Not too long ago, a woman in her fifties I worked with asked me what an e-mail was and how she could get one for herself. If you have similar doubts or wish to learn more about e-mail, this article is for you.

Understanding e-mail

Let's start with a definition. E-mail is the contraction of electronic mail, a means of communication between people through computers. While it was invented in the 1960s, it didn't become popular until the first boom of the Internet in the 1990s. Before those days, communicating via e-mail was hard and costly. Today it is easy and, in most cases, free.

E-mail communication works in a simple manner. First, you use an e-mail client or a web application to write your message and click send. When you do so, your message will be turned into an e-mail format and sent to your e-mail server.

Once in the e-mail server, the computer will read who you are sending your message to and try to find the receiver. If the receiver exists and is available to receive your message, the server will complete the transmission sending your message in full. Else, you will receive an error message, commonly called bounce.

Although e-mail messages are generally accepted, there are a few reasons for which a message could be rejected. The first and most common is a mistyped e-mail address. This is because e-mail addresses are unique, and computer systems are not capable of detecting and correcting those kinds of mistakes. The next reason is a reach of quota. E-mail providers usually give people a limit on how much hard disk space in e-mails they can store. If you are over your quota, the message will be rejected until you delete some old messages and make space to receive more. The final reason is the anti-spam filter. If your message contains "suspicious" information, or has been sent to the receiver from a mail server which has been caught spamming in the past, your e-mail may bounce due to a connection to suspicious source.

Problems aside, communicating by e-mail is one of the most comfortable things people can do when using the Internet. It allows cheap and easy communication without disturbing anybody by successive phone calls.

Your own e-mail

Now that you have an idea of how e-mail works, it is time for you to get one. This can be done using one of two ways:

If you have your own domain name, you will need to create a new e-mail account either from your hosting account's administration panel, or asking your hosting provider to do it for you. If you don't have an own domain name, you can still get an e-mail account from any of the dozens of free e-mail providers over the Internet. All you will need to do is to click the "sign up" link on their websites, and follow the instructions.

With either case, your e-mail address will always have two parts: your user name and a domain name. The two parts will be separated to by the character “@” and you will also need to know your user name and your password to be able to use it.

To read, send, and —in general— manage your messages, you will need an e-mail client. Web-based e-mail providers include an e-mail client on their own, so in the next article I will talk about e-mail client software in greater detail.

Continue with... Configuring your e-mail client

Computers + On-line