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I'm looking for a concise word or phrasing for "in a context without a user"? This is obviously in the context of software. More generally, what is a concise way of saying, "in a context without X (where X is usually assumed)?"

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Since X is usually assumed in whatever context you're looking to talk about in a context where X is specifically not present, I think it would be a mistake to look for a really concise way of making that point. You'd probably be better off explaining why X isn't involved, since that's what makes your context atypical (perhaps pathological, if you want to sound really erudite). –  FumbleFingers Jun 6 '11 at 18:35

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Over the years I've written various programs that originally were intended to be explicitly run by an actual human user, who would interact with the program to perform some task.

At some later time it may be useful to run such a program from a 'batch' file. Perhaps run at some configured 'slack' time when there is no user present, perhaps with a command-line option to specify exactly which task to perform, and how.

In such circumstances the program needs to know which 'mode' it's running in. For example, you can't just display an error message and wait for the user to select Cancel/Continue if there's nobody around to read it and respond.

My programs normally used a boolean flag unattended, set true if there was no user available to control progress (in which case the programs would perform some sensible default action as required).

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I liked "autonomous" too ( @aedia ), but I think "unattended" is probably the better choice. –  TecBrat Jul 27 '12 at 12:52

In a software context we sometimes talk about running "headless" clients, as an alternative to running GUIs. I don't have a term that works in a non-software context.

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Note that if you're running headless you don't have a monitor but you could still have remote user input. The only other term I can think of is autonomous, also usually software- or at least machine-related. –  aedia λ Jun 6 '11 at 18:09
@aedia:No. You are confusing two different meanings of "headless". –  Marcin Jun 6 '11 at 19:58
@Marcin: No need to be so negative - both meanings of headless are common in computing, and it is highly useful for someone thinking of using the term to be aware of both, so that they can avoid potential confusion :) –  psmears Jun 6 '11 at 20:30
@Marcin "headless client" usage does seem to be closer to meaning a daemon, software that runs autonomously/without a user. However, I think you could argue it includes the notion of running headlessly, that is, no GUI or front-end, so I'm not sure these are totally separate meanings. Perhaps in specific phrases there are technical differences - headless service, headless server, etc. :) –  aedia λ Jun 6 '11 at 20:46
@aedia: A daemon runs independently of a user session, which is quite different from merely running headlessly. –  Marcin Jun 7 '11 at 7:10

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