What Is Email aka Electronic Mail?

Electronic mail is a popular form of communication

Electronic mail, commonly known as email, is a digital message between two or more people.

Instead of using a pen to write a letter on paper, people use a keyboard (or sometimes their voice) to write out a message on an electronic device such as a smartphone or computer. Email messages are sent digitally to the receiver via the program's Send button or icon.

An email address is required to send or receive an email message; the address is unique to individual users. To access and store emails, either an internet-based application or a dedicated program on your computer is needed.

The very first email message was sent by Ray Tomlinson in late 1971. Although the exact words have been forgotten, this email is said to have included instructions on how to use the @ character in email addresses.

While there are many email applications and programs, all emails contain the same core elements, such as a 'to' section to indicate recipients, a Send button, and a subject line.

A close-up view of an email header.
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What is an Email Address?

Emails are sent to an email address from another email address. Email addresses are written with a custom username at the beginning followed by the email service provider's domain name, with an @ sign separating the two. Here's an example: name@gmail.com.

If you're not sure what your email address is, there are ways to find out.

What Does 'Send an Email' Mean?

When an email message is finished and has been addressed to the recipient's email address, sending it allows the message to reach the intended recipient (or recipients if you're sending a group email). A send button or icon is provided in every email program.

This process requires that email servers transmit messages from the sender to the recipient. SMTP is the name of the protocol used to send email messages, and POP or IMAP servers are needed to download electronic mail to the email client.

What is an Email Client?

An email client is a computer program used to read and send electronic messages. Typically, the client downloads messages from the server for local use (or for use within a browser) and uploads messages to the server for delivery to its recipients.

How Do I Open New Mail?

If you've got a new email in your inbox, simply tap on it (on a phone) or click it (on a computer) to open and read the message. Every email program works a little bit differently. For example, Gmail lets you open a new email in the same window as your inbox or you can choose to open the message in its own window.

What are File Attachments?

When you send an email message, it's easy to attach a picture or other file to send along to the recipient. These add-ons are called file attachments.

Why Is Email Popular

There are many reasons so many people use email every day.

The speed at which an email can be sent and received is a huge benefit to most people. People can communicate in minutes or seconds from anywhere, whether it's in the same building or across the world.

Emails also can be faster and easier than a phone call, as there's no danger of being put on hold or forced to engage in lengthy conversations. If you have a quick question for someone, just send off an email. It's simple to attach any file to an email message.

Email accounts are like large folders for not only private messages but also files and other important information. Good email clients make it easy to organize, archive, and search through your messages, so any information contained in an email is always readily accessible.

Email provides a record of a conversation, which you don't get with verbal communication. It's easy to print emails, or utilize your email provider's large storage space to keep everything online as long as you want.

Unlike texting, you can write as much as you want in an email's unlimited space. Email services are typically free, too, unless you have decided to go with a paid service. Like long-distance calling and physical mail messages, most email providers give you free access to an email account. Select your own email address, send and receive all the electronic mail you want, and store everything online without ever paying a dime.

Some email services are built specifically for privacy and security, so users can be confident that messages and files are hidden from everyone but the intended recipients.

The most popular web-based email client is Gmail, followed by Microsoft Outlook and Yahoo! Mail. Other popular email clients include Mozilla Thunderbird, MacOS Mail, IncrediMail, Mailbox and iOS Mail.

The Problem of Spam

Unfortunately, email's biggest problem is unsolicited mail, more commonly known as spam. With hundreds of these junk emails in your inbox, the occasional good email can get lost. Fortunately, though, sophisticated filters exist that go through your new messages to help sort out the unwanted ones automatically.

You can help alleviate the junk mail problem by properly reporting spam. First, identify the real source of the message, then find the ISP used to send the message. Determine the correct person to contact and make them aware of the spam.