Fr.: principe variationnel
Any of the physical principles that indicate in what way the actual motion of a state of a mechanical system differs from all of its kinematically possible motions or states. Variational principles that express this difference for the motion or state of a system in each given instant of time are called → differential. These principles are equally applicable to both → holonomic and → nonholonomic systems. Variational principles that establish the difference between the actual motion of a system during a finite time interval and all of its kinematically possible motions are said to be → integral. Integral variational principles are valid only for holonomic systems. The main differential variational principles are: the → virtual work principle and → d'Alembert's principle.