Tech terms: know the difference

I’m going to go over three tech terms that it’s important to understand the difference between: Email client, email provider, and Internet service provider (ISP).

I was attempting to help a reader solve an issue and found that confusion over what these terms mean was causing problems in getting my point across. Let’s go over it:

Email Provider

Your email provider is the company that stores your messages on their cloud server and facilitates sending and receiving of your messages. Email providers include Gmail, Outlook dot com, Yahoo, AOL and many other companies.  You may access your email provider by going to their website and using their webmail interface or by using an email client to download copies of the messages to your computer or phone.

Email Client

An email client is a program or app that downloads copies of your messages from your email provider’s server to your phone, computer, or tablet. Email clients include Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird, Outlook and the Windows Mail App. You can use any of these email clients to download messages from any email provider.  You can also compose and send messages using an email client.

If you open a browser like Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox to view your email, you’re using a webmail interface. If you open a program like Mail App or Thunderbird that either came installed on your device or that you installed on your device, you’re using an email client.

You don’t necessarily need an email client. Many people simply opt to access their email through a webmail interface.

Internet Service Provider (ISP)

The company that provides your connection to the Internet. Could be Comcast, AT&T or any number of local and national service providers.

Now here’s where it can get tricky. Some ISPs also offer mail service. Your email will be something like or

Plus some email clients have similar names to email providers. For example, there’s the Outlook email client program that’s part of Microsoft Office and Microsoft’s free email service, Outlook dot com.

I could have Comcast as my ISP, Gmail as my email provider, and Outlook as an email client.

To repeat:

Email Provider: They provide your email address. Most likely the company after the @ in your email address.

Email Client: A program or app installed on your device that lets you send & receive email

ISP: The company you write the check to for your Internet access.

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