What is the Difference Between Standardization and Normalization?

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In the world of data analysis, machine learning, and data science, it is important to understand the distinction between standardization and normalization, two of the most commonly used feature scaling techniques. These preprocessing steps are crucial when dealing with data that has different scales, units, or ranges, as they can significantly impact the performance of your machine learning algorithms. This article will detail what standardization and normalization are, their differences, and when to use each technique.

Introduction to Feature Scaling

Feature scaling is a method used to standardize the range of independent variables or features of data. In data processing, it is also known as data normalization, and it is essentially the process of restructuring the data to fit within a specific scale, like 0-100 or 0-1.

Feature scaling is used in machine learning algorithms that utilize distance-based or gradient-based methods because they require data to be on the same scale for optimal performance. These include algorithms like K-nearest neighbors (KNN), k-means, support vector machines (SVM), and principal component analysis (PCA), among others.

There are two common types of feature scaling: standardization and normalization.


Standardization, also known as Z-score normalization, is a scaling technique where the values are centered around the mean with a unit standard deviation. This means that the mean of the attribute becomes zero and the resultant distribution has a unit standard deviation. The mathematical formula for standardization is:

z = (x - μ) / σ


  • x is the element of the column,
  • μ is the mean of the column,
  • σ is the standard deviation of the column.

Standardization does not have a bounding range, meaning that values can be positive, negative, zero, and may exceed -1 and 1.


Normalization, on the other hand, scales each input variable separately to the range 0-1. This is also known as Min-Max scaling. The idea is to normalize your features to be on a similar scale. This scaling makes the features bounded to a specific range. The mathematical formula for normalization is:

x_new = (x - min) / (max - min)


  • x is the element of the column,
  • min is the minimum value of the column,
  • max is the maximum value of the column.

After normalization, all variables have a similar influence on the model, which enables the model to learn and make predictions more accurately.

Differences between Standardization and Normalization


The most notable difference between standardization and normalization lies in their boundaries. In standardization, there is no set boundary for the values because it depends on the data distribution. After standardization, the data is centered around zero, and the standard deviation is 1.

Normalization, however, scales the data to fit within a specific scale (typically 0-1). The data after normalization is strictly bounded to this range.


Standardization does not have a bounding range, which makes it useful for dealing with outliers. It maintains the outliers and does not distort the distances between them and other points. Thus, standardization is less sensitive to outliers than normalization.

Normalization, because it fits everything within a certain scale, can significantly distort the distances between the points when outliers are present. Hence, if the dataset contains notable outliers, normalization could lead to poor performance of some machine learning algorithms.

Algorithm Requirement

The choice between normalization and standardization depends heavily on the algorithm used. Some machine learning algorithms perform better with standardized data, while others may perform better with normalized data.

For instance, algorithms that use a distance function, like k-nearest neighbors (KNN) and k-means clustering, require normalization because they are sensitive to the magnitude of the variables. On the other hand, machine learning algorithms that rely on the assumption of normally distributed data, like linear discriminant analysis (LDA) and Gaussian naive Bayes, may benefit more from standardization.


Standardized data can sometimes be more interpretable than normalized data, especially when data is normally distributed. This is because standardization provides information about how many standard deviations the data deviates from the mean. For instance, a standardized value of 1.5 signifies that the data is 1.5 standard deviations away from the mean.

Normalized data, however, is more straightforward in terms of scale because it ranges between 0 and 1. This makes normalized data more intuitive to understand, especially for people without a strong statistical background.

When to Use Standardization vs. Normalization

As a rule of thumb, if your data is Gaussian or close to Gaussian (also known as the bell curve or normal distribution), standardization is the preferred scaling method. Many machine learning algorithms, like linear regression, logistic regression, and linear discriminant analysis, make assumptions about the distribution of your data. If the input variables are Gaussian, these algorithms will perform better.

Normalization, on the other hand, is useful when your data has varying scales and the algorithm you are using does not make assumptions about the distribution of your data, such as K-Nearest Neighbors and Neural Network algorithms. Normalization is also a good technique to use when you do not know the distribution of your data or when you know the distribution is not Gaussian.

However, it’s important to note that the choice of whether to use normalization or standardization should be guided by the specific requirements of your machine learning algorithm and the nature of your dataset. In practice, it’s usually a good idea to try both and see which one performs better.


Standardization and normalization are two of the most common feature scaling methods in data preprocessing. While they might seem similar, they serve different purposes and are used in different scenarios. Understanding these two techniques and their differences is critical for anyone working with data.

Normalization is a scaling technique that adjusts values measured on different scales to a common scale, typically 0-1. Standardization, on the other hand, transforms data to have a mean of zero and a standard deviation of one. This technique is useful when your data follows a Gaussian distribution.

The choice between standardization and normalization depends on your dataset and the machine learning algorithm you’re using. Some algorithms might benefit more from standardization, while others might perform better with normalization.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution in data preprocessing. Often, the best approach is to understand your data, understand the requirements of the machine learning algorithms you’re using, and experiment with different preprocessing techniques.

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