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). Commented Jun 6, 2011 at 18:35
  • Isn't that just a "batch job"?
    – user150011
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 10:43

4 Answers 4


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).

  • I liked "autonomous" too ( @aedia ), but I think "unattended" is probably the better choice.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 12:52
  • @FumbleFingers, You don't use Stackoverflow?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 22:48
  • @Pacerier: I don't see the relevance, since I was using my variable name decades before SO existed. But I assume you can see from my network profile that in 4 years I've asked 2 questions and posted 3 answers on Stackoverflow. Neither question got a "satisfactory" answer, and the answers were either ignored or downvoted. I suppose I'd have to say I don't really "use" it, since apparently neither of us are any use to the other. Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 23:19
  • @FumbleFingers, I saw your profile which states you're a coder? So what do you mean by "neither of us are any use to the other"?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 11:45
  • @Pacerier: Oops - just realized the potential ambiguity there! I didn't mean you and I are no use to each other (perish the thought! :). I meant I get no benefit from Stackoverflow, and vice-versa. Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 11:54

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
    Commented Jun 6, 2011 at 18:09
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    @aedia:No. You are confusing two different meanings of "headless".
    – Marcin
    Commented Jun 6, 2011 at 19:58
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    @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
    Commented Jun 6, 2011 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
    Commented Jun 6, 2011 at 20:46
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    @aedia: A daemon runs independently of a user session, which is quite different from merely running headlessly.
    – Marcin
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 7:10

Another term is "interactive" and "non-interactive".

This can be used for example to describe "logon types".


I suggest daemon mode or process.

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