For thermodynamics, a thermodynamic state of a system is fully identified by values of a suitable set of parameters known as state variables, state parameters or thermodynamic variables. Once such a set of values of thermodynamic variables has been specified for a system, the values of all thermodynamic properties of the system are uniquely determined.
Thermodynamics sets up an idealized formalism that can be summarized by a system of postulates of thermodynamics. Thermodynamic states are amongst the fundamental or primitive objects or notions of the formalism, in which their existence is formally postulated, rather than being derived or constructed from other concepts.
A thermodynamic system is not simply a physical system. Rather, in general, indefinitely many different alternative physical systems comprise a given thermodynamic system, because in general a physical system has vastly many more detailed characteristics than are mentioned in a thermodynamic description. A thermodynamic system is a macroscopic object, the microscopic details of which are not explicitly considered in its thermodynamic description. The number of state variables required to specify the thermodynamic state depends on the system, and is not always known in advance of experiment; it is usually found from experimental evidence. Always the number is two or more; usually it is not more than some dozen. Though the number of state variables is fixed by experiment, there remains choice of which of them to use for a particular convenient description; a given thermodynamic system may be alternatively identified by several different choices of the set of state variables.
For equilibrium thermodynamics, in a thermodynamic state of a system, its contents are in internal thermodynamic equilibrium, with zero flows of all quantities, both internal and between system and surroundings. For Planck, the primary characteristic of a thermodynamic state of a system that consists of a single phase, in the absence of an externally imposed force field, is spatial homogeneity. For non-equilibrium thermodynamics, a suitable set of identifying state variables includes some macroscopic variables, for example a non-zero spatial gradient of temperature, that indicate departure from thermodynamic equilibrium. Such non-equilibrium identifying state variables indicate that some non-zero flow may be occurring within the system or between system and surroundings.