I have sometimes thought of writing a post on the ring of Witt vectors. But now I see that there is no need, because Joe Rabinoff has written a superb guide. Every time that I thought “this is pretty good, but it would be clearer if he pointed out “, the next paragraph was an explanation of !
There is one little thing that I could think to add, so I’ll do that here. I think you will get the most out of this paper if you approach each result as an exercise and try to give your own proof. However, right near the beginning is a theorem — Theorem 1.2, part 2 — which is too hard to be an exercise and where failure will be frustrating rather than illuminating. So I’m going to give you a hint.
Here is the result: Let be a ring of characteristic for which the map is bijective. Let be a ring in which is not a zero divisor, which is complete and Hausdorff in the –adic topology*, and such that . Theorem/Exercise There is a unique lift such that is congruent to modulo and such that .
Here is the hint: can be characterized by the fact that it is the unique lift of such that exists for every .
That’s the only improvement I have. Go and enjoy!
* If the statement that is complete and Hausdorff is weird for you, here is a restatement: The Hausdorff condition says that, for , if divides for every , then . The complete condition says this: Suppose we have a sequence in such that, for any , the images of in are eventually constant. Then there is an element such that, for every the image of in assumes the above-mentioned constant value.
I would advise, however, that you learn to think about these conditions topologically before attempting the Theorem/Exercise.