2 Étale Morphisms
We wish to define the notion of a “covering map” for arbitrary schemes. One way to think about covering maps is that they are local homeomorphisms plus some extra conditions. The notion of étale morphisms is the correct analogue of local homeomorphisms for schemes. In the next section, we will strengthen this to finite étale covers afterwards as an analogue of finite covering spaces, and prove that finite étale covers are exactly the “locally trivial” ones in a suitable sense.
We first give some examples of maps, and discuss why they should or should not be considered étale. Afterwards, we will write down the definition of étale.
Let , and the double cover given by squaring. Then this should not be étale, because it is ramified at and , where there is only one geometric point in the preimage.
Algebraically, if we localize at the point , then this is represented by the map that sends to , and in particular sends the maximal ideal to . Thus, as an extension of discrete valuation rings, this is ramified.
The inclusion of a proper closed subscheme should not be étale, because it is not a local homeomorphism. Alternatively, because it is not flat.
The inclusion of an open subscheme is étale, because it is locally a homeomorphism, but should not be a étale cover.
Finally, for our theory to describe Galois theory proper, we want
An extension of fields is an étale cover iff it is a finite separable extension.
Based on the geometric examples, the following definition is entirely reasonable.
A morphism is étale if it is flat and unramified.
Let be a morphism locally of finite type, and . Then the following are equivalent:
, and is a finite separable extension of .
is trivial at .
The diagonal morphism is an open immersion in a neighbourhood of .
If any (hence all) of these hold, we say is unramified at . We say is unramified if it is unramified at all .
(1) (2): Assuming (1), we consider the diagram
where the left-hand square is a pull-back by (1) and the right-hand square is a localization at a point in the total space. So they both preserve the differential. So is trivial at iff is trivial, iff is trivial by Nakayama, iff is finite separable.
To prove the converse, if is trivial at , then pulling back shows that has trivial Kähler differentials. So it suffices to show that if is a finite local -algebra, then iff is a finite separable extension of (which implies since is a field, hence is a maximal ideal).
By direct calculation, the result is true if for some , since the only interesting relation is . For general , use that if , then there is a surjection , and so taking to be the subalgebra generated by each , we see that every element is separable and invertible over .
Restricted to affine patches, is a closed immersion, and implies the (proper) ideal defining the image satisfies . By Nakayama, , so this is an open immersion as well. The converse is clear as well.
We also record the following immediate consequences:
Open immersions are étale.
Pullback of étale maps are étale.
Composition of étale maps are étale.
Étale morphisms satisfy fpqc descent.
if is fpqc (faithfully flat and quasi-compact, or fidélement plat et quasi-compact), then has property P iff does.
We quickly look at some examples. It is clear from definition that
An étale cover of a field is a disjoint union of finite separable extensions.
The following two theorems, which we shall not prove, characterize étale morphisms over smooth varieties, especially over . They are exactly what we would expect from the case of manifolds.
Let be a smooth variety over an algebraically closed field, and . Then is étale iff is a smooth variety and the derivative is an isomorphism for all .
Let be a smooth variety over . Then every finite covering space has the structure of a smooth variety.
The line with two origins is étale over under the obvious projection map.
Returning to general theory, recall that covering spaces satisfy the unique lifting property. The same is true for étale maps if we assume, of course, that our morphism is separated.
Let be a separated étale morphism. Then is an inclusion into a component.
Let be étale and separated, and be a connected scheme over . Suppose is a geometric point of and are morphisms such that . Then .