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A town is usually an urban locality which is not considered to rank as a city. As with cities, there is no standard universal definition of a town: the criterion in use in any country is likely to arise from national law, custom or administrative convenience.

Towns are properly differentiated from villages or hamletss on the basis of their economic character, in that most of a town's population will tend to derive its living from industry, commerce and public service rather than agriculture or related activities.

A place's population size is not a reliable determinant of urban character. In many areas of the world, as in India at least until recent times, a large village might contain several times as many people as a small town.

The modern phenomena of extensive suburban growth, satellite urban development and migration of city-dwellers to villages have further complicated the definition of towns, creating communities urban in their economic and cultural characteristics but lacking other characteristics of urban localities.

Some forms of non-rural settlement, such as temporary mining locations, may be clearly non-rural, but have at best a questionable claim to be called a town.

The distinction between a town and a city similarly depends on the approach adopted: a city may strictly be an administrative entity which has been granted that dignity by law, but the term is also used commonly to denote an urban locality of a particular size or importance: whereas a medieval city may have possessed as few as 10,000 inhabitants, today many would think of an urban place of fewer than 100,000 as a town.

The United States

In the United States of America, the term town varies in meaning depending on the state in which it lies. In most states, a town is an incorporated municipality, that is, one with a charter received from the state, similar to a city. Typically, municipalities are classed as cities, towns, or villages in decreasing order of size.

In the six New England states, a town is a subdivision of the county, and in these states, in practice a more important unit than the county. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, in fact, counties only exist as map divisions and have no legal functions; in the other four states, counties are primarily judicial districts, with other functions primarily in New Hampshire and Vermont. In all six, towns perform functions that in most states would be county functions. In many of these towns, town meetings serve as the main form of government, allowing citizens to decide on local matters by direct democracy.

In New York, a town is similarly a subdivision of the county, but with less importance than in New England. Of some importance is the fact that, in New York, municipalities such as villages or hamlets are generally contained within a town, and a town may contain a number of such municipalities as well as unincorporated areas. Everyone in New York State who does not live in an Indian reservation or a city lives in a town. (Some other states have similar entities called townships.)

In Virginia, a town is similar to a city (though with a smaller required minimum population), but while cities are by Virginia law independent of counties, towns are contained in a county.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, the status of a city is reserved for places that have a Royal Charter entitling them to the name; some large municipalities are legally boroughs but not cities, whereas some cities are quite small - St. David's for instance.

It is often thought that towns with bishops' seats rank automatically as cities: however, Chelmsford remains a town despite being the seat of the Diocese of Chelmsford. St. Asaph, which is the seat of the Diocese of St. Asaph, is another such town.

Historically, a town was generally distinguished from a village by having a regular market or fair. Not all towns were boroughs. There are some English villages (e.g. Kidlington, Oxfordshire) larger than some small towns (e.g. Middleham, North Yorkshire).

See also: towns of the United Kingdom, township