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The integral function

Consider an integrable function img and two numbers c and x in [a,b]. Then the integral img exists. If the number c is fixed, the integral depends on x.

If, for example,  f(x)=x the integral can be calculated by a simple geometrical method. You must only observe that the integral can be obtained by calculating areas of trapeziums or triangles, with the appropriate sign.

You always obtain: img. The result is a new function, that we call an integral function of f, and represent by F(x): img.

the integral function of f(x)=x

Observe, in the previous integral, that the variable x is used in two different places:

In order to avoid confusion, usually one writes the same integral using a different letter for the variable of the integrand function: img; in fact the variable of the integrand function is not important, and any letter works.

This is a new way to construct functions. In some cases, as the previous example shows, the new function can be obtained by elementary methods, but we'll see that in many other cases the new function is not an elementary one, so this is a completely new technique to construct functions.

Obviously you could have considered the integral bounds in reverse order, but the function you obtain is simple the opposite one: -F(x).

You can also consider the composition technique to obtain more functions; for example, slightly modifying the previous integral you have: img. A still more complex situation can be obtained, for example, as follows: img.


The function f must be integrable between c and x (or x and c, if   x is less than c). For example the function img, exists only for x>0, while the function img exists only for x<0.

Observe, in the example at the beginning of this page, that the derivative of F(x) is f(x), and the lower bound c of the integral is not important for this. We may write: img, whatever is the point c, provided the integral exists.

We give the following



Given an integrable function img and two numbers c and x in [a,b],  img is the integral function of f, with starting point c. Sometimes it will be useful to distinguish between integral functions with different starting points: in these cases we'll use the notation Fc(x), if c is the starting point.

This function plays a critical role in the theory of Riemann integrals.

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first published on january 07 2003 - last updated on september 01 2003