Parametric equation
In mathematics, a parametric equation defines a group of quantities as functions of one or more independent variables called parameters.^{[1]} Parametric equations are commonly used to express the coordinates of the points that make up a geometric object such as a curve or surface, in which case the equations are collectively called a parametric representation or parameterization (alternatively spelled as parametrization) of the object.^{[1]}^{[2]}^{[3]}
For example, the equations
form a parametric representation of the unit circle, where t is the parameter: A point (x, y) is on the unit circle if and only if there is a value of t such that these two equations generate that point. Sometimes the parametric equations for the individual scalar output variables are combined into a single parametric equation in vectors:
Parametric representations are generally nonunique (see the "Examples in two dimensions" section below), so the same quantities may be expressed by a number of different parameterizations.^{[1]}
In addition to curves and surfaces, parametric equations can describe manifolds and algebraic varieties of higher dimension, with the number of parameters being equal to the dimension of the manifold or variety, and the number of equations being equal to the dimension of the space in which the manifold or variety is considered (for curves the dimension is one and one parameter is used, for surfaces dimension two and two parameters, etc.).
Parametric equations are commonly used in kinematics, where the trajectory of an object is represented by equations depending on time as the parameter. Because of this application, a single parameter is often labeled t; however, parameters can represent other physical quantities (such as geometric variables) or can be selected arbitrarily for convenience. Parameterizations are nonunique; more than one set of parametric equations can specify the same curve.^{[4]}
Contents
Applications
Kinematics
In kinematics, objects' paths through space are commonly described as parametric curves, with each spatial coordinate depending explicitly on an independent parameter (usually time). Used in this way, the set of parametric equations for the object's coordinates collectively constitute a vectorvalued function for position. Such parametric curves can then be integrated and differentiated termwise. Thus, if a particle's position is described parametrically as
then its velocity can be found as
and its acceleration as
 .
Computeraided design
Another important use of parametric equations is in the field of computeraided design (CAD).^{[5]} For example, consider the following three representations, all of which are commonly used to describe planar curves.
Type  Form  Example  Description 

1. Explicit  Line  
2. Implicit  Circle  
3. Parametric  ; 

Line Circle 
The first two types are known as analytic, or nonparametric, representations of curves; when compared to parametric representations for use in CAD applications, nonparametric representations have shortcomings. In particular, the nonparametric representation depends on the choice of the coordinate system and does not lend itself well to geometric transformations, such as rotations, translations, and scaling; nonparametric representations therefore make it more difficult to generate points on a curve. These problems can be addressed by rewriting the nonparametric equations in parametric form.^{[6]}
Integer geometry
Numerous problems in integer geometry can be solved using parametric equations. A classical such solution is Euclid's parametrization of right triangles such that the lengths of their sides a, b and their hypotenuse c are coprime integers. As a and b are not both even (otherwise a, b and c would not be coprime), one may exchange them to have a even, and the parameterization is then
where the parameters m and n are positive coprime integers that are not both odd.
By multiplying a, b and c by an arbitrary positive integer, one gets a parametrization of all right triangles whose three sides have integer lengths.
Implicitization
Converting a set of parametric equations to a single implicit equation involves eliminating the variable from the simultaneous equations This process is called implicitization. If one of these equations can be solved for t, the expression obtained can be substituted into the other equation to obtain an equation involving x and y only.
If the parametrization is given by rational functions
where p, q, r are setwise coprime polynomials, a resultant computation allows one to implicitize. More precisely, the implicit equation is the resultant with respect to t of xr(t) – p(t) and yr(t) – q(t)
In higher dimension (either more than two coordinates of more than one parameter), the implicitization of rational parametric equations may by done with Gröbner basis computation; see Gröbner basis § Implicitization in higher dimension.
In some cases there is no single equation in closed form that is equivalent to the parametric equations.^{[7]}
To take the example of the circle of radius a above, the parametric equations
can be implicitized in terms of x and y by way of the Pythagorean trigonometric identity:
As
and
we get
and thus
which is the standard equation of a circle centered at the origin.
