In the theory of relativity, a fourvector is a vector in a fourdimensional real vector space, called Minkowski space. It differs from a vector in that it can be transformed by Lorentz transformations. The usage of the fourvector name tacitly assumes that its components refer to a standard basis. The components transform between these bases as the space and time coordinate differences, (cΔt,Δx,Δy,Δ z) under spatial translations, rotations, and boosts (a change by a constant velocity to another inertial reference frame). The set of all such translations, rotations, and boosts (called Poincaré transformations) forms the Poincaré group. The set of rotations and boosts (Lorentz transformations, described by 4×4 matrices) forms the Lorentz group.
This article considers fourvectors in the context of special relativity. Although the concept of fourvectors also extends to general relativity, some of the results stated in this article require modification in general relativity.
Contents 
A point in Minkowski space is called an "event" and is described in a standard basis by a set of four coordinates such as
where μ = 0, 1, 2, 3, labels the spacetime dimensions and where c is the speed of light. The definition X^{0} = ct ensures that all the coordinates have the same units (of distance).^{[1]}^{[2]}^{[3]} These coordinates are the components of the position fourvector for the event. The displacement fourvector is defined to be an "arrow" linking two events:
(Note that the position vector is the displacement vector when one of the two events is the origin of the coordinate system. Position vectors are relatively trivial; the general theory of fourvectors is concerned with displacement vectors.)
The scalar product of two fourvectors and is defined (using Einstein notation) as
where η is the Minkowski metric. Sometimes this inner product is called the Minkowski inner product. It is not a true inner product in the mathematical sense because it is not positive definite. Note: some authors define η with the opposite sign:
in which case
An important property of the inner product is that it is invariant (that is, a scalar): a change of coordinates does not result in a change in value of the inner product.
The inner product is often expressed as the effect of the dual vector of one vector on the other:
Here the U_{ν}s are the components of the dual vector U ^{*} of in the dual basis and called the covariant coordinates of , while the original U^{ν} components are called the contravariant coordinates. Lower and upper indices indicate always covariant and contravariant coordinates, respectively.
The relation between the covariant and contravariant coordinates is:
The fourvectors are arrows on the spacetime diagram or Minkowski diagram. In this article, fourvectors will be referred to simply as vectors.
Fourvectors may be classified as either spacelike, timelike or null. Spacelike, timelike, and null vectors are ones whose inner product with themselves is less than, greater than, and equal to zero respectively (assuming Minkowski metric with signature (+,,,)).
In special relativity (but not general relativity), the derivative of a fourvector with respect to a scalar (invariant) is itself a fourvector.
When considering physical phenomena, differential equations arise naturally; however, when considering space and time derivatives of functions, it is unclear which reference frame these derivatives are taken with respect to. It is agreed that time derivatives are taken with respect to the proper time (τ). As proper time is an invariant, this guarantees that the propertimederivative of any fourvector is itself a fourvector. It is then important to find a relation between this propertimederivative and another time derivative (using the time of an inertial reference frame). This relation is provided by the time transformation in the Lorentz transformations and is:
where γ is the Lorentz factor. Important fourvectors in relativity theory can now be defined, such as the fourvelocity of an world line is defined by:
where, using suffix notation,
for i = 1, 2, 3. Notice that
The fouracceleration is given by:
Since the magnitude of is a constant, the four acceleration is (pseudo)orthogonal to the four velocity, i.e. the Minkowski inner product of the fouracceleration and the fourvelocity is zero:
which is true for all world lines .
The fourmomentum for a massive particle is given by:
where m is the invariant mass of the particle and p is the relativistic momentum.
The fourforce is defined by:
For a particle of constant mass, this is equivalent to
where
The power and elegance of the fourvector formalism may be demonstrated by seeing that known relations between energy and matter are embedded into it.
Here, an expression for the total energy of a particle will be derived. The kinetic energy (K) of a particle is defined analogously to the classical definition, namely as
with f as above. Noticing that F^{μ}U_{μ} = 0 and expanding this out we get
Hence
which yields
for some constant S. When the particle is at rest (u = 0), we take its kinetic energy to be zero (K = 0). This gives
Thus, we interpret the total energy E of the particle as composed of its kinetic energy K and its rest energy m c^{2}. Thus, we have
Using the relation E = γmc^{2}, we can write the fourmomentum as
Taking the inner product of the fourmomentum with itself in two different ways, we obtain the relation
i.e.
Hence
This last relation is useful in many areas of physics.
Examples of fourvectors in electromagnetism include the fourcurrent defined by
formed from the current density j and charge density ρ, and the electromagnetic fourpotential defined by
formed from the vector potential a and the scalar potential .
A plane electromagnetic wave can be described by the fourfrequency defined as
where ν is the frequency of the wave and n is a unit vector in the travel direction of the wave. Notice that
so that the fourfrequency is always a null vector.
A wave packet of nearly monochromatic light can be characterized by the wave vector, or fourwavevector
