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How Email Works: A Look at The Technology Powering Our Inboxes

Zeeshan Akhtar
ByZeeshan Akhtar

5 mins read

Email is a widely-used form of communication that allows people to send messages and files to one another instantly.

But have you ever wondered how email actually works?

In this article, we'll take a look at the behind-the-scenes process that allows emails to travel from the sender's computer to the recipient's inbox. From compiling the message to hitting send, and all the steps in between, we'll break down the journey an email takes to reach its destination. By understanding how email works, you'll have a better appreciation for this powerful tool that we use every day.

  • How does email work
  • The journey of an email from sender to receiver
  • IP address
  • IMAP vs. POP3
  • What is SMTP?
  • What is an ISP?
  • Conclusion

How does email work

An email is a simple document containing senders and recipients, a subject line, a message body, and attachments. But it’s difficult to get it from point A to point B. An elaborate process involves working behind the scenes to make it look as seamless as possible. Various protocols include SMTP, DNS (which stands for Domain Name System, an Internet protocol for transferring data), POP, IMAP, etc.

Below is a simplified path of an email as it journeys from the crafting process to being read by the receiver at the end.

The journey of an email from sender to receiver

Here is a breakdown of the journey that emails go through until they receive the recipient:

1. Compiling the email

The email is crafted or created by using interfaces and tools provided by ESPs, and email clients. It can mostly be created like a rich text file; however, HTML emails require specific tools or must be coded.

2. Hitting send

Once the sender hits the send button, the mail client contacts the outgoing mail server (SMTP) and sends the message in MIME format, which further contacts the DNS server to convert the email address to a location address.

3. Locating IP address

To find the IP address, the SMTP requests the DNS server to convert the recipient’s email address into an IP address and get the recipient’s domain registry details (MX records/A Records if no MX records are found). For example, max@example.com is converted to an IP address such as “74.825.93.10.”

4. Asking for permission from the receiver

The SMTP server now has all of the information it needs about the receiver to transmit the email from its server to the Mail Transfer Agent server of the email recipient.

5. Finally sent

The Mail Transfer Agent specifies where the mail should be sent. The email message lands in the recipient’s mailbox, which will be kept as such until the receiver retrieves it for reading.

Now that you get the idea of how dose email works. And eager to know more about technical terms and their role of it. Read further to know more about an IP address, IMAP vs POP3, SMTP, and more.

IP address

During this journey, we encountered an important detail, the IP address. An IP address is a specific sequence of numbers separated by periods that identifies each device that communicates over a network using the Internet Protocol.

Dedicated IP vs. Shared IP

There are two types of IP - Dedicated IP and Shared IP, which you can use for email marketing.

Dedicated IP Shared IP
A unique sequence that is only assigned to your website is a dedicated IP address. In reality, if anybody typed your unique IP address (rather than your domain name) into the search bar of their internet browser, they would be able to look up your website. A common sequence that can be allocated to multiple websites is a shared IP address. Shared IP addresses are found with shared hosting providers.

Which one should you use?

When it comes to choosing which one is best Dedicated IP or Shared IP. If you need better domain control, use dedicated IP. However, shared IP is less costly compared to a dedicated one.

IMAP vs. POP3

You must also decide which Message Accessing Agent protocol you want to use.

For example, both POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) and IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) are MAA (Message Accessing Agent) protocols used to get messages to the receiver device from the mail server.

IMAP and POP3 have their pros and cons. See for yourself and choose the best for your advantage.

Which one should you use?

It depends upon your requirements on which protocol you should use. We recommend the user opt for IMAP. It is a widely used protocol. The ability to work on multiple devices and synchronize email data is a major plus here.

Moving on, the next protocol which will transport your mail across the internet to the desired location is an SMTP.

What is SMTP?

A Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is an email transmission communication protocol whose main goal is sending and receiving outgoing mail between email senders and receivers.

SMTP has two key components: User-Agent and Mail Transfer.

Types of SMTP

The two types of SMTP: end-to-end and the store-and-forward model. SMTP is in charge of email distribution and other protocols and methods used to retrieve and view emails. Besides, SMTP uses TCP for link establishment and segment distribution. The Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is the primary connection for communication between the mail sender and the mail receiver.

Before starting, you should be familiar with two other terms you should be familiar with ISP and ESP. They have been briefly described below.

What is an ISP?

An internet service provider or ISP is an organization that offers internet connectivity to businesses or individuals. Internet access, domain name registration, web hosting, user network support, internet transit, placement, etc., are standard services offered by ISPs.

Conclusion

In conclusion, email is a complex and sophisticated system that we often take for granted.

From the initial creation of the message to its journey through various servers and protocols, there are many steps involved in the delivery of an email.

By understanding the mechanics behind email, we can appreciate the convenience and speed it offers as a communication tool. Whether for personal or professional use, email has become an indispensable part of our daily lives, connecting us with people and information around the world in an instant.

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