In mathematics, the logarithm is the inverse function to exponentiation. That means the logarithm of a given number  is the exponent to which another fixed number, the base , must be raised, to produce that number . In the simplest case, the logarithm counts the number of occurrences of the same factor in repeated multiplication; e.g., since , the "logarithm base " of is , or . The logarithm of to base is denoted as , or without parentheses, , or even without the explicit base, , when no confusion is possible, or when the base does not matter such as in big O notation.

More generally, exponentiation allows any positive real number as base to be raised to any real power, always producing a positive result, so for any two positive real numbers  and , where  is not equal to , is always a unique real number . More explicitly, the defining relation between exponentiation and logarithm is:

: log_b(x) = y exactly if b^y = x and x > 0 and b > 0 and b e 1.

For example, , as .

The logarithm base (that is ) is called the common logarithm and has many applications in science and engineering. The natural logarithm has the [[e (mathematical constant)|number ]] (that is ) as its base; its use is widespread in mathematics and physics, because of its simpler integral and derivative. The binary logarithm uses base (that is ) and is commonly used in computer science. Logarithms are examples of concave functions.

Logarithms were introduced by John Napier in 1614 as a means of simplifying calculations. They were rapidly adopted by navigators, scientists, engineers, surveyors and others to perform high-accuracy computations more easily. Using logarithm tables, tedious multi-digit multiplication steps can be replaced by table look-ups and simpler addition. This is possible because of the fact—important in its own right—that the logarithm of a product is the sum of the logarithms of the factors: : log_b(xy) = log_b x + log_b y, , provided that , and are all positive and . The slide rule, also based on logarithms, allows quick calculations without tables, but at lower precision. The present-day notion of logarithms comes from Leonhard Euler, who connected them to the exponential function in the 18th century, and who also introduced the letter as the base of natural logarithms.

Logarithmic scales reduce wide-ranging quantities to tiny scopes. For example, the decibel (dB) is a unit used to express ratio as logarithms, mostly for signal power and amplitude (of which sound pressure is a common example). In chemistry, pH is a logarithmic measure for the acidity of an aqueous solution. Logarithms are commonplace in scientific formulae, and in measurements of the complexity of algorithms and of geometric objects called fractals. They help to describe frequency ratios of musical intervals, appear in formulas counting prime numbers or approximating factorials, inform some models in psychophysics, and can aid in forensic accounting.

In the same way as the logarithm reverses exponentiation, the complex logarithm is the inverse function of the exponential function applied to complex numbers. The modular discrete logarithm is another variant; it has uses in public-key cryptography.

Motivation and definition

Addition, multiplication, and exponentiation are three of the most fundamental arithmetic operations. Addition, the simplest of these, is undone by subtraction: when you add to to get , to reverse this operation you need to subtract from . Multiplication, the next-simplest operation, is undone by division: if you multiply by to get , you then must divide by in order to return to the original expression . Logarithms also undo a fundamental arithmetic operation, exponentiation. Exponentiation is when you raise a number to a certain power. For example, raising to the power equals :

: 2^3 = 2 imes 2 imes 2 = 8

The general case is when you raise a number to the power of to get :

: b^y=x

The number is referred to as the base of this expression. The base is the number that is raised to a particular power—in the above example, the base of the expression 2^3=8 is . It is easy to make the base the subject of the expression: all you have to do is take the root of both sides. This gives:

: b=sqrt[y]

It is less easy to make the subject of the expression. Logarithms allow us to do this:

: y=

This expression means that is equal to the power that you need to raise to in order to get . This operation undoes exponentiation because the logarithm of tells you the exponent that the base has been raised to.


This subsection contains a short overview of the exponentiation operation, which is fundamental to understanding logarithms. Raising to the power, where is a natural number, is done by multiplying factors equal to . The power of is written , so that

: b^n = underbrace{b imes b imes cdots imes b}_{n ext{ factors}}

Exponentiation may be extended to , where is a positive number and the exponent is any real number. For example, is the reciprocal of , that is, . Raising to the power 1/2 is the square root of .

More generally, raising to a rational power , where and are integers, is given by

:b^{p / q} = sqrt[q]{b^p},

the -th root of b^p!!.

Finally, any irrational number (a real number which is not rational) can be approximated to arbitrary precision by rational numbers. This can be used to compute the -th power of : for example sqrt 2 approx 1.414 ... and b^{sqrt 2} is increasingly well approximated by b^1, b^{1.4}, b^{1.41}, b^{1.414}, .... A more detailed explanation, as well as the formula is contained in the article on exponentiation.


The logarithm of a positive real number with respect to base is the exponent by which must be raised to yield . In other words, the logarithm of to base is the solution to the equation

: b^y = x.

The logarithm is denoted "" (pronounced as "the logarithm of to base " or "the base-b logarithm of " or (most commonly) "the log, base , of ").

In the equation , the value is the answer to the question "To what power must be raised, in order to yield ?".


