This is a blog post on sheafification. I am broadly going to be following Ravi Vakil’s notes on the topic.

Sheafification is the process of taking a presheaf and giving the sheaf that best approximates it, with an analogous universal property. In a previous blog post, we’ve discussed examples of pre-sheaves that are not sheaves. A classic example of sheafification is the sheafification of the presheaf of holomorphic functions admitting a square root on with the classical topology.

Let be a presheaf. Then the morphism of presheafs is a sheafification of if is a sheaf, and for any presheaf morphism , where is a sheaf, there exists a unique morphism such that the required diagram commutes. What this means is that is the “smallest” or “simplest” sheaf containing the presheaf .

Because of the uniqueness of the maps, it is easy to see that the sheafification is unique upto unique isomorphism. This is just another way of saying that all sheafifications are isomorphic, and that there is only one (one each side) isomorphism between each pair of sheafifications. Also, sheafification is a functor. This is because if we have a map of presheaves , then this extends to a unique map . How does this happen? Let . Then is a map from to a sheaf. Hence, there exists a unique map from , as per the definition of sheafification. Hence, sheafification is a covariant functor from the category of presheaves to the category of sheaves.

We now show that any presheaf of sets (groups, rings, etc) has a sheafification. If the presheaf under consideration is , then define for any open set , define to be the set of all compatible germs of over . What exactly are we doing? Are we just taking the union of all possible germs of that presheaf? How does that make it a sheaf? This is because to each open set, we have now assigned a unique open set. These open sets can easily be glued, and uniquely too, to form the union of all germs at each point of . Moreover, the law of the composition of restrictions holds too. But why is this not true for every presheaf, and just the presheaves of sets? Are germs not defined for a presheaf in general?

A natural map of presheaves can be defined in the following way: for any open set , map a section to the set of all germs at all points of , which in other words is just . We can see that all the restriction maps to smaller sets hold. Moreover, satisfies the universal property of sheafification. This is because can be extended to a unique map between and : the unique map is namely the identity map.

We now check that the sheafification of a constant presheaf is the corresponding constant sheaf. We recall that the constant sheaf assigns a set to each open set. Hence, each germ at each point is also precisely an element of , which implies that the sheaf too is just the set of all elements of : in others words, just . The stalk at each point is also just , which implies that this is a constant sheaf.

What is the overall picture that we get here? Why is considering the set of all germs the “best” way of making a sheaf out of a pre-sheaf? I don’t know the exact answer to this question. However, it seems that through the process of sheafification, to each open set, we’re assigning a set that can be easily and uniquely glued. It is possible that algebraic geometers were looking for a way to glue the information encoded in a presheaf easily, and it is that pursuit which led to this seemingly arbitrary method.