How does e-mail work?

Electronic Mail (e-mail) is a common use for the Internet.

E-mail has evolved over the years but originally e-mail was used to send text messages between Internet users.  Now sending HTML formatted text as well as file attachments.

Several different Protocols to send and receive e-mail, but it can be compared to standard snail mail.  There are one or more mail servers (Post Offices) for every domain.  The e-mail server is like the post office for its users.  When an Internet user sends e-mail to another Internet user the mail is sent to the recipient’s e-mail server.  The e-mail server keeps the e-mail messages in the recipient’s mail box (like a post office box).  Today there are several options for the recipient to receive his e-mail messages. 

Originally Internet most Internet connections were slow using a telephone modem, and transient, that is they were only occasionally connected to the Internet.  POP3 was developed for this type connection.  With POP3 they user connects to the Internet, downloads all of his messages and disconnects from the Internet, is a batch process.  The user connects to the Internet for a short period of time to get his messages, then disconnects from the Internet.  This process is accomplished using an e-mail client like Outlook, Thunderbird or a thousand other e-mail clients.

The final way to get your e-mail involves using an e-mail client but connect to the server with the IMAP protocol.  With IMAP the messages stay on the server, you simply download a header with the subject and the sender’s name and e-mail address, when you click on the message this one message is downloaded from the server.  IMAP is best when you are constantly connected to the Internet.

All of these methods of getting your e-mail.  With Web Mail and IMAP the messages stay on the server, with POP3 the messages are moved to your local machine.

There is one other popular e-mail option.  Many businesses use an Exchange mail server, Exchange uses a specialized IMAP protocol to allow for shared contacts, calendars and messages all through the Outlook e-mail client.

With all these choices what do you do?

If you work for a company with Exchange you really only has one choice, that is to us Microsoft Outlook, anything else limits the effectiveness of Exchange.  I have tried most of the options; my favorite way to use standard Internet e-mail is to use an e-mail client using POP3.  Currently I am using Thunderbird as my e-mail client.  Thunderbird is a free program from Mozilla.  I modify the standard setup to leave a copy of my e-mail messages on the server for 7 days.  This allows me to use another computer to access my messages with Web Mail.  It just seems like e-mail works better with an e-mail client versus Web mail, also downloading the mail to your local machine all at once seems to work smoother.

Now we have discussed getting a free e-mail account and some options and my preferences for getting your e-mail.


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