A finite field is a field with a finite field order (i.e., number of elements), also called a Galois field. The order of a finite field is always a prime or a power of a prime (Birkhoff and Mac Lane 1996). For each prime power, there exists exactly one (with the usual caveat that "exactly one" means "exactly one up to an isomorphism") finite field GF(), often written as in current usage.
GF() is called the prime field of order , and is the field of residue classes modulo , where the elements are denoted 0, 1, ..., . in GF() means the same as . Note, however, that in the ring of residues modulo 4, so 2 has no reciprocal, and the ring of residues modulo 4 is distinct from the finite field with four elements. Finite fields are therefore denoted GF(), instead of GF(), where , for clarity.
The finite field GF(2) consists of elements 0 and 1 which satisfy the following addition and multiplication tables.
0  1  
0  0  1 
1  1  0 
0  1  
0  0  0 
1  0  1 
If a subset of the elements of a finite field satisfies the axioms above with the same operators of , then is called a subfield. Finite fields are used extensively in the study of errorcorrecting codes.
When , GF() can be represented as the field of equivalence classes of polynomials whose coefficients belong to GF(). Any irreducible polynomial of degree yields the same field up to an isomorphism. For example, for GF(), the modulus can be taken as or . Using the modulus , the elements of GF()written 0, , , ...can be represented as polynomials with degree less than 3. For instance,
(1)
 
(2)
 
(3)
 
(4)
 
(5)

Now consider the following table which contains several different representations of the elements of a finite field. The columns are the power, polynomial representation, triples of polynomial representation coefficients (the vector representation), and the binary integer corresponding to the vector representation (the regular representation).
power  polynomial  vector  regular 
0  0  (000)  0 
1  (001)  1  
(010)  2  
(100)  4  
(011)  3  
(110)  6  
(111)  7  
(101)  5 
The set of polynomials in the second column is closed under addition and multiplication modulo , and these operations on the set satisfy the axioms of finite field. This particular finite field is said to be an extension field of degree 3 of GF(2), written GF(), and the field GF(2) is called the base field of GF(). If an irreducible polynomial generates all elements in this way, it is called a primitive polynomial. For any prime or prime power and any positive integer , there exists a primitive irreducible polynomial of degree over GF().
For any element of GF(), , and for any nonzero element of GF(), . There is a smallest positive integer satisfying the sum condition for some element in GF(). This number is called the field characteristic of the finite field GF(). The field characteristic is a prime number for every finite field, and it is true that
(6)

over a finite field with characteristic .