Definite integral example
A definite integral of a function can be represented as the signed area of the region bounded by its graph.

In mathematics, an integral assigns numbers to functions in a way that can describe displacement, area, volume, and other concepts that arise by combining infinitesimal data. Integration is one of the two main operations of calculus, with its inverse operation, differentiation, being the other. Given a function f of a real variable x and an interval [a, b] of the real line, the definite integral

is defined informally as the signed area of the region in the xy-plane that is bounded by the graph of f, the x-axis and the vertical lines x = a and x = b. The area above the x-axis adds to the total and that below the x-axis subtracts from the total.

The operation of integration, up to an additive constant, is the inverse of the operation of differentiation. For this reason, the term integral may also refer to the related notion of the antiderivative, a function F whose derivative is the given function f. In this case, it is called an indefinite integral and is written:

The integrals discussed in this article are those termed definite integrals. It is the fundamental theorem of calculus that connects differentiation with the definite integral: if f is a continuous real-valued function defined on a closed interval [a, b], then, once an antiderivative F of f is known, the definite integral of f over that interval is given by

The principles of integration were formulated independently by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in the late 17th century, who thought of the integral as an infinite sum of rectangles of infinitesimal width. Bernhard Riemann gave a rigorous mathematical definition of integrals. It is based on a limiting procedure that approximates the area of a curvilinear region by breaking the region into thin vertical slabs. Beginning in the nineteenth century, more sophisticated notions of integrals began to appear, where the type of the function as well as the domain over which the integration is performed has been generalised. A line integral is defined for functions of two or more variables, and the interval of integration [a, b] is replaced by a curve connecting the two endpoints. In a surface integral, the curve is replaced by a piece of a surface in three-dimensional space.


Pre-calculus integration

The first documented systematic technique capable of determining integrals is the method of exhaustion of the ancient Greek astronomer Eudoxus (ca. 370 BC), which sought to find areas and volumes by breaking them up into an infinite number of divisions for which the area or volume was known. This method was further developed and employed by Archimedes in the 3rd century BC and used to calculate areas for parabolas and an approximation to the area of a circle.

A similar method was independently developed in China around the 3rd century AD by Liu Hui, who used it to find the area of the circle. This method was later used in the 5th century by Chinese father-and-son mathematicians Zu Chongzhi and Zu Geng to find the volume of a sphere (Shea 2007; Katz 2004, pp. 125–126).

The next significant advances in integral calculus did not begin to appear until the 17th century. At this time, the work of Cavalieri with his method of Indivisibles, and work by Fermat, began to lay the foundations of modern calculus, with Cavalieri computing the integrals of xn up to degree n = 9 in Cavalieri's quadrature formula. Further steps were made in the early 17th century by Barrow and Torricelli, who provided the first hints of a connection between integration and differentiation. Barrow provided the first proof of the fundamental theorem of calculus. Wallis generalized Cavalieri's method, computing integrals of x to a general power, including negative powers and fractional powers.

Newton and Leibniz

The major advance in integration came in the 17th century with the independent discovery of the fundamental theorem of calculus by Newton and Leibniz. The theorem demonstrates a connection between integration and differentiation. This connection, combined with the comparative ease of differentiation, can be exploited to calculate integrals. In particular, the fundamental theorem of calculus allows one to solve a much broader class of problems. Equal in importance is the comprehensive mathematical framework that both Newton and Leibniz developed. Given the name infinitesimal calculus, it allowed for precise analysis of functions within continuous domains. This framework eventually became modern calculus, whose notation for integrals is drawn directly from the work of Leibniz.


While Newton and Leibniz provided a systematic approach to integration, their work lacked a degree of rigour. Bishop Berkeley memorably attacked the vanishing increments used by Newton, calling them "ghosts of departed quantities". Calculus acquired a firmer footing with the development of limits. Integration was first rigorously formalized, using limits, by Riemann. Although all bounded piecewise continuous functions are Riemann-integrable on a bounded interval, subsequently more general functions were considered—particularly in the context of Fourier analysis—to which Riemann's definition does not apply, and Lebesgue formulated a different definition of integral, founded in measure theory (a subfield of real analysis). Other definitions of integral, extending Riemann's and Lebesgue's approaches, were proposed. These approaches based on the real number system are the ones most common today, but alternative approaches exist, such as a definition of integral as the standard part of an infinite Riemann sum, based on the hyperreal number system.

Historical notation

Isaac Newton used a small vertical bar above a variable to indicate integration, or placed the variable inside a box. The vertical bar was easily confused with .x or x, which are used to indicate differentiation, and the box notation was difficult for printers to reproduce, so these notations were not widely adopted.

The modern notation for the indefinite integral was introduced by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in 1675 (Burton 1988, p. 359; Leibniz 1899, p. 154). He adapted the integral symbol, , from the letter ſ (long s), standing for summa (written as ſumma; Latin for "sum" or "total"). The modern notation for the definite integral, with limits above and below the integral sign, was first used by Joseph Fourier in Mémoires of the French Academy around 1819–20, reprinted in his book of 1822 (Cajori 1929, pp. 249–250; Fourier 1822, §231).

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