# Primitive polynomials of finite fields

there are two primitive polynomials which I can use to construct $GF(2^3)=GF(8)$:

$p_1(x) = x^3+x+1$

$p_2(x) = x^3+x^2+1$

$GF(8)$ created with $p_1(x)$:

0

1

$\alpha$

$\alpha^2$

$\alpha^3 = \alpha + 1$

$\alpha^4 = \alpha^3 \cdot \alpha=(\alpha+1) \cdot \alpha=\alpha^2+\alpha$

$\alpha^5 = \alpha^4 \cdot \alpha = (\alpha^2+\alpha) \cdot \alpha=\alpha^3 + \alpha^2 = \alpha^2 + \alpha + 1$

$\alpha^6 = \alpha^5 \cdot \alpha=(\alpha^2+\alpha+1) \cdot \alpha=\alpha^3+\alpha^2+\alpha=\alpha+1+\alpha^2+\alpha=\alpha^2+1$

$GF(8)$ created with $p_2(x)$:

0

1

$\alpha$

$\alpha^2$

$\alpha^3=\alpha^2+1$

$\alpha^4=\alpha \cdot \alpha^3=\alpha \cdot (\alpha^2+1)=\alpha^3+\alpha=\alpha^2+\alpha+1$

$\alpha^5=\alpha \cdot \alpha^4=\alpha \cdot(\alpha^2+\alpha+1) \cdot \alpha=\alpha^3+\alpha^2+\alpha=\alpha^2+1+\alpha^2+\alpha=\alpha+1$

$\alpha^6=\alpha \cdot (\alpha+1)=\alpha^2+\alpha$

So now let's say I want to add $\alpha^2 + \alpha^3$ in both fields. In field 1 I get $\alpha^2 + \alpha + 1$ and in field 2 I get $1$. Multiplication is the same in both fields ($\alpha^i \cdot \alpha^j = \alpha^{i+j\bmod(q-1)}$. So does it work so, that when some $GF(q)$ is constructed with different primitive polynomials then addition tables will vary and multiplication tables will be the same? Or maybe one of presented polynomials ($p_1(x), p_2(x)$) is not valid to construct field (altough both are primitive)?

• Good answers have been posted. I just emphasize one point. In your first field $\alpha$ was a root of the equation $\alpha^3=\alpha+1$. In the second $\alpha$ was a root of the equation $\alpha^3=\alpha^2+1$. So (as $\alpha$ cannot be 0 or 1) the two $\alpha$:s cannot mean the same thing! – Jyrki Lahtonen Jun 9 '11 at 19:23

• @tacos_tacos_tacos: It depends on the application. For hardware implementations, polynomials with few nonzero terms use fewer gates. For group theory and fields of order $p^{mn}$ it is nice if the polynomials chosen for $p^m$, $p^n$, and $p^{mn}$ satisfy certain compatibility conditions. For modular character theory, it is nice if everyone in the entire world uses exactly the same polynomials, so polynomials satisfying a somewhat arbitrary but reproducible condition are used. – Jack Schmidt Mar 26 '14 at 3:41
The generator $\alpha$ for your field with the first description cannot be equal to the generator $\beta$ for your field with the second description. An isomorphism between $\mathbb{F}_2(\alpha)$ and $\mathbb{F}_2(\beta)$ is given by taking $\alpha \mapsto \beta + 1$; you can check that $\beta + 1$ satisfies $p_1$ iff $\beta$ satisfies $p_2$.
The situation is not so different in a simpler context, the field of 5 elements, also known as the integers modulo 5. Whether $\alpha$ is $2$ or $3$, the field is $0,1,\alpha,\alpha^2,\alpha^3$, but whether $\alpha+\alpha+1=0$ depends on which $\alpha$ you choose.