Heron's formula

Last updated
A triangle with sides a, b, and c Triangle with notations 2 without points.svg
A triangle with sides a, b, and c

In geometry, Heron's formula (sometimes called Hero's formula), named after Hero of Alexandria, [1] gives the area of a triangle when the length of all three sides are known. Unlike other triangle area formulae, there is no need to calculate angles or other distances in the triangle first.



Heron's formula states that the area of a triangle whose sides have lengths a, b, and c is

where s is the semi-perimeter of the triangle; that is,


Heron's formula can also be written as


Let ABC be the triangle with sides a = 4, b = 13 and c = 15. This triangle’s semiperimeter is

s = 1/2(a + b + c) = 1/2(4 + 13 + 15) = 16, and the area is

In this example, the side lengths and area are integers, making it a Heronian triangle. However, Heron's formula works equally well in cases where one or all of these numbers is not an integer.


The formula is credited to Heron (or Hero) of Alexandria, and a proof can be found in his book Metrica, written around AD 60. It has been suggested that Archimedes knew the formula over two centuries earlier, [3] and since Metrica is a collection of the mathematical knowledge available in the ancient world, it is possible that the formula predates the reference given in that work. [4]

A formula equivalent to Heron's, namely,

was discovered by the Chinese independently[ citation needed ] of the Greeks. It was published in Mathematical Treatise in Nine Sections (Qin Jiushao, 1247). [5]


Heron's original proof made use of cyclic quadrilaterals.[ citation needed ] Other arguments appeal to trigonometry as below, or to the incenter and one excircle of the triangle, [6] or to De Gua's theorem (for the particular case of acute triangles). [7]

Trigonometric proof using the law of cosines

A modern proof, which uses algebra and is quite different from the one provided by Heron (in his book Metrica), follows. [8] Let a, b, c be the sides of the triangle and α, β, γ the angles opposite those sides. Applying the law of cosines we get

From this proof, we get the algebraic statement that

The altitude of the triangle on base a has length b sin γ, and it follows

The difference of two squares factorization was used in two different steps.

Algebraic proof using the Pythagorean theorem

Triangle with altitude h cutting base c into d + (c - d) Triangle with notations 3.svg
Triangle with altitude h cutting base c into d + (cd)

The following proof is very similar to one given by Raifaizen. [9] By the Pythagorean theorem we have b2 = h2 + d2 and a2 = h2 + (cd)2 according to the figure at the right. Subtracting these yields a2b2 = c2 − 2cd. This equation allows us to express d in terms of the sides of the triangle:

For the height of the triangle we have that h2 = b2d2. By replacing d with the formula given above and applying the difference of squares identity we get

We now apply this result to the formula that calculates the area of a triangle from its height:

Trigonometric proof using the law of cotangents

Geometrical significance of s - a, s - b, and s - c. See the law of cotangents for the reasoning behind this. Herontriangle2greek.svg
Geometrical significance of sa, sb, and sc. See the law of cotangents for the reasoning behind this.

From the first part of the law of cotangents proof, [10] we have that the triangle's area is both

and A = rs, but, since the sum of the half-angles is π/2, the triple cotangent identity applies, so the first of these is

Combining the two, we get

from which the result follows.

Numerical stability

Heron's formula as given above is numerically unstable for triangles with a very small angle when using floating-point arithmetic. A stable alternative [11] [12] involves arranging the lengths of the sides so that abc and computing

The brackets in the above formula are required in order to prevent numerical instability in the evaluation.

Other area formulae resembling Heron's formula

Three other area formulae have the same structure as Heron's formula but are expressed in terms of different variables. First, denoting the medians from sides a, b, and c respectively as ma, mb, and mc and their semi-sum 1/2(ma + mb + mc) as σ, we have [13]

Next, denoting the altitudes from sides a, b, and c respectively as ha, hb, and hc, and denoting the semi-sum of the reciprocals of the altitudes as H = 1/2(h−1
+ h−1
+ h−1
we have [14]

Finally, denoting the semi-sum of the angles' sines as S = 1/2(sin α + sin β + sin γ), we have [15]

where D is the diameter of the circumcircle: D = a/sin α = b/sin β = c/sin γ.


