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Railing vs. Handrail — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Maham Liaqat — Updated on May 6, 2024
Railing is a protective barrier used on edges of elevated spaces, while a handrail specifically supports and guides individuals along stairs or ramps.
Railing vs. Handrail — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Railing and Handrail


Key Differences

Railing serves as a safety barrier that prevents falls from elevated platforms or edges, including balconies, decks, and stairs. On the other hand, a handrail is specifically designed to offer support and stability to people ascending or descending stairs or navigating steep ramps.
Railings are often constructed from a variety of materials such as wood, metal, or glass to enhance aesthetic appeal and fulfill functional requirements. Whereas, handrails are typically made from sturdy materials that can withstand frequent use and provide a firm grip, such as wood, metal, or plastic.
In terms of design, railings may include multiple horizontal or vertical slats to form a barrier. In contrast, handrails usually consist of a single bar that is either mounted to a wall or supported by posts.
Railings are mandatory in many building codes for safety in elevated or open-edge areas to prevent accidental falls. On the other hand, handrails are specifically required by safety codes in staircases and ramps to aid in mobility and prevent slips.
The installation of railings can be more complex and extensive, covering larger areas and requiring precise height and strength to meet safety standards. Handrails, while also adhering to safety regulations, focus more on accessibility and are typically installed at a standard height conducive to grasping.

Comparison Chart

Primary Function

Prevents falls from elevated areas
Provides support and stability


Balconies, decks, around open edges
Alongside stairs, ramps


Can be slatted, paneled, various materials
Usually a single sturdy bar, wall-mounted or free-standing


Wood, metal, glass, others
Wood, metal, reinforced plastics


Often extensive, must cover broad areas
More focused, installed at specific heights

Compare with Definitions


Can be used to enclose or separate spaces.
The railing divided the open-plan office into two distinct areas.


Designed to be grasped by the hand for support when moving.
The stairwell was equipped with a sturdy metal handrail.


A structure preventing passage or falling from elevated areas.
The railing on the rooftop was designed with intricate ironwork.


Essential for mobility and safety on staircases.
Installing a handrail can significantly reduce the risk of falls on stairs.


Requires specific standards for height and strength in public buildings.
The new mall has railings that are compliant with safety regulations.


May be part of accessibility improvements in public infrastructure.
The newly installed handrail improved accessibility at the public library.


A barrier made of horizontal bars and supports for safety on edges.
The glass railing around the balcony offered a clear view of the garden.


A support bar along stairs or ramps for aid and stability.
The handrail on the steep ramp made access easier for everyone.


Often an element of architectural aesthetics as well as function.
The wooden railing added a rustic charm to the staircase.


Often installed at a regulated height for optimal ergonomics.
The handrail was positioned at a height suitable for most adults.


A fence or barrier made of rails
Wrought-iron railings


A handrail is a rail that is designed to be grasped by the hand so as to provide stability or support. Handrails are commonly used while ascending or descending stairways and escalators in order to prevent injurious falls.


A structure made of a rail, often connecting a series of upright members, that is used as a guard or barrier or for support, as on a balcony or next to a staircase.


A narrow railing that is grasped with the hand for support, as on a staircase.


The rail of such a structure.


A rail which can be held, such as on the side of a staircase, ramp or other walkway, and serving as a support or guard.


Rails considered as a group.


A moving continuous belt-like rail on either side of an escalator which users can hold on to for support.


A fence or barrier consisting of one or more horizontal rails and vertical supports.
During the war, everyone's railings were taken away to make bombers.


A rail{1} at the side of staircase or balcony to prevent people from falling; - shaped so as to be conveniently gripped with the hand; as, please hold onto the handrail when crossing the walkway.


Present participle of rail


A railing at the side of a staircase or balcony to prevent people from falling


Expressing reproach; insulting.
Angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them.


A barrier made of a rail or of rails, together with vertical supports. The typical railing in the interior of structures or on porches has a horizontal rail near waist height, and multiple vertical supports. Its function is usually to provide a safety barrier at the edge of a verticle drop to prevent falls.


Rails in general; also, material for making rails.


A barrier consisting of a horizontal bar and supports


Material for making rails or rails collectively

Common Curiosities

How does a handrail assist in stair use?

It provides support and stability, helping users maintain balance as they ascend or descend stairs.

Can a railing serve as a handrail?

Yes, if designed appropriately with a graspable portion, a railing can also function as a handrail.

What is the main purpose of a railing?

To prevent falls and provide a barrier around elevated surfaces or open edges.

What materials are commonly used to make railings?

Railings are made from wood, metal, glass, or composite materials, depending on the application.

What safety standards apply to handrails?

Handrails must be sturdy, graspable, and installed at prescribed heights according to local building codes.

What is the difference in installation between railings and handrails?

Railings often cover larger areas and may involve more complex designs, while handrails are focused on specific paths like staircases and ramps.

Is there a standard height for installing handrails?

Yes, handrails are typically installed at a height that can be comfortably reached by most adults.

Are handrails required everywhere stairs are present?

Yes, most building codes require handrails on at least one side of the stairs for safety.

How do building codes affect railing and handrail design?

Building codes dictate specifics such as height, strength, and ergonomics to ensure safety and accessibility.

Can railings have any shape or design?

Yes, as long as they meet safety standards, railings can be designed in various shapes and materials.

Are there innovations in railing and handrail designs?

Yes, new materials and technologies continue to improve the functionality, safety, and appearance of railings and handrails.

Can railings be decorative as well as functional?

Absolutely, railings often contribute to the aesthetic of a building or space while fulfilling their safety role.

What is the key difference in the function of railings vs. handrails?

Railings primarily prevent falls from edges, while handrails offer support and balance.

How should one maintain railings and handrails?

Regular inspection for stability, wear, and tear is essential, along with periodic cleaning and refinishing as needed.

How do I choose the right material for a railing or handrail?

Consider durability, maintenance, aesthetic preference, and the environment where it will be installed.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Maham Liaqat

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