Primitive $n$-th roots of unity are field elements $\alpha \in \mathbb{F}_p$ satisfying

\[\alpha^n = 1 \text{ and } \alpha^k \neq 1 \text{ for } 0 < k < n\]

These are useful for speeding up polynomial multiplication using the number theoretic transform. Most descriptions of the NTT assume the existence of a primitive $n$-th root of unity and we often work over fields where they exist by construction. This post describes how to find them.


$\mathbb{F}_p$ has a primitive $n$-th root of unity iff $n | p-1$.

  • If $\alpha$ is a primitive $n$-th root of unity, it generates a subgroup of order $n$ (by definition). This order must divide the order of the original group $\phi(p) = p-1$.

  • If $n | (p-1)$ then for any generator $g \in \mathbb{F}_p$, $\alpha = g^{(p-1)/n}$ is a primitive $n$-th root of unity since $\alpha^{n} = g^{p-1} = 1$ and $\alpha^{k} = g^{\frac{k(p-1)}{n}} \neq 1$ for $0 < k < n$.

Moreover, there will be $\phi(n)$ of them. Since if $\alpha$ is a primitive $n$-th root of unity then $\alpha^k$ with $0 < k \leq n$ and $\gcd(n, k) = 1$ is another.

Special Primes

In practice, we assume polynomial degrees are a power of $2$. This leads to primes of the form $p = k \cdot 2^m+1$ so that $2^m | (p-1)$ and $\mathbb{F}_p$ has a primitive $2^m$-th root of unity.

For instance, many RLWE schemes use polynomial degree $n = 1024$ and set $p = 5 \cdot 2^{13} + 1$.

This gives us a simple algorithm for finding a primitive $2^m$-th root of unity:

  1. Sample a nonzero element $x \leftarrow \mathbb{F}_p$

  2. If $x^{(p-1)/2} = 1$ go back to step 1.

$\alpha = x^{\frac{(p-1)}{2^m}}$ is a primitive $2^m$-th root of unity since $\alpha^{2^m} = x^{p-1} = 1$ and $x^{\frac{(p-1)k}{2^m}} \neq 1 $ for $0 < k < 2^m$.

More generally, if $n = \prod_{i} p_i^{e_i}$ is the prime factorization of $n$, $\alpha = \prod_{i} x_i^{(p-1) / p_i^{e_i}}$ is a primitive $n$-th root of unity where $x_i^{(p-1)/p_i} \neq 1$.

p = 0x73eda753299d7d483339d80809a1d80553bda402fffe5bfeffffffff00000001
K = GF(p)

def find_proot(n):
    a = K(1)
    for (i, j) in factor(n):
        x = K(1)
        while pow(x, (p-1)/i, p) == 1:
            x = K.random_element()
        a *= pow(x, (p-1)/(i^j), p)
    return a

factors = [i^j for (i,j) in factor(p-1)]
n = factors[0]
a = find_proot(n)

# a is an nth root of unity mod p
assert(a != 1 and a^n == 1)