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We provide a Hopf boundary lemma for the regional fractional Laplacian (−Δ)sΩ, with Ω ⊂ RN a bounded open set. More precisely, given u a pointwise or weak super-solution of the equation (−Δ)s u = c(x)u in Ω, we show that the ratio u(x)∕(dist(x, 𝜕Ω))2s−1 is strictly Ω positive as x approaches the boundary 𝜕Ω of Ω. We also prove a strong maximum principle for distributional super-solutions.

We derive a shape derivative formula for the family of principal Dirichlet eigenvalues λs(Ω) of the fractional Laplacian (−Δ)s associated with bounded open sets Ω⊂RN of class C1,1. This extends, with a help of a new approach, a result in Dalibard and Gérard-Varet (Calc. Var. 19(4):976–1013, 2013) which was restricted to the case s=12. As an application, we consider the maximization problem for λs(Ω) among annular-shaped domains of fixed volume of the type B∖B¯¯¯¯′, where B is a fixed ball and B′ is ball whose position is varied within B. We prove that λs(B∖B¯¯¯¯′) is maximal when the two balls are concentric. Our approach also allows to derive similar results for the fractional torsional rigidity. More generally, we will characterize one-sided shape derivatives for best constants of a family of subcritical fractional Sobolev embeddings.