Normal bundle

For normal bundles in algebraic geometry, see normal cone.

In differential geometry, a field of mathematics, a normal bundle is a particular kind of vector bundle, complementary to the tangent bundle, and coming from an embedding (or immersion).


Riemannian manifold

Let be a Riemannian manifold, and a Riemannian submanifold. Define, for a given , a vector to be normal to whenever for all (so that is orthogonal to ). The set of all such is then called the normal space to at .

Just as the total space of the tangent bundle to a manifold is constructed from all tangent spaces to the manifold, the total space of the normal bundle to is defined as


The conormal bundle is defined as the dual bundle to the normal bundle. It can be realised naturally as a sub-bundle of the cotangent bundle.

General definition

More abstractly, given an immersion (for instance an embedding), one can define a normal bundle of N in M, by at each point of N, taking the quotient space of the tangent space on M by the tangent space on N. For a Riemannian manifold one can identify this quotient with the orthogonal complement, but in general one cannot (such a choice is equivalent to a section of the projection ).

Thus the normal bundle is in general a quotient of the tangent bundle of the ambient space restricted to the subspace.

Formally, the normal bundle to N in M is a quotient bundle of the tangent bundle on M: one has the short exact sequence of vector bundles on N:

where is the restriction of the tangent bundle on M to N (properly, the pullback of the tangent bundle on M to a vector bundle on N via the map ).

Stable normal bundle

Abstract manifolds have a canonical tangent bundle, but do not have a normal bundle: only an embedding (or immersion) of a manifold in another yields a normal bundle. However, since every compact manifold can be embedded in , by the Whitney embedding theorem, every manifold admits a normal bundle, given such an embedding.

There is in general no natural choice of embedding, but for a given M, any two embeddings in for sufficiently large N are regular homotopic, and hence induce the same normal bundle. The resulting class of normal bundles (it is a class of bundles and not a specific bundle because N could vary) is called the stable normal bundle.

Dual to tangent bundle

The normal bundle is dual to the tangent bundle in the sense of K-theory: by the above short exact sequence,

in the Grothendieck group. In case of an immersion in , the tangent bundle of the ambient space is trivial (since is contractible, hence parallelizable), so , and thus .

This is useful in the computation of characteristic classes, and allows one to prove lower bounds on immersibility and embeddability of manifolds in Euclidean space.

For symplectic manifolds

Suppose a manifold is embedded in to a symplectic manifold , such that the pullback of the symplectic form has constant rank on . Then one can define the symplectic normal bundle to X as the vector bundle over X with fibres

where denotes the embedding. Notice that the constant rank condition ensures that these normal spaces fit together to form a bundle. Furthermore, any fibre inherits the structure of a symplectic vector space.[1]

By Darboux's theorem, the constant rank embedding is locally determined by . The isomorphism

of symplectic vector bundles over implies that the symplectic normal bundle already determines the constant rank embedding locally. This feature is similar to the Riemannian case.


  1. Ralph Abraham and Jerrold E. Marsden, Foundations of Mechanics, (1978) Benjamin-Cummings, London ISBN 0-8053-0102-X
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