How Does Email Work? A Basic Tech Guide

Did you know that half of all emails sent are spam? Yet despite these annoying intruders to our inbox, we really can’t live without email as the preferred business communication method. But do you know how they actually work?

Surprisingly, it is an extremely complicated process. Read on as we answer the question “How does email work?”

How Does Email Work?

Email has actually been around a lot longer than most people realize. Computers were originally accessed using dial-up terminals. As each person had their own storage, it was here that people began to send digital messages on the same system.

While emails have evolved, their components have pretty much stayed the same. They are essentially text-based messages. Sending emails can involve adding attachments and other recipients, but it is not that different from the original messages sent on those original systems.

The Sending Process

The method in which email goes from the sender to the recipient is where it gets complicated. It starts when an email sends from a device using the @ address symbol. This goes to an outgoing mail server, known as Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP).

To find out where to send the email, the SMTP needs to contact a Domain Name System Server (DNS). It is here that the IP address associated with the domain specified by the @ symbol gets located. Once it finds where your email should go, it sends the information back to the SMTP.

Receiving the Mail

Once the SMTP has the correct information on where to send the email, sending emails are forwarded to the recipient’s domain mail exchange server. This mail transfer agent decides where the email should go depending upon the Pop and Imap settings.

Post Office Protocol is an inbox that lets you enter and collect your mail. You do not need to stay connected to read them, and you can take emails from different servers and centralize them in one location.

Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) is different in that it is two-way communication with the server. All messages are kept on the server, so multiple users can look at them. Depending upon which of these are chosen, determines where the email travels to at this point.

A catch-all email server is one that collects all emails for a domain address. You can read more about them at

How Is Email Secured?

When email was created, securing their contents was not a priority. As the internet got bigger, this caused more issues and numerous ways to secure messages were created.

Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is one way to secure email, in which a text record in a DNS gives permission as to which servers can send mail from the domain. Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) uses a similar process but provides authentication that messages are not adapted in transit states.

Staying Secure

Now you know can answer the question “How does email work?” the next step is to stay safe. Do not open unsolicited emails and definitely do not download attachments. Install a strong virus scanner, and keep your computer protected.

If you enjoyed our article, visit the rest of our blog. We have all the technology and digital advice you could need, to help you understand the world of tomorrow.

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