Everipedia Logo
Everipedia is now IQ.wiki - Join the IQ Brainlist and our Discord for early access to editing on the new platform and to participate in the beta testing.
Fermat's little theorem

Fermat's little theorem

Fermat's little theorem states that if p is a prime number, then for any integer a, the number a**pa is an integer multiple of p. In the notation of modular arithmetic, this is expressed as

For example, if a = 2 and p = 7, then 27 = 128, and 128 − 2 = 126 = 7 × 18 is an integer multiple of 7.

If a is not divisible by p, Fermat's little theorem is equivalent to the statement that a**p − 1 − 1 is an integer multiple of p, or in symbols:[1][2]

For example, if a = 2 and p = 7, then 26 = 64, and 64 − 1 = 63 = 7 × 9 is thus a multiple of 7.

Fermat's little theorem is the basis for the Fermat primality test and is one of the fundamental results of elementary number theory. The theorem is named after Pierre de Fermat, who stated it in 1640. It is called the "little theorem" to distinguish it from Fermat's last theorem.[3]


Pierre de Fermat first stated the theorem in a letter dated October 18, 1640, to his friend and confidant Frénicle de Bessy. His formulation is equivalent to the following:[3]

If p is a prime and a is any integer not divisible by p, then a p − 1 − 1 is divisible by p.

In fact, the original statement was

Tout nombre premier mesure infailliblement une des puissances – 1 de quelque progression que ce soit, et l'exposant de la dite puissance est sous-multiple du nombre premier donné – 1 ; et, après qu'on a trouvé la première puissance qui satisfait à la question, toutes celles dont les exposants sont multiples de l'exposant de la première satisfont tout de même à la question.

This may be translated, with explanations and formulas added in brackets for easier understanding, as:

Every prime number [p] divides necessarily one of the powers minus one of any [geometric] progression [a, a2, a3, ... ] [that is, there exists t such that p divides at – 1], and the exponent of this power [t] divides the given prime minus one [divides p – 1]. After one has found the first power [t] that satisfies the question, all those whose exponents are multiples of the exponent of the first one satisfy similarly the question [that is, all multiples of the first t have the same property].

Fermat did not consider the case where a is a multiple of p nor prove his assertion, only stating:[4]

Et cette proposition est généralement vraie en toutes progressions et en tous nombres premiers; de quoi je vous envoierois la démonstration, si je n'appréhendois d'être trop long.

(And this proposition is generally true for all series [sic] and for all prime numbers; I would send you a demonstration of it, if I did not fear going on for too long.)[5]

Euler provided the first published proof in 1736, in a paper titled "Theorematum Quorundam ad Numeros Primos Spectantium Demonstratio" in the Proceedings of the St. Petersburg Academy,[6] but Leibniz had given virtually the same proof in an unpublished manuscript from sometime before 1683.[3]

The term "Fermat's little theorem" was probably first used in print in 1913 in Zahlentheorie by Kurt Hensel:

Für jede endliche Gruppe besteht nun ein Fundamentalsatz, welcher der kleine Fermatsche Satz genannt zu werden pflegt, weil ein ganz spezieller Teil desselben zuerst von Fermat bewiesen worden ist.

(There is a fundamental theorem holding in every finite group, usually called Fermat's little theorem because Fermat was the first to have proved a very special part of it.)

An early use in English occurs in A.A. Albert's Modern Higher Algebra (1937), which refers to "the so-called 'little' Fermat theorem" on page 206.[7]

Further history

Some mathematicians independently made the related hypothesis (sometimes incorrectly called the Chinese Hypothesis) that 2p ≡ 2 (mod p) if and only if p is prime. Indeed, the "if" part is true, and it is a special case of Fermat's little theorem. However, the "only if" part is false: For example, 2341 ≡ 2 (mod 341), but 341 = 11 × 31 is a pseudoprime. See below.


Several proofs of Fermat's little theorem are known. It is frequently proved as a corollary of Euler's theorem.


Euler's theoremis a generalization of Fermat's little theorem: for anymodulusand any integeracoprimeton, one has
wheredenotesEuler's totient function(which counts the integers from 1 tonthat are coprime ton). Fermat's little theorem is indeed a special case, because ifis a prime number, then.

A corollary of Euler's theorem is: for every positive integer n, if the integer a is coprime with n then

for any integersxandy. This follows from Euler's theorem, since, if, thenfor some integerk, and one has

If n is prime, this is also a corollary of Fermat's little theorem. This is widely used in modular arithmetic, because this allows reducing modular exponentiation with large exponents to exponents smaller than n.

If n is not prime, this is used in public-key cryptography, typically in the RSA cryptosystem in the following way:[8] if

retrievingxfrom the values ofeandnis easy if one knowsIn fact, theextended Euclidean algorithmallows computing themodular inverseofemodulothat is the integerfsuchIt follows that
On the other hand, ifn = pqis the product of two distinct prime numbers, thenIn this case, findingffromnandeneeds knowing(this is not proved, but no algorithm is known for computingfwithout knowing). If one knowsnandthe factorspandqare easy to deduce, as one knows their productnand their sumThe basic idea of RSA cryptosystem is thus: if a messagexis encrypted asusing public values ofnande, then, with the current knowledge, it cannot be decrypted without finding the (secret) factorspandqofn.