  • , since .
  • Logarithms can also be negative: quad log_2 ! frac{1}{2} = -1 quad since quad 2^{-1} = frac{1}{2^1} = frac{1}{2}.
  • is approximately 2.176, which lies between 2 and 3, just as 150 lies between and
  • For any base , and , since and , respectively.

    Logarithmic identities

    Several important formulas, sometimes called logarithmic identities or logarithmic laws, relate logarithms to one another.

    Product, quotient, power, and root

    The logarithm of a product is the sum of the logarithms of the numbers being multiplied; the logarithm of the ratio of two numbers is the difference of the logarithms. The logarithm of the -th power of a number is times the logarithm of the number itself; the logarithm of a -th root is the logarithm of the number divided by . The following table lists these identities with examples. Each of the identities can be derived after substitution of the logarithm definitions x = b^{log_b x} or y = b^{log_b y} in the left hand sides.

    Change of base

    The logarithm can be computed from the logarithms of and with respect to an arbitrary base using the following formula:

    : log_b x = frac{log_k x}{log_k b}., Starting from the defining identity

    : x = b^{log_b x}

    we can apply to both sides of this equation, to get

    : log_k x = log_k left(b^{log_b x} ight) = log_b x cdot log_k b.

    Solving for log_b x yields:

    : log_b x = frac{log_k x}{log_k b},

    showing the conversion factor from given log_k-values to their corresponding log_b -values to be (log_k b)^{-1}.Typical scientific calculators calculate the logarithms to bases 10 and [[e (mathematical constant)|]]. Logarithms with respect to any base can be determined using either of these two logarithms by the previous formula: : log_b x = frac{log_{10} x}{log_{10} b} = frac{log_{e} x}{log_{e} b}. ,

    Given a number and its logarithm to an unknown base , the base is given by:

    : b = x^frac{1}{log_b x},

    which can be seen from taking the defining equation x = b^{log_b x} to the power of ; frac{1}{log_b x}.

    Particular bases

    Among all choices for the base, three are particularly common. These are , (the irrational mathematical constant ≈ 2.71828), and (the binary logarithm). In mathematical analysis, the logarithm base is widespread because of analytical properties explained below. On the other hand, base-10 logarithms are easy to use for manual calculations in the decimal number system: :log_{10}(10 x) = log_{10} 10 + log_{10} x = 1 + log_{10} x. Thus, is related to the number of decimal digits of a positive integer : the number of digits is the smallest integer strictly bigger than log10x. For example, is approximately 3.15. The next integer is 4, which is the number of digits of 1430. Both the natural logarithm and the logarithm to base two are used in information theory, corresponding to the use of nats or bits as the fundamental units of information, respectively. Binary logarithms are also used in computer science, where the binary system is ubiquitous; in music theory, where a pitch ratio of two (the octave) is ubiquitous and the cent is the binary logarithm (scaled by 1200) of the ratio between two adjacent equally-tempered pitches in European classical music; and in photography to measure exposure values.

    The following table lists common notations for logarithms to these bases and the fields where they are used. Many disciplines write instead of , when the intended base can be determined from the context. The notation also occurs. The "ISO notation" column lists designations suggested by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 31-11). Because the notation has been used for all three bases (or when the base is indeterminate or immaterial), the intended base must often be inferred based on context or discipline. In computer science usually refers to , and in mathematics usually refers to . In other contexts often means .


    The history of logarithm in seventeenth-century Europe is the discovery of a new function that extended the realm of analysis beyond the scope of algebraic methods. The method of logarithms was publicly propounded by John Napier in 1614, in a book titled Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio (Description of the Wonderful Rule of Logarithms). Prior to Napier's invention, there had been other techniques of similar scopes, such as the prosthaphaeresis or the use of tables of progressions, extensively developed by Jost Bürgi around 1600. Napier coined the term for logarithm in Middle Latin, "logarithmorum," derived from the Greek, literally meaning, "ratio-number," from logos "proportion, ratio, word" + arithmos "number".

    The common logarithm of a number is the index of that power of ten which equals the number. Speaking of a number as requiring so many figures is a rough allusion to common logarithm, and was referred to by Archimedes as the "order of a number". The first real logarithms were heuristic methods to turn multiplication into addition, thus facilitating rapid computation. Some of these methods used tables derived from trigonometric identities. Such methods are called prosthaphaeresis.

    Invention of the function now known as natural logarithm began as an attempt to perform a quadrature of a rectangular hyperbola by Grégoire de Saint-Vincent, a Belgian Jesuit residing in Prague. Archimedes had written The Quadrature of the Parabola in the third century BC, but a quadrature for the hyperbola eluded all efforts until Saint-Vincent published his results in 1647. The relation that the logarithm provides between a geometric progression in its argument and an arithmetic progression of values, prompted A. A. de Sarasa to make the connection of Saint-Vincent's quadrature and the tradition of logarithms in prosthaphaeresis, leading to the term "hyperbolic logarithm", a synonym for natural logarithm. Soon the new function was appreciated by Christiaan Huygens, and James Gregory. The notation Log y was adopted by Leibniz in 1675, and the next year he connected it to the integral int frac{dy}{y} .

