In some elementary textbooks, null set is taken to mean empty set.
The remainder of this article discusses the measure-theoretic notion.
Let X be a measurable space, let μ be a measure on X, and let N be a measurable set in X. If μ is a positive measure, then N is null (or zero measure) if its measure μ(N) is zero. If μ is not a positive measure, then N is μ-null if N is |μ|-null, where |μ| is the total variation of μ; equivalently, if every measurable subset A of N satisfies μ(A) = 0. For positive measures, this is equivalent to the definition given above; but for signed measures, this is stronger than simply saying that μ(N) = 0.
A nonmeasurable set is considered null if it is a subset of a null measurable set. Some references require a null set to be measurable; however, subsets of null sets are still negligible for measure-theoretic purposes.
The empty set is always a null set. More generally, any countable union of null sets is null. Any measurable subset of a null set is itself a null set. Together, these facts show that the m-null sets of X form a sigma-ideal on X. Similarly, the measurable m-null sets form a sigma-ideal of the sigma-algebra of measurable sets. Thus, null sets may be interpreted as negligible sets, defining a notion of almost everywhere.
A subset N of R has null Lebesgue measure and is considered to be a null set in R if and only if:
Null sets play a key role in the definition of the Lebesgue integral: if functions f and g are equal except on a null set, then f is integrable if and only if g is, and their integrals are equal.
A measure in which all subsets of null sets are measurable is complete. Any non-complete measure can be completed to form a complete measure by asserting that subsets of null sets have measure zero. Lebesgue measure is an example of a complete measure; in some constructions, it's defined as the completion of a non-complete Borel measure.
The Borel measure is not complete. One simple construction is to start with the standard Cantor set , which is closed hence Borel measurable, and which has measure zero, and to find a subset of which is not Borel measurable. (Since the Lebesgue measure is complete, this is of course Lebesgue measurable.)
First, we have to know that every set of positive measure contains a nonmeasurable subset. Let be the Cantor function, a continuous function which is constant on , and monotonically increasing on the unit interval, with and . Obviously, is countable, since it contains one point per component of . Hence has measure zero, so has measure one. We need a strictly monotonic function, so consider . Since is strictly monotonic and continuous, it is a homeomorphism. Furthermore, has measure one. Let be non-measurable, and let . Because is injective, we have that , and so is a null set. However, if it were Borel measurable, then would also be Borel measurable (here we use the fact that the preimage of a Borel set by a continuous function is measurable; is the preimage of through the continuous function .) Therefore, is a null, but non-Borel measurable set.