In geotechnical engineering, bearing capacity is the capacity of soil to support the loads applied to the ground. The bearing capacity of soil is the maximum average contact pressure between the foundation and the soil which should not produce shear failure in the soil. Ultimate bearing capacity is the theoretical maximum pressure which can be supported without failure; allowable bearing capacity is the ultimate bearing capacity divided by a factor of safety. Sometimes, on soft soil sites, large settlements may occur under loaded foundations without actual shear failure occurring; in such cases, the allowable bearing capacity is based on the maximum allowable settlement.
There are three modes of failure that limit bearing capacity: general shear failure, local shear failure, and punching shear failure.
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The general shear failure case is the one normally analyzed. Prevention against other failure modes is accounted for implicitly in settlement calculations.^{[1]} There are many different methods for computing when this failure will occur.
Karl von Terzaghi developed a method for determining bearing capacity for the general shear failure case in 1943. The equations are given below.
For square foundations:
For continuous foundations:
For circular foundations:
where

