On my website, I allow the user to create a document - but if they aren't logged in, then the document will not have an owner and therefore be editable by anyone.

I want to display a warning for any documents that are editable by anyone to explain that the document was created by a "non-logged in" user and that if they want to restrict access, they should log in and claim the document as theirs.

What is a better term than "non-logged in user"?

  • 2
    This is a rather strange context - but so far as I can see, it doesn't actually make any difference who created the document anyway, so it's irrelevant whether that specific individual is logged in or not. If user A created the doc, and user B subsequently logged in and "claimed" it, it's probably of no consequence to user C whether A is logged in. Surely all that matters is whether anyone (A, B, or user Z) is currently logged in and has the doc "locked". Jun 11, 2015 at 14:48
  • 1
    This is a weird behaviour for a website. Even when you user are anonymous, they should have some privacy and they own his own documents no matters if they login or not. Otherwise you will have snipping user stealing abandon documents. You should include a warning "We recomend you login so can save your work, otherwise your data will be lose when browser is close." Jun 12, 2015 at 19:22
  • I agree with @JuanCarlosOropeza - documents created by such anonymous users should be private by default (specifically to stop this kind of problem). Instead of auto-saving it (well, you can cache it for the session at least), you need something that says "Sign in to link document to your account", and "Publish Anonymously?" (with maybe text about public changes. It's much easier to make something public later, than to make it private. Jun 13, 2015 at 5:55
  • 2
    I don't understand the motivation behind the bounty. The user who has set up the bounty is the same user who has provided a canonical answer judging by the number of upvotes. Why is that answer, unsatisfactory? Can someone please explain?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 5, 2015 at 8:02
  • 1
    The question should have been closed as unclear. The user is simply not logged in (that's the term), which means that s?he is unauthorized and also most likely unauthenticated. But all of that has been said, and it is apparently not what the OP has in mind - which is unclear at this point. (Unfortunately, a bounty question cannot be closed (why not?).) How on Earth could this poor question have received 34 upvotes?
    – Drew
    Sep 11, 2015 at 20:33

18 Answers 18


A better term would be an anonymous user, as you do not know the identity of the user.

  • 2
    Anonymous works well. I like that it simply states we don't know who they are without any unwanted nuances.
    – Alex W
    Jun 11, 2015 at 15:20
  • 2
    This is the usual convention. Jun 12, 2015 at 6:09
  • 1
    Google Docs does this ... except instead of user it's <random animal> ... So you might have Anonymous Alpaca, Anonymous Bat, ... Anonymous Koala etc. If you're logged in it shows your name instead.
    – aslum
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:32
  • 4
    anonymous or guest.
    – Fattie
    Jun 13, 2015 at 12:19
  • "anonymous" has a shady connotation. Good when discussing security, but I might refrain from using it in user-facing documentation. Jan 12, 2018 at 16:56

Such users are usually called guest users.

Update: To conclude this long discussion, I think we should take a closer look at what others (specifically, key players) call such users. This helps us to provide users with an acceptable and familiar user experience, at least in nomenclature.

Let's take a look at what is common in the real world:

docs.Oracle : "* When a user visits your portal without logging in, that user is called "anonymous." While working with anonymous users is inherently limiting in some ways (because there are few things you know for sure about them).*"
"Guests are anonymous users who have not registered and have not logged in."

Wikipedia: "Anonymous users (those known only by an IP address) cannot edit their own user pages until a logged-in user begins it, or they log in (or sign up) themselves."

documentation.bonitasoft : "An anonymous user is a user who does not need to log in to Bonita BPM before accessing a process form. An anonymous user is always be the initiator of a process."

help.sap: "This function enables Web shop customers to create orders in the Web shop without registering a user name. In the back end, the data guest users enter is only saved with the order; there is no master record created. This is why the My Account functionality is not available to guest users."

support.office : "Guest users, also called anonymous users, don’t need a Microsoft account or work or school account to access documents. They access the document via a guest link that you or your employees give to them."

