What's the difference between a wallet and an account?

Across this support page, we refer to your wallet and account(s) as separate items. 

The distinction is not immediately clear, but is important for understanding how MetaMask works, its structure, and what you can and can't do with wallets and accounts. 

tl;dr

'Wallet' describes the MetaMask software you're using. 'Account' refers to a public-private key pair. 

Your wallet doesn't have an address; an account within it does. Instead, a MetaMask wallet is a software tool that allows you to manage and access accounts. 

You can derive more than one account from a Secret Recovery Phrase (seed phrase).

What is a wallet?

A wallet is a client (a piece of software) with which you manage your accounts.

The confusion around web3 wallets often stems from the term itself and how it relates to our non-technological, everyday-life understanding of it. A physical wallet holds cash and cards; in web3, your wallet does not contain your assets — your accounts do.

Instead, we should imagine MetaMask and other wallet software as the kind of real-world, physical 'wallet' that holds an ID card or passport. The wallet itself is simply a tool for transporting around a means of proving your identity. MetaMask, accordingly, is principally a tool for proving your identity in web3. This is why we sometimes refer to MetaMask as a decentralized identity management tool: it's a way of signing transactions and messages to demonstrate that you are the holder of the private keys of your account(s). 

What is an account? 

An account is a public-private key pair derived from your Secret Recovery Phrase (SRP). 

Your accounts in MetaMask are each represented by a public address (the 'public' side of your key pair), which you may have seen referred to incorrectly as a 'wallet address'. There is no such thing: there is only an account address. Confusingly, many web3 services and protocols conflate wallets and accounts. This is unhelpful, particularly when navigating support issues such as lost SRPs, and restoring and resetting wallets and accounts

What does this mean in practice?

  • You don't have funds and assets in a wallet; you have them in your accounts. Your accounts, in turn, are managed using your wallet. 
  • When you share an Ethereum address, you're sharing an account address. There is no such thing as a wallet address.
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