure of an indexed family.)

Let **n** be the finite set {1, 2, ..., *n*}, where n is a positive integer.

- An ordered pair (2-tuple) is a family indexed by the set of two elements,
**2**= {1, 2}; each element of the ordered pair is indexed by each element of the set**2**. - An n-tuple is a family indexed by the set
**n**. - An infinite sequence is a family indexed by the natural numbers.
- A list is an n-tuple for an unspecified n, or an infinite sequence.
- An
*n*×*m*matrix is a family indexed by the Cartesian product**n**×**m**which elements are ordered pairs, e.g., (2, 5) indexing the matrix element at the 2nd row and the 5th column. - A net is a family indexed by a directed set.

Index sets are often used in sums and other similar operations. For example, if (*a*_{i})_{i∈I} is an indexed family of numbers, the sum of all those numbers is denoted by

When (*A*_{i})_{i∈I} is a family of sets, the union of all those sets is denoted by

Likewise for intersections and Cartesian products.

An indexed family (*B*_{i})_{i∈J} is a **subfamily** of an indexed family (*A*_{i})_{i∈I}, if and only if J is a subset of I and *B _{i}* =

The analogous concept in category theory is called a **diagram**. A diagram is a functor giving rise to an indexed family of objects in a category * C*, indexed by another category

- Mathematical Society of Japan,
*Encyclopedic Dictionary of Mathematics*, 2nd edition, 2 vols., Kiyosi Itô (ed.), MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1993. Cited as EDM (volume).