In three-dimensional space, an object may either rotate about, or translate along any of three axes. Thus the object is said to have six degrees of freedom (3 rotational and 3 translational). A linear stage exhibits only one degree of freedom (translation along one axis). In other words, linear stages operate by physically restricting 3 axes of rotation and 2 axes of translation thus allowing for motion on only one translational axis.
Linear stages consist of a platform that moves relative to a base. The platform and base are joined by some form of guide which restricts motion of the platform to only one dimension. A variety of different styles of guides are used, each with benefits and drawbacks making each guide type more appropriate for some applications than for others.