State transition table

From Academic Kids

In Automata Theory, a state transition table is a table describing the transition function T of a finite automaton. This function governs what state (or states in the case of a nondeterministic finite automaton) the automaton will move to, given an input to the machine. Given a state diagram of a finite automaton, a state transition table can be derived from it and vice versa.


Common Forms

State transition tables are typically two-dimensional tables. There are two common forms for arranging them.

  • The vertical (or horizontal) dimension indicates current states, the horizontal (or vertical) dimension indicates events, and the cells (row/column intersections) in the table contain the next state if an event happens (and possibly the action linked to this state transition).
State Transition Table
E1 E2   ...   En
S1 - Ay/Sj ... -
S2 - - ... Ax/Si
... ... ... ... ...
Sm Az/Sk - ... -

(S: state, E: event, A: action, -: illegal transition)

  • The vertical (or horizontal) dimension indicates current states, the horizontal (or vertical) dimension indicates next states, and the row/column intersections contain the event which will lead to a particular next state.
State Transition Table
S1 S2   ...   Sm
S1 Ay/Ej - ... -
S2 - - ... Ax/Ei
... ... ... ... ...
Sm - Az/Ek ... -

(S: state, E: event, A: action, -: impossible transition)


An example of a state transition table for a machine M together with the corresponding state diagram is given below.

State Transition Table
1 0
S1 S1 S2
S2 S2 S1
  State Diagram
Missing image

All the possible inputs to the machine are enumerated across the columns of the table. All the possible states are enumerated across the rows. From the state transition table given above, it is easy to see that if the machine is in S1 (the first row), and the next input is character 1, the machine will stay in S1. If a character 0 arrives, the machine will transition to S2 as can be seen from the second column. In the diagram this is denoted by the arrow from S1 to S2 labeled with a 0.

For a nondeterministic finite automaton (NFA), a new input may cause the machine to be in more than one state, hence its non-determinism. This is denoted in a state transition table by a pair of curly braces { } with the set of all target states between them. An example is given below.

State Transition Table for an NFA
1 0 ε
S1 S1 { S2, S3 } Φ
S2 S2 S1 Φ
S3 S2 S1 S1

Here, a nondeterministic machine in the state S1 reading an input of 0 will cause it to be in two states at the same time, the states S2 and S3. The last column defines the legal transition of states of the special character, ε. This special character allows the NFA to move to a different state when given no input. In state S3, the NFA may move to S1 without consuming an input character. The two cases above make the finite automaton described non-deterministic.

Transformations from/to State Diagram

It is possible to draw a state diagram from the table. A sequence of easy to follow steps is given below:

  1. Draw the circles to represent the states given.
  2. For each of the states, scan across the corresponding row and draw an arrow to the destination state(s). There can be multiple arrows for an input character if the automaton is an NFA.
  3. Designate a state as the start state. The start state is given in the formal definition of the automaton.
  4. Designate one or more states as accept state. This is also given in the formal definition.


  • Michael Sipser: Introduction to the Theory of Computation. PWS Publishing Co., Boston 1997 ISBN 0-534-94728-X

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