To any pullback square of ring spectra we associate a new ring spectrum and use it to describe the failure of excision in algebraic $K$-theory. The construction of this new ring spectrum is categorical and hence allows us to determine the failure of excision for any localizing invariant in place of $K$-theory.
As immediate consequences we obtain an improved version of Suslin’s excision result in $K$-theory, generalizations of results of Geisser and Hesselholt on torsion in (bi)relative $K$-groups, and a generalized version of pro-excision for $K$-theory. Furthermore, we show that any truncating invariant satisfies excision, nilinvariance, and cdh-descent. Examples of truncating invariants include the fibre of the cyclotomic trace, the fibre of the rational Goodwillie–Jones Chern character, periodic cyclic homology in characteristic zero, and homotopy $K$-theory.
Various of the results we obtain have been known previously, though most of them in weaker forms and with less direct proofs.