I already asked a similar question (customer vs. client vs. user vs. consumer of on-line service) but, I believe, there may be some differences between technical and legal jargon and general usage of English.

I'd like to find the distinct most appropriate and unambiguous terms to distinguish the users of on-line services:

  • malicious bot vs. entity using programming tools to access online services;
  • general public vs. registered for a free service user;
  • registered for free service user vs. user who paid for a fee-based additional on-line service;

Well, the terms under consideration, so far, are:

  • user
  • consumer
  • client

What is the difference between customer and client?
What are other possible pertinent terms?

6 Answers 6


A client is the one to be served, economically or not, the economical one being a customer. A customer (purchaser) is not necessarily a client, when product(s) rather than services are offered.

A consumer is the one who uses products or services, paid or not. So, a consumer is not necessarily a customer. Children at toy shops are usually consumers, their mothers being customers.

  • That's the point of difficulty. A legitimate entity (not obvious that a human) buys for legitimate use by or through another entity which is can be bot, animal or whatever Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 11:25
  • Does it matter? vgv8, even if you were a bot, I am still interacting with a USER. Same goes for "customer" and "client". Don't forget your browser is a client. :)
    – Fountain
    Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 12:12

Client to me has an element of "ongoing relationship with the seller" in its meaning: if you go to the store to buy a box of matches, you're just a customer, but if you always go to that store because you know you'll get good service and good prices, you're a client. (However, the dictionary does list "customer" as one of the meanings of "client", so they are very close in meaning if not identical.)

I would say that someone who pays a monthly fee in order to have continued access to an online service could be called a client.

Some suggestions for your terms:

  • malicious bot = Abuser
  • entity using programming tools = accessor
  • non-using public = public
  • registered but not paying = user
  • payer = client
  • 1
    'bot' need not necessarily be malicious. The usage of 'bot' in the programming world to denote non-malicious entities is common too. Specifically for search engines, 'spider' or 'crawler' are used too. Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 8:42
  • @ Ankur Banerjee, whom do you comment? Neither answerer nor questioner implied this. I myself interact with bots more than with humans. As a matter of fact I myself call me a bot too Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 11:09

Embrace the jargon

Obviously, you might confuse the reader if you mix jargon from different disciplines in the same work. So if you're a lawyer or paralegal I could understand why you'd want to use words like "client" and "consumer" only in the sense that a lawyer would expect.

But in most discussions about the business and software around online services (you mentioned "free," "fee-based," "bots," and "programming tools") you're not going to be able to escape the jargon that was invented for those subjects. In that jargon:

A service is something you offer that (you hope) has value to your customers.

A server is the hardware that provides that service. The words "server" and "service" also used of the software running on that hardware, with "service" being more common in Microsoft shops and "server" more common elsewhere.

A user, consumer, subscriber, or customer is a person you're doing business with or providing a service to. When the person paying for something isn't the same as the person you're delivering it to, reach for more specific terms to make the business distinction. For example, Google provides a free service to the public and makes money on advertising; they'd use a word like "consumer" for people in one group and "advertiser" or "business partner" for the other.

A client is any software that interacts with the server. The word is also used to describe anything on the user's side of the interaction, e.g. "client PC."

A bot is a client accessing a service for some reason other than immediately presenting something to a person. Bots specific to the web are also called spiders. Bots are not necessarily malicious; for example Google has lots of unattended programs crawling the web and making an index entry for each word they see. Instead of "malicious," consider a word that describes what you're opposed to, such as unauthorized or unacceptable, and define what constitutes authorized or acceptable use.

For your other examples I'd use user for a member of the general public, member or (free) subscriber for someone who registered, and paid or premium subscriber for people forking over money.


A client is generally someone purchasing a professional service, contrasted with a customer who might be buying a box of matches. Perhaps a client is a bit more genteel, and possibly richer. (Myself, I call them both customers because I call a spade a bloody shovel.)

(See http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/customer, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/client.)

  • How would you call a customer who is using service but not paying? and the one who is paying, for example, through donations or contributions? Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 7:06
  • @vgv8, if they are using a service but not paying, I'd call them users. Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 7:22
  • Would you call dogs consuming PEDIGREE® users or consumers? Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 11:22
  • 2
    I would call them consumers myself. But dogs aren't people and software isn't Pedigree, although it must be admitted that a lot of software closely resembles a dog's breakfast. Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 11:32
  • @vgv8: And a user who is making regular payments I would call a subscriber.
    – psmears
    Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 12:18

A client is someone who engages the services of a professional. For example, lawyers, plumbers, freelance writers, accountants, and web designers often work for clients.

A customer buys goods or services from a business (rather than an individual or group of professionals).



Customer is the one who purchases on a regular basis, while consumer is not a regular purchaser from a store.

  • I am a consumer and to satisfy my consuming needs I regularly shop at the same five-odd stores. Conversely, a one-time customer, or a first-time customer, is still a customer.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 21:57

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