There are several different types of pistol actions. Pistols can be muzzleloading or use cartridges. Cartridge pistols can be single shot or repeating.
At the most basic, a pistol operates like any other firearm with a primer igniting the charge and producing gas to push out the bullet. The operating mechanism of the pistol can use the energy of recoil, the pressure of gas, or muscle power of the shooter to operate the action.
Most common type of pistol action is blowback, where the pressure of gas forces the casing backwards out of the chamber. This is typically used with weaker cartridges to keep springs light. The second most common is locked-breech recoil operation where recoil moves the barrel and the breech (typically part of the slide) together backwards until some mechanism unlocks them. Gas mechanisms using ports in the barrel are rare because they heat up the gun and require more parts making a pistol too heavy.
Autoloading (semi-auto) pistols usually have a slide. The rearward movement of the slide pulls the spent casing out and ejects it and the forward motion strips another round from the magazine and inserts it into the chamber.
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