What Is the Difference Between Webmail and Email?

By Shea Laverty

Despite the different names, webmail is actually the same thing as email, albeit with a different means of access. Like regular email, webmail has access to features like file attachments, forwarding and sending carbon copies to other recipients. Whether you choose to use webmail or a desktop email client, you'll be able to reliably send and receive messages -- and in some cases, you can even use your webmail account through your email client.

Means of Access

Webmail's primary difference from client-based email is how you access it. Webmail is accessed on the Internet through a Web browser while client-based email is accessed through a desktop program. Webmail messages are stored online on the site's servers and protected by your username and password. Client-based email systems store messages on your computer, and generally require no authentication to access. Webmail can be accessed from any computer, making it convenient when you don't have your computer on-hand. However, entering your authentication information into a public computer can be dangerous and may expose your account to hackers.

Webmail Services

There are many webmail services available, most of which are free. Some of the most popular options are Google's Gmail, Microsoft's Outlook.com and Yahoo Mail. Each service has different features. For example, Gmail offers Google+ and Google Talk functionality, while Outlook.com integrates Skype instant messaging and Yahoo Mail works with Yahoo Instant Messenger. Most webmail services can also connect to your social networks like Facebook and Twitter to populate your contacts list.

Email Clients

Email clients are desktop programs that can send and receive email messages. They are linked to email accounts through POP3 or IMAP addressing, which means they can handle email for accounts with ISPs and other non-webmail services. Email clients usually come with many features, like integration of RSS feeds, detailed address books, chat features for several services, filters, favorites folders and other useful tools for organizing and managing your contacts and email. Microsoft's Outlook is a prime example of a feature-rich paid option, which has all of the features mentioned plus integration with Microsoft Office apps, calendars, task reminders and more. Popular free desktop clients include Microsoft's Windows Mail, Mozilla's Thunderbird and Opera Mail.

Accessing Webmail from Email Clients

By setting up your client to connect to the incoming and outgoing message servers for your webmail service, you can use your webmail from your desktop email client. Check your webmail for POP3 support; if they list the addresses and ports for incoming and outgoing servers you can use these to link your email client to your account. You'll also need to supply your client with the username and password on your webmail account, so it can verify your identity and access your messages.