Updated: 06/16/2017 by Computer Hope

EmailShort for electronic mail, e-mail or email is information stored on a computer that is exchanged between two users over telecommunications. More plainly, e-mail is a message that may contain text, files, images, or other attachments sent through a network to a specified individual or group of individuals. The first e-mail was sent by Ray Tomlinson in 1971. By 1996, more electronic mail was being sent than postal mail.

There are a number of advantages of e-mail and the usage of e-mail versus postal mail. Some of the main advantages are listed below.

  • Free delivery - Sending an e-mail is virtually free, outside the cost of Internet service. There is no need to buy a postage stamp to send a letter.
  • Global delivery - E-mail can be sent to nearly anywhere around the world, to any country.
  • Instant delivery - An e-mail can be instantly sent and received by the recipient over the Internet.
  • File attachment - An e-mail can include one or more file attachments, allowing a person to send documents, pictures, or other files with an e-mail.
  • Long-term storage - E-mails are stored electronically, which allows for storage and archival over long periods of time.
  • Environmentally friendly - Sending an e-mail does not require paper, cardboard, or packing tape, conserving paper resources.

E-mail address breakdown

[email protected]

  • The first portion all e-mail addresses, the part before the @ symbol, contains the alias, user, group, or department of a company. In our above example support is the Technical Support department at Computer Hope.
  • Next, the @ (at sign) is used as a divider in the e-mail address; it is required for all SMTP e-mail addresses since the first message was sent by Ray Tomlinson.
  • Finally, computerhope.com is the domain name to which the user belongs.

How to send and receive e-mail

E-mail Program

To send and receive e-mail messages, you can use an e-mail program, also known as an e-mail client, such as Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird. When using an e-mail client, you must have a server that stores and delivers your messages, which is provided by your ISP or in some cases, another company. An e-mail client needs to connect to a server to download new e-mail, whereas email stored online (see next section) updates automatically when you visit the site.

E-mail Online

An alternative way of sending and receiving e-mail (and the more popular solution for most people) is an online e-mail service or webmail. Examples include Hotmail (now Outlook.com), Gmail, and Yahoo Mail. Many of the online e-mail services, including the ones we just mentioned, are free or have a free account option.

Writing an e-mail

When writing an e-mail message, it should look something like the example window below. As you can see, several fields are required when sending an e-mail:

  • The To field is where you type the e-mail address of the person who is the recipient of your message.
  • The From field should contain your e-mail address.
  • If you are replying to a message, the To and From fields are automatically filled out; if it's a new message, you'll need to enter them manually.
  • The CC or Carbon Copy field allows you to send a copy of the message to another e-mail address, but is not mandatory.
  • The Subject Line, although not required, should consist of a few words describing the e-mail's contents.
  • Finally, the Message Body is the location you type your main message. It often contains your signature at the bottom; similar to a hand-written letter.

Writing an e-mail message

What makes a valid e-mail address?

There are several rules that an e-mail address must follow to be valid:

  • As mentioned earlier, an e-mail must have a username followed by an @ (at sign) which is followed by the domain name with a domain suffix.
  • The username cannot be longer than 64 characters long and the domain name cannot be longer than 254 characters.
  • There should be only one @ sign in an e-mail address.
  • The space and special characters: ( ) , : ; < > \ [ ] are allowed. Occasionally, a space, backslash, and quotation mark work but must be preceded with a forward slash. Although valid, some e-mail providers do not allow these characters.
  • The username and e-mail addresses as a whole cannot begin or end with a period.
  • The e-mail must not have two or more consecutive periods.

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