State Machine Definition & Meaning

A state machine, also referred to as a finite-state machine (FSM), is a mathematical model of computation. It’s an abstract concept whereby the machine can consist of a finite number of states at any given time. In simpler terms, the machine can have different states, but can only fulfill one at a time. The FSM can change states in response to some inputs. The changing of states is known as a transition. Based on the current state and a given input, the machine performs transitions and produces outputs. State machines are helpful for understanding sequential logic roles. 

A popular example of an FSM is a simple, 3-color traffic light. At any given time, the traffic light has a defined state: The green light is on with the other two lights off, the yellow light is on with the other two lights off, or the red light is on with the other two lights off. The traffic light will change state when it receives an input, normally a fixed timer, to produce an output: turning a light on and the other light off. The state can only change in response to an input. The light cannot change for any other reason (unless programmed to). 

State machine types 

State machines are classified into two types: Mealy machines and Moore machines.  

Mealy state machine 

The Mealy machine was invented by George Mealy in 1955. Mealy machines produce outputs only on transitions and not in states. This can result in state diagrams with fewer states because more can be placed on transitions. A few characteristics are: 

  • If input changes, output changes
  • Less number of states are required than Moore machines
  • More hardware requirements than Moore machines 
  • Reaction time to inputs is slower
  • Difficult to design

Moore state machine 

Named after inventor Edward Moore, the Moore machine was introduced in 1956. Moore machines consist of states and transitions. States can produce outputs, and the output is determined by the current state, not the input. A few characteristics are: 

  • If input changes, output does not change
  • More number of states are required than Mealy machines
  • Less hardware requirements than Mealy machines
  • Reaction time to inputs is faster
  • Easy to design

Top Articles

The Complete List of Text Abbreviations & Acronyms

From A3 to ZZZ we list 1,559 text message and online chat abbreviations to help you translate and understand today's texting lingo. Includes Top...

How to Create a Website Shortcut on Your Desktop

This Webopedia guide will show you how to create a desktop shortcut to a website using Firefox, Chrome or Internet Explorer (IE). Creating a desktop...

Windows Operating System History & Versions

The Windows operating system (Windows OS) refers to a family of operating systems developed by Microsoft Corporation. We look at the history of Windows...

Hotmail [Outlook] Email Accounts

By Vangie Beal Hotmail was one of the first public webmail services that could be accessed from any web browser. Since 2011, Hotmail, in terms...

No-Code Development Definition &...

No-code development is a method of application development that allows people without programming...

Trusted Device Definition &...

A trusted device is a machine, such as a mobile phone, laptop, tablet...

What Is a Columnar...

A columnar database management system (CDBMS) is a type of database management system...