Tech — 3 years ago

Emails and How They Work!

by infohub

How Email Works, How Emails Are Sent, How Emails Work

Every day billions of e-mails are sent all over the world, and it's incredible to think how quick and efficient this process is. From the old days where mail took weeks to get from one place to another, now we can send messages all the way across the world in mere seconds. While the process of sending and receiving emails seems pretty straightforward, it involves complex procedures that make it possible for us to communicate without a hitch. If you want to know how does email work, it's time to find out with this quick email explanation of the amazing technology.

How Email Works – a Tour Behind the Scenes

The email sending process starts with a Mail Server, which is an application that receives emails from people within the same domain and then forwards it as outgoing mail. Computers with this type of application are also referred to as 'Mail Servers', and there is usually a server that receives mails and another one that forwards them.

how does email work - an illustration of letters flying around a computer
Source: shutterstock

This is the frame where emails are transferred, and this is where email users come into play. The first step is writing an email and attaching recipients that are meant to receive the mail. After you, the user, click the 'Send' button, your mail is transferred to an MTA (Mail Transfer Agent) through an SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) protocol that is in charge of sending emails.

The next step in the mail sending process is translating domain names into IP addresses and vice versa – a step performed via a DNS (Domain Name System). The DNS system searches for the IP address that belongs to the recipient and identifies it as the one the mail should be sent to.

how email works - a woman sitting on a chair with letters flying near her
Source: shutterstock

How Email is Transferred

Now we move on to the mail delivery – after the recipient is identified, the message is transferred to him through the SMTP protocol and the recipient mail server (MTA). At this point, the message you sent gets to the recipient’s local computer. This is where things get a bit more technical… if you ask how email works, you will get an answer that splits into two; when emails get to their recipient, two protocols can be used:

1. IMAP – is a two-way protocol that uses advanced techniques to download messages. With IMAP, all email messages are stored in the mail server and can be manipulated. Exact copies of messages are kept on every location, i.e. in the mail server and on your computer. With this protocol, only the headers of the emails are being downloaded at first. The contents and attachments of the emails are only downloaded when the user actively opens and reads the email.

2. POP3 – This is a one-way protocol. The copy of the email is deleted from the server once the email is downloaded by the recipient. If you use a POP3 server, you need to make sure you save your important emails on a local backup because they will only be visible on your device. If you lose your device, you will have no way of finding the email again. 

Email Explanation - The real difference between IMAP and POP3 :

If a user checks his emails on a laptop and smartphone the emails will download from the mail server on to the laptop and smartphone. Then this user can filter his emails by deleting the unnecessary ones, place the important ones in folders, transfer to his team members, etc. With IMAP, all these actions will be automatically synced on all devices. So your inbox will look the same on desktop, on your iphone or on your tablet. But with POP3, you will have to perform the same filtration in the mail server and on all devices. A key difference to know before you start setting up your email inbox!

how are emails sent - a man standing in front of a large signs that says
Source: shutterstock

Believe it or not, this is the simple explanation of how email works. There are plenty of technical details that only coders can understand, but these are the basics of email delivery. Along with regular emails, you may also receive spam or fraudulent mail that you shouldn't open. If you get a fishy mail, use GoLookUp's reverse email lookup to find out who has sent you the email and you can rest assured knowing which correspondence may harm you and which one is safe to open and read.



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