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In this paper we introduce a vector space of virtual warping functions that yield Einstein metrics over a fixed base. There is a natural quadratic form on this space and we study how this form interacts with the geometry. We use this structure along with the results in our earlier paper "Warped product rigidity" to show that essentially every warped product Einstein manifold admits a particularly nice warped product structure that we call basic. As applications we give a sharp characterization of when a homogeneous Einstein metric can be a warped product and also generalize a construction of Lauret showing that any algebraic soliton on a general Lie group can be extended to a left invariant Einstein metric.

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