This article is about Google Analytics 4 properties. Refer to the Universal Analytics section if you're still using a Universal Analytics property, which will stop processing data on July 1, 2023 (October 1, 2023 for Analytics 360 properties).

[GA4] About sessions

What counts as a session

A session initiates when a user either:

  • Opens your app in the foreground
  • Views a page or screen and no session is currently active (e.g. their previous session has timed out)

By default, a session ends (times out) after 30 minutes of user inactivity. There is no limit to how long a session can last.

Adjust session timeout

Adjust app session timeout

An app session begins to time out when an app is moved to the background, but you have the option to extend that session by including an extend_session parameter (with a value of 1) with events you send while the app is in the background. This is useful if your app is frequently used in the background, (e.g. as with navigation and music apps.)

Change the default timeout of 30 minutes for app sessions via the setSessionTimeoutDuration method. 

Adjust web session timeout

Change the default timeout of 30 minutes for web sessions as follows: 

  1. In Admin, click Data Streams in the Property column.
  2. Click Web and then click a web data stream.
  3. In the web stream details, click Configure tag settings (at the bottom).
  4. In the Settings section, click Show all to see all available options.
  5. Click List unwanted referrals.
    • Adjust session timeout: set the session timeout in hours and minutes.
    • Adjust timer for engaged sessions: select the number of seconds it takes for a session to be considered an engaged session.
  6. Click Save.

How events are associated with a session

When a session starts, Google automatically collects a session_start event and generates a session ID (ga_session_id) and session number (ga_session_number) via the session_start event.

  • Session ID identifies the session that an event came from. For example, two different session IDs are generated when a user has two separate sessions on your site.
  • Session number identifies the number of sessions that a user has started up to the current session (e.g., a user's third or fifth session on your site).

Both the session ID and session number are associated with each event in a session automatically via gtag.js and the Google Analytics for Firebase SDK. However, the identifier is not included automatically in events from Measurement Protocol or Data Import.

Sometimes the session ID is not associated with the session_start event (e.g., when the event is filtered out from a subproperty). In these cases, Analytics still generates a session ID.

How the number of sessions is calculated

Analytics calculates the number of sessions that occur on your site or app by estimating the number of unique session IDs.

Where you can see session metrics

Google Analytics provides a number of session metrics, including SessionEngaged sessions, and Engaged sessions per user. These metrics allow you to see data about the number of sessions that have started on your site or app.

The metrics appear in reports, such as Acquisition overviewUser acquisition, and Engagement overview. You can also see session metrics in Explorations. 

Differences in session counts

As of October 2021, Google Analytics began updating the calculation method for session metrics in your standard and custom reports and in Explorations and Data Studio to more efficiently count sessions with high accuracy and low error rate. As a result, you may notice a small difference in session counts from the previous calculation method. 

This new calculation method is applied to session data back through October 2021. Analytics will not display data if the date range for your report includes data from before October 2021. However, you can still access historical data in your event report by filtering for event=session_start.

BigQuery considerations

In addition to being able to view session counts in Google Analytics, you can export your data to BigQuery so you can query your session counts through a SQL-like syntax. BigQuery has enough time and resources to calculate the precise number of sessions and therefore doesn't apply the efficient calculation method for session metrics.

Because BigQuery doesn't apply the more efficient calculation method, you may notice small differences in session counts when comparing the results to those in your standard and custom reports and in Explorations and Data Studio.

When choosing where to look at your data, consider the following:

  • When you want more precise results from your raw data, view the results in BigQuery.
  • When you want more efficient results, view the results in your standard and custom reports and in Explorations and Data Studio.

For most of your queries, the results from the new calculation method enable you to effectively compare session metrics over time.

Example
 
When you look at session counts from last week, you see 1,463 sessions in your reports and 1,501 sessions in BigQuery. When you look at session counts in the current week, you see 1,828 sessions in your reports and 1,876 sessions in BigQuery. While the specific counts slightly vary, you will notice a 25% increase in the number of sessions. In other words, you can use the same data to observe the directional change in session counts.
 
Source Last week (sessions) This week (sessions)
Reports 1,463 1,828 (+25%)
BigQuery 1,501 1,876 (+25%)

Differences from Universal Analytics

The session counts in your Google Analytics 4 property may be lower than the session counts in your Universal Analytics property. This is because Google Analytics 4 does not create a new session when the campaign source changes mid session, while Universal Analytics does create a new session under that circumstance.

If a session crosses a day boundary (e.g. if it starts at 11:55 pm and ends at 12:05 am), it is considered a single session, though it is counted once for each day. Learn more about the session differences

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