Heron's formula is a special case of Brahmagupta's formula for the area of a cyclic quadrilateral. Heron's formula and Brahmagupta's formula are both special cases of Bretschneider's formula for the area of a quadrilateral. Heron's formula can be obtained from Brahmagupta's formula or Bretschneider's formula by setting one of the sides of the quadrilateral to zero.

Heron's formula is also a special case of the formula for the area of a trapezoid or trapezium based only on its sides. Heron's formula is obtained by setting the smaller parallel side to zero.

Expressing Heron's formula with a Cayley–Menger determinant in terms of the squares of the distances between the three given vertices,

illustrates its similarity to Tartaglia's formula for the volume of a three-simplex.

Another generalization of Heron's formula to pentagons and hexagons inscribed in a circle was discovered by David P. Robbins. [16]

Heron-type formula for the volume of a tetrahedron

If U, V, W, u, v, w are lengths of edges of the tetrahedron (first three form a triangle; u opposite to U and so on), then [17]


See also

Related Research Articles

Tetrahedron Polyhedron with 4 faces

In geometry, a tetrahedron, also known as a triangular pyramid, is a polyhedron composed of four triangular faces, six straight edges, and four vertex corners. The tetrahedron is the simplest of all the ordinary convex polyhedra and the only one that has fewer than 5 faces.

Triangle Shape with three sides

A triangle is a polygon with three edges and three vertices. It is one of the basic shapes in geometry. A triangle with vertices A, B, and C is denoted .

Law of sines Property of all triangles on a Euclidean plane

In trigonometry, the law of sines, sine law, sine formula, or sine rule is an equation relating the lengths of the sides of a triangle to the sines of its angles. According to the law,

Incircle and excircles of a triangle Circles tangent to all three sides of a triangle

In geometry, the incircle or inscribed circle of a triangle is the largest circle contained in the triangle; it touches the three sides. The center of the incircle is a triangle center called the triangle's incenter.

In mechanics and geometry, the 3D rotation group, often denoted SO(3), is the group of all rotations about the origin of three-dimensional Euclidean space under the operation of composition. By definition, a rotation about the origin is a transformation that preserves the origin, Euclidean distance, and orientation. Every non-trivial rotation is determined by its axis of rotation and its angle of rotation. Composing two rotations results in another rotation; every rotation has a unique inverse rotation; and the identity map satisfies the definition of a rotation. Owing to the above properties, the set of all rotations is a group under composition. Rotations are not commutative, making it a nonabelian group. Moreover, the rotation group has a natural structure as a manifold for which the group operations are smoothly differentiable; so it is in fact a Lie group. It is compact and has dimension 3.

Digamma function

In mathematics, the digamma function is defined as the logarithmic derivative of the gamma function:

Velocity-addition formula Equation used in relativistic physics

In relativistic physics, a velocity-addition formula is a three-dimensional equation that relates the velocities of objects in different reference frames. Such formulas apply to successive Lorentz transformations, so they also relate different frames. Accompanying velocity addition is a kinematic effect known as Thomas precession, whereby successive non-collinear Lorentz boosts become equivalent to the composition of a rotation of the coordinate system and a boost.

Stieltjes constants

In mathematics, the Stieltjes constants are the numbers that occur in the Laurent series expansion of the Riemann zeta function:

Ptolemys theorem Relates the 4 sides and 2 diagonals of a quadrilateral with vertices on a common circle

In Euclidean geometry, Ptolemy's theorem is a relation between the four sides and two diagonals of a cyclic quadrilateral. The theorem is named after the Greek astronomer and mathematician Ptolemy. Ptolemy used the theorem as an aid to creating his table of chords, a trigonometric table that he applied to astronomy.

Circumscribed circle Circle that passes through all the vertices of a polygon

In geometry, the circumscribed circle or circumcircle of a polygon is a circle that passes through all the vertices of the polygon. The center of this circle is called the circumcenter and its radius is called the circumradius.

