The term free climbing is commonly confused with free soloing by non-climbers. Free soloing is a type of free climbing where no rope or protective equipment is used for protection, and a fall would clearly be disastrous. In contrast, the vast majority of free climbers will make use of such equipment as a safeguard when climbing at height.
Another common misunderstanding is that the term soloing means free soloing. This is not so. Soloing simply means climbing without a partner. This can be done safely by using one of a number of self-belaying systems.
Free climbing "guidelines" from a U.S. perspective (Stonemaster's, et al.): the adventure of exploring the unknown, living on the cutting edge of the possible and the impossible, and striving to go one better. In light of those ideals, the climbing community espoused a goal of avoiding behavior that sullies (makes less challenging in any way beyond personal improvement) a climbing route.
Although an on-sight attempt is the most coveted, in practice all of the above tactics are common practice to greater or lesser extent. This is especially the case in sport climbing. Ordinarily, the traditional climber will only resort to aid as a last resort, in order to complete a hard climb. The aid climber strives to free climb as much of the route as possible.