How Does Email Work?

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What It Is

  • Email is a way of sending and receiving messages electronically. A text message is saved to a file for the receiver(s) to download and read after an email server transmits the message from the sender to the recipient. Unlike regular mail sent via the U.S. Postal Service, email usually is delivered to the person to whom you are sending the message within minutes or sometimes merely seconds.

What You Need

  • Before you can send and receive email, you must have an internet connection through an ISP (Internet Service Provider), an email account on a mail server, and an email software program. An email account is similar to a Post Office Box where you receive mail. Your email account will be set up using both a unique user name and server name so that no other user can use that same name. Your username identifies you as the user on the email server. The domain name, the second part of an email address, refers to the mail server where the recipient has an electronic mailbox.

What You Do

  • Start by opening your email program and composing a text message. Type the name of the recipient in the To box. Be careful to enter the address correctly to avoid having the message returned to you. You can forward an email message to more than one person by entering multiple addresses; however, put a semicolon between each address. Your return email address automatically will be sent to the recipient. Next, type in the subject of the email. Write your message in the message window or copy and paste text from a word processing program. Click on the Send icon and your email will be on its way.

What Happens to the Message

  • The message is sent to your ISP's mail server, which then forwards your mail. The mail server routes the message according to the email address in much the same way as the Post Office forwards mail according to the address on an envelope. The message travels over the internet until it reaches the mail server of the receiver's internet service provider. Once received, the message is held in an electronic mailbox until the recipient logs onto the mail server and retrieves any new email messages waiting on the server.

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