Grid references define locations on maps using Cartesian coordinates. Grid lines on maps define the coordinate system, and are numbered to provide a unique reference to features.
Grid systems vary, but the most common is a square grid with grid lines intersecting each other at right angles and numbered sequentially from the origin at the bottom left of the map. The grid numbers on the east-west (horizontal) axis are called Eastings, and the grid numbers on the north-south (vertical) axis are called Northings.
Numerical grid references consist of an even number of digits. Eastings are written before Northings. Thus in a 6 digit grid reference 123456, the Easting component is 123 and the Northing component is 456.
Grids may be arbitrary, or can be based on specific distances, for example some maps use a one-kilometre square grid spacing.
A grid reference locates a unique square region on the map. The precision of location varies, for example a simple town plan may use a simple grid system with single letters for Eastings and single numbers for Northings. A grid reference in this system, such as ‘H3’, locates a particular square rather than a single point.
Points can be located by grid references on maps that use a standard system for Eastings and Northings, such as the Universal Transverse Mercator used worldwide, or the Ordnance Survey National Grid used by Ordnance Survey in the UK. These points can then be located by someone else using grid references, even if using maps of a different scale.