All in all, it seems that anonymous and guest can be used interchangeably, however calling such users anonymous implies a negative connotation, IMO. So I do recommend to call them in a more respectful way by using guest.

  • 1
    What if they aren't a guest, but are simply not logged into their account?
    – Alex W
    Jun 11, 2015 at 14:20
  • 7
    For providing the website with high level of security assurance, we have to treat all users either as users or visitors (guest users). In this regard, there is no superiority or something like that for non-logged in users.
    – Eilia
    Jun 11, 2015 at 14:33
  • 12
    Without logging into the system, nobody knows them. In fact, we know them by their usernames. From the system's point of view, they are guest users, however they may be called something else.
    – Eilia
    Jun 11, 2015 at 15:14
  • 7
    @AlexW: Well, it's not. Until you tell the system you're not a guest, and until the system decides to concur, you're a guest. That's how every computer system works. Jun 11, 2015 at 22:13
  • 2
    @AlexW Many sites default to calling a visitor a guest user until they log in, if they don't maintain login sessions across multiple site visits (e.g. via cookies). I see this especially often in forums. It's not confusing, it's obvious: I know I have an account with this site, but it says I'm a guest user, so I should go log in.
    – talrnu
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:32

Specifically when referring to users who have not logged in, in my company, we call them unauthenticated.

un·au·then·ti·cat·ed: adjective. not proven or validated.

- Source (Google)

Maybe incognito, lurker, or unknown. It all depends on how formal of a word you need.

  • This seems to apply best to certain specific situations. For instance, often when one clicks a link from a notification email from a website, it will show one's username on the destination page as if they had logged in. But if they click "My Account" or attempt to take any action which requires login, the site will prompt them to enter their password to properly log in before proceeding. (Kickstarter does this, as one example.) I definitely think the question asker should consider whether this is the case on their site.
    – recognizer
    Jun 11, 2015 at 15:51
  • Also some software stacks distinguish between authenticated and unauthenticated users. The result of login is that the user goes from an unauthenticated to an authenticated state; the result of a logout is the exact opposite.
    – damix911
    Jun 12, 2015 at 12:04
  • I think the issue is question is about identified vs unidentified. authenticated and unauthenticated are often used instead but it's not technically correct in all cases.
    – Agent_L
    Jun 15, 2015 at 11:18

An other term could be "unregistered user"

  • 3
    A user who has registered but simply has not logged in would not be "unregistered". They would be "not logged in", and thus given "guest" rights.
    – ClickRick
    Jun 12, 2015 at 9:00

Similar to guest users but I recall seeing the term visitors used for this purpose.


Surprised I haven't seen this one yet: Lurker

In Internet culture, a lurker is typically a member of an online community who observes, but does not actively participate.[1][2] The exact definition depends on context. Lurkers make up a large proportion of all users in online communities.[3] Lurking allows users to learn the conventions of an online community before they actively participate, improving their socialization when they eventually de-lurk.[4] However, a lack of social contact while lurking sometimes causes loneliness or apathy among lurkers.[5]

I would consider it to be either someone who reads, but has never signed up... or someone who has signed up but doesn't interact in any meaningful capacity. I comment minimally on a few boards that allow it without logging in, and in most of those I consider myself a lurker.

I'm not 100% sure if this would match this case fully - since you are talking about someone who has done something but "anonymously" - but the fact that they are doing something without logging in... Like I said, I do that and consider myself to be "lurking".

  • 4
    The most interesting answer for sure. Unfortunately, the asker's context explicitly describes contributing content to the site (the asker wants to warn the user that the content they're creating could be modified by other users if they don't log in and change the content's access rights). This explicitly defies the definition of lurker as strictly a passive observer.
    – talrnu
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:28
  • +1, Interesting but may not be the answer in this case.
    – Eilia
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:49
  • Yeah, I did say I don't think it's 100% spot on... but I lurk on a few sites, and occasionally post anonymously (where able - like on slashdot) when it strikes my fancy. I think a lurker can be minimally involved, but that might not be in line with the "text book" definition - more of a gray area between true-lurking and being active, where I'm barely away from lurking.
    – WernerCD
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:56
  • I think the point is more that "Lurker" is very informal Internet slang, and may not always be appropriate. In my opinion, a website or piece of software would have to be very specifically designed with an air of informality across the board for the word "Luker" to be appropriate when creating documents.
    – BadHorsie
    Jun 15, 2015 at 15:59
  • 1
    A lot of users might not even know what "Luker" means if they are not involved with Internet culture, so it also depends on the audience of the website.
    – BadHorsie
    Jun 15, 2015 at 16:03

