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Algorithm vs. Formula: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on November 11, 2023
An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure for calculations or problem-solving, while a formula is a concise way of expressing information symbolically.

Key Differences

An algorithm is a detailed set of instructions or processes to achieve a particular outcome or solve a specific problem. It's a general solution to a category of problems in terms of actions to be executed. Conversely, a formula is a fixed, concise sequence of mathematical symbols that produces a specific result.
Algorithms can be implemented in various programming languages and can be applied in numerous areas like computer science and data analysis. They dictate how a particular task is executed. Formulas, on the other hand, are commonly associated with mathematics, physics, and chemistry, and they give direct calculations to obtain results.
The concept of an algorithm is broader than that of a formula. For example, sorting numbers in ascending order can be achieved using various algorithms, each with different steps and efficiencies. In contrast, the quadratic formula is a specific expression used to solve quadratic equations.
In practical applications, an algorithm might use multiple formulas to carry out its steps. For instance, a computer algorithm designed to solve complex mathematical problems might use a variety of formulas during its execution. It's essential to recognize that while all formulas can be part of an algorithm, not all algorithms are formulas.

Comparison Chart


Step-by-step procedure for problem-solving
Concise expression of information symbolically


Broad (multiple steps or processes)
Specific (fixed sequence)

Fields of Application

Computer science, data analysis, etc.
Mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc.


Can encompass multiple formulas
Doesn't contain algorithms


Process or set of operations
Direct calculation or relationship

Algorithm and Formula Definitions


A set of rules to be followed in problem-solving operations.
The new algorithm improved the speed of the software.


A fixed form of words for use in a ceremony or ritual.
The priest recited the formula during the ceremony.


A process or set of rules followed in calculations.
By refining the algorithm, they optimized the system's performance.


An established form of words or symbols for use in a ceremony or procedure.


A step-by-step procedure for calculations.
The algorithm detailed the process from start to finish.


An utterance of conventional notions or beliefs; a hackneyed expression.


Instructions for solving a problem or task.
He designed an algorithm to predict weather patterns.


A method of doing or treating something that relies on an established, uncontroversial model or approach
A new situation comedy that simply uses an old formula.


A procedure or formula for solving a problem.
The computer program uses an efficient algorithm to sort data.


A symbolic representation of the composition or of the composition and structure of a compound.


A finite set of unambiguous instructions that, given some set of initial conditions, can be performed in a prescribed sequence to achieve a certain goal and that has a recognizable set of end conditions.


The compound so represented.


(countable) A collection of ordered steps that solve a mathematical problem. A precise step-by-step plan for a computational procedure that possibly begins with an input value and yields an output value in a finite number of steps.


A prescription of ingredients in fixed proportion; a recipe.


Calculation with Arabic numerals; algorism.


A liquid food for infants, containing most of the nutrients in human milk.


A precise rule (or set of rules) specifying how to solve some problem; a set of procedures guaranteed to find the solution to a problem.


(Mathematics) A statement, especially an equation, of a fact, rule, principle, or other logical relation.


A precise rule (or set of rules) specifying how to solve some problem


Formula(Sports) A set of specifications, including engine displacement, fuel capacity, and weight, that determine a class of racing car.


(mathematics) Any mathematical rule expressed symbolically.
x = \frac {-b \pm \sqrt{b^2 - 4ac}}{2a} is a formula for finding the roots of the quadratic equation ax2 + bx + c = 0.


(chemistry) A symbolic expression of the structure of a compound.
H2O is the formula for water.


A plan or method for dealing with a problem or for achieving a result.
The company's winning formula includes excellent service and quality products.


A formulation; a prescription; a mixture or solution made in a prescribed manner; the identity and quantities of ingredients of such a mixture.
The formula of the rocket fuel has not been revealed.


A formal statement of doctrine.


Ellipsis of infant formula; drink given to babies to substitute for mother's milk.


(logic) A syntactic expression of a proposition, built up from quantifiers, logical connectives, variables, relation and operation symbols, and, depending on the type of logic, possibly other operators such as modal, temporal, deontic or epistemic ones.


A prescribed or set form; an established rule; a fixed or conventional method in which anything is to be done, arranged, or said.


A written confession of faith; a formal statement of foctrines.


A rule or principle expressed in algebraic language; as, the binominal formula.


A prescription or recipe for the preparation of a medicinal compound.


A symbolic expression (by means of letters, figures, etc.) of the constituents or constitution of a compound.


A group of symbols that make a mathematical statement


Directions for making something


A conventionalized statement expressing some fundamental principle


A representation of a substance using symbols for its constituent elements


Something regarded as a normative example;
The convention of not naming the main character
Violence is the rule not the exception
His formula for impressing visitors


A liquid food for infants


(mathematics) a standard procedure for solving a class of mathematical problems;
He determined the upper bound with Descartes' rule of signs
He gave us a general formula for attacking polynomials


A mathematical relationship expressed symbolically.
The quadratic formula is essential for solving quadratic equations.


A method, statement, or procedure for achieving something.
She has a winning formula for success in business.


A standard or accepted way of doing or making something.
The product was made using a secret formula.


An expression of facts or symbols in letters and numbers.
Using the right formula, they calculated the distance.


What's the main difference between an algorithm and a formula?

An algorithm is a step-by-step process, while a formula is a concise mathematical expression.

Can you give an example of an algorithm in daily life?

A recipe for baking a cake is an example of an algorithm with specific steps to follow.

Is the quadratic equation a formula or an algorithm?

The quadratic equation is a formula used to solve quadratic problems.

Can an algorithm contain multiple formulas?

Yes, an algorithm can encompass and use multiple formulas in its steps.

Is a formula specific to mathematics?

While formulas are common in mathematics, they can also appear in fields like physics and chemistry.

Can formulas change based on context?

Yes, a formula might be adapted or have variables, changing its outcome based on inputs.

Can I write an algorithm for any task?

Essentially, yes. An algorithm can be crafted for any task requiring step-by-step instructions.

Do algorithms only apply to computer science?

While prevalent in computer science, algorithms can be found in various fields like finance or logistics.

Are algorithms always complex?

No, algorithms can be simple or complex, depending on the problem they address.

What's the primary purpose of a formula?

A formula provides a direct calculation or relationship between variables.

Is a chemical mixture recipe a formula?

Yes, in chemistry, a formula often refers to the composition of a compound or mixture.

Are formulas always exact?

While formulas provide exact relationships, results can vary based on input accuracy.

In what fields are formulas most commonly used?

Formulas are prevalent in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering, among others.

Are algorithms used in decision-making processes?

Yes, algorithms can guide decision-making by providing structured approaches to analyzing options.

Is there a universal algorithm for all tasks?

No, algorithms are typically crafted for specific problems or categories of problems.

How do algorithms relate to programming?

In programming, algorithms dictate how a task or function is executed step by step.

Do algorithms always guarantee the best solution?

No, while an algorithm provides a solution, it may not always be the most efficient or optimal.

Can one problem have multiple algorithms?

Yes, a single problem can have various algorithms, each with different efficiencies or approaches.

Can a formula be considered an algorithm?

Not usually. While a formula can be part of an algorithm, it's a concise expression, not a step-by-step process.

Does every mathematical problem have a formula?

Not all mathematical problems have direct formulas, some require procedural solutions.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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