Then, the Euler-Lagrange equation gives the maxima and minima of the that type of functional. Note that this type of functional is just one very specific type of functional amongst all possible functionals that one might come up with. However, it turns out to be enough to do most of physics, so we are happy with with it.
Given , the Euler-Lagrange equations are a system of ordinary differential equations constructed from that such that the solutions to that system are the maxima/minima.
In the one dimensional case, the system has a single ordinary differential equation:
By and we simply mean "the partial derivative of with respect to its second and third arguments". The notation is a bit confusing at first, but that's all it means.
Let's do the 2-dimensional case then. In that case, is going to be a function of 5 variables rather than 3 as in the one dimensional case, and the functional looks like:
This time, the Euler-Lagrange equations are going to be a system of two ordinary differential equations on two unknown functions and of order up to 2 in both variables: vector entirely: