# What's a random involution?

What are the properties of random involution? What is the difference between random involution and random permutation?

• Well, a random involution is an involution chosen at random, while a random permutation is a permutation chosen at random. That's the difference. If you provided a bit more background for your question — like, say, in what context did you come across these things, what do you want to use them for and/or what kinds of properties you're interested in — we might be able to give a more specific answer. – Ilmari Karonen Nov 6 '20 at 2:32

An involution is a function $$f$$ from a set to itself, such that $$f\circ f$$ is identity (i.e. applying the function $$f$$ on the result of the function $$f$$ gets back to the original element, i.e. $$f=f^{-1}\,$$). Recall that $$\circ$$ is function composition.

A permutation is a function $$f$$ from a set to itself, such that there exists a function $$g$$ from that set to itself, such that $$g\circ f$$ is identity (i.e. applying the function $$g$$ on the result of the function $$f$$ gets back to the original element). Equivalently, it's a bijection from that set to itself.

It follows that every involution is a permutation. And a permutation $$f$$ is an involution if and only if $$f\circ f$$ is identity.

A random involution (resp. permutation) is one chosen (implicitly: uniformly) at random among these over a certain finite set.

There are $$n!$$ (OEIS A000142) permutations of a set of $$n$$ elements, but much less involutions (A000085) for $$n>2$$. Orange is the number of permutations and blue is the number of involutions. Among differences of cryptographic significance: a permutation can be one-way, but an involution can't (since any algorithm implementing an involution implements its inverse).

Also: for all $$k\in[1,n]$$, iterating a random permutation starting from a fixed point cycles on or before $$k$$ step(s) with probability $$k/n$$, while for a random involution that's certain when $$k\ge2$$, and with probability above $$1/n$$ for $$k=1$$ and $$n>2$$.