Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

32 comments on “What’s the Difference Between an Email Account, an Email Address, an Email Program, and an Email Service?”

  1. Hi Leo – regarding Outlook – it gets worse! Not only is there a difference between and Outlook (as you have clearly explained, for which many thanks!) but I have just been battling through the difference between Microsoft Outlook – the App, and Microsoft Outlook – “on your desktop” as the guy on the helpline called it. Surely the App sits on my desktop I thought? Well maybe, but in order to switch my stored emails from the soon-to-be-defunct Windows Live Mail 2012 (which I have known and loved for ages) I needed to access the version of Outlook in my Office 365 subscription, because you can’t import stored emails into the Outlook App (apparently).

    After a lot of hassle I have succeeded (it fouled up my webmail so I received no emails for 3 days, which meant getting their engineers involved, then when that was fixed Outlook wouldn’t open at all – panic – but a reboot sorted it out.)

    As you say – thanks a lot Microsoft!!!! (I know, I know, I should have followed your advice and switched to Thunderbird, but it didn’t seem to offer all the features I thought I needed).

    • Helen,

      It is (was) even worse than that. Leo didn’t mention Outlook Express which is an even older program than Microsoft (Office) Outlook. Just in very recent days I saw someone wishing to continue using it on an old Windows XP computer. Both Express and XP are obsolete for all intents and purposes.

  2. Hi Leo
    An interesting and useful article. Is there anything further you can say about keeping historical emails associated with your old account? I have an old archive from a previous email account in my Thunderbird files and backed up of course – but are there any other options?

  3. Re moving accounts at the behest of your ISP
    Verizon moved some email accounts from Yahoo to AOL. They provided an ‘easy way to accomplish the transfer’ online form, that transferred all your Yahoo mail to AOL.
    I got only some of my emails and once I clicked in I was forever shut out of my Yahoo account.
    What you need to do if this happens to you:
    -While you still have access to your old account, setup email forwarding to another email account; your ISP will probably not think to do this for you. In my case I still continue getting emails on my Yahoo account but can’t get in to even see who these are from. Had I simply known to setup forwarding any emails that came to my old Yahoo address would go to my new account.
    -Before you click to move your email, go into your ‘sent’ folder and move those emails to your folders where you keep your other emails. Your ISP may not have thought to include emails in your ‘sent’ folder in its transfer program.

  4. Excellent explanation of the email complex, but I still have a question. When I try to use a Microsoft email alias to hide my main email address it does not work. When I send an email using and alias it reports the email as having come from my main address. What’s the point in having an alias?

  5. And … it gets even worser. Worsener? :-) Microsoft, in some instances, allows *non*-Microsoft email addresses to be used as a sign-in name for one’s *Microsoft* account. As an example, an email address like “” could be used to sign-into

    So, “” may be what one uses to login to the Yahoo email service *and* is what one may use to login to one’s Microsoft account. And please keep the passwords to those accounts separate; they are not related!

    As I tell my listeners, when one establishes a new account with any service, WRITE IT DOWN SOMEWHERE! (yes, I shout.) no way can one remember all the services, accounts, names, passwords, secret questions, etc. without recording them somewhere. How to keep those records is a subject for another askleo article.

    • Also true for Google – I believe you can have a non-Gmail address as a Google account.

      Keeping all that information, including passwords, is what I use LastPass for. I discourage writing down as a) it’s a single copy that can be lost, b) it’s easily stolen.

  6. Very interesting article on what is an email address, acct. etc. However, I have always been under the impression that the domain name of your provider along with your name gave you a ‘legitimate’ email address. Some banking institutions will only accept ‘legitimate’ email addresses, rather than hotmail, yahoo etc.

    A few years ago, my ISP made a name change to better reflect their place in the game. However, some of the ‘old’ customers were allowed to grandfather their old email addresses and keep them, rather than having to notify umpteen different friends, services etc of the change. I have lately, on a couple of occasions, been denied the old email address when joining something or other, yet they would take what is essentially my new address but I don’t use it. As soon as I provide that, things progress just fine. Why would this happen?

    • Hotmail had a terrible reputation for a long time, and perhaps that’s why you heard the idea of a legitimate email address. But in fact, any email address is legitimate. I would be surprised if any banks still have that rule because people have moved away from using their ISP emails (because they keep changing) and very few people have their own domains.

      If your old ISP email is being rejected then it must be because they are not keeping their old listed properly. It could be on a blacklist of some sort. There are so many possibilities that coming up with any answers is simply guessing.

      • I got my first permanent email address in around 1997. It was a Yahoo address. I had already switched ISPs three times and the prospect of an address that I didn’t lose when I switched ISPs sounded great. I still have that account and as recently as five years ago, I heard from a friend at that address. I still have that account which I now use mainly for newsletters, If anyone who writes to that old account, I still cab get their mails. The only free email providers I would use are Gmail,, and Yahoo. I don’t have confidence that smaller services will be around as long.

    • Bud, you wrote:

      “…customers were allowed to grandfather their old email addresses…”

      Just so that you (and others) may know, the original “grandfather clause” was a vicious attempt to keep former black slaves from voting during Reconstruction.

