Ports are complexes including at least one terminal, but larger facilities include a variety of terminals handling different types of cargo. The composition of these terminals determines the role and function of the port, with some ports being multifunctional while others can be specialized. Terminals come into three major categories:
- General cargo. Unitized cargo that can be carried in batches and handled by three specialized terminal types; break-bulk terminals, neo-bulk terminals (e.g. car terminals), and container terminals. The latter has become the most prevalent unitized cargo terminal and has been subject to pressures toward economies of scale.
- Bulk cargo. Loose cargo carried in loads relative to the ship size and the storage capacity. Liquid bulk and dry bulk rely on different transshipment techniques and are, consequently, two distinct categories of bulk terminals. Further, the majority of bulk terminals are specialized to the level of a unique commodity, such as coal, grain, iron ore, natural gas, or petroleum.
- Passengers. A relatively small element of modern port terminals, with the notable exception of areas with a high intensity of ferry services (e.g. Agean Sea, the Baltic, or Indonesia). Recently, the growth of the cruise industry has led to the emergence of specialized cruise terminals.