Examples in two dimensions
Parabola
The simplest equation for a parabola,
can be (trivially) parameterized by using a free parameter t, and setting
Explicit equations
More generally, any curve given by an explicit equation
can be (trivially) parameterized by using a free parameter t, and setting
Circle
A more sophisticated example is the following. Consider the unit circle which is described by the ordinary (Cartesian) equation
This equation can be parameterized as follows:
With the Cartesian equation it is easier to check whether a point lies on the circle or not. With the parametric version it is easier to obtain points on a plot.
In some contexts, parametric equations involving only rational functions (that is fractions of two polynomials) are preferred, if they exist. In the case of the circle, such a rational parameterization is
With this pair of parametric equations, the point (1, 0) is not represented by a real value of t, but by the limit of x and y when t tends to infinity.
Ellipse
An ellipse in canonical position (center at origin, major axis along the Xaxis) with semiaxes a and b can be represented parametrically as
An ellipse in general position can be expressed as
as the parameter t varies from 0 to 2π. Here is the center of the ellipse, and is the angle between the axis and the major axis of the ellipse.
Both parameterizations may be made rational by using the tangent halfangle formula and setting
Lissajous Curve
A Lissajous curve is similar to an ellipse, but the x and y sinusoids are not in phase. In canonical position, a Lissajous curve is given by
where and are constants describing the number of lobes of the figure.
Hyperbola
An eastwest opening hyperbola can be represented parametrically by
 or, rationally
A northsouth opening hyperbola can be represented parametrically as
 or, rationally
In all these formulae (h,k) are the center coordinates of the hyperbola, a is the length of the semimajor axis, and b is the length of the semiminor axis.
Hypotrochoid
A hypotrochoid is a curve traced by a point attached to a circle of radius r rolling around the inside of a fixed circle of radius R, where the point is at a distance d from the center of the interior circle.
The parametric equations for the hypotrochoids are:
Some sophisticated functions
Other examples are shown:
Examples in three dimensions
Helix
Parametric equations are convenient for describing curves in higherdimensional spaces. For example:
describes a threedimensional curve, the helix, with a radius of a and rising by 2πb units per turn. Note that the equations are identical in the plane to those for a circle. Such expressions as the one above are commonly written as
where r is a threedimensional vector.
Parametric surfaces
A torus with major radius R and minor radius r may be defined parametrically as
where the two parameters t and u both vary between 0 and 2π.
As u varies from 0 to 2π the point on the surface moves about a short circle passing through the hole in the torus. As t varies from 0 to 2π the point on the surface moves about a long circle around the hole in the torus.
Examples with vectors
The parametric equation of the line through the point and parallel to the vector is^{[8]}
See also
 Curve
 Parametric estimating
 Position vector
 Vectorvalued function
 Parametrization by arc length
 Parametric derivative
Notes
 ^ ^{a} ^{b} ^{c} Weisstein, Eric W. "Parametric Equations". MathWorld.
 ^ Thomas, George B.; Finney, Ross L. (1979). Calculus and Analytic Geometry (fifth ed.). AddisonWesley. p. 91.
 ^ Nykamp, Duane. "Plane parametrization example". mathinsight.org. Retrieved 20170414.
 ^ Spitzbart, Abraham (1975). Calculus with Analytic Geometry. Gleview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company. ISBN 0673079074. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
 ^ Stewart, James (2003). Calculus (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Learning, Inc. pp. 687–689. ISBN 053439339X.
 ^ Shah, Jami J.; Martti Mantyla (1995). Parametric and featurebased CAD/CAM: concepts, techniques, and applications. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp. 29–31. ISBN 0471002143.
 ^ See "Equation form and Parametric form conversion" for more information on converting from a series of parametric equations to single function.
 ^ Calculus : Single and multivariable. John wiley. 20120101. p. 919. ISBN 9780470888612. OCLC 828768012.
External links
 Graphing Software at Curlie
 Web application to draw parametric curves on the plane