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Email (electronic mail)

What is email?

Email or electronic mail is the method of sending messages/mails saved on a computer/mobile device from one user to one or more users via the Internet. Emails travel across different time zones within a snap of a finger and hence are considered an effective mode of communication for both personal and professional purposes.

History of email

Electronic mail was used well before the internet was born. In the initial days (way back in 1965), a computer program called MAILBOX was used to share mail in electronic form. A single computer was used by multiple users to send and read emails.

In 1969, ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) was implemented to share electronic mail using a common network connecting numerous computers across various departments.

Later in 1971, Ray Tomlinson identified a way to send messages between users on different hosts using the @ symbol with the destination server. However, this was still within an organization using a common network.

At one point, organizations wanted to communicate with people on a different network. The need for communication between one organization to another organization led to the invention of the Internet.

What do you need to send/receive an email?

To send an email, all you need is a valid email address, a computer or mobile device, an active internet connection, and the destination email address.

What is email address?

Email address is typically the user's name or a combination of numbers and letters used to identify an email account. An email address can be assigned only to one user. Every email address has 3 parts: the local part, the @ symbol and the domain.

For example, in the email address user@domain.com, user is the local part, and domain.com is the domain.

Types of email addresses

Emails can be used for personal and business purposes and the email address will vary based on the usage. Professional email addresses can fall under two different categories:

  • User email address - This is the email address of a user/member in your organization. For example, user@domainname.com.
  • Group email address - This is a common email address shared between multiple members of your organization. For example, the marketing team of an organization may have many users and sending an email to the team can be achieved by creating a group email address such as marketing@domainname.com.

One can create an email account easily by signing up with an email service provider who provides both personal and professional services. However, to set up a professional email account for your organization you should buy a domain and then enable email hosting for that domain.

Who is an email host?

An email host is an individual or company that sets up your organization's email account with your custom domain. Email host creates the entire organization's user accounts with custom email addresses based on your domain name and configures the organization's email policies. Below is an example of an email host:

Consider that Rebecca runs a business and has the domain Zylker.com. She hosts her organization's domain with Zoho Mail and creates a custom email address such as rebecca@zylker.com. In this case, Rebecca is the Super Administrator and Zoho Mail is the email host for her organization.

What is the use of email?

Personal users send emails to share messages with their friends and family, whereas organizations use emails for various reasons. Members of an organization send emails within their team or with their clients to share and discuss various aspects of their day-to-day work. Be it sharing the latest product update or sending a welcome email, handwritten mails would be painful and time-consuming. Here comes the real use of business emails. Emails are lightning-fast and hence the most efficient mode of communication from one person to multiple recipients across the globe. Often, businesses send bulk emails to their customers. Some of the bulk emails sent by businesses are listed below:

  • Onboarding emails - sent to individuals or organizations who are new to the organization/product.
  • Newsletters - routine emails sent to a list of users subscribed for a product/service.
  • Promotional emails - often sent to prospects or existing customers regarding offers.
  • Transactional emails - emails related to a purchase done by users such as an invoice for transactions done by them.

Components of an email

An email comprises the below components:

  • Message envelope - A message envelope, also called email metadata, contains the details necessary for communication between the sending server and receiving server. It contains the sender and recipient's email addresses with which the mail server decides where to deliver the email.
  • Message header - The header of an email contains vital information about the sender and recipients. The most common information present in email headers is shown in the table that follows:
    Information fieldDescription
    SubjectProvides a quick glimpse of the email content.
    FromDisplays the sender's email address.
    ToDisplays the recipient's email address.
    Date and timeThe date and time that the email was received are as per the recipient's time zone.
    RecipientDisplays the recipient's name.
    Reply-toWhen the recipient clicks the Reply button in the received email, the To field gets filled automatically based on the email ID available in the Reply-to field.
    Carbon copy (Cc)This field is used whenever the sender wants to send a copy of the email to other users.
    Blind carbon copy (Bcc)The email address entered in the Bcc field will not be visible to those users who were added in the To and Cc fields.
    AttachmentsContains those files which the sender attaches in support of the content in the body of the email.
  • Message body - The actual content of the email can be viewed in the message body. This can include text, images or videos. Based on the email client, the content in the body of the email can either be plain text or HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). Signatures and organization disclaimers can be included at the footer of the email body based on email policies.

How does email work?

As an end-user, all we know is that an individual composes a message, enters the recipient's email address in the To field and then clicks the Send Mail button. The recipient can see that the email is received in their inbox. However, in the background, there are multiple steps involved in sending an email:

  1. A user sends the email.
  2. The outgoing SMTP server validates the authenticity of the sender.
  3. SMTP server checks the domain details in the recipient's email address.
  4. SMTP server sends the email to the recipient server based on the MX Record found in the recipient's Domain Name Server (DNS).
  5. The recipient server validates the email address and delivers the mail.

Now that you are aware of the basics of email, and how email works, you can create an email address for personal use or buy a new domain for your business and create business email addresses.