    Logarithm tables, slide rules, and historical applications

    By simplifying difficult calculations before calculators and computers became available, logarithms contributed to the advance of science, especially astronomy. They were critical to advances in surveying, celestial navigation, and other domains. Pierre-Simon Laplace called logarithms

    ::"...[a]n admirable artifice which, by reducing to a few days the labour of many months, doubles the life of the astronomer, and spares him the errors and disgust inseparable from long calculations."

    As the function is the inverse function of logbx, it has been called the antilogarithm.

    Log tables

    A key tool that enabled the practical use of logarithms was the table of logarithms. The first such table was compiled by Henry Briggs in 1617, immediately after Napier's invention but with the innovation of using 10 as the base. Briggs' first table contained the common logarithms of all integers in the range 1–1000, with a precision of 14 digits. Subsequently, tables with increasing scope were written. These tables listed the values of for any number in a certain range, at a certain precision. Base-10 logarithms were universally used for computation, hence the name common logarithm, since numbers that differ by factors of 10 have logarithms that differ by integers. The common logarithm of can be separated into an integer part and a fractional part, known as the characteristic and mantissa. Tables of logarithms need only include the mantissa, as the characteristic can be easily determined by counting digits from the decimal point. The characteristic of is one plus the characteristic of , and their mantissas are the same. Thus using a three-digit log table, the logarithm of 3542 is approximated by

    :log_{10}3542 = log_{10}(1000 cdot 3.542) = 3 + log_{10}3.542 approx 3 + log_{10}3.54 ,

    Greater accuracy can be obtained by interpolation:

    :log_{10}3542 approx 3 + log_{10}3.54 + 0.2 (log_{10}3.55-log_{10}3.54),

    The value of can be determined by reverse look up in the same table, since the logarithm is a monotonic function.


    The product and quotient of two positive numbers and were routinely calculated as the sum and difference of their logarithms. The product or quotient came from looking up the antilogarithm of the sum or difference, via the same table:

    : c d = 10^{ log_{10} c} , 10^{ log_{10} d} = 10^{ log_{10} c + log_{10} d} , and :frac c d = c d^{-1} = 10^{ log_{10} c - log_{10} d}. ,

    For manual calculations that demand any appreciable precision, performing the lookups of the two logarithms, calculating their sum or difference, and looking up the antilogarithm is much faster than performing the multiplication by earlier methods such as prosthaphaeresis, which relies on trigonometric identities.

    Calculations of powers and roots are reduced to multiplications or divisions and look-ups by :c^d = left(10^{ log_{10} c} ight)^d = 10^{d log_{10} c} ,

    and :sqrt[d]{c} = c^frac{1}{d} = 10^{frac{1}{d} log_{10} c}. ,

    Trigonometric calculations were facilitated by tables that contained the common logarithms of trigonometric functions.

    Slide rules

    Another critical application was the slide rule, a pair of logarithmically divided scales used for calculation. The non-sliding logarithmic scale, Gunter's rule, was invented shortly after Napier's invention. William Oughtred enhanced it to create the slide rule—a pair of logarithmic scales movable with respect to each other. Numbers are placed on sliding scales at distances proportional to the differences between their logarithms. Sliding the upper scale appropriately amounts to mechanically adding logarithms, as illustrated here:

    For example, adding the distance from 1 to 2 on the lower scale to the distance from 1 to 3 on the upper scale yields a product of 6, which is read off at the lower part. The slide rule was an essential calculating tool for engineers and scientists until the 1970s, because it allows, at the expense of precision, much faster computation than techniques based on tables.

    Analytic properties

    A deeper study of logarithms requires the concept of a function. A function is a rule that, given one number, produces another number. An example is the function producing the -th power of from any real number , where the base is a fixed number. This function is written: f(x) = b^x. ,

    Logarithmic function

    To justify the definition of logarithms, it is necessary to show that the equation :b^x = y ,

    has a solution and that this solution is unique, provided that is positive and that is positive and unequal to 1. A proof of that fact requires the intermediate value theorem from elementary calculus. This theorem states that a continuous function that produces two values and also produces any value that lies between and . A function is continuous if it does not "jump", that is, if its graph can be drawn without lifting the pen.

    This property can be shown to hold for the function . Because takes arbitrarily large and arbitrarily small positive values, any number lies between and for suitable and . Hence, the intermediate value theorem ensures that the equation has a solution. Moreover, there is only one solution to this equation, because the function f is strictly increasing (for ), or strictly decreasing (for ).

    The unique solution is the logarithm of to base , . The function that assigns to its logarithm is called logarithm function or logarithmic function (or just logarithm).

