Where’d That E-Mail Go?

Written By: John Geiger

Where’d That E-Mail Go?

Last month we reviewed some tips for sending and receiving e-mail but since then, numerous conversations have pointed out the need for additional e-mail basics, and specifically, just enough about how e-mail actually works to use it effectively.

In one recent discussion, a client who has never sent or received an e-mail, was confused as to how e-mail can be sent to a yahoo address from a hotmail address, and vice versa. Another was confused trying to sell something through an online reseller service without owning a computer on which to receive the reply, and still another was confused over the ability to check e-mails from a public computer at the library and still download the same message later at home.

Although diagrams would be great, here is a brief explanation of how e-mail works in just enough detail that you should be able to help the folks above, and hopefully clear up any confusion you may have had yourself.

First, in order to send or receive e-mail one needs an e-mail address. Think of this as a post office box that e-mail can be delivered to, and await your reading or retrieval. This address is commonly placed on any e-mail you send as well, so the receiver can recognize the sender and easily reply. E-mail addresses can be obtained from many sources. Free services such as Yahoo and MSN are very popular because, well they are free, and will store thousands of messages, both unread, and ones you’ve read but decided to leave there for a later time. You don’t even have to own a computer, but more about that in a minute.

If you have a telephone or CATV line, the provider of that service will be more than happy to subscribe you to a monthly connection to the internet as your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and include a handful of personalized e-mail addresses for you in the process. Now you are on the map with youremailaddress@yourisp.net. Next you need to connect to the internet site your ISP provides for using e-mail, where you will find a screen offering e-mail functions such as sending, receiving, organizing, replying, and deleting. With this connection you can compose a letter using the ISP’s e-mail application and it will send a copy of that letter to the e-mail address you specify; any legitimate e-mail address. Conversely anyone with your e-mail address can send an e-mail to you and a copy will be kept in your “post office box” on the ISP’s server (computer) until you delete it or download it as described next.

Most PCs come pre-loaded with resident applications such as Microsoft Outlook Express, to help you organize your e-mail activities. These programs can be instructed to automatically check your “mailbox” at your ISP, and/or other e-mail provider, and download the messages to your computer. Once “delivered”, your resident e-mail application can file the message in folders you set up, reply, delete, and a host of other functions depending on the program and your customized settings. These programs will even handle multiple e-mail addresses and accounts providing a convenient way to check all your mailboxes from one computer automatically. In most cases once an e-mail message is downloaded to you in this way, it is cleared from the list of available messages in your ISP mailbox, but unlike the traditional postal mail which actually moves from place to place, e-mail is copied place to place. Your original remains on your computer, in your sent file, or on your ISP’s server. The recipient’s ISP stores a copy, and if the recipient downloads it to their own computer, it is copied again. Any or all copies remain, depending on system settings, until a specific action has been completed to delete them.

This copy and forward process makes it possible to send and receive e-mail from public computers and adds convenience for those temporarily away from their own.

About the Author

John Geiger owns and operates a local affiliate of WSI Internet Consulting and Education, a Toronto based global network of consultants, developers and production centers providing consultation as well as turn-key internet business solutions for small and medium-sized enterprises to include web-site design, development and hosting; site maintenance and upgrades, full e-commerce solutions,etc. See www.webmasters-wsi.com

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