I am new to optimization. I keep seeing equations that have a superscript 2 and a subscript 2 on the right-hand side of a norm. For instance, here is the least squares equation

min $ ||Ax-b||^2_2$

I think I understand the superscript 2: it means to square the value of the norm. But what is the subscript 2? How should I read these equations?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ $||\theta||_p$ is the $\ell_p$-norm of $\theta$. Let's say $\theta$ is $d$-dimensional, then $||\theta||_p = \left(\sum_{i=1}^d |\theta_i|^p\right)^\frac{1}{p}$. $\endgroup$
    – Sobi
    Dec 15, 2015 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ Single vertical bars are used for absolute value (magnitude): $|\theta|$ $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2015 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks!...but what is the superscript 2 for?...the subsript is for the pth norm....the superscript is for? $\endgroup$
    – mathopt
    Dec 15, 2015 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ @user1467929: Squaring - if it's anything else they'd surely have said. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2015 at 19:48

2 Answers 2


You are right about the superscript. The subscript $||.||_p$ specifies the $p$-norm.





  • $\begingroup$ ah. And there are conventions for the meanings of the subscripts I see. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norm_(mathematics)#p-norm. So like 1 = taxicab norm, 2=euclid norm etc $\endgroup$
    – bernie2436
    Nov 13, 2015 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ @bernie2436: These are special cases of the general definition given in the answer above (except maybe the sup-norm with $p = \infty$) $\endgroup$
    – Michael M
    Nov 13, 2015 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good explanation. $\endgroup$
    – StatsBio
    Sep 20, 2022 at 11:29

$\|x\|_2$ is the Euclidean norm of the vector $x$; $\|x\|_2^2$ is the squared Euclidean norm of $x$. Note that as the Euclidean norm is probably the mostly commonly used norm people routinely abbreviated by $\|x\|$. By definition when assuming a Euclidean vector space: $\|x\|_2 := \sqrt{x_1^2 + x_2^2 + \dots + x_n^2}$.

As mentioned in the comments, the subscript $p$ refers to the degree of the norm. Other commonly used norms are for $p = 0$, $p = 1$ and $p = \infty$. For $p=0$ one gets the number of non-zero elements in $x$, for $p=1$ (ie. $\|x\|_1$) one gets the Manhattan norm and for $p = \infty$ one gets the maximum absolute value from the elements in $x$. Both $p = 0$ and $p = 1$ are popular in sparse/compressed application settings where one wants to "urge" some coefficient(s) to be zero.


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