Neither the users nor their computers are required to be online simultaneously; they need to connect only briefly, typically to a mail server or a webmail interface, for as long as it takes to send or receive messages.
International email , with internationalized email addresses using UTF-8 , has been standardized, but as of it has not been widely adopted.
An email message sent in the early s looks very similar to a basic email sent today. Historically, the term electronic mail was used generically for any electronic document transmission.
For example, several writers in the early s used the term to describe fax document transmission. Electronic mail has been most commonly called email or e-mail since around ,  but variations of the spelling have been used:.
An Internet e-mail consists  of an envelope and content; the content in turn consists  of a header and a body.
Computer -based mail and messaging became possible with the advent of time-sharing computers in the early s, and informal methods of using shared files to pass messages were soon expanded into the first mail systems.
Most developers of early mainframes and minicomputers developed similar, but generally incompatible, mail applications. Over time, a complex web of gateways and routing systems linked many of them.
For a time in the late s and early s, it seemed likely that either a proprietary commercial system or the X. The diagram to the right shows a typical sequence of events  that takes place when sender Alice transmits a message using a mail user agent MUA addressed to the email address of the recipient.
Many MTAs used to accept messages for any recipient on the Internet and do their best to deliver them. Such MTAs are called open mail relays. This was very important in the early days of the Internet when network connections were unreliable.
Internet email messages consist of two major sections, the message header and the message body, collectively known as content. In the process of transporting email messages between systems, SMTP communicates delivery parameters and information using message header fields.
The body contains the message, as unstructured text, sometimes containing a signature block at the end.
The header is separated from the body by a blank line. Each message has exactly one header the "header section" of the message, according to the specification , which is structured into fields "header fields".
Each field has a name "field name" or "header field name" and a value "field body" or "header field body".
RFC specifies the precise syntax. Informally, each line of text in the header that begins with a non- whitespace printable character begins a separate field.
The field name starts in the first character of the line and ends before the separator character ": The separator is then followed by the field value the "body" of the field.
The value is continued onto subsequent lines if those lines have a space or tab as their first character. Email header fields can be multi-line, with each line recommended to be no more than 78 characters, although the technical limit is characters.
Such addresses are supported by Google and Microsoft products, and promoted by some governments. The message header must include at least the following fields: Common header fields for email include: Note that the To: The actual delivery list is supplied separately to the transport protocol, SMTP , which may or may not originally have been extracted from the header content.
In the same way, the "From: Some mail servers apply email authentication systems to messages being relayed. Data pertaining to server's activity is also part of the header, as defined below.
SMTP defines the trace information of a message, which is also saved in the header using the following two fields: Other fields that are added on top of the header by the receiving server may be called trace fields , in a broader sense.
In some countries, several encoding schemes coexist; as the result, by default, the message in a non-Latin alphabet language appears in non-readable form the only exception is coincidence, when the sender and receiver use the same encoding scheme.
Therefore, for international character sets , Unicode is growing in popularity. Most modern graphic email clients allow the use of either plain text or HTML for the message body at the option of the user.
HTML email messages often include an automatically generated plain text copy as well, for compatibility reasons. Advantages of HTML include the ability to include in-line links and images, set apart previous messages in block quotes , wrap naturally on any display, use emphasis such as underlines and italics , and change font styles.
Disadvantages include the increased size of the email, privacy concerns about web bugs , abuse of HTML email as a vector for phishing attacks and the spread of malicious software.
Some web-based mailing lists recommend that all posts be made in plain-text, with 72 or 80 characters per line for all the above reasons,   but also because they have a significant number of readers using text-based email clients such as Mutt.
Some Microsoft email clients allow rich formatting using their proprietary Rich Text Format RTF , but this should be avoided unless the recipient is guaranteed to have a compatible email client.
Messages are exchanged between hosts using the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol with software programs called mail transfer agents MTAs ; and delivered to a mail store by programs called mail delivery agents MDAs, also sometimes called local delivery agents, LDAs.
Accepting a message obliges an MTA to deliver it,  and when a message cannot be delivered, that MTA must send a bounce message back to the sender, indicating the problem.
Users can retrieve their messages from servers using standard protocols such as POP or IMAP , or, as is more likely in a large corporate environment, with a proprietary protocol specific to Novell Groupwise , Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange Servers.
