Email – client vs. provider

I’ve asked you to let me know if there are any commonly used tech terms that you aren’t too sure about. This reader needs a little clarification about email.

“Since I’m not real knowledgeable about computers, I get confused with some of the terms. For example, I know my Operating System is Windows 10 I use Thunderbird for my email, downloaded by my server – Frontier. I assume I’m saying that correctly. My question is: what’s the difference between Email Client and Email Provider?”

An email client is a program or app that downloads copies of emails from the server of your email provider.  Clients include the Windows Mail App for Windows 10, Windows LiveMail, Thunderbird, the Android Mail app, the old Outlook Express, and the Outlook program that is part of Microsoft Office.  These programs are installed on your device. Sometimes they are pre-installed like the Mail app, sometimes you download them from a website or an app store. Client is probably a poor choice for a name because it sounds like that should be the person using the program. But that’s the standard term.


Your email provider is the service you use for sending and receiving emails. Your messages are stored in the cloud on their server. (yes, even if you download them with an email client.  Everyone’s email is in the cloud at some point.)

Examples include Gmail, Outlook (also Hotmail and Livemail addresses), Yahoo! and AOL.  For example, if your email address ends in, Gmail is your email provider. Same with Yahoo! or AOL.  If your email address has a or address, then Frontier is your email provider.  You can access your email either by opening a browser and going online to view them or by downloading them to an email client on your phone, tablet, or PC.


Now here’s where it can get tricky. the email provider and Outlook the email client are two different things. (Thanks a lot, Microsoft.)  Or Frontier could be your ISP (Internet service provider), but not your email.

The ISP is the company that delivers your Internet connection to your home. These companies sometimes provide email addresses.

The email provider is the server where you receive your email. You can usually identify it by the part after the @ in your address. (,,,,,

An email client is a program or app that you install on your device that allows you to download copies of your email messages to read and reply to. It also allows you to compose new messages and send them.

I hope this clears things up a bit.  Any more questions?  Let me know.

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