\newcommand{\sqdiagram}[9]{Failed to parse (unknown function "\diagram"): {\displaystyle \diagram #1 \rto^{#2} \dto_{#4}& \eqno{\mbox{#9}}} }

A geodesic  is generally described as the shortest possible, or topologically allowed, path between two points in a curved space.

Given a curved space one can find the geodesic by writing the equation for the length of a curve -- which is defined as a function from an open interval of to the manifold -- and then by using the calculus of variations minimizing this length. In physical applications, however, to simplify the calculation one may also require the minimization of energy as well as the length of the curve.

However, in Riemannian geometry geodesics are not coinciding with the "shortest length curves" joining two points, even though a close connection may exist between geodesics and the shortest paths; thus, moving around a great circle on a Riemann sphere the `long way round' between two arbitrary, fixed points on a sphere is a geodesic but it is not obviously the shortest length curve between the points (which would be a straight line that is not permitted by the topology of the surface of the Riemann sphere).

The orbits of satellites and planets are all geodesics in curved spacetime. As a more general physical example in general relativity theory, relativistic geodesics describe the motion of point particles in a spacetime with a curvature determined only by gravity.

Consider such a point particle that moves along a trajectory or "track" in physical spacetime; also assume that the track is parameterized with the values of . Then, the velocity vector pointing in the direction of motion of the point particle in spacetime can be written as:

If there are no forces acting on a point particle, then its velocity is unchanged along the trajectory or `track' and one has the following geodesic equation :

More generally, a geodesic in metric geometry is defined as a a curve from an interval to the metric space for which there exists a constant such that for any there is a neighborhood of such that for any one has that

When the equality is satisfied for all , the geodesic is called the shortest path or a minimizing geodesic .