One of the goals of any theory of the structure of an algebraic system is to decompose the system into standard combinations of standard components; in the case of vector spaces the result is to express any vector as a linear combination of a certain number of basis vectors. However, a vector space represents the ultimate in uniformity; the typical decomposition in other systems may be neither as complete nor as uniform, but there are usually some vestiges of both a basis and of coefficients.

When the system has both a multiplication and an addition, these terms bearing their usual connotations with respect to things like the commutative and the distributive laws, the principal object of interest is the behaviour of products. If there is a subset, such as typically closed with respect to addition, and an entire set we may classify products according to which of these two sets contains them, particularly with respect to the source of the factors. The most notorious example of this relationship is the fact that the product of any factor with zero results in zero; the idea is to generalize the properties of zero.

The following table expresses the possible relationships:

Any subset which is simultaneously a left ideal and a right ideal is simply called an ideal; the set consisting entirely of zero is the prototypical ideal, but so also is the entire set .

In the case of regular expressions, Conway has explored these concepts directly, without making any reference either to ideals or to the general theory of semigroups from which the results might possibly be taken. In doing so he exploits a natural order which exists for regular expressions, or any system having the regular expression operators; namely

Zero is clearly a minimum element for this order; the goal is to
factorize any regular expression **E** as a product of other regular
expressions, but this may not be possible; thus one must work up to the
concept in stages. The first is to define a * trial factorization*
through the equation

and then define successively

- another trial factorization is
*dominant*if - any term is
*maximal*if it cannot be increased while keeping the product less than**E** - a
*factorization*is a trial factorization in which every term is maximal - any term of a factorization is a
*factor*, further characterized as*left*or*right*according to whether it occupies that position in some factorization

Amongst others, the canonical form of a regular expression provides trial factorizations whose terms are letters and derivatives. By taking further derivatives, trial factorizations may be developed with arbitrary words as leading terms. The point of starting with trial factorizations is the expectation that they can be promoted to factorizations by systematically increasing each of their terms.

In doing so we depend upon the fact that sums provide the route to
upper bounds. Thus if and , follows
readily from the definition of inequality; as long as we do not insist
that the result necessarily be a regular expression, the same
conclusion also holds for arbitrary sums. Consequently the maximal
element less than **E** is simply the sum of * all* the elements less
than

A product is linear in each of its terms individually, so replacing **G**
by summing the set

gives a new trial factorization dominating the first. Moreover the replacement does not spoil the maximality of any of the other terms; if a maximal term were increased, the distributive law shows that the expression which previously offended the inequality would still be present. Consequently trials can be refined one term at a time until they are finally factorizations.

Without further restriction, a factorization of **E** need not be unique;
the trial factorizations even less so. One such restriction is that all
terms but one be maximal; there is only one way the remaining term can
be refined, and that must produce the term itself if it were already
maximal. The concept of factor, defined as a maximal term, depends upon
the environment in which it is encountered, but the environment can be
reduced to a product of two terms for either a left or a right factor,
or three terms for an interior factor, by using the associative law to
consolidate the remaining terms.

Finally it is possible to conclude that, whatever the number of left factors, they are paired with unique right factors; thus they can be given a common index set reflecting this correspondence; let us call them and they all satisfy each of which is dominant. It is a temptation to combine them with each other. Thus we further define as the maximal solution to the trial factorization

dominating

Several special cases come to mind. Since , there must
be an index for which and
likewise an index **r** for which and
Finally, since we conclude

As for the **L**'s and **R**'s, note that by the definition of inequality,
so that making a trial factorization with maximal
terms---a factorization. Consequently and similarly
. Thus the 's can be arranged into a square
matrix, wherein the left factors form a certain row, the right factors
a certain column, and **E** lies at their intersection. The 's
in general behave like elementary matrices, satisfying the following
rules:

- [non-zero diagonal]
- [matrix basis]

One consequence of these rules is that by extending inequality elementwise to matrices, which implies that

Interesting as it may be, this discussion has so far been purely
theoretical, depending on maximizing through the formation of arbitrary
sums. Turning to the canonical representation and symbolic derivatives
it is possible to have more concrete results. Note that a right factor
of **E** is a maximal **R** satisfying in terms of words
belonging to **L** this means

The pairing between **L** and **R** is quite evident from the structure of
this formula. By building up the parallel theory of right derivatives,
a similar relationship can be created to express **L** in terms of
If it is found inconvenient to work with intersections, de Morgan's
rules for regular expressions can be invoked to obtain

using the notation that is the complement of **X,** which may
itself require some effort to obtain.

E-mail:mcintosh@servidor.unam.mx