What's the Difference Between Texting & Instant Messaging?

By John Arkontaky

Updated August 24, 2017

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Once we had to stamp and mail letters to far-flung friends and family members. Nowadays, written messages can be instantly delivered thanks to texting – also known as short messaging service, or SMS –and instant messaging, or IM. Both give you the ability to directly communicate with your contacts, but texting and instant messaging have differences that may make one a better option for you.


Text messages use cellular service to transmit data in a similar fashion to making a phone call. Because of this, smartphones and traditional mobile phones are the most common devices people send texts from. However, computers can also send and receive text messages. This is accomplished by installing an SMS app on the computer, which uses your cell phone number and cellular service to text your contacts. Instant messaging started on computer networks. But you can install an instant messaging app and use your smartphone to send IMs while away from your computer.


Texts can be sent between any two individuals who pay for the service. In other words, you can send texts to people who don't share the same operating system or software. On the other hand, instant messaging typically requires you and your contacts to use the same messaging service to communicate, like Yahoo Messages, WhatsApp, or Twitter direct messages. Rather than download a messaging program for each service, you may want to use a multiprotocol instant messaging client that gives you access to several messaging protocols at once. Facebook Messenger, for example can send and receive SMS text messages as well as its own proprietary instant messages.

Transmission Costs

Because texting is a phone service, you pay your mobile provider for the service. Mobile carriers offer unlimited texting plans as well as other plans that charge by the text message or put a cap on how many texts can be sent and received in a billing cycle. Most instant messaging services are free to use, with the costs offset by advertising. If you use instant messengers on your smartphone, you're charged for data use unless your plan includes unlimited data or if you are using Wi-Fi.


Because texting is tied to a mobile phone number, there are no login screens, so anybody using your phone can send, receive and look at your texts. Instant messenger programs require a username and password, providing more security and privacy. However, both services aren't impervious to phishing scams and other malicious attacks. Spam and viruses use texting and instant messenger services to reach their targets. To combat this, you can install security apps for your smartphone and use anti-virus programs to protect your computer.