Fermat's little theorem is also related to the Carmichael function and Carmichael's theorem, as well as to Lagrange's theorem in group theory.


The converse of Fermat's little theorem is not generally true, as it fails for Carmichael numbers. However, a slightly stronger form of the theorem is true, and it is known as Lehmer's theorem. The theorem is as follows:

If there exists an integer a such that

and for all primes q dividing p − 1 one has

then p is prime.

This theorem forms the basis for the Lucas–Lehmer test, an important primality test.


If a and p are coprime numbers such that a**p−1 − 1 is divisible by p, then p need not be prime. If it is not, then p is called a (Fermat) pseudoprime to base a. The first pseudoprime to base 2 was found in 1820 by Pierre Frédéric Sarrus: 341 = 11 × 31.[9][10]

A number p that is a Fermat pseudoprime to base a for every number a coprime to p is called a Carmichael number (e.g. 561). Alternately, any number p satisfying the equality

is either a prime or a Carmichael number.

Miller–Rabin primality test

The Miller–Rabin primality test uses the following extension of Fermat's little theorem:[11]

If p is an odd prime number, and p – 1 = 2s d, with d odd, then for every a prime to p, either a**d ≡ 1 mod p, or there exists t such that 0 ≤ t < s and a2t**d ≡ −1 mod p

This result may be deduced from Fermat's little theorem by the fact that, if p is an odd prime, then the integers modulo p form a finite field, in which 1 has exactly two square roots, 1 and −1.

The Miller–Rabin test uses this property in the following way: given p = 2s d + 1, with d odd, an odd integer for which primality has to be tested, choose randomly a such that 1 < a < p; then compute b = a**d mod p; if b is not 1 nor −1, then square it repeatedly modulo p until you get 1, −1, or have squared s times. If b ≠ 1 and −1 has not been obtained, then p is not prime. Otherwise, p may be prime or not. If p is not prime, the probability that this is proved by the test is higher than 1/4. Therefore, after k non-conclusive random tests, the probability that p is not prime is lower than (3/4)k, and may thus be made as low as desired, by increasing k.

In summary, the test either proves that a number is not prime, or asserts that it is prime with a probability of error that may be chosen as low as desired. The test is very simple to implement and computationally more efficient than all known deterministic tests. Therefore, it is generally used before starting a proof of primality.

See also

  • Fermat quotient

  • Frobenius endomorphism

  • p-derivation

  • Fractions with prime denominators: numbers with behavior relating to Fermat's little theorem

  • RSA

  • Table of congruences

  • Modular multiplicative inverse


Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgLong, Calvin T. (1972), Elementary Introduction to Number Theory (2nd ed.), Lexington: D. C. Heath and Company, LCCN 77171950, pp. 87–88.
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgPettofrezzo, Anthony J.; Byrkit, Donald R. (1970), Elements of Number Theory, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, LCCN 71081766, pp. 110–111.
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgBurton, David M. (2011), The History of Mathematics / An Introduction (7th ed.), McGraw-Hill, ISBN 978-0-07-338315-6, p. 514.
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkarchive.orgFermat, Pierre (1894), Tannery, P.; Henry, C. (eds.), Oeuvres de Fermat. Tome 2: Correspondance, Paris: Gauthier-Villars, pp. 206–212 (in French)
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgMahoney, Michael Sean (1994), The Mathematical Career of Pierre de Fermat, 1601–1665 (2nd ed.), Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-03666-3, p. 295 for the English translation
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgOre, Oystein (1988) [1948], Number Theory and Its History, Dover, ISBN 978-0-486-65620-5, p. 273
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgAlbert, A. Adrian (2015) [1938], Modern higher algebra, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1-107-54462-8, p. 206
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgTrappe, Wade; Washington, Lawrence C. (2002), Introduction to Cryptography with Coding Theory, Prentice-Hall, p. 78, ISBN 978-0-13-061814-6
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkoeis.orgSloane, N. J. A. (ed.). "Sequence A128311 (Remainder upon division of 2n−1−1 by n.)". The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. OEIS Foundation.
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkwww.numdam.orgSarrus, Frédéric (1819–1820). "Démonstration de la fausseté du théorème énoncé á la page 320 du IXe volume de ce recueil" [Demonstration of the falsity of the theorem stated on page 320 of the 9th volume of this collection]. Annales de Mathématiques Pures et Appliquées (in French). 10: 184–187.
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkbooks.google.comRempe-Gillen, Lasse; Waldecker, Rebecca (2013-12-11). Primality Testing for Beginners. American Mathematical Soc. ISBN 9780821898833.
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkwww.britannica.comFermat's theorem
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkweb.archive.orgJános Bolyai and the pseudoprimes
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkwww.cut-the-knot.orgFermat's Little Theorem
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkwww.cut-the-knot.orgEuler Function and Theorem
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkfermatslasttheorem.blogspot.comFermat's Little Theorem and Sophie's Proof
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkwww.encyclopediaofmath.org"Fermat's little theorem"
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkmathworld.wolfram.com"Fermat's Little Theorem"
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linkmathworld.wolfram.com"Fermat's Little Theorem Converse"
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM
Citation Linklccn.loc.gov77171950
Sep 29, 2019, 11:21 PM