Email

E-mail (electronic mail) is a form of instant message delivery. You type a message, address it, and send it to the recipient. We use e-mail daily, but we usually do not understand how it works.

E-mail Accounts

An e-mail account is set up on a server, usually one which manages a domain. For example, the address "mailaccount@lcjapan.com" is set up on the server which contains the "lcjapan.com" domain. E-mail sent to that account goes to that server, and is stored in the account's "mailbox" on the server. You can access your account in different ways, as described below.

Web Mail and Client Mail

Most people today use web mailthis is email which is accessed via a browser, such as Firefox or Safari, instead of using a stand-alone email program., usually GMail, Yahoo Mail, or Hotmail. Such e-mail accounts are free, often have many useful features, and can be accessed from any computer. In this system, all e-mail is stored on the web mail's servers, and is never actually downloaded to the user's computer. You must log in to your account using a web browser in order to access your e-mail.

The traditional e-mail system is with an e-mail clientthis is email which is accessed using a special program. Most such email is stored on the user's computer, although a special system can be used to store it permanently on the email server., a program on your computer which automatically logs in to your e-mail account, without the use of a browser. Popular programs include Microsoft's Outlook / Outlook Express, Apple's Mail, or Mozilla's Thunderbird. Usually, the e-mail is downloaded to the computer and stored there.

Web Mail: Pros and Cons

Web mail has a distinct advantage: it can be accessed and used from any computer. You don't have to be using your own computer to access it. This is important to many people who do not carry their computers with them.

Storage used to be a serious problem, back when users were only given small amounts of space, like 10 MB; a user had to constantly delete older messages to make room, or else the account would fill up and refuse to accept new mail. Many people still remember getting "Mailbox Full" error messages.

However, most services now give users several gigabytes of storage (GMail, for example, provides more than 7 GB of space), which is usually more than a person will ever need; accounts rarely "fill up" any more.

Also, web mail is often simple to set up and use.

Additionally, web mail services often provide extra services. GMail has always been the most advanced, offering these services first. A GMail account provides the ability to have text, audio, and video chats, and gives users access to a calendar app, as well as an office suite similar to Microsoft Office (but with far fewer features).

Web mail has one strong disadvantage: it's slow. Because it is web-based, that means you have to wait for data to be transferred and for web pages to re-load. This may improve as "web apps" (software used via a web browser) become more advanced.

One other disadvantage is if a user has multiple e-mail accounts--web mail usually checks only one e-mail account at a time, and to check more than one, you must log out and then log back in. However, web mail services are starting to support multiple e-mail accounts.

It might not be long before web apps have no significant drawbacks; already, it is the preferred method of using e-mail. In the end, if you regularly use only one e-mail account and want a simple e-mail setup, web mail is probably best for you.

Client Email Software: Pros and Cons

Using an e-mail clientRemember "client" software from the previous chapter titled "Types of Software"? A "client" is a program that accesses a larger system over a network. has a few major advantages: first, it's fast. Since the application and most if not all of the data is usually stored on the computer, you can perform actions without waiting for the remote server to send the data to you. You can do searches and scan folders with ease. Creating mailboxes and routing e-mail is usually much simpler and faster than with web mail. Search options can also be more detailed and powerful. More general features tend to be available.

Second, e-mail clients can check multiple e-mail accounts on a constant basis. If you leave the email client running in the background, it can check as many accounts as you like, as often as you like, and then alert you the moment a new email comes in. If you have a number of different accounts--especially if they are not web mail accounts--then this can be a very convenient way to keep everything together in one place.

The main disadvantage is location: a web mail account allows access to e-mail from anywhere, but an e-mail client must reside on a single computer. It is possible to set up e-mail clients on separate computers and access the same accounts, if you use more than one computer to do so. In the end, the e-mail client approach is best for a person who always brings their computer with them, wherever they go--or else do without access to e-mail when the computer is left behind.

Another disadvantage is complexity; you need to set up accounts on an e-mail client, which can confuse people. If your computer is postable, then outgoing mail can be a problem because of requirements by ISPs (see below).

Interestingly, some web mail accounts allow client softare to access them via what is called "POP access"; for example, Google's GMail (and therefore LCJ Mail as well) offer this service for free. This allows you to get the best of both worlds.

