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How Does Email Work? The Complete Guide (2024)

How Does Email Work?

Have you ever wondered how your message gets traveled from your fingertips to your friend’s inbox? 

Email is like a digital post office, where your words are packed into an electronic envelope and sent through a vast network of servers. 

Just like a physical letter, your email navigates through various checkpoints until it reaches its final destination. It all happens in a fraction of a second.

I got you. Wondering again on HOW?

Don’t worry, I’ll explain about it to you.

Key Takeaways

  • Email relies on fundamental components like mail agents (MUA, MSA, MTA, MDA), protocols (POP, IMAP, SMTP), and DNS to facilitate message composition, transmission, and delivery.
  • The email journey involves composition, submission to the outgoing server, DNS lookup, delivery to the recipient’s server, and retrieval by the recipient using email clients or webmail.
  • Email security is crucial, requiring measures like spam filters, authentication protocols, encryption, and user education to prevent threats like phishing, spoofing, and data breaches.

What Is Email?

Email is a way to send and receive messages using the internet. According to research, 347.3 billion emails are sent every day around the globe. It lets you communicate with other people by sending text, pictures, and files from one email address to another. 

To use email, you need to create an account with a unique username and password. Once you have an account, you can write, send, and receive messages using an email app or website.

How Does Email Work?

How Does Email Work?

Once you’ve sent the message, gets passed through different systems until reaching the recipient’s computer. 

This emphasizes the immense influence of email. So,  Statista conducted the survey and its results speak:  the number of emails sent and received all around each day was estimated to be at 333 billion in 2022; projections suggest that number will increase to 392.5 billion by 2026.


While it seems simple, there’s complex technology ensuring your email gets delivered safely and quickly across any distance.

How Does Email Work?

Email Protocols

Email protocols are a set of rules and standards that govern the transmission of emails across the internet. They ensure that email communications are conducted in a standardized manner, allowing for interoperability between different email systems and software.

What Is SMTP?

SMTP, also known as Simple Mail Transfer Protocol is a system utilized for sending emails over the internet. It functions on the application layer facilitating the transmission of emails from one sender to a recipient’s mail server and between servers. 

SMTP usually works on port 25 for connections. It provides encryption via STARTTLS on port 587. This protocol is involved in the sending stage of emails, unlike IMAP or POP3 which are used for retrieving and organizing emails.

What Is IMAP?

IMAP, also known as the Internet Message Access Protocol is a method that lets users access and handle their emails on a mail server directly. This allows for email synchronization across devices. With IMAP users can easily. Manage their emails in server-based folders ensuring that actions such as reading or deleting messages are updated across all devices. 

For connections, IMAP uses port 143 while for encrypted connections it utilizes port 993. It’s particularly useful for individuals who check their emails, on devices as it offers flexibility and real-time syncing capabilities.

What Is POP?

POP (Post Office Protocol) version 3 also known as POP3 is a method used to retrieve emails from a server onto a device. It removes emails from the server once downloaded, allowing access to that particular device. 

POP3 is suitable for individuals who check their email on one device and like managing emails offline. It utilizes port 110 for connections and port 995, for secure connections.

Components of Email System

To understand how email works, we need to break down its core components and learn about it. The below lines will help you to understand more about its fundamental components: 

  • Mail User Agent (MUA)  is software for composing, sending, receiving, and managing emails (e.g., Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, Gmail).
  • Mail Submission Agent (MSA) is a server-side component that receives emails from the MUA and forwards them to the Mail Transfer Agent (MTA).
  • Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) routes emails between different servers, forwarding them based on the recipient’s address.
  • Mail Delivery Agent (MDA) delivers emails to the recipient’s mailbox on the server.
  • Post Office Protocol (POP) is used by email clients to download emails from the server to a local device.
  • Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) allows users to manage emails directly on the server without downloading them.
  • Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is for sending emails between servers.
  • Domain Name System (DNS) translates domain names into IP addresses to route emails correctly.
  • Email Clients is the software for managing emails on your device (e.g., Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail).
  • Webmail is an email service accessed via a web browser (e.g., Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook.com).

Email Clients vs. Webmail

FeatureEmail ClientsWebmail
AccessRequires software installationAccessible via a web browser
StorageEmails stored locally on the deviceEmails stored on a remote server
SynchronizationManual syncing across devicesAutomatic syncing across devices
Offline AccessAvailableNot available
SecurityDependent on device securityDependent on the provider’s security measures
CustomizationHigh level of customization optionsLimited customization options
CostOften free, some paid optionsUsually free, with premium features available
Multiple AccountsCan manage multiple accountsCan manage multiple accounts
MaintenanceUser responsible for maintenanceProvider handles maintenance
AdsNo adsMay display ads, depending on the provider

How Is an Email Sent Step by Step?

