In guns, particularly firearms, caliber is the approximate internal diameter of the barrel, or the diameter of the projectile it fires, in hundredths or sometimes thousandths of an inch. For example, a 45 caliber firearm has a barrel diameter of .45 of an inch. Barrel diameters can also be expressed using metric dimensions, as in “9mm pistol.” When the barrel diameter is given in inches, the abbreviation “cal” (for “caliber”) can be used.
For example, a small-bore rifle with a diameter of 0.22 inches can be referred to as .22 or a .22 cal; however, the decimal point is generally dropped when spoken, making it a “twenty-two caliber” or a “two-two caliber rifle”.In a rifled barrel, the distance is measured between opposing lands or grooves; groove measurements are common in cartridge designations originating in the United States, while land measurements are more common elsewhere. Good performance requires a bullet to closely match the groove diameter of a barrel to ensure a good seal.
While modern cartridges and cartridge firearms are generally referred to by the cartridge name, they are still lumped together based on bore diameter. For example, a firearm might be described as a “30 caliber rifle”, which could be any of a wide range of cartridges using a roughly .30-in projectile; or a “22 rimfire”, referring to any rimfire cartridge using a 22-cal projectile.