In mathematics, a category is an algebraic structure that comprises "objects" that are linked by "arrows". A category has two basic properties: the ability to compose the arrows associatively and the existence of an identity arrow for each object. A simple example is the category of sets, whose objects are sets and whose arrows are functions. On the other hand, any monoid can be understood as a special sort of category, and so can any preorder. In general, the objects and arrows may be abstract entities of any kind, and the notion of category provides a fundamental and abstract way to describe mathematical entities and their relationships. This is the central idea of category theory, a branch of mathematics which seeks to generalize all of mathematics in terms of objects and arrows, independent of what the objects and arrows represent. Virtually every branch of modern mathematics can be described in terms of categories, and doing so often reveals deep insights and similarities between seemingly different areas of mathematics. For more extensive motivational background and historical notes, see category theory and the list of category theory topics.

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