Focus on the document

As you write, your message needs to explain something about a document created without being logged in.
The other answers show that it's not easy to describe that based on what the user has done, or not done.

But then, the fact you explain is about the document - not about the state the user was when he created that document.

Orphan document

You can explain the same idea based on the state of the document: You can refer to the document as an orphan document, being unowned or just anonymous.

To get the specific point across, combining the term orphan with a hint that otherwise it can be edited by anybody.

Using a section of your question as example,

...document was created by a "non-logged in" user and that if they want to restrict access, they should log in and claim the document as theirs.

could become

...document is an orphan and that if they want to own it, they should log in and claim the document as theirs.

Using to own hints to restriction of access only indirectly - but this time, it focusses on the person, which is central to the point.

  • Or indeed a public document, in that it is editable by all. Sep 9, 2015 at 14:22

An Unknown User

In this particular case it seems most accurate to say something like "this document was created by an unknown user," or if you prefer an unauthenticated user. However, that implies that you think you know who the user is they just haven't proven it yet by authenticating.

This is expressly because you say that unknown users are allowed to create documents or in general 'use' the service. The user in this case strictly speaking is neither anonymous nor a guest.

Clearly the document creator is a user even if they are not identified, both in the technical and legal sense. They are not really a 'guest', since they are allowed to use the service, and so necessarily take on any legal or technical responsibility that may be entered into by using the service for example via the 'terms of service'. They are not really anonymous in that you could track them as a number in a cookie, by their IP address, or many other means, and you probably don't want to imply that the user is being given any level of anonymity unless that is explicitly a component of the service.

Identity vs Access (in security)

Computer accounts are intended to provide two key security values: identity verification and access control. Identity is typically, but not always as in this case, used to limit access. One can have either one, both, or neither.

Identity -- Who is this user?

A user who's identity has been verified is an authenticated user, or inversely an unauthenticated user.

Access -- What can this user do?

A user who has access is an authorized user, or inversely and unauthorized user.

In this case what you have is either a "logged in" user who is an authenticated and authorized user, or a "non logged in" user who's an unauthenticated yet also authorized user.

More simply a known user, or an unknown user.

  • If the site provides a placeholder name and maintains some form of identity context for a non-logged-in user, as many sites do, then that user isn't unknown in the strictest sense. A user is only unknown if the site has no knowledge of the user's identity. Not saying your answer is wrong, just that it might not be apt if the asker's site supports the notion of "guest accounts" or something like that.
    – talrnu
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:24
  • Certainly 'guest' is very common in web development for this purpose, and occasionally may also refer to users who can edit files yet have undifferentiated accounts. Not unlike the guest user account available on macs. However, it is not a very precise term since it could mean any of these things, so my suggestion is meant as a vote for greater precision. I acqknowledge though it may be less appealing colloquially. Jun 15, 2015 at 5:56
  • Also I agree with @Eilia's argument that a "more respectful way" of referring to people is preferred. Jun 15, 2015 at 6:10

How about "anonymous"?

a·non·y·mous (ə-nŏn′ə-məs) adj.

  1. Having an unknown or unacknowledged name: an anonymous author.
  2. Having an unknown or withheld authorship or agency: an anonymous letter.
  3. Having no distinctive character or recognition factor: "They were carried over a bridge


  • 4
    Anonymous was already suggested. Plus, if you are quoting a dictionary you need to reference it, or else this will be deleted for plagiarism. Jun 12, 2015 at 2:52
  • 4
    Please don't suggest duplicate answers.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jun 13, 2015 at 14:04

I think "offline user" fits the bill.

