In
mathematics, the **support function** *h*_{A} of a non-empty
closed
convex set *A* in
describes the (signed) distances of
supporting hyperplanes of *A* from the origin. The support function is a
convex function on .
Any non-empty closed convex set *A* is uniquely determined by *h*_{A}. Furthermore, the support function, as a function of the set *A*, is compatible with many natural geometric operations, like scaling, translation, rotation and
Minkowski addition.
Due to these properties, the support function is one of the most central basic concepts in convex geometry.

The support function
of a non-empty closed convex set *A* in is given by

; see
^{
[1]}
^{
[2]}
.^{
[3]} Its interpretation is most intuitive when *x* is a unit vector:
by definition, *A* is contained in the closed half space

and there is at least one point of *A* in the boundary

of this half space. The hyperplane *H*(*x*) is therefore called a *supporting hyperplane*
with *exterior* (or *outer*) unit normal vector *x*.
The word *exterior* is important here, as
the orientation of *x* plays a role, the set *H*(*x*) is in general different from *H*(-*x*).
Now *h*_{A} is the (signed) distance of *H*(*x*) from the origin.

The support function of a singleton *A*={*a*} is .

The support function of the Euclidean unit ball is where is the 2-norm.

If *A* is a line segment through the origin with endpoints -*a* and *a* then .

The support function of a *compact* nonempty convex set is real valued and continuous, but if the
set is closed and unbounded, its support function is extended real valued (it takes the value
). As any nonempty closed convex set is the intersection of
its supporting half spaces, the function *h*_{A} determines *A* uniquely.
This can be used to describe certain geometric properties of convex sets analytically.
For instance, a set *A* is point symmetric with respect to the origin if and only if *h*_{A}
is an
even function.

In general, the support function is not differentiable.
However, directional derivatives exist and yield support functions of support sets. If *A* is *compact* and convex,
and *h*_{A}'(*u*;*x*) denotes the directional derivative of
*h*_{A} at *u* ≠ *0* in direction *x*,
we have

Here *H*(*u*) is the supporting hyperplane of *A* with exterior normal vector *u*, defined
above. If *A* ∩ *H*(*u*) is a singleton {*y*}, say, it follows that the support function is differentiable at
*u* and its gradient coincides with *y*. Conversely, if *h*_{A} is differentiable at *u*, then *A* ∩ *H*(*u*) is a singleton. Hence *h*_{A} is differentiable at all points *u* ≠ *0*
if and only if *A* is *strictly convex* (the boundary of *A* does not contain any line segments).

More generally, when is convex and closed then for any ,

where denotes the set of subgradients of at .

It follows directly from its definition that the support function is positive homogeneous:

and subadditive:

It follows that *h*_{A} is a
convex function.
It is crucial in convex geometry that these properties characterize support functions:
Any positive homogeneous, convex, real valued function on is the
support function of a nonempty compact convex set. Several proofs are known
,^{
[3]}
one is using the fact that the
Legendre transform of a positive homogeneous, convex, real valued function
is the (convex) indicator function of a compact convex set.

Many authors restrict the support function to the Euclidean unit sphere
and consider it as a function on *S*^{n-1}.
The homogeneity property shows that this restriction determines the
support function on , as defined above.

The support functions of a dilated or translated set are closely related to the original set *A*:

and

The latter generalises to

where *A* + *B* denotes the
Minkowski sum:

The
Hausdorff distance *d*_{ H}(*A*, *B*)
of two nonempty compact convex sets *A* and *B* can be expressed in terms of support functions,

where, on the right hand side, the uniform norm on the unit sphere is used.

The properties of the support function as a function of the set *A* are sometimes summarized in saying
that :*A* *h* _{A} maps the family of non-empty
compact convex sets to the cone of all real-valued continuous functions on the sphere whose positive
homogeneous extension is convex. Abusing terminology slightly,
is sometimes called *linear*, as it respects Minkowski addition, although it is not
defined on a linear space, but rather on an (abstract) convex cone of nonempty compact convex sets.
The mapping is an isometry between this cone, endowed with the Hausdorff metric, and
a subcone of the family of continuous functions on *S*^{n-1} with the uniform norm.

In contrast to the above, support functions are sometimes defined on the boundary of *A* rather than on
*S*^{n-1}, under the assumption that there exists a unique exterior unit normal at each boundary point.
Convexity is not needed for the definition.
For an oriented
regular surface, *M*, with a
unit normal vector, *N*, defined everywhere on its surface, the support function
is then defined by

- .

In other words, for any , this support function gives the
signed distance of the unique hyperplane that touches *M* in *x*.

**^**T. Bonnesen, W. Fenchel,*Theorie der konvexen Körper,*Julius Springer, Berlin, 1934. English translation:*Theory of convex bodies,*BCS Associates, Moscow, ID, 1987.**^**R. J. Gardner,*Geometric tomography,*Cambridge University Press, New York, 1995. Second edition: 2006.- ^
^{a}^{b}R. Schneider,*Convex bodies: the Brunn-Minkowski theory,*Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993.