A picture of a whiteboard and software developer designing an application where they will deploy a stateless protocol for user responses.

Stateless—as opposed to stateful—is the property within information technology where a system doesn’t store historical information about a user or program, therefore, treating each interaction as unique. Several web-based applications and protocols like IP/TCP and HTTP/S are classic examples of stateless systems because backend servers do not record user activity.

What is Stateless?

Stateless describes a trait in computing for when applications, protocols, and processes handle each interaction independently of other activities. Stateless systems do not store or maintain previous transactions making them ideal for short-term requests and user sessions.

Representational state transfer (REST), employed since the start of the World Wide Web, offers developers rules for building stateless web application programming interfaces (APIs) capable of payload responses like HTML, XML, and JSON.

Also read: An Intro to Representational State Transfer (REST) | Developer

Example of Stateless Systems

The most visible example of stateless systems is internet browsing, where users and their connected devices request web applications. When submitting the request on a search engine, the resultant link or multimedia is an independent transaction unaffected by previous searches. 

Stateless systems like web servers might not maintain past transactions from users; however, they use caches that offer temporary storage and reference for short-term future transactions.

Stateless vs. Stateful

Most modern applications maintain state, meaning they remember the device activity from the last usage of the application, including all configuration settings. Applications with an existing reference of user activity or previous transactions can mold programs to user working habits and maintain connection and work progress. 

Because stateful systems have become extremely popular, software developers have several methods for adding state to HTTP/S web applications through techniques like HTTP cookies, Network Service Access Point Identifier (NSAPI), and internet server API (ISAPI).

Read more: What are Internet Cookies and What Do They Do? | Webopedia

Examples of Stateless Protocols

Internet Protocol (IP) and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)

The Internet Protocol (IP) and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) rules govern the routing of packets of data traversing networks between web service providers and end users. The Internet Protocol can be an example of a stateless protocol when user devices receive a new IP address that identifies packet destinations.

Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)

The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) or its newer, more secure iteration (HTTPS) is an internet communication protocol for transferring web pages and multimedia content. While HTTP cookies place a small cache of browsing data on a user’s local device, back end HTTP servers typically do not store independent transaction data.

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Sam Ingalls
Sam Ingalls
Sam Ingalls is an award-winning writer and researcher covering enterprise technology, cybersecurity, data centers, and IT trends, for eSecurity Planet, TechRepublic, ServerWatch, Webopedia, and Channel Insider.
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