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For both basic and advanced questions on polynomials in any number of variables, including, but not limited to solving for roots, factoring, and checking for irreducibility.

Usually, polynomials are introduced as expressions of the form $\sum_{i=0}^dc_ix^i$ such as $15x^3 - 14x^2 + 8$. Here, the numbers are called coefficients, the $x$'s are the variables or indeterminates of the polynomial, and $d$ is known as the degree of the polynomial. In general the coefficients may be taken from any ring $R$ and any finite number of variables is allowed. The set of all polynomials in $n$ variables $X_1,\ldots,X_n$ over a ring $R$ is denoted by $R[X_1,\ldots,X_n]$. Strictly speaking this is a formal sum, because the variables do not represent any value. Nevertheless, the variables of a polynomial obey the usual arithmetic laws in a ring (like commutativity and distributivity). This makes $R[X_1,\ldots,X_n]$ a ring itself. One should note that $R[X_1][X_2]=R[X_1,X_2]$. This idea can be extended to $R[X_1,\ldots,X_n]$ in a very natural way.

An expression of the form $rX_1^{i_1}X_2^{i_2}\cdots X_n^{i_n}$ ($r\in R$) is called a term (of the polynomial). Polynomials are defined to have only finitely many terms. An expression with infinitely many different terms is generally not considered to be a polynomial, but a (formal) power series in one or more variables.

When $P\in R[X]$, $P(x)$ is the evaluation of $P$ at $x$ (pronounced $P$ of $x$, or simply $Px$). Here $x$ does not necessarily have to be an element of $R$. For $P(x)$ to be properly defined for an $x$ in some ring $S$ we need:

  • a homomorphism $\phi:R\to S$
  • the image of all coefficients of $P$ under $\phi$ should commute with $x$.

Evaluation is now simply performed by replacing all coefficients $r_i$ of $P$ by $\phi(r_i)$ and all appearances of $X$ by $x$. This quite naturally gives an expression that is well defined as an element of $S$. The concept of evaluation is naturally extended to $R[X_1,\ldots,X_n]$.