Root mean square (RMS) amplitude is used especially in electrical engineering: the RMS is defined as the square root of the mean over time of the square of the vertical distance of the graph from the rest state.
For complex waveforms, especially non-repeating signals like noise, the RMS amplitude is usually used because it is both unambiguous and has physical significance. For example, the average power transmitted by an acoustic or electromagnetic wave or by an electrical signal is proportional to the square of the RMS amplitude (and not, in general, to the square of the peak amplitude).
For alternating current electrical power, the universal practice is to specify RMS values of a sinusoidal waveform. One property of root mean square voltages and currents is that they produce the same heating effect as DC in a given resistance.
The peak-to-peak voltage of a sine wave is about 2.8 times the RMS value. The peak-to-peak value is used, for example, when choosing rectifiers for power supplies, or when estimating the maximum voltage insulation must withstand. Some common voltmeters are calibrated for RMS amplitude, but respond to the average value of a rectified waveform. Many digital voltmeters and all moving coil meters are in this category. The RMS calibration is only correct for a sine wave input since the ratio between peak, average and RMS values is dependent on waveform. If the wave shape being measured is greatly different from a sine wave, the relationship between RMS and average value changes. True RMS-responding meters were used in radio frequency measurements, where instruments measured the heating effect in a resistor to measure current. The advent of microprocessor controlled meters capable of calculating RMS by sampling the waveform has made true RMS measurement commonplace.