Transfer function
In engineering, a transfer function (also known as the system function^{1} or network function and, when plotted as a graph, transfer curve) is a mathematical representation, in terms of spatial or temporal frequency, of the relation between the input and output of a linear timeinvariant system with zero initial conditions and zeropoint equilibrium.^{2} With optical imaging devices, for example, it is the Fourier transform of the point spread function (hence a function of spatial frequency) i.e. the intensity distribution caused by a point object in the field of view.
Contents
Explanation
Transfer functions are commonly used in the analysis of systems such as singleinput singleoutput filters, typically within the fields of signal processing, communication theory, and control theory. The term is often used exclusively to refer to linear, timeinvariant systems (LTI), as covered in this article. Most real systems have nonlinear input/output characteristics, but many systems, when operated within nominal parameters (not "overdriven") have behavior that is close enough to linear that LTI system theory is an acceptable representation of the input/output behavior.
The descriptions below are given in terms of a complex variable, s = σ + j*ω, which bears a brief explanation. In many applications, it is sufficient to define σ=0 (and s = j*ω), which reduces the Laplace transforms with complex arguments to Fourier transforms with real argument ω. The applications where this is common are ones where there is interest only in the steadystate response of an LTI system, not the fleeting turnon and turnoff behaviors or stability issues. That is usually the case for signal processing and communication theory.
Thus, for continuoustime input signal and output , the transfer function is the linear mapping of the Laplace transform of the input, , to the Laplace transform of the output :
or
In discretetime systems, the relation between an input signal and output is dealt with using the ztransform, and then the transfer function is similarly written as and this is often referred to as the pulsetransfer function.^{citation needed}
Direct derivation from differential equations
Consider a linear differential equation with constant coefficients
where u and r are suitably smooth functions of t, and L is the operator defined on the relevant function space, that transforms u into r. That kind of equation can be used to constrain the output function u in terms of the forcing function r. The transfer function, written as an operator , is the right inverse of L, since .
Solutions of the homogeneous, constantcoefficient differential equation can be found by trying . That substitution yields the characteristic polynomial
The inhomogeneous case can be easily solved if the input function r is also of the form . In that case, by substituting one finds that if and only if
Taking that as the definition of the transfer function requires careful disambiguation between complex vs. real values, which is traditionally influenced by the interpretation of abs(H(s)) as the gain and atan(H(s)) as the phase lag. Other definitions of the transfer function are used: for example ^{3}
Signal processing
Let be the input to a general linear timeinvariant system, and be the output, and the bilateral Laplace transform of and be
 .
Then the output is related to the input by the transfer function as
and the transfer function itself is therefore

 .
In particular, if a complex harmonic signal with a sinusoidal component with amplitude , angular frequency and phase
 where
is input to a linear timeinvariant system, then the corresponding component in the output is:
 and
Note that, in a linear timeinvariant system, the input frequency has not changed, only the amplitude and the phase angle of the sinusoid has been changed by the system. The frequency response describes this change for every frequency in terms of gain:
and phase shift:
 .
The phase delay (i.e., the frequencydependent amount of delay introduced to the sinusoid by the transfer function) is:
 .
The group delay (i.e., the frequencydependent amount of delay introduced to the envelope of the sinusoid by the transfer function) is found by computing the derivative of the phase shift with respect to angular frequency ,
 .
The transfer function can also be shown using the Fourier transform which is only a special case of the bilateral Laplace transform for the case where .
Common transfer function families
While any LTI system can be described by some transfer function or another, there are certain "families" of special transfer functions that are commonly used. Typical infinite impulse response filters are designed to implement one of these special transfer functions.
Some common transfer function families and their particular characteristics are:
 Butterworth filter – maximally flat in passband and stopband for the given order
 Chebyshev filter (Type I) – maximally flat in stopband, sharper cutoff than Butterworth of same order
 Chebyshev filter (Type II) – maximally flat in passband, sharper cutoff than Butterworth of same order
 Bessel filter – best pulse response for a given order because it has no group delay ripple
 Elliptic filter – sharpest cutoff (narrowest transition between pass band and stop band) for the given order
 Optimum "L" filter
 Gaussian filter – minimum group delay; gives no overshoot to a step function.
 Hourglass filter
 Raisedcosine filter
Control engineering
In control engineering and control theory the transfer function is derived using the Laplace transform.
The transfer function was the primary tool used in classical control engineering. However, it has proven to be unwieldy for the analysis of multipleinput multipleoutput (MIMO) systems, and has been largely supplanted by state space representations for such systems. In spite of this, a transfer matrix can be always obtained for any linear system, in order to analyze its dynamics and other properties: each element of a transfer matrix is a transfer function relating a particular input variable to an output variable.
Optics
In optics, modulation transfer function indicates the capability of optical contrast transmission.
For example, when observing a series of blackwhitelight fringes drawn with a specific spatial frequency, the image quality may decay. White fringes fade while black ones turn brighter.
The modulation transfer function in a specific spatial frequency is defined by:
Where modulation (M) is computed from the following image or light brightness:
See also
 Proper transfer function
 Duhamel's principle
 Bode plot
 Convolution
 Laplace transform
 Frequency response
 LTI system theory
 Nyquist plot
 Semilog graph
 Signal transfer function
 Analog computer
 Operational amplifier
 Optical transfer function
References
 ^ Bernd Girod, Rudolf Rabenstein, Alexander Stenger, Signals and systems, 2nd ed., Wiley, 2001, ISBN 0471988006 p. 50
 ^ The Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd ed., "Transfer function"
 ^ Birkhoff, Garrett; Rota, GianCarlo (1978). Ordinary differential equations. New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471052248. ^{page needed}
External links
 Transfer function, PlanetMath.org.
 ECE 209: Review of Circuits as LTI Systems — Short primer on the mathematical analysis of (electrical) LTI systems.
 ECE 209: Sources of Phase Shift — Gives an intuitive explanation of the source of phase shift in two simple LTI systems. Also verifies simple transfer functions by using trigonometric identities.
 Transfer function model in Mathematica
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