Abstract The concept of signature was introduced by Samaniego for systems whose components have i.i.d. lifetimes. This concept proved to be useful in the analysis of theoretical behaviors of systems. In particular, it provides an interesting signature-based representation of the system reliability in terms of reliabilities of k -out-of- n systems. In the non-i.i.d. case, we show that, at any time, this representation still holds true for every coherent system if and only if the component states are exchangeable. We also discuss conditions for obtaining an alternative representation of the system reliability in which the signature is replaced by its non-i.i.d. extension. Finally, we discuss conditions for the system reliability to have both representations.