An intent represents the purpose of a user's input. You define an intent for each type of user request you want your application to answer. So, an intent is nothing else than the user’s intention.

For example, if a user types “show me yesterday’s financial news”, the user’s intent is to retrieve a list of financial headlines. Intents are given a name, often a verb and a noun, such as “showNews”. 

Intent classification is the process of analyzing not only words but the intention of a sentence, i.e. focusing on the holistic meaning of the input rather than specific keywords such as names, places, people etc.