The proper terminology is *Cumulative Distribution Function*, (CDF). The CDF is defined as
$$F_X(x) = \mathrm{P}\{X \leq x\}.$$
With this definition, the nature of the random variable $X$ is irrelevant: continuous, discrete, or hybrids all have the same definition.
As you note, for a discrete random variable the CDF has a very different appearance than for a continuous random variable. In the first case, it is a step function; in the second it is a continuous function.

Every probability distribution on (a subset of) $\mathbb R^n$ has a cumulative distribution function, and it uniquely defines the distribution. So, in this sense, the CDF is indeed as fundamental as the distribution itself.

A probability density function, however, exists only for (absolutely) continuous probability distributions. The simplest example of a distribution lacking a PDF is any discrete probability distribution, such as the distribution of a random variable that only takes integer values.

Of course, such discrete probability distributions can be characterized by a probability mass function instead, but there are also distributions that have *neither* and PDF or a PMF, such as any mixture of a continuous and a discrete distribution:

^{(Diagram shamelessly stolen from Glen_b's answer to a related question.)}

There are even singular probability distributions, such as the Cantor distribution, which cannot be described even by a *combination* of a PDF and a PMF. Such distributions still have a well defined CDF, though. For example, here is the CDF of the Cantor distribution, also sometimes called the "Devil's staircase":

^{(Image from Wikimedia Commons by users Theon and Amirki, used under the CC-By-SA 3.0 license.)}

The CDF, known as the Cantor function, is continuous but not absolutely continuous. In fact, it is constant everywhere except on a Cantor set of zero Lebesgue measure, but which still contains infinitely many points. Thus, the entire probability mass of the Cantor distribution is concentrated on this vanishingly small subset of the real number line, but every point in the set still individually has zero probability.

There are also probability distributions that do not have a moment-generating function. Probably the best known example is the Cauchy distribution, a fat-tailed distribution which has no well-defined moments of order 1 or higher (thus, in particular, having no well-defined mean or variance!).

All probability distributions on $\mathbb R^n$ do, however, have a (possibly complex-valued) characteristic function), whose definition differs from that of the MGF only by a multiplication with the imaginary unit. Thus, the characteristic function may be regarded as being as fundamental as the CDF.

## Best Answer

As user28 said in comments above, the pdf is the first derivative of the cdf for a continuous random variable, and the difference for a discrete random variable.

In the continuous case, wherever the cdf has a discontinuity the pdf has an atom. Dirac delta "functions" can be used to represent these atoms.