# What Is a Vector Norm?

A vector norm measures the size, or length, of a vector. For complex $n$-vectors, a vector norm is a function $\|\cdot\| : \mathbb{C}^n \to \mathbb{R}$ satisfying

• $\|x\| \ge 0$ with equality if and only if $x=0$ (nonnegativity),
• $\|\alpha x\| =|\alpha| \|x\|$ for all $\alpha\in\mathbb{C}$ $x\in\mathbb{C}^n$ (homogeneity),
• $\|x+y\| \le \|x\|+\|y\|$ for all $x,y\in\mathbb{C}^n$ (the triangle inequality).

An important class of norms is the Hölder $p$-norms $\|x\|_p = \biggl( \displaystyle\sum_{i=1}^n |x_i|^p \biggr)^{1/p}, \quad p\ge 1. \qquad\qquad (1)$

The $\infty$-norm is interpreted as $\lim_{p\to\infty}\|x\|_p$ and is given by $\notag \|x\|_{\infty} = \displaystyle\max_{1\le i\le n} |x_i|.$

Other important special cases are \notag \begin{alignedat}{2} \|x\|_1 &= \sum_{i=1}^n |x_i|, &\quad& \mbox{Manhattan'' or taxi~cab'' norm}, \\ \|x\|_2 &= \biggl( \sum_{i=1}^n |x_i|^2 \biggr)^{1/2} = (x^*x)^{1/2}, &\quad& \mbox{Euclidean length}. \end{alignedat}

A useful concept is that of the dual norm associated with a given vector norm, which is defined by $\notag \|y\|^D = \displaystyle\max_{x\ne0} \displaystyle\frac{\mathop{\mathrm{Re}}x^* y}{\|x\|}.$

The maximum is attained because the definition is equivalent to $\|y\|^D = \max\{ \, \mathop{\mathrm{Re}} x^*y: \|x\| = 1\,\}$, in which we are maximizing a continuous function over a compact set. Importantly, the dual of the dual norm is the original norm (Horn and Johnson, 2013, Thm. $\,$ 5.5.9(c)).

We can rewrite the definition of dual norm, using the homogeneity of vector norms, as $\notag \|y\|^D = \displaystyle\max_{|c| = 1} \| cy \|^D = \max_{|c| = 1} \max_{x\ne 0} \frac{\mathop{\mathrm{Re}} x^*(cy) }{\|x\|} = \max_{x\ne 0} \max_{|c| = 1} \frac{\mathop{\mathrm{Re}} c(x^*y) }{\|x\|} = \max_{x\ne 0} \frac{ |x^*y| }{\|x\|}.$

Hence we have the attainable inequality $\notag |x^*y| \le \|x\| \, \|y\|^D, \qquad\qquad (2)$

which is the generalized Hölder inequality.

The dual of the $p$-norm is the $q$-norm, where $p^{-1} + q^{-1} = 1$, so for the $p$-norms the inequality (2) becomes the (standard) Hölder inequality, $\notag |x^*y| \le \|x\|_p \, \|y\|_q, \quad \displaystyle\frac{1}{p} + \frac{1}{q} = 1.$

An important special case is the Cauchy–Schwarz inequality, $\notag |x^*y| \le \|x\|_2 \, \|y\|_2.$

The notation $\|x\|_0$ is used to denote the number of nonzero entries in $x$, even though it is not a vector norm and is not obtained from (1) with $p = 0$. In portfolio optimization, if $x_k$ specifies how much to invest in stock $k$ then the inequality $\|x\|_0 \le k$ says “invest in at most $k$ stocks”.

In numerical linear algebra, vector norms play a crucial role in the definition of a subordinate matrix norm, as we will explain in the next post in this series.

All norms on $\mathbb{C}^n$ are equivalent in the sense that for any two norms $\|\cdot\|_\alpha$ and $\|\cdot\|_\beta$ there exist positive constants $\nu_1$ and $\nu_2$ such that $\nu_1\|x\|_\alpha \le \|x\|_\beta \le \nu_2 \|x\|_\alpha \quad \mathrm{for~all}~x\in \mathbb{C}^n.$

For example, it is easy to see that \notag \begin{aligned} \|x\|_2 &\le \|x\|_1 \le \sqrt{n} \|x\|_2,\\ \|x\|_\infty &\le \|x\|_2 \le \sqrt{n} \|x\|_\infty,\\ \|x\|_\infty &\le \|x\|_1 \le n \|x\|_\infty. \end{aligned}

The 2-norm is invariant under unitary transformations: if $Q^*Q = I$, then $\|Qx\|^2 = x^*Q^* Qx = x^*x = \|x\|_2^2$.

Care must be taken to avoid overflow and (damaging) underflow when evaluating a vector $p$-norm in floating-point arithmetic for $p\ne 1,\infty$. One can simply use the formula $\|x\|_p = \| (x/\|x\|_{\infty}) \|_p \|x\|_{\infty}$, but this requires two passes over the data (the first to evaluate $\|x\|_{\infty}$). For more efficient one-pass algorithms for the $2$-norm see Higham (2002, Sec. 21.8) and Harayama et al. (2021).

## References

This is a minimal set of references, which contain further useful references within.

Note: This article was revised on October 12, 2021 to change the definition of dual norm to use $\mathrm{Re}$.