As defined in set theory, the maximum and minimum of a set are the greatest and least elements in the set, respectively. Unbounded infinite sets, such as the set of real numbers, have no minimum or maximum.
A real-valued function f defined on a domain X has a global (or absolute) maximum point at x∗ if f(x∗) ≥ f(x) for all x in X. Similarly, the function has a global (or absolute) minimum point at x∗ if f(x∗) ≤ f(x) for all x in X. The value of the function at a maximum point is called the maximum value of the function and the value of the function at a minimum point is called the minimum value of the function.
If the domain X is a metric space then f is said to have a local (or relative) maximum point at the point x∗ if there exists some ε > 0 such that f(x∗) ≥ f(x) for all x in X within distance ε of x∗. Similarly, the function has a local minimum point at x∗ if f(x∗) ≤ f(x) for all x in X within distance ε of x∗. A similar definition can be used when X is a topological space, since the definition just given can be rephrased in terms of neighbourhoods.
In both the global and local cases, the concept of a strict extremum can be defined. For example, x∗ is a strict global maximum point if, for all x in X with x ≠ x∗, we have f(x∗) > f(x), and x∗ is a strict local maximum point if there exists some ε > 0 such that, for all x in X within distance ε of x∗ with x ≠ x∗, we have f(x∗) > f(x). Note that a point is a strict global maximum point if and only if it is the unique global maximum point, and similarly for minimum points.
A continuous real-valued function with a compact domain always has a maximum point and a minimum point. An important example is a function whose domain is a closed (and bounded) interval of real numbers (see the graph above).