Many clustering methods use distance measures to determine the similarity or dissimilarity between any pair of objects. It is useful to denote the distance between two instances x_i and x_j as: d(x_i,x_j). A valid distance measure should be symmetric and obtains its minimum value (usually zero) in case of identical vectors. The distance measure is called a metric distance measure if it also satisfies the following properties:

In the case of binary attributes, the distance between objects may be calculated based on a contingency table. A binary attribute is symmetric if both of its states are equally valuable. In that case, using the simple matching coefficient can assess dissimilarity between two objects:

where q is the number of attributes that equal 1 for both objects; t is the number of attributes that equal 0 for both objects; and s and r are the number of attributes that are unequal for both objects.

A binary attribute is asymmetric, if its states are not equally important (usually the positive outcome is considered more important). In this case, the denominator ignores the unimportant negative matches (t). This is called the Jaccard coefficient: