Circulant matrix

In linear algebra, a circulant matrix is a square matrix in which each row vector is rotated one element to the right relative to the preceding row vector. It is a particular kind of Toeplitz matrix.

In numerical analysis, circulant matrices are important because they are diagonalized by a discrete Fourier transform, and hence linear equations that contain them may be quickly solved using a fast Fourier transform.[1] They can be interpreted analytically as the integral kernel of a convolution operator on the cyclic group and hence frequently appear in formal descriptions of spatially invariant linear operations.

In cryptography, a circulant matrix is used in the MixColumns step of the Advanced Encryption Standard.


An   circulant matrix   takes the form


or the transpose of this form (by choice of notation).

A circulant matrix is fully specified by one vector,  , which appears as the first column (or row) of  . The remaining columns (and rows, resp.) of   are each cyclic permutations of the vector   with offset equal to the column (or row, resp.) index, if lines are indexed from 0 to  . (Cyclic permutation of rows has the same effect as cyclic permutation of columns.) The last row of   is the vector   in reverse order, and the remaining rows are each cyclic permutations of the last row.

Different sources define the circulant matrix in different ways, for example as above, or with the vector   corresponding to the first row rather than the first column of the matrix; and possibly with a different direction of shift (which is sometimes called an anti-circulant matrix).

The polynomial   is called the associated polynomial of matrix  .


Eigenvectors and eigenvaluesEdit

The normalized eigenvectors of a circulant matrix are the Fourier modes, namely,


where   are the  -th roots of unity and   is the imaginary unit. (This can be understood by realizing that a circulant matrix implements a convolution.)

The corresponding eigenvalues are then given by



As a consequence of the explicit formula for the eigenvalues above, the determinant of a circulant matrix can be computed as:


Since taking the transpose does not change the eigenvalues of a matrix, an equivalent formulation is



The rank of a circulant matrix   is equal to  , where   is the degree of  .[2]

Other propertiesEdit

  • We have
where   is the cyclic permutation matrix, given by
  • The set of   circulant matrices forms an  -dimensional vector space with respect to their standard addition and scalar multiplication. This space can be interpreted as the space of functions on the cyclic group of order n,  , or equivalently as the group ring of  .
  • Circulant matrices form a commutative algebra, since for any two given circulant matrices   and  , the sum   is circulant, the product   is circulant, and  .
  • The matrix   that is composed of the eigenvectors of a circulant matrix is related to the discrete Fourier transform and its inverse transform:
Consequently the matrix   diagonalizes  . In fact, we have
where   is the first column of  . The eigenvalues of   are given by the product  . This product can be readily calculated by a fast Fourier transform.[3]
  • Let   be the (monic) characteristic polynomial of an   circulant matrix  , and let   be the derivative of  . Then the polynomial   is the characteristic polynomial of the following   submatrix of  :

(see[4] for proof).

Analytic interpretationEdit

Circulant matrices can be interpreted geometrically, which explains the connection with the discrete Fourier transform.

Consider vectors in   as functions on the integers with period  , (i.e., as periodic bi-infinite sequences:  ) or equivalently, as functions on the cyclic group of order   (  or  ) geometrically, on (the vertices of) the regular  -gon: this is a discrete analog to periodic functions on the real line or circle.

Then, from the perspective of operator theory, a circulant matrix is the kernel of a discrete integral transform, namely the convolution operator for the function  ; this is a discrete circular convolution. The formula for the convolution of the functions   is

  (recall that the sequences are periodic)

which is the product of the vector   by the circulant matrix for  .

The discrete Fourier transform then converts convolution into multiplication, which in the matrix setting corresponds to diagonalization.

The  -algebra of all circulant matrices with complex entries is isomorphic to the group  -algebra of  .

Symmetric circulant matricesEdit

For a symmetric circulant matrix   one has the extra condition that  . Thus it is determined by   elements.


The eigenvalues of any real symmetric matrix are real. The corresponding eigenvalues become:


for   even, and


for odd  , where   denotes the real part of  . This can be further simplified by using the fact that  .

Complex symmetric circulant matricesEdit

The complex version of the circulant matrix, ubiquitous in communications theory, is usually Hermitian. In this case   and its determinant and all eigenvalues are real.

If n is even the first two rows necessarily takes the form


in which the first element   in the top second half-row is real.

If n is odd we get


Tee[5] has discussed constraints on the eigenvalues for the complex symmetric condition.


In linear equationsEdit

Given a matrix equation


where   is a circulant square matrix of size   we can write the equation as the circular convolution


where   is the first column of  , and the vectors  ,   and   are cyclically extended in each direction. Using the circular convolution theorem, we can use the discrete Fourier transform to transform the cyclic convolution into component-wise multiplication


so that


This algorithm is much faster than the standard Gaussian elimination, especially if a fast Fourier transform is used.

In graph theoryEdit

In graph theory, a graph or digraph whose adjacency matrix is circulant is called a circulant graph (or digraph). Equivalently, a graph is circulant if its automorphism group contains a full-length cycle. The Möbius ladders are examples of circulant graphs, as are the Paley graphs for fields of prime order.


  1. ^ Davis, Philip J., Circulant Matrices, Wiley, New York, 1970 ISBN 0471057711
  2. ^ A. W. Ingleton (1956). "The Rank of Circulant Matrices". J. London Math. Soc. s1-31 (4): 445–460. doi:10.1112/jlms/s1-31.4.445.
  3. ^ Golub, Gene H.; Van Loan, Charles F. (1996), "§4.7.7 Circulant Systems", Matrix Computations (3rd ed.), Johns Hopkins, ISBN 978-0-8018-5414-9
  4. ^ Kushel, Olga; Tyaglov, Mikhail (July 15, 2016), "Circulants and critical points of polynomials", Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications, 439 (2): 634–650, arXiv:1512.07983, doi:10.1016/j.jmaa.2016.03.005, ISSN 0022-247X
  5. ^ Tee, G J (2007). "Eigenvectors of Block Circulant and Alternating Circulant Matrices". New Zealand Journal of Mathematics. 36: 195–211.

External linksEdit