Email is a shorthand term which means: electronic mail. Email is similar to a regular postal letter; containing an address, routing information and content. Email uses a range of protocol’s – like IMAP, POP3, SMTP – to route messages from mail servers to users. Email – as a technology – predates the Internet, and was first implemented in ARPANET (1972).

Email, as a term, can also be written as e-mail. To send and receive email messages a user requires an email address. The majority of Internet Service Provider provide a free email account to customers; likewise, there are a plethora of companies who offer free webmail accounts, such as Gmail and Yahoo!. Email client programs (like Outlook Express) can be used to access an email account.

Email has proved to be one of the Internet’s most popular services; while it has been commended for improving global communications, it has also be criticized for its security: spam and viruses and malware being spread through email attachments.

Here’s a basic explanation of how email works

  1. The sender composes a message using the email client on their computer.
  2. When the user sends the message, the email text and attachments are uploaded to the SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) server as outgoing mail.
  3. All outgoing messages wait in the outgoing mail queue while the SMTP server communicates with the DNS (Domain Name Server–like a phone book for domain names and server IP addresses) to find out where the recipient’s email server is located. If the SMTP server finds the recipient’s email server,  it will transfer the message and attachments. If the recipient’s server can’t be found, the sender will get a “Mail Failure” notification in their inbox.
  4. The next time the recipient clicks “Send & Receive,” their email client will download all new messages from their own email server. You’ve got mail!
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