Understanding Email

How Does Email Work?

We know that email allows us to transmit electronic messages, hence it is electronic mail - hence the "e" in e-mail. Just like real mail that is managed by the Post-Office, email is a service. In order to have the use of it, we need a service-provider, that is, we need a Post-Office for our email. Since our email is electronic, so is our Post-Office. We call this our "email server". All of your mail must travel through your email-server.

Different Kinds of E-Mail Clients

Now, when you think of email, you probably think of something like G-Mail, Yahoo, Outlook or Thunderbird. However, those are not email at all - they are what we call clients - they are nothing more than an interface to the email that is on your email server. You see, when you receive an email, it doesn't go to G-Mail, or Yahoo, or Outlook; it goes to your email-server. You then use your client to contact the email-server to see your mail.

The email-client "reads" the server for you - it goes to the Post-Office and fetches your mail for you. Likewise, when you write an email in your email-client and click the "send" button, you are really sending your mail to your email-server. The email-server then looks at the address information in the email (called headers) and sends your email on its way to its destination.

App-Client -vs- Webmail

There are two kinds of email-clients: app-client and web-client (webmail).

You are probably most familiar with the web-client. A web-client is really just a web-page that runs inside of a web-browser such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Chrome. Without a web-browser, you cannot use your web-mail.

An app-client, on the other hand, is an actual program that you install on your personal computer. It has nothing to do with your web-browser, but it interfaces the mail-server for you just like the webmail-client.

If you use an iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, or whatever-berry, most of the time you would use an app-client.

What is the difference, then? Well, it depends on how you like to work. The app-client will be more user-friendly, is a little quicker with which to interact, and usually has more options and features - but is available only on your personal computer or mobile device. The webmail-client can be used from any computer that has a web-browser - and that is just about anywhere! The webmail-client will often have advertisements and isn't so nice sometimes.

POP Versus IMAP

If you are using a webmail-client, this section won't matter for you. But if you use an app-client, you have to configure it. That means that you have to tell it certain settings in order for it to get into your email-server. Think of it as giving your friend the key to your Post Office box, and then telling him which Post Office to go to, and where it is located.

Now, before we configure our email, you need to know that there are TWO ways to use your app-client, they are called, POP and IMAP. You don't have to know what the acronyms stand for, but it is important to know how they work. These "ways" are really called protocols.

POP (Post Office Protocol)

This is really basic client-based email. Imagine it this way: When you go to the Post Office and open your mailbox, you take out all of your mail and go home with it. Thus, with POP mail, your mail-client downloads all of your mail to your local, personal computer, and takes it off the mail-server. However, you can usually tell your mail-client to leave a copy on the server for a certain amount of time (for two weeks, for example), and then, if you are travelling, you can get your most recent messages using your webmail interface, too. A email-client using POP (called, a pop-client) only gets mail when the application is started on your computer. So if you never start the program, it will never get any of your mail for you. A POP account ONLY gets mail from your inbox. If you have any other folders on your email server, it will ignore them.

IMAP (Instant Message Access Protocol)

The other kind of mail protocol is IMAP. To understand how it works, consider this: You go to the Post Office to get your mail. Instead of taking your mail from the mailbox, you read all of your mail while you are there, and put it back in the mailbox. That is how an email-client works if it uses the IMAP protocol. It leaves all of the mail on the email server and just looks at your mail. The advantage of this is that you can organize all of your mail using the folders on the email server, and no matter how many app-clients or webmail-clients you use with that same account, your mail folders and mail are ALL THE SAME.


So why choose one over the other? POP is usually faster, and since the mail gets relocated onto your own computer, you actually remove the mail from cyberspace. This is useful if your server only allows you a limited amount of space for storage. An IMAP account is better if you are travelling alot, but you need alot of storage space on the server to store your mail. IMAP is a little bit slower and will use up more bandwidth on your computer or network.

Configure Your Email-Client

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When you switch from one email account to another, well, what do you do with the old one?
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