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I'm generally confused by the terminology when talking about types of user accounts ("registered", "unregistered", etc.), because a) certain things have changed over time and so different posts use different words for different things depending on how old they are, and b) I think others are confused as well and so a lot of terminology is used interchangeably, plus any muddiness caused by official vs. colloquial usage of the words.

So the first part of this question is: What types of user accounts are there and what does that mean? My current understanding is:

  • "Anonymous": People who are visiting the site and don't have an account. (Actually now that I think about it I'm not even sure what I mean by "account" here -- because from my understanding there are both cookie-based logins and actual accounts.)
  • "Guest": I don't know.
  • "Unregistered": People who have... created an account to ask a question but haven't confirmed their email address?
  • "Registered": Fully signed up users with an email address.
  • "Deleted": Accounts that used to exist but were deleted by a moderator.
  • "Nonexistent" (Well... I made this one up just now): Users that have accounts on other sites but not on the site in question (like an author of a migrated post).

Also I always thought "anonymous" and "unregistered" were two different things although https://stackoverflow.com/help/why-register seems to use the terms interchangeably. But if that's the case, then what are users simply visiting the site without logging in called if not "anonymous"?

And I think... "Anonymous", "Deleted", and "Nonexistent" are the only ones displayed as grayed out usernames on user ID cards under posts, right?

And the second part of this question is: What actions can these different types of users take?

  • Asking Questions?
  • Posting Answers?
  • Flagging?
  • Suggesting Edits?

I know that "registered" users can do all of those, and obviously "deleted" and "nonexistent" users can do none of those, but I'm unsure about "anonymous", "guest", and "unregistered".

I think it differs by site, too. I don't remember where but I read somewhere that on SO, "guest" users can't ask questions (although they used to be able to), for example.

I'm having a hard time making sense of this. Recently, while composing an answer on MSE, I ended up giving up because I was confusing myself about the terminology and the nature of the different types of user accounts.


Note: I ask that if anybody answers this, please put "official" usages of the terminology in quotes or italics or something, so that there's no confusion with colloquial usages of the word (e.g. "Everybody is anonymous on the internet, even registered users.")

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    Anonymous is related to "no identify" they can suggest edits to post without even providing email id. Guest and unregistered are interchangeable and references to users who have provided email id while creating post but not completed registration. They can post Q/A and suggest edits. Note that on some sites like SO, AU, due to heavy traffic, "anonymous" and "unregistered" option are not available and one have to sign up to posting and editing.
    – Pandya
    Mar 23 '17 at 8:07
  • @Won't I appreciate the faq-proposed and pretty much agree, but since there are a few other steps involved in that process besides adding the tag (check out meta.stackexchange.com/tags/faq-proposed/info), I've removed it for the time being just to keep everything tidy. But I will most likely put it back later when I get around to properly proposing it if this seems like something we want in the FAQ.
    – Jason C
    Mar 24 '17 at 0:38
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I'm providing this answer based on my experience on Stack Exchange.

  1. Anonymous user

    Anonymous is related to "no identity" which refers to unknown. One can suggest edits without providing any details like name and email id. Anonymous contributions are typically credited to the Community user.

  2. Unregistered or Guest user

    enter image description here

    Unregistered and Guest user is interchangeable. This refers to accounts which provided a name and email id while creating a post (actually in order to) but did not complete the registration process aka signing up.

    Unregistered accounts are temporary aka cookie based. They can get notifications, achievements and privileges etc like registered users for the current browser session. Unregistered users lose their account on clearing the cookies.

  3. Registered user

    This refers to user accounts which completed the signing up process and verified an email id. They can perform any action according to their privileges.


Note that on some sites like Stack Overflow, Ask Ubuntu etc. creating questions as a guest/unregistered user is disabled due to heavy traffic, but they still allowed to answer as a guest.

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  • @JonClements You might have logined. (or what am I missing?)
    – Pandya
    Mar 23 '17 at 9:37
  • Sorry - it's an amusing typo... it's signing up (generally just called "sign up") - not singing up :) Mar 23 '17 at 9:39
  • @JonClements oh! lol; corrected :)
    – Pandya
    Mar 23 '17 at 9:41
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    I prefered singing... ;) Mar 23 '17 at 9:43
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    @Shadow you could well be the only one there :p... runs... Mar 23 '17 at 9:51
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    Correction: Unregistered users for all intents and purposes have an accounts and can still use all the privileges they gain through reputation. It's just that they don't have any verified credential attached to their account, hence the "unregistered" part. If they lose the cookie that ties them to the account, then they lose the account altogether because they can't login to it in any way.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Mar 23 '17 at 13:18
  • @animuson Thanks for pointing out. I'm considering to improve/correct the answer.
    – Pandya
    Mar 23 '17 at 13:24
  • Anonymous edits can be made on Stack Overflow, it's just the question creation that's restricted to registered users. (Concerning your final paragraph.) I don't know about Ask Ubuntu, but I would imagine if Stack Overflow does not restrict editing in this way, neither do other sites.
    – Kendra
    Mar 23 '17 at 13:29
  • @Kendra I don't find the button/link for improving posts without logging in on SO.
    – Pandya
    Mar 23 '17 at 13:32
  • @Pandya It might be a time based thing. On a brand new question, didn't see it. On an older question, I see it. I just know anonymous edits are a thing on Stack Overflow, as they've been brought to MSO several times. For example, this post that's an hour old has it, but posts on the first couple pages do not.
    – Kendra
    Mar 23 '17 at 13:34
  • @Kendra Yes, I've just tired/post/id/edit and it says pending it. It is possible to improve posts anonymously. Thanks for the correction.
    – Pandya
    Mar 23 '17 at 13:36
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    Surely closing the browser won't lose your access to an unregistered account unless you've explicitly set cookies to clear (I assume most don't?)
    – Cai
    Mar 23 '17 at 14:44
  • All right, I gave this answer some time to evolve. Are we satisfied with it now? It appears to be in a stable and complete form. It seems to clear pretty much everything up. I think the wording at stackoverflow.com/help/why-register could probably be improved now (might make a separate FR) because depending on how you read it, it can be interpreted as "if you are not a registered user, you are an anonymous user", equating "unregistered" with "anonymous".
    – Jason C
    Mar 24 '17 at 0:29
  • @JasonC Yes, besides it, I think page says you can answer as an anonymous user but it should be unregistered user instead. (I thought help centre use "anonymous" in general).
    – Pandya
    Mar 24 '17 at 0:35

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