    The function is essentially characterized by the product formula :log_b(xy) = log_b x + log_b y. More precisely, the logarithm to any base is the only increasing function f from the positive reals to the reals satisfying and :f(xy)=f(x)+f(y).

    Inverse function

    The formula for the logarithm of a power says in particular that for any number , :log_b left (b^x ight) = x log_b b = x. In prose, taking the power of and then the logarithm gives back . Conversely, given a positive number , the formula :b^{log_b y} = y says that first taking the logarithm and then exponentiating gives back . Thus, the two possible ways of combining (or composing) logarithms and exponentiation give back the original number. Therefore, the logarithm to base is the inverse function of .

    Inverse functions are closely related to the original functions. Their graphs correspond to each other upon exchanging the - and the -coordinates (or upon reflection at the diagonal line = ), as shown at the right: a point on the graph of f yields a point on the graph of the logarithm and vice versa. As a consequence, diverges to infinity (gets bigger than any given number) if grows to infinity, provided that is greater than one. In that case, is an increasing function. For , tends to minus infinity instead. When approaches zero, goes to minus infinity for (plus infinity for , respectively).

    Derivative and antiderivative

    Analytic properties of functions pass to their inverses. Thus, as is a continuous and differentiable function, so is . Roughly, a continuous function is differentiable if its graph has no sharp "corners". Moreover, as the derivative of evaluates to by the properties of the exponential function, the chain rule implies that the derivative of is given by : frac{d}{dx} log_b x = frac{1}{xln b}. That is, the slope of the tangent touching the graph of the logarithm at the point equals .

    The derivative of ln is 1/x; this implies that ln is the unique antiderivative of that has the value 0 for . It is this very simple formula that motivated to qualify as "natural" the natural logarithm; this is also one of the main reasons of the importance of the constant [[E (mathematical constant)|]].

    The derivative with a generalised functional argument is :frac{d}{dx} ln f(x) = frac{f'(x)}{f(x)}. The quotient at the right hand side is called the logarithmic derivative of f. Computing by means of the derivative of is known as logarithmic differentiation. The antiderivative of the natural logarithm is: : int ln(x) ,dx = x ln(x) - x + C. Related formulas, such as antiderivatives of logarithms to other bases can be derived from this equation using the change of bases.

    Integral representation of the natural logarithm

    The natural logarithm of equals the integral of   from 1 to :

    :ln (t) = int_1^t frac{1}{x} , dx. In other words, equals the area between the axis and the graph of the function , ranging from to (figure at the right). This is a consequence of the fundamental theorem of calculus and the fact that the derivative of is . The right hand side of this equation can serve as a definition of the natural logarithm. Product and power logarithm formulas can be derived from this definition. For example, the product formula is deduced as:

    : ln(tu) = int_1^{tu} frac{1}{x} , dx stackrel {(1)} = int_1^{t} frac{1}{x} , dx + int_t^{tu} frac{1}{x} , dx stackrel {(2)} = ln(t) + int_1^u frac{1}{w} , dw = ln(t) + ln(u).

    The equality (1) splits the integral into two parts, while the equality (2) is a change of variable (). In the illustration below, the splitting corresponds to dividing the area into the yellow and blue parts. Rescaling the left hand blue area vertically by the factor t and shrinking it by the same factor horizontally does not change its size. Moving it appropriately, the area fits the graph of the function again. Therefore, the left hand blue area, which is the integral of from t to tu is the same as the integral from 1 to u. This justifies the equality (2) with a more geometric proof.The power formula may be derived in a similar way:

    : ln(t^r) = int_1^{t^r} frac{1}{x}dx = int_1^t frac{1}{w^r} left(rw^{r - 1} , dw ight) = r int_1^t frac{1}{w} , dw = r ln(t). The second equality uses a change of variables (integration by substitution), .

    The sum over the reciprocals of natural numbers, :1 + frac 1 2 + frac 1 3 + cdots + frac 1 n = sum_{k=1}^n frac{1}{k}, is called the harmonic series. It is closely tied to the natural logarithm: as n tends to infinity, the difference, :sum_{k=1}^n frac{1}{k} - ln(n), converges (i.e., gets arbitrarily close) to a number known as the Euler–Mascheroni constant . This relation aids in analyzing the performance of algorithms such as quicksort.

    There are also some other integral representations of the logarithm that are useful in some situations:

    : ln(x) = -lim_{epsilon o 0} int_epsilon^infty frac{dt}{t}left( e^{-xt} - e^{-t} ight) : ln(x) = int_0^infty,frac{dt}{t},left[cos(t)-cos(xt) ight]

    The first identity can be verified by showing that it has the same value at , and the same derivative. The second identity can be proven by writing : frac1t =int_0^infty,dq,e^{-qt} and then inserting the Laplace transform of (and ).

