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What Does Offline Mean?

In the world of technology, “offline” can have different meanings. Sometimes, saying something is “offline” means that it is not connected to a network at the moment. Other times, “offline” is a more permanent descriptor, referring to something that is only found in the “offline” world.


In general terms, offline means that the device and its user are disconnected from the global internet. Sometimes, people who talk about being offline are talking about the real world rather than the digital and virtual ones that people often live and work in. Some people refer to this offline world as “in real life” (IRL) and others may call the real world the “meatspace” (where human “meat” is located) to distinguish it from cyberspace and highlight humans’ lack of physical access to cyberspace.

One other aspect of understanding being offline in terms of device design is that many devices are made for online use. That means when they encounter problems, they may display an “offline error” that could be hard to diagnose and fix. Some devices, however, are also equipped with an “offline mode,” where users can get some functionality without a web-connected status. For example, while users may not be able to send correction details through a document editing program in offline mode, they may be able to either add these details and save for later sending, or do other kinds of tasks like view documents passively.

Many internet programs have an “offline mode” when disconnected from a network. A browser can still show pages that are either already loaded or local pages. Dedicated email clients let users view messages they have already downloaded when not connected to a network. They can also reply or compose new messages. When a user reconnects to the network, the messages are sent. Many mobile devices also allow users to switch them into “airplane mode,” which disconnects the Wi-Fi and cellular networks to comply with regulations on commercial flights.

Techopedia Explains Offline

Cryptocurrency is one example where both online and offline activity is important. In order to make cryptocurrency trades over an exchange, it is necessary to bring the device online to perform the transaction. However, after the transaction is done, the user may bring the device offline and situate cryptocurrency holdings offline as well to prevent others from accessing them.

There is a trade-off in terms of functionality — online storage means that data can be shared with other users. Offline storage means that data can’t be shared without using a physical device to transfer it, but it also means that the assets are shielded from various kinds of hacking. Generally speaking, hacking is not effective in accessing offline assets and devices. With that in mind, experts might counsel cryptocurrency holders to perform transactions in a digital hot wallet connected to an online exchange, and then move those assets to a cold wallet that is offline in order to enhance security.

Another disadvantage, though, is that when offline, the user must physically or logically secure cryptocurrency assets without the help of any external tracking. For example, while an exchange might keep track of the assets held in a digital connected hot wallet, an offline wallet held on a physical medium like a flash drive might be physically lost, and the assets would not be recoverable digitally.

Cold storage for data can follow the same principles. There are many things that one can’t do with data offline, but that data is also abundantly safer. Some of this trade-off informs general enterprise and private cloud use: The cloud inherently means data is web-delivered. Some businesses that do not like the exposure prefer to use a locational offline system to shield data from a breach situation. Hybrid or multi-segment systems can help users to accomplish both online and offline benefits for data assets over a given life cycle.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.