      Even among free landowners, literacy wasn’t all that comnon. So a law was passed that you could vote, if (1) you, (2) your father, or (3) your grandfather could read. This gave white folks (especially the former slave owners) three separate chance at being able to vote.

      SLAVES (current or former), on the other hand, were, or had been, intentionally kept very carefully illiterate, so that the “grandfather clause” gave them no advantage at all.

  7. I am having a terrible time with the Outlook on Windows 10. I can not find out how to access my address book nor can I find a place to enter new emails to my address book, or even to save an email address that I receive mail from, to save to my address book? ? ? Also I was saving emails from windows 10 to my specific folders set up on windows 7.. Low and behold, they did not stick in the folders. So I have lost a lot of important mail , befor I realized what was happening. I am so frustrated, I just don’t know where to start to fix my stuff.. Do you have any suggestions ? ? ? I’m about ready to dump my P C and look for an apple. Would I be better off / ? ? Please help …

  8. my email address is related to my business website. This is my email address ( I’ve changed it a tiny bit for privacy) john@{somebizdomain}.com
    I find it far easier to navigate, compose & format text, everything about bit ( to me) is far batter than gmail. hotmail etc. Gmail is a visual mess & not user friendly. Having said that how would you classify my email john@{somebizdomain}.com Is their a formal name for this type of emai? thanks John

  9. There is another service worthy of mention and that is email remailers. A remailer basically serves as a mirror for email. Email sent to a remail account will be redirected to a “real” account of your choosing, not unlike the way a mirror reflects light. BIGFOOT used to be a service I used and email sent to “” would be redirected to “”. You could log into Bigfoot to set up the “my-real-address” account to receive email sent to “”. When I was about to move I asked my email contacts to stop sending my mail to Comcast and begin sending it to Bigfoot. I had Bigfoot send it to me at my Comcast account until I had moved and had Bigfoot sent new mail to my new email account with Verizon. Also useful for those that might want to protect their Gmail account name and that info…..

  10. Microsoft accounts as referred to here in this article, can show up as,,, or the newest email addresses. Despite changes over the years, they all continue to function, but new addresses can only be created as or

  11. After many years with earthlink, I have decided they charge too much and give too little. Thankfully, I used them mostly as a ‘collector’ and retrieved the email with Thunderbird. I have several emails forwarded from my domain. I suggest visiting
    You will have a ton of @email addresses to choose from and I am impressed enough to pay for premium.
    You can collect from web-based accounts on the website, create folders for copies you don’t want to lose, and easily retrieve what you want on your PC.

  12. Just a bit of a ‘Heads Up’ on email addresses. Some years ago I became ‘involved’ with Google when they began to offer some useful facilities. I set up a Gmail address (modified here for obvious security reasons). {}
    A month or two later I began to receive email intended for someone in America – I am in New Zealand – and after some very confusing investigations I discovered that the dot in the first part of the address is not recognised.
    Their address is the same letters as mine Mine is my wife’s first name dot my first, theirs is first namesecond Strange coincidence but without the dot the two sets of letters are exactly the same!
    I attempted to warn the other party of the serious situation as soon as it became obvious, but my efforts were either filtered out or simply ignored, and because I had used Gmail widely in a range of sites I was very reluctant to cancel it.
    To this day I still receive email not intended for me, but fortunately, it is almost entirely ‘commercial’ advertising and promotion.
    People need to be aware of the significance of that dot in an address!

    • Ken,

      No, the other person is making an error. At account creation that person would’ve been told the account name was “already taken” whether he used the dots or not. These are both recognized as the same address by Google, your address. 

      He likely was forced to add numbers or another letter to complete registration of his new account. Now he’s completely forgotten that, and is stating what he originally intended as his account, rather than what he was forced to create. Until he realizes, he’ll get no mail, and you’ll get all of his.

      Nothing you can do but ignore it and treat it just like “wrong number” phone calls. How did you attempt contacting him to explain this? You need to find postal or telephone contact information in one of those messages. Email won’t work, as that is simply not his email address. The message will come right back to you.

  13. To add to the confusion, .com is also an extension for executable files in DOS and DEC Systems OSes.

    You mentioned that an email program can’t create an email account. That wasn’t always the case. I remember when Outlook Express could be used to open Microsoft email accounts.

  14. Leo, you wrote:

    “It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping.”

    Quite aside from the (I think) SNL skit, this is also mentioned in the Infocom Interactive fiction program, “The Lurking Horror” (inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, how could you tell?). :o

  15. So my email is convoluted that ONE of the email addresses is creating thousands of folders. So I’ll have like “sent” folder that begins with a 0001 number creating endless “sent” folders with too many zeros to fathom! This happens every day, every minute for EVERY folder that has been named since the dawn of time! How does one get this sorted out? I have email addresses linked so I can view them all in one place, but when I go to customer help, nobody will claim the problem, be it gmail, outlook,, yahoo or what have you.
    How does one fix this without destroying the emails, (wherever they are stored) or losing my Microsoft account?


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.