# Pursued By Stacks 4: Fiber Products

18 May 2022

Okay, we’re closing in on the definition of a geometric stack over \(\mathbf{Top}\).
Actually, the nLab tells me such stacks are called *topological,* so I’ll try and say that.
But! Before we get there, we need the construction
of the 2-fiber product of categories fibered in groupoids over \(\mathbf{Top}\).
The purpose of this post is to discuss this construction, which I think is adorable.
I cannot shake the feeling that I’ve talked through the 2-fiber product of categories
before, but I have no idea where or why I might have done this
except possibly the last time I tried to learn about stacks.

Friends of the blog will recall the categorical definition of a pullback.
This notion makes sense for categories (after all, categories assemble into a category),
but because of the existence of natural transformations, the universal property looks
a little bit different.
Namely, suppose we have three categories \(\mathsf{C}\), \(\mathsf{D}\) and \(\mathsf{E}\)
and two functors \(F\colon \mathsf{C} \to \mathsf{E}\) and \(G\colon \mathsf{D} \to \mathsf{E}\).
The *2-fiber product* \(\mathsf{C}\times_{\mathsf{E}} \mathsf{D}\) makes the following diagram
commute

up to natural isomorphism \(\eta\colon F\pi_1 \Rightarrow G\pi_2\)
and is *universal* for this property in the following slightly complicated sense.
Given any category \(\mathsf{X}\), maps \(H\colon \mathsf{X} \to \mathsf{C}\)
and \(K\colon \mathsf{X} \to \mathsf{D}\)
with a natural isomorphism \(\epsilon \colon FH \Rightarrow GK\),
there is a functor \(P\colon\mathsf{X} \to \mathsf{C}\times_{\mathsf{E}}\mathsf{D}\)
and natural isomorphisms \(\alpha\colon H \Rightarrow \pi_1P\)
and \(\beta\colon K\Rightarrow \pi_2P\)
with the property that \((G\beta)^{-1} \circ \eta P \circ F\alpha = \epsilon\).
This is summarized in the following diagram.

Given another functor \(Q\colon \mathsf{X} \to \mathsf{C}\times_{\mathsf{E}}\mathsf{D}\) and natural isomorphisms \(\gamma\colon H\Rightarrow \pi_1Q\) and \(\delta\colon K \Rightarrow \pi_2Q\) as above, there exists a unique natural isomorphism \(\lambda \colon P \Rightarrow Q\) with the property that \(\pi_1\lambda \colon \pi_1P \Rightarrow \pi_1Q\) equals \(\gamma\circ\alpha^{-1}\) and \(\pi_2\lambda = \delta\circ\beta^{-1}\).

In the case of categories fibered in groupoids over \(\mathbf{Top}\), the 2-fiber product has the following definition. Objects of \(\mathsf{C}\times_{\mathsf{E}} \mathsf{D}\) are triples \((c,d,\alpha)\), where \(c \in \mathsf{C}\) and \(d \in \mathsf{D}\) are objects over the same space \(X\) and \(\alpha\colon F(c) \to G(d)\) is an arrow over the identity map of \(X\). Arrows of \(\mathsf{C}\times_{\mathsf{E}}\mathsf{D}\) are pairs of arrows \(u\colon c_1 \to c_2\) and \(v\colon d_1 \to d_2\) over the same map of spaces \(f\colon X \to Y\) with the property that the following diagram commutes in \(\mathsf{E}\)

\[\begin{CD} F(c_1) @>\alpha_1>> G(d_1) \\ @VVF(u)V @VVG(v)V \\ F(c_2) @>\alpha_2>> G(d_2). \end{CD}\]There is an obvious functor \(\pi\colon \mathsf{C}\times_{\mathsf{E}}\mathsf{D} \to \mathbf{Top}\) sending an object \((c,d,\alpha)\) to the space \(X\) that \(c\) and \(d\) are over and sending an arrow \((u,v)\) to the map \(f\colon X \to Y\) that \(u\) and \(v\) are over. We’d like to show that \(\mathsf{C}\times_{\mathsf{E}}\mathsf{D}\) is fibered in groupoids. Given an object \(\xi = (c,d,\alpha)\) over \(X\) and a map \(f\colon Y \to X\), we need a “pullback” \(f^*\xi\) over \(Y\). It would be simplest to define \(f^*\xi = (f^*c,f^*d,f^*\alpha)\), but we don’t necessarily have \(f^*F(c) = F(f^*c)\), merely that they are canonically isomorphic via an isomorphism \(\sigma_{F,f}\colon F(f^*c) \to f^*F(c)\) such that \(F(f_c) = f_{F(c)} \sigma_{F,f}\). So we will in fact define \(f^\xi = (f^*c, f^*d, \sigma_{G,f}^{-1} f^*\alpha \sigma_{F,f})\). The map \(f_\xi \colon f^*\xi \to \xi\) is the map \((f_c,f_d)\). We check

\[\alpha F(f_c) = \alpha f_{F(c)} \sigma_{F,f} = f_{G(d)} f^*\alpha \sigma_{F,f} = G(f_d) \sigma_{G,f}^{-1} f^*\alpha \sigma_{F,f},\]so this really does give a map \(f_\xi \colon f^*\xi \to \xi\).

