Redirect Email Messages Instead of Forwarding Them

Not many email programs can redirect, but it's a useful tool nonetheless

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Most people either reply to or forward emails, but a rarely-implemented redirect protocol helps to get a message from a sender to the right recipient by means of an intermediary recipient.

This process is also sometimes known as remailing.

What is an Email Redirection?

A redirection is a special case of an email forward. Unlike a standard forward, in which the person forwarding the message appears to be the sender, in a redirection, the message appears to come from the original sender.

For example, if bob@xyz.com receives a message from sally@abc.com, and Bob forwards it to his colleague fred@xyz.com, then when Fred opens the message, it'll appear as a forward from Bob. However, if Bob redirected Sally's message, then when Fred opened it, it'd appear as if it came from Sally directly.

How Can I Redirect a Message?

In most cases, you cannot redirect individual messages using modern email clients. A few older email clients geared toward a power-user audience, including TheBat, support per-message redirects, but the major email programs in use today do not support this capability.

One exception is Mozilla Thunderbird, which — while it doesn't support redirection natively — does offer support for add-ons that include this capability. But unlike TheBat, which merely inserts a redirect-from header, Thunderbird add-ons rewrite the sender line to indicate the redirecting sender, but "on behalf of" the original sender. This functionality mimics a pure redirection, but imperfectly.

Can I Redirect All Messages?

Microsoft Outlook forwarding rules

Some modern programs, however, do support rules-based redirection. For example, the desktop version of Microsoft Outlook supports custom rules that allow for mail meeting specific criteria to be automatically redirected to a different user. Although these rules apply without end-user intervention — meaning, you can't individually redirect messages — it's a great tool for redirecting classes of messages. For example, an Outlook rule can redirect messages from a generic inbound account to a specific user.

Redirection is not the same as configuring your email account to automatically forward all emails (or all emails that meet a rule) to a different address. That process is still forwarding, even if the email program actually calls it redirection.