More abstractly, given an immersion (for instance an embedding), one can define a normal bundle of N in M, by at each point of N, taking the quotient space of the tangent space on M by the tangent space on N. For a Riemannian manifold one can identify this quotient with the orthogonal complement, but in general one cannot (such a choice is equivalent to a section of the projection ).
Thus the normal bundle is in general a quotient of the tangent bundle of the ambient space restricted to the subspace.
Formally, the normal bundle to N in M is a quotient bundle of the tangent bundle on M: one has the short exact sequence of vector bundles on N:
where is the restriction of the tangent bundle on M to N (properly, the pullback of the tangent bundle on M to a vector bundle on N via the map ). The fiber of the normal bundle in is referred to as the normal space at (of in ).
Abstract manifolds have a canonical tangent bundle, but do not have a normal bundle: only an embedding (or immersion) of a manifold in another yields a normal bundle.
However, since every manifold can be embedded in , by the Whitney embedding theorem, every manifold admits a normal bundle, given such an embedding.
There is in general no natural choice of embedding, but for a given M, any two embeddings in for sufficiently large N are regular homotopic, and hence induce the same normal bundle. The resulting class of normal bundles (it is a class of bundles and not a specific bundle because N could vary) is called the stable normal bundle.
Suppose a manifold is embedded in to a symplectic manifold, such that the pullback of the symplectic form has constant rank on . Then one can define the symplectic normal bundle to X as the vector bundle over X with fibres
where denotes the embedding. Notice that the constant rank condition ensures that these normal spaces fit together to form a bundle. Furthermore, any fibre inherits the structure of a symplectic vector space.
By Darboux's theorem, the constant rank embedding is locally determined by . The isomorphism
of symplectic vector bundles over implies that the symplectic normal bundle already determines the constant rank embedding locally. This feature is similar to the Riemannian case.