There are two types of session beans: stateful and stateless.
The state of an object consists of the values of its instance variables. In a stateful session bean, the instance variables represent the state of a unique client-bean session. Because the client interacts (“talks”) with its bean, this state is often called the conversational state.
The state is retained for the duration of the client-bean session. If the client removes the bean or terminates, the session ends and the state disappears. This transient nature of the state is not a problem, however, because when the conversation between the client and the bean ends there is no need to retain the state.
A stateless session bean does not maintain a conversational state with the client. When a client invokes the methods of a stateless bean, the bean’s instance variables may contain a state specific to that client, but only for the duration of the invocation. When the method is finished, the client-specific state should not be retained. Clients may, however, change the state of instance variables in pooled stateless beans, and this state is held over to the next invocation of the pooled stateless bean. Except during method invocation, all instances of a stateless bean are equivalent, allowing the EJB container to assign an instance to any client. That is, the state of a stateless session bean should apply accross all clients.
Because stateless session beans can support multiple clients, they can offer better scalability for applications that require large numbers of clients. Typically, an application requires fewer stateless session beans than stateful session beans to support the same number of clients.
A stateless session bean can implement a web service, but other types of enterprise beans cannot.