Programs used by users for retrieving, reading, and managing email are called mail user agents MUAs. Mail can be stored on the client , on the server side, or in both places.
Standard formats for mailboxes include Maildir and mbox. Several prominent email clients use their own proprietary format and require conversion software to transfer email between them.
Server-side storage is often in a proprietary format but since access is through a standard protocol such as IMAP , moving email from one server to another can be done with any MUA supporting the protocol.
Mail , that performs the same tasks. Upon reception of email messages, email client applications save messages in operating system files in the file system.
Some clients save individual messages as separate files, while others use various database formats, often proprietary, for collective storage.
A historical standard of storage is the mbox format. The specific format used is often indicated by special filename extensions:. Some applications like Apple Mail leave attachments encoded in messages for searching while also saving separate copies of the attachments.
Others separate attachments from messages and save them in a specific directory. Though its use is not strictly defined, URLs of this form are intended to be used to open the new message window of the user's mail client when the URL is activated, with the address as defined by the URL in the To: Many email providers have a web-based email client e.
This allows users to log into the email account by using any compatible web browser to send and receive their email. Mail is typically not downloaded to the client, so can't be read without a current Internet connection.
The Post Office Protocol 3 POP3 is a mail access protocol used by a client application to read messages from the mail server. Received messages are often deleted from the server.
Small portable devices like smartphones are increasingly used to check email while travelling, and to make brief replies, larger devices with better keyboard access being used to reply at greater length.
IMAP shows the headers of messages, the sender and the subject and the device needs to request to download specific messages.
Usually mail is left in folders in the mail server. Email has been widely accepted by business, governments and non-governmental organizations in the developed world, and it is one of the key parts of an 'e-revolution' in workplace communication with the other key plank being widespread adoption of highspeed Internet.
Email marketing via " opt-in " is often successfully used to send special sales offerings and new product information. Many users access their personal email from friends and family members using a personal computer in their house or apartment.
Email has become used on smartphones and on all types of computers. Mobile "apps" for email increase accessibility to the medium for users who are out of their home.
While in the earliest years of email, users could only access email on desktop computers, in the s, it is possible for users to check their email when they are away from home, whether they are across town or across the world.
Alerts can also be sent to the smartphone or other device to notify them immediately of new messages. This has given email the ability to be used for more frequent communication between users and allowed them to check their email and write messages throughout the day.
As of [update] , there were approximately 1. Individuals often check email on smartphones for both personal and work-related messages. It was found that US adults check their email more than they browse the web or check their Facebook accounts, making email the most popular activity for users to do on their smartphones.
However, the percentage of consumers using email on smartphone ranges and differs dramatically across different countries.
As of , the number of Americans visiting email web sites had fallen 6 percent after peaking in November For persons 12 to 17, the number was down 18 percent.
Young people preferred instant messaging , texting and social media. A survey of Android users showed that persons 13 to 24 used messaging apps 3.
Email messages may have one or more attachments, which are additional files that are appended to the email. Typical attachments include Microsoft Word documents, pdf documents and scanned images of paper documents.
In principle there is no technical restriction on the size or number of attachments, but in practice email clients, servers and Internet service providers implement various limitations on the size of files, or complete email - typically to 25MB or less.
Where larger files need to be shared, file hosting services of various sorts are available; and generally suggested.
The ubiquity of email for knowledge workers and "white collar" employees has led to concerns that recipients face an " information overload " in dealing with increasing volumes of email.
This can lead to increased stress, decreased satisfaction with work, and some observers even argue it could have a significant negative economic effect,  as efforts to read the many emails could reduce productivity.
Email "spam" is the term used to describe unsolicited bulk email. The US CAN-SPAM Act of and similar laws elsewhere  had some impact, and a number of effective anti-spam techniques now largely mitigate the impact of spam by filtering or rejecting it for most users,  but the volume sent is still very high—and increasingly consists not of advertisements for products, but malicious content or links.
A range of malicious email types exist. These range from various types of email scams , including "social engineering" scams such as advance-fee scam "Nigerian letters", to phishing , email bombardment and email worms.
Email spoofing occurs when the email message header is designed to make the message appear to come from a known or trusted source.
Email spam and phishing methods typically use spoofing to mislead the recipient about the true message origin.
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