    Transcendence of the logarithm

    Real numbers that are not algebraic are called transcendental; for example, and e are such numbers, but sqrt{2-sqrt 3} is not. Almost all real numbers are transcendental. The logarithm is an example of a transcendental function. The Gelfond–Schneider theorem asserts that logarithms usually take transcendental, i.e., "difficult" values.


    Logarithms are easy to compute in some cases, such as . In general, logarithms can be calculated using power series or the arithmetic–geometric mean, or be retrieved from a precalculated logarithm table that provides a fixed precision. Newton's method, an iterative method to solve equations approximately, can also be used to calculate the logarithm, because its inverse function, the exponential function, can be computed efficiently. Using look-up tables, CORDIC-like methods can be used to compute logarithms if the only available operations are addition and bit shifts. Moreover, the binary logarithm algorithm calculates recursively based on repeated squarings of , taking advantage of the relation :log_2left(x^2 ight) = 2 log_2 (x). ,

    Power series

    ;Taylor seriesFor any real number that satisfies , the following formula holds: : ln (z) = frac{(z-1)^1}{1} - frac{(z-1)^2}{2} + frac{(z-1)^3}{3} - frac{(z-1)^4}{4} + cdots = sum_{k=1}^infty (-1)^{k+1}frac{(z-1)^k}{k} This is a shorthand for saying that can be approximated to a more and more accurate value by the following expressions: : egin{array}{lllll} (z-1) & & \ (z-1) & - & frac{(z-1)^2}{2} & \ (z-1) & - & frac{(z-1)^2}{2} & + & frac{(z-1)^3}{3} \ vdots & end{array} For example, with the third approximation yields 0.4167, which is about 0.011 greater than . This series approximates with arbitrary precision, provided the number of summands is large enough. In elementary calculus, is therefore the limit of this series. It is the Taylor series of the natural logarithm at . The Taylor series of provides a particularly useful approximation to when is small, , since then : ln (1+z) = z - frac{z^2}{2} +frac{z^3}{3}cdots approx z. For example, with the first-order approximation gives , which is less than 5% off the correct value 0.0953.

    ;More efficient series Another series is based on the area hyperbolic tangent function: : ln (z) = 2cdotoperatorname{artanh},frac{z-1}{z+1} = 2 left ( frac{z-1}{z+1} + frac{1}{3}{left(frac{z-1}{z+1} ight)}^3 + frac{1}{5}{left(frac{z-1}{z+1} ight)}^5 + cdots ight ), for any real number . Using sigma notation, this is also written as :ln (z) = 2sum_{k=0}^inftyfrac{1}{2k+1}left(frac{z-1}{z+1} ight)^{2k+1}. This series can be derived from the above Taylor series. It converges more quickly than the Taylor series, especially if is close to 1. For example, for , the first three terms of the second series approximate with an error of about . The quick convergence for close to 1 can be taken advantage of in the following way: given a low-accuracy approximation and putting :A = frac z{exp(y)}, , the logarithm of is: :ln (z)=y+ln (A). , The better the initial approximation is, the closer is to 1, so its logarithm can be calculated efficiently. can be calculated using the exponential series, which converges quickly provided is not too large. Calculating the logarithm of larger can be reduced to smaller values of by writing , so that .

    A closely related method can be used to compute the logarithm of integers. Putting extstyle z=frac{n+1}{n} in the above series, it follows that: :ln (n+1) = ln(n) + 2sum_{k=0}^inftyfrac{1}{2k+1}left(frac{1}{2 n+1} ight)^{2k+1}. If the logarithm of a large integer is known, then this series yields a fast converging series for , with a rate of convergence of frac{1}{2 n+1}.

    Arithmetic–geometric mean approximation

    The arithmetic–geometric mean yields high precision approximations of the natural logarithm. Sasaki and Kanada showed in 1982 that it was particularly fast for precisions between 400 and 1000 decimal places, while Taylor series methods were typically faster when less precision was needed. In their work is approximated to a precision of (or p precise bits) by the following formula (due to Carl Friedrich Gauss):

    :ln (x) approx frac{pi}{2 M(1,2^{2-m}/x)} - m ln (2).

    Here denotes the arithmetic–geometric mean of and . It is obtained by repeatedly calculating the average (x+y)/2 (arithmetic mean) and sqrt{xy} (geometric mean) of and then let those two numbers become the next and . The two numbers quickly converge to a common limit which is the value of . m is chosen such that

    :x ,2^m > 2^{p/2}.,

    to ensure the required precision. A larger m makes the calculation take more steps (the initial x and y are farther apart so it takes more steps to converge) but gives more precision. The constants and can be calculated with quickly converging series.

