What is Email - Electronic Mail


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 (1973). Email, as a term, can also be written as: e-mail. The first thing that a user requires to send and receive email messages is an email address. The majority of Internet Service Provider provide a free email account to customers; but there are a plethora of companies who provide free webmail accounts, such as Gmail and Yahoo!. Email client programs (like Outlook Express) can be used to access email accounts.

Anatomy of an Email message

The format of email messages is broken into two sections: 1) a header, 2) message body.

The header of an email message is more complex, and contains the information needed to encode and route the email message. The header can include multiple fields, but four popular fields are:: From:; To:; Cc:; and Subject:. The two fields which an email message must include are the From: and Date: fields.

The From: and To: fields are somewhat self explanatory (email address of the sender and receiver); the Cc: field is used to send a message to multiple additional addresses (Bcc: field hides the addresses from other recipients); the Subject: field is used to describe what is included in the body of the message.

Originally email messages were only plain text, and some mail servers will only support plain text email messages. However, if the content type of the email (included in the header) supports MIME: then the body of the email message can be encoded with HTML elements. Therefore, the body section of an email message can include plain text and HTML content.

Anatomy of an Email address

An e-mail address can be broken down into three section, coloured below:


The first section is the username (editor) which refers to the recipient's account name at a mail service; also referred to as the 'local' part of an email address. Secondly there is the @ sign - which is included in every email address - and means 'at' and connects the local part of the email address to the hostname of the email address.

Then comes the hostname (internet-guide), which can also be called the domain name. This refers to the mail server address: usually having an individual IP address. The hostname of an email address can include a range of top-level domain names (TLD). For example, 'co.uk', is for commercial sites based in the United Kingdom.

When sending email messages, it is essential to spell the email address correctly; just as with a normal postal letter. If the email address is entered incorrectly, then it will not be sent to the correct person. If you send an email to an address which does not exist: then the message will be returned with an "Address Unknown" error.

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