Persistence has proved to be a valuable tool to analyze real-world data robustly. Several approaches to persistence have been attempted over time, some topological in flavor, based on the vector space-valued homology functor, other combinatorial, based on arbitrary set-valued functors.

To unify the study of topological and combinatorial persistence in a common categorical framework, we give axioms for a generalized rank function on objects in a target category, so that functors to that category induce persistence functions. We port the interleaving and bottleneck distances to this novel framework and generalize classical equalities and inequalities.

Unlike sets and vector spaces, in many categories the rank of an object does not identify it up to isomorphism: to preserve information about the structure of persistence modules, we define colorable ranks, persistence diagrams and prove the equality between multicolored bottleneck distance and interleaving distance in semisimple Abelian categories. To illustrate our framework in practice, we give examples of multicolored persistent homology on filtered topological spaces with a group action and labeled point cloud data.