Centimetre–gram–second system of units
The centimetre–gram–second system of units (abbreviated CGS or cgs) is a variant of the metric system based on the centimetre as the unit of length, the gram as the unit of mass, and the second as the unit of time. All CGS mechanical units are unambiguously derived from these three base units, but there are several different ways in which the CGS system was extended to cover electromagnetism.
The CGS system has been largely supplanted by the MKS system based on the metre, kilogram, and second, which was in turn extended and replaced by the International System of Units (SI). In many fields of science and engineering, SI is the only system of units in use, but there remain certain subfields where CGS is prevalent.
In measurements of purely mechanical systems (involving units of length, mass, force, energy, pressure, and so on), the differences between CGS and SI are straightforward and rather trivial; the unit-conversion factors are all powers of 10 as 100 cm = 1 m and 1000 g = 1 kg. For example, the CGS unit of force is the dyne, which is defined as 1 g⋅cm/s2, so the SI unit of force, the newton (1 kg⋅m/s2), is equal to 100000 dynes.
On the other hand, in measurements of electromagnetic phenomena (involving units of charge, electric and magnetic fields, voltage, and so on), converting between CGS and SI is more subtle. Formulas for physical laws of electromagnetism (such as Maxwell's equations) take a form that depends on which system of units is being used, because the electromagnetic quantities are defined differently in SI and in CGS. Furthermore, within CGS, there are several plausible ways to define electromagnetic quantities, leading to different "sub-systems", including Gaussian units, "ESU", "EMU", and Heaviside–Lorentz units. Among these choices, Gaussian units are the most common today, and "CGS units" is often intended to refer to CGS-Gaussian units.