How Does Email Work?

Updated March 23, 2017

E-mail is a way of sending and receiving messages electronically. A text message is saved to a file for the receiver(s) to download and read after an e-mail server transmits the message from the sender to the recipient. Unlike regular mail sent via the U.S. Postal Service, e-mail usually is delivered to the person to whom you are sending the message within minutes or sometimes merely seconds.

What You Need

Before you can send and receive e-mail, you must have an Internet connection through an ISP (Internet Service Provider), an e-mail account on a mail server, and an e-mail software program. An e-mail account is similar to a Post Office Box where you receive mail. Your e-mail account will be set up using both a unique user name and server name so that no other user can use that same name. Your username identifies you as the user on the email server. The domain name, the second part of an e-mail address, refers to the mail server where the recipient has an electronic mailbox.

What You Do

Start by opening your e-mail program and composing a text message. Type the name of the recipient in the To box. Be careful to enter the address correctly to avoid having the message returned to you. You can forward an e-mail message to more than one person by entering multiple addresses; however, put a semicolon between each address. Your return e-mail address automatically will be sent to the recipient. Next, type in the subject of the email. Write your message in the message window or copy and paste text from a word processing program. Click on the Send icon and your e-mail will be on its way.

What Happens to the Message

The message is sent to your ISP's mail server, which then forwards your mail. The mail server routes the message according to the email address in much the same way as the Post Office forwards mail according to the address on an envelope. The message travels over the Internet until it reaches the mail server of the receiver's Internet service provider. Once received, the message is held in an electronic mailbox until the recipient logs onto the mail server and retrieves any new e-mail messages waiting on the server.

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About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.