How Email Works

Email is merely an electronic message sent from one device to another. The device used can vary from desktop to laptop to tablet to smartphone. Emails can be sent with attachments that can be images, audio files, video files or just about any format. There are usually limits on the size of the file sent. Some sophisticated email software, like gmail, will save a huge file to the cloud and send the link to it in the email instead of attaching the file itself.

Just as a letter makes stops at different postal stations along the way to its final destination, email passes from one computer, known as a mail server, to another as it travels over the internet. When it arrives at the destination mail server, it's stored in an electronic mailbox until the recipient retrieves it. This whole process can take seconds, allowing you to quickly communicate with people around the world at any time of the day or night.

To receive email, you need an account on a mail server. This is similar to having a street address where you receive letters. Unlike a residential address, there is no limit on the number of email addresses you can have. You could have a gmail address, a hotmail address, an email address attached to each website you run, and also an email address for work. One advantage over regular mail is that you can retrieve your email from any location in the world, provided that you have internet access. Once you connect to your mail server, you just download your messages to your computer or wireless device.

To send email, you need a connection to the internet and access to a mail server that forwards your mail. The standard protocol used for sending email is called SMTP, short for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. It works in conjunction with POP servers. POP stands for Post Office Protocol.

When you send an email message, your computer routes it to an SMTP server. The server looks at the email address (similar to the address on an envelope), then forwards it to the recipient's mail server, where it is stored until the recipient retrieves it.

Simplistically, an email consists of two parts: a header and a body. The header contains the name and address of the recipient, the name and address of anyone who is being copied in, and the subject of the message. The body contains the message.