Steel is an alloy of iron and other elements, including carbon. When carbon is the primary alloying element, its content in the steel is between 0.002% and 2.1% by weight. The following elements are always present in steel: carbon, manganese, phosphorus, sulfur, silicon, and traces of oxygen, nitrogen and aluminum. Alloying elements intentionally added to modify the characteristics of steel include: manganese, nickel, chromium, molybdenum, boron, titanium, vanadium and niobium.
Carbon and other elements act as a hardening agent, preventing dislocations in the iron atom crystal lattice from sliding past one another. Varying the amount of alloying elements and the form of their presence in the steel (solute elements, precipitated phase) controls qualities such as the hardness, ductility, and tensile strength of the resulting steel. Steel with increased carbon content can be made harder and stronger than iron, but such steel is also less ductile than iron.