An activation key is a code used to register or activate a software application. It typically consists of letters and numbers, often with dashes between activation key segments.
In the early days of software manufacturing, the activation key was the common means a vendor used to authenticate customers. Software products came in boxes, on floppy disks, and later on CDs, with an activation key that allowed the user to access the application after purchase.
New software production models dispense with the activation key as a licensing tool. With the development of cloud computing services, more types of software are being purchased on the Internet and used on a subscription basis over the Internet. This eliminates the need to use an activation key to authenticate users.
The activation key is a by-product of a system where a user purchases the coding and execution software for an application and downloads all of that code to his or her own computer or device. This traditional type of licensing is quickly being replaced by newer methods.