The direct product is defined for a number of classes of algebraic objects, including sets, groups, rings,
and modules. In each case, the direct product of an algebraic
object is given by the Cartesian product of
its elements, considered as sets, and its algebraic operations are defined componentwise.
For instance, the direct product of two vector spaces
of dimensions and is a vector space of dimension .

Direct products satisfy the property that, given maps and , there exists a unique map given by . The notion of map is determined by the category, and this definition extends to other categories
such as topological spaces. Note that no notion
of commutativity is necessary, in contrast to the case for the coproduct.
In fact, when
and
are Abelian, as in the cases of modules
(e.g., vector spaces) or Abelian
groups (which are modules over the integers), then
the direct sum is well-defined and is the same as the direct
product. Although the terminology is slightly confusing because of the distinction
between the elementary operations of addition and multiplication, the term "direct
sum" is used in these cases instead of "direct product" because of
the implicit connotation that addition is always commutative.

Note that direct products and direct sums differ for infinite indices. An element of the direct sum is zero
for all but a finite number of entries, while an element of the direct product can
have all nonzero entries.

Some other unrelated objects are sometimes also called a direct product. For example, the tensor direct product is the same as
the tensor product, in which case the dimensions
multiply instead of add. Here, "direct" may be used to distinguish it from
the external tensor product.