The Kolmogorov–Smirnov test (K–S test) tests if two probability distributions are equal. Therefore, you can compare an empirically observed distribution with a known reference distribution, or you can compare two observed distributions, to test whether they match.

It works in really quite a simple manner. Let the cumulative distribution functions of the two distributions be CDF_{A} and CDF_{B} respectively. We simply measure the maximum difference between these two functions for any given argument. This maximum difference is known as the Kolmogorov-Smirnov *statistic*, D, and is given by:

You can think about it this way: if you plotted of CDF_{A} and CDF_{B} together on the same set of axes, D is the length of the largest vertical line you could draw between the two plots.

To perform the Kolmogorov-Smirnov *test*, one simply compares D to a table of thresholds for statistical significance. The thresholds are calculated under the null hypothesis that the distributions are equal. If D is too big, the null hypothesis is rejected. The threshold for significance depends on the size of your sample (as your sample gets smaller, your D needs to get larger to show that the two distributions are different) and, of course, on the desired significance level.

The test is non-parametric or distribution-free, which means it makes no assumptions about the underlying distributions of the data. It is useful for one-dimensional distributions, but does not generalise easily to multivariate distributions.