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How does Email work?
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How does Email work?

Gifographic | 7-14 yrs | Animation

The Email System

Compose an email, click send, and your message magically appears on your recipient’s inbox an instant later! Isn’t that almost like magic? Well, it is a kind of magic. The magic of technology. Specifically, the piece of technology that is almost indispensable to us today – the internet!

Thanks to internet and email, sending a message to someone is no longer a laborious task. There are just two parties involved- the sender, and the recipient. Or are there? Although sending an email seems like a simple task that’s only involves two parties, as with all internet transactions, there is always more going on than meets the eye. Let’s take a look at the behind the scenes action that goes into delivering your email to your intended recipient.

Just like “send mail”, there are multiple stages to delivering an email. These stages are called hops, and they are bound by rules, called protocols, to ensure that mail is sent and received correctly.

What are the different Email Protocols?

There are 3 types of protocols that govern email –

What is SMTP?

SMTP – Simple Mail Transport Protocol.
A set of rules that governs outgoing mail.

What is POP3?

POP3 – Post Office Protocol
A set of rules that governs incoming mail. It allows you to keep a set of messages on a server that your email software (such as Outlook or Thunderbird) can access, to download the email to your computer. Once downloaded to the computer, the message is deleted from the server.

What is IMAP?

IMAP – Internet Mail Access Protocol
A more sophisticated set of rules to govern incoming email. This protocol allows messages to remain on the server, so that you can access your email from multiple computers / devices. The messages aren’t deleted, and remain on the server so you can access them at any time.

The Email Address

Now we come to the email address. Like a physical letter needs a postal address for it to be delivered, an email requires an email address. An email address (id) is usually in the following format yourname@emailserviceprovider.com.

There are two parts to an email id, separated by the “@” symbol

Yourname – The name / alias of the user

Emailserviceprovider.com – The domain name of the email service provider, such as gmail, yahoo, Hotmail etc.

The SMTP of the service provider uses a service called DNS (Domain Name System) to find the domain of the intended recipient, and uses this information to send them the email.

How does Email Delivery work?

The process of delivering an email is by far one of the simpler internet transactions
1. You write up an email, sign it off and click send.
2. Your email is first sent to your email service provider.
3. Your email service provider gets the destination address using a DNS.
4. Your email service provider sends the email to your recipient’s email service provider
5. The recipient’s email service provider sends the email to the recipient’s inbox.

Thus, an email does have some similarities to snail mail when we consider the process involved. The differences being, of course, the time taken, and the fact that the actions require no physical labour.