Typically, in the FOREX market, currencies are traded in pairs. For example, Euro / US Dollar or US Dollar / Japanese Yen. Whenever you trade currencies online, you are then, buying one currency and selling another. Currency pairs are abbreviated. The above pairs would be EUR / USD and USD / JPY. The currency on the left is called the base currency, and the one on the right is the cross currency.
The value of a currency pair is determined by the strength or weakness of the base currency in relation to the cross currency. The base currency value is always 1. That means when you see a quote of 1.4652 for the EUR / USD, its value means 1 Euro will buy 1.4652 dollars. The next day you may see a quote for the EUR / USD of 1.4725. If you listen to the financial news you will hear them say something along the lines of, "the Euro gained strength against the Dollar today", or "the Dollar fell today against the Euro". In pocketbook english, that simply means it takes more dollars today to buy 1 Euro than yesterday.
Let's say you have an online FOREX account and bought the EUR / USD yesterday at the above price of 1.4652 and today you sold, or closed out your trade at 1.4725. That would leave a profit of 73 pips. What the heck is a pip you might ask. Well a pip has two definitions but they both mean the same thing, dollar wise at least: Price Interest Point and Percentage In Point. I have never been able to get a clear difference in the definitions no matter who I have asked, and do not really worry about it anymore because, like I said, they mean the same thing dollar wise.
When you trade currencies online you will have to open an account with a forex dealer. You can open either a standard account or a mini account. In the standard account a pip is worth approximately $ 10 dollars, and in the mini account it is worth approximately $ 1 dollar. It used to be the pip was the smallest unit of value in the FOREX market. Today however, many forex dealers quote in tenths of a pip. They have carried out the quote one extra decimal number to give better and more accurate spreads. So the above quote might have read 1.47253, where the 3 is the tenth of a pip. So its value would be either $ 3 dollars or $ .30 cents depending on the type of account you have.
You may have noticed that I said pip values are approximately $ 1 dollar. That's because each currency pair has its own pip value. The true value is determined by mathematical formulas and the exchange rate of the currency pair. Some pip values are fixed and others fluctuate slightly as one currency increases or falls in value relative to the other currency in the pair.
Currency trades are made in fixed dollar amounts called lots. One lot in a standard account is equivalent to $ 1000, which controls $ 100,000. One lot in the mini account is equivalent to $ 100, and controls $ 10,000. Both standard and mini accounts typically have a 1% margin which allows the FOREX trader 100 to 1 leverage on their investment dollars.
If you trade currencies online, the ultimate goal is to capture as many pips as you can, and not get bogged down in the details of what the exact value of each currency pair is. Unless you are interested in becoming an economist or some such thing, the information presented here is more than enough to let you get on with putting as many pips in your account as possible.