Sine trigonometric function of an angle

In mathematics, the sine is a trigonometric function of an angle. The sine of an acute angle is defined in the context of a right triangle: for the specified angle, it is the ratio of the length of the side that is opposite that angle, to the length of the longest side of the triangle. For an angle , the sine function is denoted simply as .

Bretschneiders formula

In geometry, Bretschneider's formula is the following expression for the area of a general quadrilateral:

Morrie's law is a special trigonometric identity. Its name is due to the physicist Richard Feynman, who used to refer to the identity under that name. Feynman picked that name because he learned it during his childhood from a boy with the name Morrie Jacobs and afterwards remembered it for all of his life.

Radius of curvature

In differential geometry, the radius of curvature, R, is the reciprocal of the curvature. For a curve, it equals the radius of the circular arc which best approximates the curve at that point. For surfaces, the radius of curvature is the radius of a circle that best fits a normal section or combinations thereof.

Law of cosines

In trigonometry, the law of cosines relates the lengths of the sides of a triangle to the cosine of one of its angles. Using notation as in Fig. 1, the law of cosines states

In hyperbolic geometry, the "law of cosines" is a pair of theorems relating the sides and angles of triangles on a hyperbolic plane, analogous to the planar law of cosines from plane trigonometry, or the spherical law of cosines in spherical trigonometry. It can also be related to the relativistic velocity addition formula.

Solution of triangles is the main trigonometric problem of finding the characteristics of a triangle, when some of these are known. The triangle can be located on a plane or on a sphere. Applications requiring triangle solutions include geodesy, astronomy, construction, and navigation.

Law of cotangents

In trigonometry, the law of cotangents is a relationship among the lengths of the sides of a triangle and the cotangents of the halves of the three angles. This is also known as the Cot Theorem.


  1. "Fórmula de Herón para calcular el área de cualquier triángulo" (in Spanish). Spain: Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte. 2004. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
  2. Kendig, Keith (2000). "Is a 2000-Year-Old Formula Still Keeping Some Secrets?". Amer. Math. Monthly. 107: 402–415. doi:10.2307/2695295.
  3. Heath, Thomas L. (1921). A History of Greek Mathematics. II. Oxford University Press. pp. 321–323.
  4. Weisstein, Eric W. "Heron's Formula". MathWorld .
  5. 秦, 九韶 (1773). "卷三上, 三斜求积". 數學九章 (四庫全書本) (in Chinese).
  6. "Personal email communication between mathematicians John Conway and Peter Doyle". 15 December 1997. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  7. Lévy-Leblond, Jean-Marc (2020-09-14). "A Symmetric 3D Proof of Heron's Formula". The Mathematical Intelligencer. doi: 10.1007/s00283-020-09996-8 . ISSN   0343-6993.
  8. Niven, Ivan (1981). Maxima and Minima Without Calculus . The Mathematical Association of America. pp.  7–8.
  9. Raifaizen, Claude H. (1971). "A Simpler Proof of Heron's Formula". Mathematics Magazine. 44 (1): 27–28.
  10. The second part of the Law of cotangents proof depends on Heron's formula itself, but this article depends only on the first part.
  11. Sterbenz, Pat H. (1974-05-01). Floating-Point Computation. Prentice-Hall Series in Automatic Computation (1st ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, USA: Prentice Hall. ISBN   0-13-322495-3.
  12. William M. Kahan (24 March 2000). "Miscalculating Area and Angles of a Needle-like Triangle" (PDF).
  13. Benyi, Arpad, "A Heron-type formula for the triangle," Mathematical Gazette" 87, July 2003, 324–326.
  14. Mitchell, Douglas W., "A Heron-type formula for the reciprocal area of a triangle," Mathematical Gazette 89, November 2005, 494.
  15. Mitchell, Douglas W., "A Heron-type area formula in terms of sines," Mathematical Gazette 93, March 2009, 108–109.
  16. D. P. Robbins, "Areas of Polygons Inscribed in a Circle", Discr. Comput. Geom. 12, 223-236, 1994.
  17. W. Kahan, "What has the Volume of a Tetrahedron to do with Computer Programming Languages?", , pp. 16–17.