Vector Calculus

Understand vector calculus with the differentiation and integration concepts of vector fields. Also, understand vector representation and basic operations.

Alan Walker-

Published on 2023-05-22

Introduction to Vector Calculus

Vector calculus is a branch of calculus which involves the study of differentiation and integration of vectors and vector-valued functions. There are many concepts, rules and theorems to solve the integration and differentiation of vectors. Let’s understand the basics of vector calculus along with the differentiation and integration of the vectors.

Understanding of the Vector calculus

To understand the concepts of vector calculus, it is important to learn about the vectors and vector-valued functions. This branch of calculus involves different concepts related to vectors such as gradient, curl, divergence, Laplacian, vector laplacian and the jacobian matrix. These concepts allow us to analyze the behavior of vector functions in different circumstances. Let’s understand what a vector is and how it is represented. 

Basic concept of Vector and its representation

There are two quantities in physics, scalar and vector. A scalar quantity can be represented by using only magnitude. Whereas a vector is a quantity having magnitude and direction. Usually it is represented as a line segment having some magnitude and direction. A vector is represented with an arrow on the alphabet used to write. For example, a two dimensional vector having x and y components can be represented as;


Where i and j are the components of v in the direction of x and y respectively. Graphically, a vector can be represented as follows, 

There are different quantities in physics and vector calculus which are not possible to be represented without using vectors. For example, velocity, momentum, force, electromagnetic field, weight etc. 

Vector Operations

There are various operations that can be applied on the vectors such as addition, subtraction and multiplication. Further the multiplication of vectors is categorized into two types, dot product and the vector product. These operations play an important role in vector calculus to evaluate their differentiation and integration.

Dot product 

The dot product is the multiplication of two vectors that results in a scalar quantity. Mathematically, the dot product of two vectors A and B can be represented as;

$\vec{A}\cdot \vec{B} = |A||B| \cos \theta{2}lt;/p>

Where 𝜃 is the angle between the vectors A and B. If 𝜃 is of 90 degree, then the vectors are perpendicular to each other and their dot product will be zero. If 𝜃 is of 0 degrees, then the vectors will be parallel to each other and their dot product will not be zero. 

Vector Product

 A vector product is also a multiplication of two vectors that results in a vector. Mathematically, it is represented as;

$\vec{A}\times \vec{B} = |A||B|\sin 𝜃{2}lt;/p>

If 𝜃 is of 90 degree, then the vectors are perpendicular to each other. If 𝜃 is of 0 degrees, then the vectors will be parallel to each other and their vector product will be zero. 

Differentiation of Vectors Functions

The Differentiation of vector functions involves different concepts such as gradient, divergence and directional derivative. Let’s discuss them one-by-one.


A gradient is a differential operator which is used to generate a vector from a two or three-dimensional vector-valued function. It is denoted by ∇ which is pronounced as nabla. The gradient of a function can be written as;

$\nabla f(x,y)=\frac{\partial f}{\partial x}i+\frac{\partial f}{partial y}j{2}lt;/p>

It involves the partial derivatives of the functions with respect to x and y.


Divergence of a vector field is an operation on a vector-valued function which results in a scalar function. In other words, it is a dot product between gradient and a vector-valued function. Mathematically, The divergence of a function can be expressed as:

$\nabla \cdot f(x,y) = \left(\frac{\partial}{\partial x}i +\frac{\partial}{\partial y}j\right)\cdot (F_1 i+F_2 j){2}lt;/p>


$\nabla\cdot f(x,y) = \frac{\partial F_1}{\partial x}+\frac{\partial F_2}{\partial y}{2}nbsp;


  • $f(x,y)=F_1 i+F_2 j{2}lt;/li>
  • $\nabla=\left(\frac{\partial}{\partial x}i +\frac{\partial}{\partial y}j\right){2}lt;/li>

Directional Derivative 

A directional derivative is another concept that uses the concept of vector to define the rate of change of a function in a specific direction. For a function f(x), the directional derivative is represented as;

$\nabla_u f=\lim_{h\to 0} \frac{f(x+uh)-f(x)}{h}{2}lt;/p>

Where u is the unit vector in the direction of the rate of change.

Integration of Vector functions

Integration of vector fields involves different concepts such as line integral, surface integral, volume integral etc. Let’s discuss them. 

Line Integral

When a function is integrated along a curve, the integral is known as a line integral. We can integrate a vector-valued or a scalar function by using the line integral. Mathematically, the line integral formula can be written as;

$\int_c F(r) dr = \int^b_a F[r(t)].r’(t) dt{2}lt;/p>

Surface Integral

It is a double integral of the line integral which is used to calculate flux across the surface. In other words, the surface integral is the generalization of the sum of multiple integrals over the surfaces. Mathematically, the formula of surface integral is written as:

$\int \int_S f(x,y,z) dS=\int \int_D f(\vec{r}(u,v))||\vec{r}_u\times \vec{r}_v||dA{2}lt;/p>

Volume Integral

The volume integral is an integral in three-dimensional space. It is used to calculate the effect of a vector field in a three-dimensional region. Mathematically, the volume integral can be written as:

$\int_V f(x,y,z) DV = \int \int \int_V d(x,y,z) dx dy dz{2}lt;/p>

The volume integral is also known as the triple integral. Other than line, surface and volume integrals, there are many other concepts of integration and differentiations that involve the vector fields. 


Vector calculus plays a fundamental role in calculus to evaluate differentiation and integrations of vector fields. It has many applications in physics, engineering, and science. The concepts involving gradient, curl, divergence, line integral, surface integral etc are helpful in analyzing the behavior of vector fields.

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