    Feynman's algorithm

    While at Los Alamos National Laboratory working on the Manhattan Project, Richard Feynman developed a bit-processing algorithm that is similar to long division and was later used in the Connection Machine. The algorithm uses the fact that every real number 1 < x < 2 is representable as a product of distinct factors of the form 1 + 2^{-k} . The algorithm sequentially builds that product P: if P cdot (1 + 2^{-k}) < x, then it changes P to P cdot (1 + 2^{-k}) . It then increase k by one regardless. The algorithm stops when k is large enough to give the desired accuracy. Because log(x) is the sum of the terms of the form log(1 + 2^{-k}) corresponding to those k for which the factor 1 + 2^{-k} was included in the product P, log(x) may be computed by simple addition, using a table of log(1 + 2^{-k}) for all k. Any base may be used for the logarithm table.


    Logarithms have many applications inside and outside mathematics. Some of these occurrences are related to the notion of scale invariance. For example, each chamber of the shell of a nautilus is an approximate copy of the next one, scaled by a constant factor. This gives rise to a logarithmic spiral. Benford's law on the distribution of leading digits can also be explained by scale invariance. Logarithms are also linked to self-similarity. For example, logarithms appear in the analysis of algorithms that solve a problem by dividing it into two similar smaller problems and patching their solutions. The dimensions of self-similar geometric shapes, that is, shapes whose parts resemble the overall picture are also based on logarithms. Logarithmic scales are useful for quantifying the relative change of a value as opposed to its absolute difference. Moreover, because the logarithmic function grows very slowly for large , logarithmic scales are used to compress large-scale scientific data. Logarithms also occur in numerous scientific formulas, such as the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation, the Fenske equation, or the Nernst equation.

    Logarithmic scale

    Scientific quantities are often expressed as logarithms of other quantities, using a logarithmic scale. For example, the decibel is a unit of measurement associated with logarithmic-scale quantities. It is based on the common logarithm of ratios—10 times the common logarithm of a power ratio or 20 times the common logarithm of a voltage ratio. It is used to quantify the loss of voltage levels in transmitting electrical signals, to describe power levels of sounds in acoustics, and the absorbance of light in the fields of spectrometry and optics. The signal-to-noise ratio describing the amount of unwanted noise in relation to a (meaningful) signal is also measured in decibels. In a similar vein, the peak signal-to-noise ratio is commonly used to assess the quality of sound and image compression methods using the logarithm.

    The strength of an earthquake is measured by taking the common logarithm of the energy emitted at the quake. This is used in the moment magnitude scale or the Richter magnitude scale. For example, a 5.0 earthquake releases 32 times and a 6.0 releases 1000 times the energy of a 4.0. Another logarithmic scale is apparent magnitude. It measures the brightness of stars logarithmically. Yet another example is pH in chemistry; pH is the negative of the common logarithm of the activity of hydronium ions (the form hydrogen ions take in water). The activity of hydronium ions in neutral water is 10 mol·L, hence a pH of 7. Vinegar typically has a pH of about 3. The difference of 4 corresponds to a ratio of 10 of the activity, that is, vinegar's hydronium ion activity is about .

    Semilog (log-linear) graphs use the logarithmic scale concept for visualization: one axis, typically the vertical one, is scaled logarithmically. For example, the chart at the right compresses the steep increase from 1 million to 1 trillion to the same space (on the vertical axis) as the increase from 1 to 1 million. In such graphs, exponential functions of the form appear as straight lines with slope equal to the logarithm of . Log-log graphs scale both axes logarithmically, which causes functions of the form to be depicted as straight lines with slope equal to the exponent k. This is applied in visualizing and analyzing power laws.


    Logarithms occur in several laws describing human perception: Hick's law proposes a logarithmic relation between the time individuals take to choose an alternative and the number of choices they have. Fitts's law predicts that the time required to rapidly move to a target area is a logarithmic function of the distance to and the size of the target. In psychophysics, the Weber–Fechner law proposes a logarithmic relationship between stimulus and sensation such as the actual vs. the perceived weight of an item a person is carrying. (This "law", however, is less realistic than more recent models, such as Stevens's power law.)

    Psychological studies found that individuals with little mathematics education tend to estimate quantities logarithmically, that is, they position a number on an unmarked line according to its logarithm, so that 10 is positioned as close to 100 as 100 is to 1000. Increasing education shifts this to a linear estimate (positioning 1000 10x as far away) in some circumstances, while logarithms are used when the numbers to be plotted are difficult to plot linearly.

    Probability theory and statistics

    Logarithms arise in probability theory: the law of large numbers dictates that, for a fair coin, as the number of coin-tosses increases to infinity, the observed proportion of heads approaches one-half. The fluctuations of this proportion about one-half are described by the law of the iterated logarithm.

    Logarithms also occur in log-normal distributions. When the logarithm of a random variable has a normal distribution, the variable is said to have a log-normal distribution. Log-normal distributions are encountered in many fields, wherever a variable is formed as the product of many independent positive random variables, for example in the study of turbulence.

    Logarithms are used for maximum-likelihood estimation of parametric statistical models. For such a model, the likelihood function depends on at least one parameter that must be estimated. A maximum of the likelihood function occurs at the same parameter-value as a maximum of the logarithm of the likelihood (the "log likelihood"), because the logarithm is an increasing function. The log-likelihood is easier to maximize, especially for the multiplied likelihoods for independent random variables.

