Let $G$ a group and $H$ a normal subgroup of $G$. Consider the canonical surjection $\pi: G\longrightarrow G/H$. For all group $L$ and all homomorphism $\varphi:G\longrightarrow L$ such that $\varphi(h)=1_L$ for all $h\in H$, there is a unique homomorphism $\tilde\varphi: G/H\longrightarrow L$ such that $\tilde \varphi\circ \pi=\varphi$.

Could someone tell me in what this is a very important property ? I don't see any interest on this property.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The following link might be of interest to you, although it speaks in the language of categories: jeremykun.com/2013/05/24/universal-properties $\endgroup$
    – Tomas
    Oct 16, 2015 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ A specific case of this is the first isomorphism theorem, which is ubiquitous in mathematics. It is a way of converting a homomorphism into an isomorphism - and knowing whether two groups are isomorphic is very useful. $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2015 at 12:23

1 Answer 1


First of all, this universal property result answers a very natural question, namely the question of how the homomorphisms $G/H \to L$ look like. In fact, by the universal property, there is a one-to-one correspondence between the homomorphisms $G/H \to L$ and the homomorphisms $G \to L$ having $H$ in its kernel and this correspondence is given by composing with $\pi$.

Secondly, an object having a universal property is unique with this property up to isomorphy. In your case this means that if $\pi': G \to L'$ is a homomorphism with $H$ in its kernel and the property that for every $\varphi: G \to L$ which has $H$ in its kernel we have a factorization $\varphi = \varphi' \circ \pi'$ for a unique $\varphi': L' \to L$, then there exists an isomorphism $\psi : G/H \cong L'$ such that $\pi' = \psi \circ \pi$.

As an example of how this can be used, let us consider quotients of quotients. If $N$ is another normal subgroup of $G$ contained in $H$, then $H/N$ is normal in $G/N$ and we want to consider $(G/N)/(H/N)$ which comes equipped with a canonical map $\pi_H: G/N \to (G/N)/(H/N)$. Let $\varphi: G \to L$ be a map with $H$ in its kernel, then it also contains $N$ in its kernel and we get a factorization $\varphi = \varphi' \circ \pi_N$ for a unique $\varphi' : G/N \to L$ where $\pi_N : G \to G/N$ is the canonical projection. Now, the homomorphism $\varphi'$ has $H/N$ in its kernel (this follows from the above factorization), hence we get a unique $\varphi'' : (G/N)/(H/N) \to L$ with $\varphi'' \circ \pi_H = \varphi'$, thus $\varphi''$ is unique with $\varphi'' \circ (\pi_H \circ \pi_N) = \varphi$, so $(G/N)/(H/N)$ has the same universal property as $G/H$ (with respect to the morphism $\pi_H \circ \pi_N$), hence $G/H \cong (G/N)/(H/N)$. If you would show this without using the universal property you would have to define the isomorphism directly and show that it is well-defined (independent of the coset representative), a homomorphism etc. This is not that difficult. But in my opinion, the proof using the universal property also tells you why these groups are isomorphic the reason being that they satisfy the same universal property.


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