The main difference between awnings and canopies is that an awning is usually attached to the exterior of a building whereas a canopy can be free standing. A canopy is almost always used to cover an area where people gather or relax, such as a patio or part of a yard. An awning may do the same if it extends out over a porch or courtyard. A key difference with awnings is that they may also be used to offer shelter or shade near entrances to buildings. One key similarity between awnings and canopies is that they are often made of similar material that is quite durable and can stand up to a significant amount of wet weather and harsh sunlight.
There is some crossover in the definitions of awnings and canopies. Sometimes a very long awning that extends from the side of a building is referred to as a canopy. This is especially true if the awning connects to the building on one side and connects to supports on the others. An awning might also be referred to as a canopy if it covers an area where people commonly take their leisure. A free-standing canopy, however, is rarely referred to as an awning.
Another key difference between awnings and canopies is that, while most canopies can be disassembled and stored when they are not in use, awnings are often connected to their supporting structures in a more permanent way. An awning that covers the sidewalk between the curb and the entrance of an apartment building is kept in place almost all of the time. This sort of awning might only be moved when it is installed and when it is replaced. There are canopies, however, that are quite mobile and are used to create shady areas at the beach, at the park, and at outdoor events.
There are some awnings that, while stationary in terms of their rigging, can be moved to offer different levels of shade. A retractable awning is a kind of awning that can be withdrawn or extended over an outdoor area. These kinds of awnings are especially popular as coverings for outdoor dining areas and residential patios and decks. While awnings and canopies offer the same sorts of benefits, the main difference between the two have to do with their design and the ways in which they connect to other structures.