Given a pair of arrows \((u_1,v_1)\colon (c_1,d_1,\alpha_1) \to (c,d,\alpha)\) and \((u_2,v_2)\colon (c_2,d_2,\alpha_2) \to (c,d,\alpha)\) over maps \(f \colon Y \to X\) and \(g\colon Z \to X\) such that there exists a map of spaces \(h\colon Y \to Z\) with \(gh = f\), we need a unique pair of maps \(h_{\mathsf{C}}\colon c_1 \to c_2\) and \(h_{\mathsf{D}}\colon d_1 \to d_2\) such that the relevant diagram commutes. But observe that because \(u_1\) and \(u_2\) are over \(f\) and \(g\), there does exist a unique map \(h_{\mathsf{C}}\colon c_1 \to c_2\) and similarly a unique map \(h_{\mathsf{D}}\colon d_1 \to d_2\) lifting the diagram \(gh = f\). We need to check that the following diagram commutes

\[\begin{CD} F(c_1) @>\alpha_1>> G(d_1) \\ @VVF(h_{\mathsf{C}})V @VVG(h_{\mathsf{D}})V \\ F(c_2) @>\alpha_2>> G(d_2). \end{CD}\]We will show this by the strategy from the last post: fitting both paths around the square into the vertical arrow in the following diagram

\[\begin{CD} F(c_1) @>\alpha F(u_1)>> G(d) \\ @VVV @| \\ G(d_2) @>G(v_2)>> G(d); \end{CD}\]uniqueness then assures equality of the paths around the square. We have

\[\alpha F(u_1) = G(v_1)\alpha_1 = G(v_2)G(h_{\mathsf{D}})\alpha_1.\]On the other hand we have

\[\alpha F(u_1) = \alpha F(u_2)F(h_{\mathsf{C}}) = G(v_2) \alpha_2 F(h_{\mathsf{C}}),\]how satisfying! This shows that the 2-fiber product really is fibered in groupoids.

On the other hand, we have obvious projections \(\mathsf{C}\times_{\mathsf{E}}\mathsf{D}\) to \(\mathsf{C}\) and \(\mathsf{D}\). Call these \(\pi_1\) and \(\pi_2\). We do not quite have \(F\pi_1 = G\pi_2\), merely that there is a natural isomorphism \(\eta\colon F\pi_1 \Rightarrow G\pi_2\) defined by \(\eta(c,d,\alpha) = \alpha\)! Adorable, right? Showing that \(\eta\) really is natural is cute, but I’ll leave it to you.

By the way, are you still thinking vector bundles? I know I am; it’s helpful to pretend that there really is a projection from \(\xi \in \mathsf{C}\) down to the space \(X\) it is over.

## The universal property

I’d like to conclude this post by showing that the fiber product really has its universal property. Given a category \(\mathsf{X}\) fibered in groupoids over \(\mathbf{Top}\) with functors \(H \colon \mathsf{X} \to \mathsf{C}\) and \(K\colon \mathsf{X} \to \mathsf{D}\) and a natural isomorphism \(\epsilon\colon FH \Rightarrow GK\), the obvious functor \(P\) to \(\mathsf{C}\times_{\mathsf{E}}\mathsf{D}\) is defined on objects as \(x \mapsto (H(x),K(x),\epsilon(x))\) and on arrows \((u\colon x \to y) \mapsto (H(u),K(u))\). Naturality of \(\epsilon\) assures that this is really a functor. In this case, the isomorphisms \(\alpha\colon H \Rightarrow \pi_1P\) and \(\beta\colon K \Rightarrow \pi_2P\) are the identity: these diagrams commute on the nose. Now suppose we have another functor \(Q\colon \mathsf{X} \to \mathsf{C}\times_{\mathsf{E}}\mathsf{D}\) and natural isomorphisms \(\gamma \colon H \Rightarrow \pi_1Q\) and \(\delta\colon K \Rightarrow \pi_2Q\). Define \(\lambda \colon P \Rightarrow Q\) by the rule \(\lambda(x) = (\gamma(x),\delta(x))\colon (H(x),K(x),\epsilon(x)) \to Q(x)\). We write \(Q(x) = (c,d,\alpha)\). We need the following diagram to commute

\[\begin{CD} FH(x) @>\epsilon(x)>> GK(x) \\ @VVF\gamma(x)V @VVG\delta(x)V \\ F(c) @>\alpha>> G(d). \end{CD}\]But this is exactly the condition at \(x\) for the equality \((G\delta)^{-1}\eta Q F\gamma = \epsilon\), so \(\lambda(x)\) really defines an arrow. Given an arrow \(u\colon x \to y\) in \(\mathsf{X}\), we need to check naturality:

\[\begin{CD} (H(x),K(x),\epsilon(x)) @>\lambda(x)>> Q(x) \\ @VV(H(u),K(u))V @VVQ(u)V \\ (H(y),K(y),\epsilon(y)) @>\lambda(y)>> Q(y). \end{CD}\]This is true in each factor, for example in \(\mathsf{C}\) we have \(\pi_1 Q(u) \gamma(x) = \gamma(y) H(u)\). Therefore both paths around the square give equal arrows. It is clear from the construction that \(\lambda\) is unique.