Today the subject of Fourier analysis encompasses a vast spectrum of mathematics with parts that, at first glance, may appear quite different. In the sciences and engineering the process of decomposing a function into simpler pieces is often called an analysis. The corresponding operation of rebuilding the function from these pieces is known as synthesis. In this context the term Fourier synthesis describes the act of rebuilding and the term Fourier analysis describes the process of breaking the function into a sum of simpler pieces. In mathematics, the term Fourier analysis often refers to the study of both operations.

In Fourier analysis, the term Fourier transform often refers to the process that decomposes a given function into the basic pieces. This process results in another function that describes how much of each basic piece are in the original function. However, the transform is often given a more specific name depending upon the domain and other properties of the function being transformed, as elaborated below. Moreover, the original concept of Fourier analysis has been extended over time to apply to more and more abstract and general situations, and the general field is often known as harmonic analysis.