There are so many options.
Yes and no.
The “no” is that it doesn’t happen automatically.
The “yes” is that there are several ways to set something up, depending on what you and the other person have available.
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Text messaging is based on your mobile phone’s number. Some mobile providers have a dedicated email gateway to which you can send a message to be delivered via SMS. If you have your own mobile, you may be able to access text messaging via a website. If you have a smartphone you can often use web services on your PC to send and receive SMS through your phone. Of course, there are many, many messaging programs similar to text messaging that can be used as well.
SMS text messaging
SMS stands for Short Message Service and is designed specifically for mobile phones. It’s what most people think of when they hear the word “text”.
SMS doesn’t need the internet1 and typically doesn’t count against your mobile data plan; it’s a part of your voice service.
You’re identified by your mobile phone number. If you have someone’s mobile phone number, you can likely text them from your mobile phone. (Whether or not they’ll pay attention is another matter entirely.)
That brings us to the single biggest problem exchanging SMS text messages with other devices (like your desktop or laptop): they don’t have mobile numbers of their own.
SMS text to mobile via email
Many mobile providers allow you to send SMS messages to a mobile phone via email, using a special address or domain to which you send the message. That makes its way to the mobile phone as a text message.
For example, with Verizon Wireless in the U.S., you can email ##########@vtext.com, where “##########” is replaced with their 10-digit mobile number. That message will get sent as a text message to that phone. Other carriers have some type of equivalent and/or webpage from which you can send a text message to one of their phones.
In some cases, the SMS message will appear to come from your email address and not a number. In those cases, your recipient may be able to simply reply via SMS, and the message will get forwarded to your email address.
The biggest issue with this approach is that you need to know the recipient’s mobile provider, and how to formulate their mobile number as an email address.
SMS via web
If you have your own mobile phone, and it happens to be a smartphone, there are applications that allow you to access your SMS messages from a configured computer.
For example, I have Android Messages installed on my phone to handle my SMS messages. On my computer, I visit messages.google.com, and all my SMS text messages appear there as they arrive. When I reply using the web interface, my message is sent to the app on my phone, from which it is sent as an SMS message to my intended recipient.
I use this extensively, as I appreciate having a full keyboard to compose my messages.
The biggest downside to this approach is that you need a smartphone of your own in order to exchange SMS messages.
SMS texting is incredibly popular for mobile-to-mobile communication, because it’s everywhere and it’s simple.
But it’s not the only messaging game in town. Particularly in recent years, a variety of communications apps serve the same purpose.
And many of those apps have computer or web-based counterparts.
As one example, my wife and I never text each other. However, we use Facebook Messenger all the time. With the app installed on my mobile phone, she can reach out to me without regard to whether or not I have my phone or where I happen to be. I can use the interface I choose: my mobile phone, my desktop computer, or even my tablet, if that’s convenient.
Skype is another alternative. While we think of it as a voice or video application, you can use it to exchange typed messages. It has apps everywhere, as well as a web-based interface.
The downside to this approach is that you both need to use the same application instead of SMS texting, and whoever is on mobile will need a smartphone and a data plan.
Messaging seems ever-changing
In updating (actually re-writing) this article 14 years after its initial publication, it’s apparent that the world of messaging continues to change. Capabilities are continually deployed and improved on, and new communications applications appear relatively frequently.
The most important aspect to it all is knowing what your recipient uses (or what they’re willing to use), and agreeing on a way to use it that works for you both.
Sometimes grabbing your mobile phone and tapping out that SMS message is the quickest, most pragmatic approach.
But there are certainly plenty of alternatives.
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Footnotes & References
1: Of course, your mobile provider could implement it any of several ways, including using the internet, but that’s all transparent to you.
13 comments on “Sending Text Messages Using Your Computer”
I use Facebook messenger extensively to communicate with my kids. They often phone me on Facebook messenger. I have some friends who don’t use Facebook but use Facebook Messenger because it’s so convenient.
If you have a Macbook and have it connected to your iPhone it does it automatically! But of course, it has to be Apple to Apple.
I neglected to mention in the article that I also use WhatsApp to communicate with relatives overseas and others. It, as well as Signal, Telegram, and possibly others, all have either web interfaces or Windows (and presumably Mac) desktop applications. MOST (including messages.google.com) require the corresponding app be installed on a smartphone, running, and “paired” with the desktop counterpart.
Leo…I use google voice and it works just fine.
I have all of those messengers installed but it turns out I use WhatsApp the most because that’s what most of my friends use. One thing I don’t like about it is that your phone has to be on and on line to be able to use the computer app. This is rarely a problem but once in a while it can be a pain especially as it a completely arbitrary limitation on the part of Facebook.
It’s not arbitrary as much as it is a side effect of a choice: Much like messages.google.com, and a couple of others, your PC doesn’t actually send the message. It’s sent to the phone, which in turn sends and receives it. It’s more complicated (and probably less secure) to somehow try and associate your mobile number with one or more PC so that things could go direct. So they keep the phone at the center of the message sending universe, and bolt on web or app access by connecting to it. They could do it otherwise, but I theorize both complexity and security (not to mention low demand) all factor into it.
Windows 10 also has the Your Phone app which allows the user to connect their smartphone and computer. It will allow user to send and receive messages.
I’ve been sending text messages via email for quite a few years. It’s relatively easy to do. Here are some tools that I use and my method:
1. I send texts primarily from one of my Hotmail email accounts (using Thunderbird in Slackware Linux). I send in Plain Text mode… this is important! SMS does not understand Rich Text Formatting.
2. I use these links to helpful sites that provide carrier information for mobile numbers, proper addressing for each carrier, and a word count site that will tell you quickly if your text is beyond the 160 character limit of SMS:
*waving to Leo* Yup. This ol’ Linux user still gets your newsletter and visits your site often. :)
Thanks for that info. It’s very useful.
The article provides info on Version, vtext.com, but how to find the code for the others?
V. T. Eric Layton’s links above have those email domains.
I found another site with provider lookups:
I have a desktop computer but no cell phone. My sister has a Verizon cell phone, but no other computer. I can text message her cell phone from my desktop email program using the method discussed above, sending the email to email@example.com for a short message, or firstname.lastname@example.org for a longer message (e.g. with a photo), where “fonenumber” is her 10-digit number (NOT preceded by “1”). [Typing on the tiny cell phone on-screen keyboards has proved impossible for me.] My sister can text message me back by replying to my message or by sending her message to my email address (which she can store on her phone’s contacts list), rather than to my (nonexistent) cell phone number.
Look at the web and support sites for the carrier you’re interested in.