  • 4
    Traditionally, offline means you're not connected to the internet (or other computer network, such as a BBS) so doesn't apply to this scenario. Even if some people use the word in this way, I think it would be a confusing choice. Jun 13, 2015 at 23:22

Why not write your warning as a characterization of the document and not its non-owner creator?

IOW, why not just say that the document is unowned or that the document has no owner and is therefore editable by anyone?

  • A similar proposal was suggested by Volker Siegel but I like your short to the point explanation.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 12, 2015 at 5:40

I like guest best in terms of language. In terms of coaxing your guests to become registered members, it might be helpful to do some steering with your choice of language, for example

You are currently editing this doc publicly as a temporary guest. If you want to restrict access to your post, please register (link).


Since it seems that the relevant concern is who owns the document, rather than who created it, then I would suggest Community


Since it has not been proposed yet I am going to suggest public.
Given that claiming ownership of an document makes it private to a user public seems like a fitting antonym. Compare the corresponding entries in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary:


a : intended for or restricted to the use of a particular person, group, or class
b : belonging to or concerning an individual person, company, or interest


a : accessible to or shared by all members of the community

  • Not in tech parlance
    – kolossus
    Jun 12, 2015 at 13:43

Another possibility is disconnected


I would say it's unauthenticated user.


If you want to use a more fancy word, try a passerby:

a person who walks by something on a street or road

It expresses the fact of not being connected, not being committed, the randomness of their activities.


You can have users who have created an account and you have their deets and who are logged in.

Or, same but not "logged! in!" and you (as in say 1960) actually have them not logged in. Or same but from their point of view "not logged in" but of course you know who it is anyway.

You can have "anonymous users" where you specifically track them and know them, but they have not created an account and you do not have their name deets, and they do not know you have made an anonymous account for them.

You can have "anonymous users" where you specifically track them and know them, but they have not created an account and you do not have their name deets, but they do know they have an "anonymous" account.

You can have "guest users" which could be identical to the description of "anonymous users"

You can have "guest users" where the specific human specifically chooses to have something labelled a (let us say) guest account (it could be named differently), but you don't give you their deets.

You can have putative users, where you have created a user entry and do have some of their deets, but they have not yet officially signed up (so, no username, password, etc yet) (a very common process today, the geniuses in the marketing building realised this is the best way to reel people in to marketing shit on the web) (used on this site for instance right?)

There are sundry more variations including the usual marketing crap like whether you have "verified!" your email.

It's just not worth worrying about.

Anyone on this page who is trying to decisively! define! "anonymous account", just sit back and think again (or, better suggestion, think about something worth thinking about than "internet marketing nomenclature .............. i.e.: anything).

If you think you have a! or the! "exact definition" of anonymous, guest, etc accounts .. no such thing.

It's not that the differences are "very subtle", it's just a mess of slight variations. (Changing daily.)

(Note that -- to begin with -- in practice 80% of "login!" today is "using facebook [or someone's] login aggregation service in various ways".)

Ask any working professional and they'll just say "whatever, there's a mess of slight variations, ask the marketing guys what they want to label it."

  • 2
    Somewhat long winded way of not really answering the question.
    – timuzhti
    Jun 14, 2015 at 12:09
  • perhaps, but It's a key point on the whole page. there are at least a dozen ways of being "logged-in"/not to a www server.(I have described a few of them, and there's no shorter way to do so.) the OP indeed has no clue precisely what the situation is. many of the confidently-presented technical descriptions on here are silly or the merest approximations of far greater complexity.
    – Fattie
    Jun 14, 2015 at 12:14
  • You are expected to answer the question though. Your "answer" seems more like a comment, albeit much longer.
    – timuzhti
    Jun 14, 2015 at 12:17
  • You're quite right, exactly. Welcome to this site, BTW.
    – Fattie
    Jun 14, 2015 at 12:23
  • Interesting point of view -- but there's a difference between the web developer or admin knowing who you are, and the other users knowing who you are. Sep 6, 2015 at 19:49

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