Distance is a numerical description of how far apart objects are. In physics or everyday discussion, distance may refer to a physical length, or an estimation based on other criteria (e.g. "two counties over"). In mathematics, a distance function or metric is a generalization of the concept of physical distance. A metric is a function that behaves according to a specific set of rules, and provides a concrete way of describing what it means for elements of some space to be "close to" or "far away from" each other.
In most cases, "distance from A to B" is interchangeable with "distance between B and A".
Similarly, given points (x1, y1, z1) and (x2, y2, z2) in three-space, the distance between them is:
These formulae are easily derived by constructing a right triangle with a leg on the hypotenuse of another (with the other leg orthogonal to the plane that contains the 1st triangle) and applying the Pythagorean theorem.
In the study of complicated geometries, we call this (most common) type of distance Euclidean distance, as it is derived from the Pythagorean theorem, which does not hold in Non-Euclidean geometries. This distance formula can also be expanded into the arc-length formula.
For a point (x1, x2, ...,xn) and a point (y1, y2, ...,yn), the Minkowski distance of order p (p-norm distance) is defined as:
|infinity norm distance|
p need not be an integer, but it cannot be less than 1, because otherwise the triangle inequality does not hold.
The 2-norm distance is the Euclidean distance, a generalization of the Pythagorean theorem to more than two coordinates. It is what would be obtained if the distance between two points were measured with a ruler: the "intuitive" idea of distance.
The 1-norm distance is more colourfully called the taxicab norm or Manhattan distance, because it is the distance a car would drive in a city laid out in square blocks (if there are no one-way streets).
The p-norm is rarely used for values of p other than 1, 2, and infinity, but see; super ellipse.
The Euclidean distance between two points in space ( and ) may be written in a variational form where the distance is the minimum value of an integral:
Here is the trajectory (path) between the two points. The value of the integral (D) represents the length of this trajectory. The distance is the minimal value of this integral and is obtained when r = r * where r * is the optimal trajectory. In the familiar Euclidean case (the above integral) this optimal trajectory is simply a straight line. It is well known that the shortest path between two points is a straight line. Straight lines can formally be obtained by solving the Euler-Lagrange equations for the above functional. In non-Euclidean manifolds (curved spaces) where the nature of the space is represented by a metric gab the integrand has be to modified to , where Einstein summation convention has been used.
The Euclidean distance between two objects may also be generalized to the case where the objects are no longer points but are higher-dimensional manifolds, such as space curves, so in addition to talking about distance between two points one can discuss concepts of distance between two strings. Since the new objects that are dealt with are extended objects (not points anymore) additional concepts such as non-extensibility, curvature constraints, and non-local interactions that enforce non-crossing become central to the notion of distance. The distance between the two manifolds is the scalar quantity that results from minimizing the generalized distance functional, which represents a transformation between the two manifolds:
The above double integral is the generalized distance functional between two plymer conformation. s is a spatial parameter and t is pseudo-time. This means that is the polymer/string conformation at time ti and is parameterized along the string length by s. Similarly is the trajectory of an infinitesimal segment of the string during transformation of the entire string from conformation to conformation . The term with cofactor λ is a Lagrange multiplier and its role is to ensure that the length of the polymer remains the same during the transformation. If two discrete polymers are inextensible, then the minimal-distance transformation between them no longer involves purely straight-line motion, even on a Euclidean metric. There is a potential application of such generalized distance to the problem of protein folding This generalized distance is analogous to the Nambu-Goto action in string theory, however there is no exact correspondence because the Euclidean distance in 3-space is inequivalent to the space-time distance minimized for the classical relativistic string.
The algebraic distance is a metric often used in computer vision that that can be minimized by least squares estimation.  For curves or surfaces given by the equation xTCx = 0 (such as a conic in homogeneous coordinates), the algebraic distance from the point x' to the curve is simply x'TCx'. It may serve as an "initial guess" for geometric distance to refine estimations of the curve by more accurate methods, such as non-linear least squares.
For example, the usual definition of distance between two real numbers x and y is: d(x,y) = |x − y|. This definition satisfies the three conditions above, and corresponds to the standard topology of the real line. But distance on a given set is a definitional choice. Another possible choice is to define: d(x,y) = 0 if x = y, and 1 otherwise. This also defines a metric, but gives a completely different topology, the "discrete topology"; with this definition numbers cannot be arbitrarily close.
Various distance definitions are possible between objects. For example, between celestial bodies one should not confuse the surface-to-surface distance and the center-to-center distance. If the former is much less than the latter, as for a LEO, the first tends to be quoted (altitude), otherwise, e.g. for the Earth-Moon distance, the latter.
There are two common definitions for the distance between two non-empty subsets of a given set:
The distance between a point and a set is the infimum of the distances between the point and those in the set. This corresponds to the distance, according to the first-mentioned definition above of the distance between sets, from the set containing only this point to the other set.
In terms of this, the definition of the Hausdorff distance can be simplified: it is the larger of two values, one being the supremum, for a point ranging over one set, of the distance between the point and the set, and the other value being likewise defined but with the roles of the two sets swapped.
The distance covered by a vehicle (often recorded by an odometer), person, animal, or object along a curved path from a point A to a point B should be distinguished from the respective displacement (the distance along a straight line from A to B). For instance, the distance covered during a round trip from A to B and back to A may be very long, while the displacement is always zero (because starting and ending points coincide).
Directed distances are distances with a direction or sense. They can be determined along straight lines and along curved lines. A directed distance along a straight line from A to B is a vector joining any two points in a n-dimensional Euclidean vector space. A directed distance along a curved line is not a vector and is represented by a segment of that curved line defined by endpoints A and B, with some specific information indicating the sense (or direction) of an ideal or real motion from one endpoint of the segment to the other (see figure). For instance, just labelling the two endpoints as A and B can indicate the sense, if the ordered sequence (A, B) is assumed, which implies that A is the starting point.
A displacement (see above) is a special kind of directed distance defined in mechanics. A directed distance is called displacement when it is the distance along a straight line (minimum distance) from A and B, and when A and B are positions occupied by the same particle at two different instants of time. This implies motion of the particle.
Another kind of directed distance is that between two different particles or point masses at a given time. For instance, the distance from the center of gravity of the Earth A and the center of gravity of the Moon B (which does not strictly imply motion from A to B).
Circular distance is the distance traveled by a wheel. The circumference of the wheel is 2*(pi)*(radius), and assuming the radius to be 1, then each revolution of the wheel is equivalent of the distance 2*(pi) radians. In engineering (omega)=2*(pi)*f is used a lot, where f is the frequency.
Distance is the quality of objects being physically separated from one another.
Distance is how far one thing is from another thing. Distance is a measure of the space between two things.
Distance is different from displacement. Displacement is the difference between a starting point and a finishing point.
A and B are 1 metre apart. Tom walks from A to B. Then Tom walks from B back to A. The distance Tom walked is 2 metres. Tom's displacement is 0 metres, because Tom started at A and finished at A.