What Is Exchange Web Services and How to Use It

Image showing the Microsoft Exchange logo on top of a laptop being used to access a mailbox by someone.
Why do you need Microsoft Exchange?

If you’re wondering whether you should integrate EWS with your business, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ll dig deeper into Microsoft EWS, and explain how it’s different from Outlook on the Web or Outlook Web Access (OWA). I’ll also take you through the steps you’ll need to follow to get started with EWS. 

First, let’s go over what Microsoft EWS is.

What Is Microsoft EWS?

Microsoft Exchange Web Services is a native API service that allows various client-server applications to integrate with Exchange servers and Office 365. It also enables you to access mailbox data items like contacts, calendars, emails, and more stored in Exchange Online. This also allows you to fully benefit from Exchange Server’s functionalities. 

Exchange Web Services was first introduced with the Exchange Server 2007. Since then, it has provided IT administrators and companies with easy means to manage, store, retrieve, and modify their data. Your IT admins can also configure the Exchange Server. That basically gives your company the flexibility to manage and migrate your Exchange Server information however you want.

EWS also enables developers to create custom apps, so you can meet your specific business needs. You develop the services you need for your application! EWS is open-ended, so it also provides a limitless number of possibilities to leverage Exchange Online’s data

Microsoft EWS is also accessible from anywhere as it doesn’t restrict you to one device. In general, Exchange Web Services also ensures you get a better user experience. 

You’ll need EWS to:

  • Integrate with other tools and services like SharePoint and Skype for Business
  • Perform service and user management while setting up a reliable method of managing messaging records
  • Manage your company’s data better 
  • Migrate Exchange data stored on-premise to any cloud service
  • Perform several operations like bulk mail transfers
  • Perform Exchange store searches 
  • Execute several mail data retrieval operations in real-time like retrieving information from other Exchange forests, public folders, etc.
An image showcasing the OWA interface with mails, mail preview, folders, and more on the Internet Explorer browser.
Microsoft OWA web interface allows you to manage your mail easily.

Now that you know what Microsoft EWS is, let’s also go through a brief overview on Microsoft OWA before we compare both services.

Microsoft OWA: Another Gateway to Your Exchange Data

Microsoft OWA (Outlook on the Web) is a browser-based web application. It allows you to access and manage your Microsoft Outlook email and the associated data over the web. You’ll often see the terms EWS and OWA pop up in documentation dealing with enterprise email. Despite that, the two are very different. 

For starters, OWA targets end-users, not developers. OWA is basically what you use to see your inbox from a browser. This option can be useful when you don’t have your Outlook app at hand. Still, in companies using Exchange Online, OWA and EWS can go hand-in-hand.

For example, your employees can use OWA to check their emails, access their calendars, revise their To-Do lists, all without being on their device. In a similar fashion, your IT department can use EWS to develop systems that all Exchange users in your company can also use.

Now, I’ll guide you through the differences between Microsoft OWA and EWS.

Microsoft OWA vs. EWS

Take a look at this comparison table so you can see the differences.

Service TypeWeb app. Allows you to access services over a browser.Backend API service. Allows developers to access Exchange Online data.
TargetTargets human interactions via the web.Targets system to system interactions. It also allows exchanging data programmatically.
UsabilityAs an end-user, you’ll likely use OWA.Companies leverage EWS to fetch and manage data.
Outlook/Exchange services accessRestricts you to the way it’s offered as a service.Lets you leverage the API to create custom features.
PerformancePowered by Microsoft, so it’s a very stable service. It also has high efficiency and availability.Powered by developers, so performance depends on implementation. Allows you to create independent features, so availability and efficiency also depend on collected data.
OWA or EWS, which will it be?

OWA and EWS aren’t very similar. While they’re both good to use for email-related applications in your company, developers should focus on EWA to develop appropriate solutions. 

Next, I’ll explain how you can get started with EWS.

How to Get Started with EWS in 5 Steps

Microsoft’s Exchange Web Services provides Exchange users with an email API. This API also gives you access to all the data and the services in the Exchange mailboxes. It also enables developers to:

  • Access and parse email data easily
  • Generate email drafts
  • Send and receive emails
  • Manage attachments and configurations
  • Organize their mailboxes
 Image showing a pop-up to enter the Name and Email address to add an Exchange account to macOS
Sign in to an Exchange account.

If you want to leverage these features in your company, simply follow these 5 steps to get started with EWS:

1. Set Up Exchange Mailbox

To get started with EWS, you’ll need to have an Exchange mailbox account. You can also find a detailed step-by-step guide on creating one. If you already have an Exchange mailbox account configured, skip this step.

2. Set Up a Development Environment

Now, you’ll also need to set up the development environment for the Exchange Web Service Managed API. You should also ensure you have access to:

  • A version of Visual Studio Starting with Visual Studio 2005
  • A .NET framework no older than v3.5

3. Access EWS Managed API

The EWS Managed API is listed as an open-source project, so you can access it on GitHub. Keep in mind that you’ll also need a valid certificate on your Exchange Server if you’ve downloaded it. You can install a valid certificate or validate a server certification.

4. Set Up References

After configuring the development environment and accessing the EWS managed API, you’ll also need to create a project in Visual Studio. To do that, add a reference to the EWS managed API. You’ll then set up URL redirection validation for auto-discoverability. 

5. Develop Your First EWS Managed API Application

Finally, create an Exchange Service object using the EWS reference. You can then start developing your first application. For more details, you can find illustrations and code references here

The Bottom Line

In short, Exchange Web Services is an API that allows you to access your Microsoft Exchange data. Conversely, OWA is a web-based application that lets you access your Microsoft mailbox online. Both tools help you interact with your Exchange data, but EWS gives you more flexibility overall. Microsoft Exchange Web Services is also a very powerful and customizable tool to create custom client-server applications that run on the Microsoft Exchange. 

The EWS Managed API also allows you to create custom apps and develop your own modules. You can then use these modules to perform operations like sending, receiving, and parsing emails, handling attachments, calendars, contact management, and more. 

In this article, I’ve explained what EWS and OWA are and the differences between them. I also listed the 5 quick steps you need to follow to get started with Exchange Web Services. Consider implementing EWS to better integrate and interact with Exchange Online. Have more questions about Exchange Web Services (EWS)? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below.


What’s the difference between OWA and EWS?

Outlook on the web (OWA) is Microsoft’s web-based email client. It allows you to access your email from the web on any device. In contrast, EWS is an API that end-users don’t need access to. EWS also allows developers to leverage more features than email relaying. For instance, you can integrate EWS with Exchange Server to manage calendars, contacts, etc.

What is an Exchange Server?

The Exchange Server, also known as Microsoft Exchange Server, is a mail, contacts, and calendar server. It’s a collaboration platform that allows you to access different mailing and scheduling services from various devices. Exchange Server runs exclusively on Windows Server operating systems.

What is a client-server application?

A client-server application is an application built on the client-server architecture for data exchange. In principle, a client program aims to raise requests to a server and consume the data/response that the server provides. In turn, the server issues responses to the client. It also does the necessary processing to generate the response. 

Why do I need EWS?

You can develop and build applications using EWS to perform several actions. That includes retrieving information from Exchange Online services and mailboxes. You can also use Exchange Web Services to build your own custom services so it fits your specific needs. 

What are the features of OWA?

OWA is the most convenient and easily accessible version of Outlook that you can access on a web browser. It also provides almost all the features of regular Outlook on the desktop. Some of these features are folder view of mailing lists, viewing PSTs, creating new folders, organizing mailboxes, Microsoft 365 Groups, etc. 


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