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Why does my email program ask for a username or password when I try to download mail?


Why does Microsoft Outlook ask for a username and password when I
press send and receive?

There are two levels to this question, and I’m going to address them

One: in addition to an email program you need an email account in
order to send and receive email.

Two: your email program needs to know about that account.

Two-and-a-half: OK, sometimes your email program can get


Occasionally, I get questions from folks who are essentially asking why it’s not enough to just get an email program like Outlook or Outlook Express to send email, without having to sign up for an email service.

Your email program is not your email.

By that I mean, your email program – be it Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird – or even web interfaces like Hotmail, GMail or Yahoo – are merely tools that you use to access your email. They don’t, by themselves, give you an email address or make it possible for you to send and receive email.

You need an email account.

You can get an account from any of several different places. You can sign up with free email services like GMail, Hotmail and the like, for example. If you have an internet connection at home, it’s very likely you already have an email account through your ISP.

“Your username and password identify you to your email service, and your email address identifies you to the world.”

An email account is typically identified by three bits of information:

  • username
  • password
  • email address

“Username” and “email address” are sometimes the same, but not always.

Your username and password identify you to your email service, and your email address identifies you to the world.

Once you have an email account, if you’re using a desktop program to access your email, you’ll need to configure that program with the same three bits of information: username, account and email address.

Some programs will ask you to configure only username and email address – the first time you try to download or send email they will prompt you for the password, and then offer to remember it for you.

If at some later time your password ever changes, the program will notice that the old password it has didn’t work and will prompt you again expecting you to enter the new one.

Read that last paragraph again, and notice what happened: the program tried to connect and send or receive email, and that attempt failed due to a bad password. Figuring that the password was bad, it asks you for the correct one.

In fact it doesn’t have to be a password failure for the program to ask you.

It your email program attempts to send or receive and that fails for reasons that might possibly be due to a bad username or password, the program could prompt you for those again. Note that it’s not saying that the username and password are bad, it’s saying that the failure it’s experiencing might be due to a bad username or password.

Or not.

And of course that “or not” is where a lot of confusion arises. I’ve seen email programs prompt for username and password simply because the computer wasn’t connected to the net. Re-entering the username and password isn’t going to fix that.

The most common possibilities for your email program prompting you for your password again include:

  • You changed your password, and your email program simply needs to know the new one.

  • You’re having connectivity problems to your email server. Try again later, or from a different location.

  • Your email program is slightly confused. I’ve seen Thunderbird get into this state. Exit and restart your mail program.

  • Your email account has been closed or suspended.

  • Someone else changed your password, or your account has been stolen.

  • Your email service no longer provides POP3/IMAP/SMTP access as used by desktop email programs.

  • You don’t have an email account. See the first part of this article.

There are probably even more possibilities, but those are the most common. In general check to make sure your password is correct, perhaps log into a web-based interface if your email service provides one, restart your email program, or wait a while to see if the problem goes away.

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12 comments on “Why does my email program ask for a username or password when I try to download mail?”

  1. I am wondering if the question was worded correctly. My Outlook asked for name and password everytime I log into my email account. Even when I check the box to remember the password. When I log on it asks for a password and after the email is downloaded it again asks for the name and password. Is this what the question was ment to say?

  2. Re: Comment 1 – That is my problem. I set up my account (following the instructions to the letter).
    Difference here: When I try to save my Password I get a message saying the password cannot be save to this machine! Thus, the continual prompts for a password. This may be happening to the person (a guess on my part). If so, it should have been mentioned.
    LEO: Is a followup in order here? Should this be posed as a “new” question?

  3. I believe Norm has hit it on the head about username and password. But because I have two computers sitting side by side hooked up to the same network through a 5port nway switch hub and has always worked until there had been a change in ownership and my email on one machine always ask for a username & password that does not work.
    Could it be the new company wants additional fees
    for two PCs on the same simple network.

  4. I have Outlook XP 2002 from Microsoft Office Pofessional XP 2002 and Vista will not remember your password even when you tell it to. The problem is with Vista and Microsoft will not fix this problem because they want you to buy a newer version of Micosoft Office

  5. There is a fix that I found for the problem of computer not remembering the password even when the box is checked in outlook express. I found the fix by doing a search on the Microsoft site but it involves going into the registry and I was afraid to do so.

  6. Have the same problem with Vista’s Windows Mail and when I purchased MS Office and use Outlook 2007… everyone (HP and Internet Provider) blame it on Vista but don’t know how to fix it!

  7. I changed my password for accessing my Comcast email several weeks ago. Now when I try to use Outlook (not Express) it will ask fro my password. If I enter the new one, sometimes it process just fine. Other times it does not. But if I enter the old password, it will process.

    How do I fix this?

  8. One thing that you need to check is the “Protected Storage Services”, with Service disabled, programs which needs password will experience the mentioned situation. The edit the service go to Start Then Run, Run %SystemRoot%\system32\services.msc
    Look For Protected Storage, and make sure it is running, if not make it automatic and restart the PC.

  9. Why is it necessary to re-list my password each time I open my email program, especially when I am the only one using this computer?

    Depends on what email program you use. You may not have to, but there’s no way for me to know.


  10. Setting up a new email address so that the password is not asked for repeatedly is, to say the least, VERY frustrating. It seems that EVERY time someone creates a new email address with their ISP, Yahoo, Gmail, or whoever – and then sets it up under “accounts” in their email program, they MUST go through this agravating hassle. and hope that eventually the request to enter the password stops appearing.

    This problem is like going through a rite of passage. You apparently must keep trying to use that new email address until the gods are finally satisfied.

    Complaints of this nature has been going on for years, and AFAIK no one has come up with an improved method for setting up new email addresses yet!

    And it shouldn’t be happening. In fact, it doesn’t happen to the vast majority of users. The program needs to ask for the password at least once, but as long as you check “remember this password”, or whatever the equivalent is in your email program, that should be the end of it, until you set up a new email program, change your password, or create a new email account. I’ve listed a number of possibilities in the article of things that can go wrong. I don’t mean to minimize the problem you’re having but I do need to be clear that it’s not by design, as you make it out to be. It’s a problem, and has some kind of root cause that can and should be fixed.

  11. Outlook 2003 Same problem with all 4 of my email accounts. I even use the “test settings” button and get a complete success on Log in, send and receive for all 4 and hardly 3 minutes later it asks again for my username and password !! Perverse, but sadly you haven’t identified the fault !

  12. The problem is even if I give the password it comes back to ask the same question. Why is this happening. Is there a fix to this problem?

    If it comes back immediately, then the password is wrong. If it comes back the next time you run the program then the email program (you haven’t indicated which one you use) isn’t remembering the password. If it has a “remember password” checkbox make sure that’s checked before you hit OK.


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