When you press the “Send” button, your email starts an interesting trip. Here’s a simple explanation of what happens:

Composition and Submission: 

Your email client or webmail interface formats the message according to email protocols and submits it to your email server.

Outgoing Mail Server: 

The outgoing mail server (often using SMTP) receives the email and initiates the delivery process.

DNS Lookup: 

The server performs a Domain Name System (DNS) lookup to determine the recipient’s email server IP address.

Recipient Mail Server: 

The email is forwarded to the recipient’s mail server, which stores the message in their inbox.

Retrieving Email: 

When the recipient accesses their email client or webmail, the email is retrieved from the server and displayed in their inbox.

In corporate environments, an additional step called “Separate Email” occurs, where incoming emails are scanned for potential threats before being delivered to the recipient’s inbox.

Email Composition and Structure

A well-structured email is crucial for effective communication, especially in a business context. Here are the key elements of a professional email:

  • Subject line: A clear and concise summary of the email’s content.
  • To/From/CC/BCC fields: Specifying the recipients, sender, and any carbon copies.

Body:

  • Salutation: A polite greeting addressing the recipient.
  • Main content: The core message, organized into concise paragraphs.
  • Closing: A courteous sign-off.
  • Signature: Your name, contact information, and any relevant disclaimers.

Effective email writing involves being clear, concise, and respecting the recipient’s time. Use active voice, avoid unnecessary jargon, and proofread thoroughly before sending.

Preventing Abuse and Spam

In this generation where email is widely utilized the rise of security risks has become more prominent. According to a study from Statista, Spam made up about 45.6% of all emails sent globally in 2022; by 2023, that percentage had increased to nearly 49% percent.

Here we will explore some dangers and effective strategies to address them:

Spam and Phishing: 

Implement robust spam filters and educate users on identifying suspicious emails to prevent the spread of malware and unauthorized access to sensitive information. 

Email Spoofing: 

Use authentication protocols like SPF and DKIM to verify the authenticity of the sender and prevent email spoofing attempts.

Email Worms and Viruses: 

Keep antivirus software and email clients up-to-date, and avoid opening attachments or links from untrusted sources.

Data Breaches: 

Encrypt sensitive information and implement multi-factor authentication to protect against unauthorized access to email accounts.

By prioritizing email security, individuals and businesses can significantly reduce the risk of cyberattacks, data breaches, and other malicious activities.

Future of Email Communication

Despite the rise of instant messaging and social media, email remains a vital communication tool. However, the future of email is poised to undergo significant changes driven by advancements in technology and evolving user expectations.

A study conducted by an organization predicted that the number of global email users is expected to grow to around 4.59 billion in 2025.

How Does Email Work

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are already playing a role in email management, with intelligent assistants and automated triage systems helping users prioritize and respond to messages more efficiently.

Integration With Other Platforms: 

Email is increasingly being integrated with project management tools, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and collaboration platforms, streamlining workflows and enabling more seamless communication.

Increased Security and Privacy: 

As concerns over data privacy and cybersecurity grow, email providers and organizations will continue to invest in robust encryption, authentication, and access control measures.

Improved User Experience: 

The email experience is expected to become more personalized, with intuitive interfaces, better search capabilities, and seamless integration across devices.

As technology evolves, email will likely adapt and remain a crucial communication channel, both personally and professionally.

FAQs

1. How do I fix email sending problems?

Before attempting to resolve email delivery issues, confirm that your internet connection is active and that the recipient’s email address is valid. If these problems continue, get assistance from your email provider.

2. Are emails really private?

Emails are not totally private; if they are not encrypted, third parties may intercept or access them. Privacy can be improved by using secure communications and encryption.

3. How to confirm email is received?

To confirm if your email was received, enable read receipts or ask the recipient directly. Some email services provide DSNs that confirm delivery to the recipient’s server.

4. What are the 5 things that every email should include?

Five components that each email must have:

  • Clearly marked subject line
  • Email address of the recipient
  • Salutations
  • Physical Composition
  • Final Words

5. How can I improve the security of my email account? 

To boost email security: use strong passwords, enable two-factor authentication, and encrypt sensitive info. Keep software updated and be wary of suspicious emails or attachments to avoid risks.

Streamline Your Email Dialogue

Email has completely changed how we communicate and its evolution from the beginning to now is truly impressive. Looking ahead it’s important to remember these points:

  • It’s essential to master email protocols, structure, and security measures for effective and secure communication.
  • By integrating email with platforms and using AI workflows can be streamlined and user experiences enhanced.
  • Prioritizing data privacy. Implementing strong encryption will be crucial in the ever-changing digital world.

With new communication methods emerging the lasting value and adaptability of email ensure that it will remain a vital tool enabling smooth global connections, for years to come.

Reference:

What Is Email Marketing? Semrush
How to set up a Gmail account in under five minutes, Hubspot
How to Create an Email Account for Professional Use, Hostinger Academy

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