    Benford's law describes the occurrence of digits in many data sets, such as heights of buildings. According to Benford's law, the probability that the first decimal-digit of an item in the data sample is d (from 1 to 9) equals , regardless of the unit of measurement. Thus, about 30% of the data can be expected to have 1 as first digit, 18% start with 2, etc. Auditors examine deviations from Benford's law to detect fraudulent accounting.

    Computational complexity

    Analysis of algorithms is a branch of computer science that studies the performance of algorithms (computer programs solving a certain problem). Logarithms are valuable for describing algorithms that divide a problem into smaller ones, and join the solutions of the subproblems.

    For example, to find a number in a sorted list, the binary search algorithm checks the middle entry and proceeds with the half before or after the middle entry if the number is still not found. This algorithm requires, on average, comparisons, where N is the list's length. Similarly, the merge sort algorithm sorts an unsorted list by dividing the list into halves and sorting these first before merging the results. Merge sort algorithms typically require a time approximately proportional to . The base of the logarithm is not specified here, because the result only changes by a constant factor when another base is used. A constant factor is usually disregarded in the analysis of algorithms under the standard uniform cost model.

    A function is said to grow logarithmically if is (exactly or approximately) proportional to the logarithm of . (Biological descriptions of organism growth, however, use this term for an exponential function.) For example, any natural number N can be represented in binary form in no more than bits. In other words, the amount of memory needed to store N grows logarithmically with N.

    Entropy and chaos

    Entropy is broadly a measure of the disorder of some system. In statistical thermodynamics, the entropy S of some physical system is defined as : S = - k sum_i p_i ln(p_i)., The sum is over all possible states i of the system in question, such as the positions of gas particles in a container. Moreover, is the probability that the state i is attained and k is the Boltzmann constant. Similarly, entropy in information theory measures the quantity of information. If a message recipient may expect any one of N possible messages with equal likelihood, then the amount of information conveyed by any one such message is quantified as bits.

    Lyapunov exponents use logarithms to gauge the degree of chaoticity of a dynamical system. For example, for a particle moving on an oval billiard table, even small changes of the initial conditions result in very different paths of the particle. Such systems are chaotic in a deterministic way, because small measurement errors of the initial state predictably lead to largely different final states. At least one Lyapunov exponent of a deterministically chaotic system is positive.


    Logarithms occur in definitions of the dimension of fractals. Fractals are geometric objects that are self-similar: small parts reproduce, at least roughly, the entire global structure. The Sierpinski triangle (pictured) can be covered by three copies of itself, each having sides half the original length. This makes the Hausdorff dimension of this structure . Another logarithm-based notion of dimension is obtained by counting the number of boxes needed to cover the fractal in question.


    Logarithms are related to musical tones and intervals. In equal temperament, the frequency ratio depends only on the interval between two tones, not on the specific frequency, or pitch, of the individual tones. For example, the note A has a frequency of 440 Hz and B-flat has a frequency of 466 Hz. The interval between A and B-flat is a semitone, as is the one between B-flat and B (frequency 493 Hz). Accordingly, the frequency ratios agree: :frac{466}{440} approx frac{493}{466} approx 1.059 approx sqrt[12]2. Therefore, logarithms can be used to describe the intervals: an interval is measured in semitones by taking the logarithm of the frequency ratio, while the logarithm of the frequency ratio expresses the interval in cents, hundredths of a semitone. The latter is used for finer encoding, as it is needed for non-equal temperaments.

    Number theory

    Natural logarithms are closely linked to counting prime numbers (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, ...), an important topic in number theory. For any integer , the quantity of prime numbers less than or equal to is denoted prime-counting function|. The prime number theorem asserts that is approximately given by :frac{x}{ln(x)}, in the sense that the ratio of and that fraction approaches 1 when tends to infinity. As a consequence, the probability that a randomly chosen number between 1 and is prime is inversely proportional to the number of decimal digits of . A far better estimate of is given by the offset logarithmic integral function , defined by : mathrm{Li}(x) = int_2^x frac1{ln(t)} ,dt. The Riemann hypothesis, one of the oldest open mathematical conjectures, can be stated in terms of comparing and . The Erdős–Kac theorem describing the number of distinct prime factors also involves the natural logarithm.

    The logarithm of n factorial, , is given by : ln (n!) = ln (1) + ln (2) + cdots + ln (n). , This can be used to obtain Stirling's formula, an approximation of for large n.


    Complex logarithm

    All the complex numbers that solve the equation


    are called complex logarithms of , when is (considered as) a complex number. A complex number is commonly represented as , where and are real numbers and is an imaginary unit, the square of which is −1. Such a number can be visualized by a point in the complex plane, as shown at the right. The polar form encodes a non-zero complex number by its absolute value, that is, the (positive, real) distance to the origin, and an angle between the real () axis Re and the line passing through both the origin and . This angle is called the argument of .

