What is the difference in meaning of Track and Trace. Are both similar in meaning? Please give some examples related with that.

I have lots of confusion with this, like tracking mobile phone or tracing mobile phone, tracking location or tracing location etc.

4 Answers 4


As verbs, both imply careful following or reconstruction in order to find or identify a path. The difference is in direction & point in time:


To trace: follow the completed path backwards from its current point to where it began.

To track: follow the emerging path forwards from your starting point to wherever the thing currently is.

When you "trace" a cellphone call, you try to determine its origin. This is the same whether done right now, or for a call made a month ago. You go backward to the starting point.

When you "track" a cellphone, you monitor its current location, right now, and follow it wherever it goes in the future.


You can also use "track" or "trace" as a noun, both of which basically mean the same thing: a sign that something was there. A "trace" may be less obvious - a small/tiny amount or just a hint. A track is more obvious, well-worn by repeated use.

  • nice answer, cleared my confusion.
    – A. Prasad
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 3:29
  • I wonder whether there is a difference between "trace" and "trace down".
    – Marinos An
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 11:40
  • @MarinosAn - I've personally never heard "trace down" but you often hear "track down" as in "I'll try to track down an answer for you." ... That basically means to go looking for the specified thing using clues to figure out what/where it is, similar to how I described the verb "track" above.
    – mc01
    Commented May 25, 2022 at 4:00

"Tracks" primarily refer to footprints, "traces" to less obvious signs of passing.

A hunter tracks an animal, tracing its path. A hunter might find fresh tracks when hot on an animal's trail, or a trace of tracks in mud or snow after a week or two.

The two terms are similar in meaning. You should infer that while traces are smaller and less obvious than tracks, they too span the entire course.

Tracing implies careful examination and reproduction of the exact path. Tracking requires less rigorous observation for you to move from step to step.

A trace on a mobile phone reveals the path the signal traverses through the various pieces of equipment (cellphone towers, PBXs, or branch offices). The tracks in this scenario are the identifiers generated as the signal traces its path; ie data packets, log files, the ring of a phone.


trac·ing /ˈtrāsiNG/ noun
noun: tracing; plural noun: tracings

a copy of a drawing, map, or design made by tracing it.

  • a faint or delicate mark or pattern.

Oxford Dictionaries

When I got into the transportation business, tracing was the term used to provide a Proof of Delivery - a signed delivery receipt. Copy machines were still new and expensive so many trucking offices did not have them yet. the old practice was to "trace" on an onion skin paper the DR signature and any written notations on the DR. So- tracking was to find the shipment enroute or even its prior path. Tracing was to "trace" a signature to provide a POD.

  • When including a dictionary quote, please mention which dictionary you quoted.
    – Jasper
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 18:09
  • Some dictionaries (like Collins) are happy to allow ELLers to make fair-use quotations from their dictionaries. Some other dictionaries discourage quoting their dictionaries.
    – Jasper
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 18:09

Tracking -> Location Tracing -> status, changes inherent, evolution in time

You trace an item property (temp, value, condition, pH, source, completed) You tracking an item moving/location (geographic, step).

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