    The absolute value of is given by

    : extstyle r=sqrt{x^2+y^2}.

    Using the geometrical interpretation of sin and cos and their periodicity in 2pi, any complex number may be denoted as

    :z = x + iy = r (cos varphi + i sin varphi )= r (cos (varphi + 2kpi) + i sin (varphi + 2kpi)),

    for any integer number . Evidently the argument of is not uniquely specified: both and ' = + 2k are valid arguments of for all integers , because adding 2k radian or k⋅360° to corresponds to "winding" around the origin counter-clock-wise by turns. The resulting complex number is always , as illustrated at the right for . One may select exactly one of the possible arguments of as the so-called principal argument, denoted , with a capital , by requiring to belong to one, conveniently selected turn, e.g., -pi < varphi le pi or 0 le varphi < 2pi. These regions, where the argument of is uniquely determined are called branches of the argument function.Euler's formula connects the trigonometric functions sine and cosine to the complex exponential: :e^{ivarphi} = cos varphi + isin varphi .

    Using this formula, and again the periodicity, the following identities hold:

    : egin{array}{lll}z& = & r left (cos varphi + i sin varphi ight) \ & = & r left (cos(varphi + 2kpi) + i sin(varphi + 2kpi) ight) \ & = & r e^{i (varphi + 2kpi)} \ & = & e^{ln(r)} e^{i (varphi + 2kpi)} \ & = & e^{ln(r) + i(varphi + 2kpi)} = e^{a_k}, end{array}

    where is the unique real natural logarithm, denote the complex logarithms of , and is an arbitrary integer. Therefore, the complex logarithms of , which are all those complex values for which the power of equals , are the infinitely many values

    :a_k = ln (r) + i ( varphi + 2 k pi ),quad for arbitrary integers .

    Taking such that varphi + 2 k pi is within the defined interval for the principal arguments, then is called the principal value of the logarithm, denoted , again with a capital . The principal argument of any positive real number is 0; hence is a real number and equals the real (natural) logarithm. However, the above formulas for logarithms of products and powers do not generalize to the principal value of the complex logarithm.

    The illustration at the right depicts , confining the arguments of to the interval . This way the corresponding branch of the complex logarithm has discontinuities all along the negative real axis, which can be seen in the jump in the hue there. This discontinuity arises from jumping to the other boundary in the same branch, when crossing a boundary, i.e., not changing to the corresponding -value of the continuously neighboring branch. Such a locus is called a branch cut. Dropping the range restrictions on the argument makes the relations "argument of ", and consequently the "logarithm of ", multi-valued functions.

    Inverses of other exponential functions

    Exponentiation occurs in many areas of mathematics and its inverse function is often referred to as the logarithm. For example, the logarithm of a matrix is the (multi-valued) inverse function of the matrix exponential. Another example is the p-adic logarithm, the inverse function of the p-adic exponential. Both are defined via Taylor series analogous to the real case. In the context of differential geometry, the exponential map maps the tangent space at a point of a manifold to a neighborhood of that point. Its inverse is also called the logarithmic (or log) map.

    In the context of finite groups exponentiation is given by repeatedly multiplying one group element with itself. The discrete logarithm is the integer n solving the equation :b^n = x,, where is an element of the group. Carrying out the exponentiation can be done efficiently, but the discrete logarithm is believed to be very hard to calculate in some groups. This asymmetry has important applications in public key cryptography, such as for example in the Diffie–Hellman key exchange, a routine that allows secure exchanges of cryptographic keys over unsecured information channels. Zech's logarithm is related to the discrete logarithm in the multiplicative group of non-zero elements of a finite field.

    Further logarithm-like inverse functions include the double logarithm ln(ln(x)), the super- or hyper-4-logarithm (a slight variation of which is called iterated logarithm in computer science), the Lambert W function, and the logit. They are the inverse functions of the double exponential function, tetration, of , and of the logistic function, respectively.

    Related concepts

    From the perspective of group theory, the identity expresses a group isomorphism between positive reals under multiplication and reals under addition. Logarithmic functions are the only continuous isomorphisms between these groups. By means of that isomorphism, the Haar measure (Lebesgue measure) dx on the reals corresponds to the Haar measure on the positive reals. The non-negative reals not only have a multiplication, but also have addition, and form a semiring, called the probability semiring; this is in fact a semifield. The logarithm then takes multiplication to addition (log multiplication), and takes addition to log addition (LogSumExp), giving an isomorphism of semirings between the probability semiring and the log semiring.

    Logarithmic one-forms appear in complex analysis and algebraic geometry as differential forms with logarithmic poles.

    The polylogarithm is the function defined by : operatorname{Li}_s(z) = sum_{k=1}^infty {z^k over k^s}. It is related to the natural logarithm by . Moreover, equals the Riemann zeta function .