In and Out

We usually think of receiving and sending email as being all included in one operation, but sending and receiving e-mail are actually two separate processes. While incoming e-mail is collected by the server holding the account, outgoing e-mail can be sent from a different server.

Incoming e-mail arrives at the e-mail's domain and is stored there. The owner of the account uses a protocol--usually POP3The POP protocol means that email is stored on the server, but is also downloaded to the user's computer and kept by the email client. The email may be kept on the server, or erased constantly to make more room. or IMAPThe IMAP protocol leaves the email on the server and does not download to the computer, thereby saving space for the user, and making the system accessible from more computers.--to collect the mail and/or view it on their computer.

When using web mail, all of this happens in the background, and you don't have to worry about it at all. If you use an e-mail client, however, then you have to pay attention to outgoing mail servers.

Outgoing e-mail, using the SMTP protocol, can be sent from the same server, but it is not necessary. You can use other servers to handle your outgoing e-mail, and it does not need to go through your account's domain. In fact, many ISPs (Internet Service Providers, such as KDD Dion, NTT, Yahoo BB, etc.) actually require you to use their own servers instead of the server which has your e-mail account. This is done for two reasons: (1) it's faster, and (2) it helps them to stop spam from being sent by their customers, clogging up the system.

For example, I have an e-mail account at the domain blogd.com. If I am at school, I use the server at blogd.com to send my e-mail. My e-mail program allows me to choose the outgoing server (the selection on the right):

But if I am at home, my ISP, KDD Dion, requires that I use their outgoing mail server--nothing else works.

As a result, you can send email using one server at one domain, and receive mail in the exact same account from a server on a different domain. You do not have to--many people use the same domain for incoming and outgoing email. But it is not necessary to do so.

Sending E-mail

As explained above, sending e-mail uses the SMTP protocol. This is really what most people think of as "e-mail"; when you send e-mail, it is transferred over the Internet and received at the destination. In contrast, "receiving" e-mail is just a matter of viewing it.

When sending e-mail using an e-mail client, you sometimes have to choose the outgoing server. As explained above, some ISPs require the use of their server and don't allow any other. For desktop computers, this is not a problem; the computer will always be in the same place and will always use the same outgoing server.

For laptop computers and mobile devices, however, this can be a serious problem. At home, you may be required to use your ISP's mail server. Since this server only works when you send from home, you must switch to a different outgoing server when you leave home. So, when I am at home, I have to remember to use "mail.rn.dion.ne.jp", but when I go to work, I have to use "mail.blogd.com". When I travel to America and stay at my parents' house, I have to use their ISP's outgoing mail server, or else I cannot send e-mail. In fact, some ISPs will require you to first check e-mail from one of their e-mail accounts before you can send e-mail using their outgoing server--so when I stay with my parents, I must add my father's account to my e-mail program and check the account before sending e-mail on any other account. This kind of difficulty drives many people to use web mail, which neatly avoids that kind of problem.

What's the Delay?

When you send an e-mail, it is not always received immediately. Usually it is, but sometimes there is are problems at various points along the line. For example, in sending the message, if there is any difficulty, the e-mail might get stuck waiting in a "queue," and might not be sent for as long as 30 minutes. The wait time is variable, and is intended to wait for any problems or previous email to go be dealth with before trying again.

Another issue could be spam filters. This is especially a problem with web mail, which is bombarded with millions of false spam emails every day, and must scan each one to determine if it is legitimate or not. This can slow down the reception of an email message.

Receiving E-mail

When e-mail is successfully sent to you, it resides on the server, waiting for you to access it.

Using web mail, the mail stays on your server unless you decide to delete it. When you check your e-mail, you are, in essence, remotely logging in to the mail server and doing all of your work "there."

Using an e-mail client, you have the choice of working completely on the server (IMAP), or downloading all e-mail to your computer (POP3). With POP3, you can decide whether to keep the e-mail on the server, or delete it after you have downloaded it. This can be an important setting! You can usually decide how long it remains on the server before being deleted (usually to give you the chance to access the email on more than one computer).

Attachments

When you send an e-mail, you often will want to include a file or a set of files. These are sent as attachments. Every e-mail setup should have an option for attachments. Usually, you click a button, are asked to select a file using a navigation dialog box, and then you attach the file. Using an e-mail client, you can usually drag and drop icons directly into the "compose e-mail" window, or else copy and paste objects directly; this is usually not possible using web mail.

Attachments can either be viewed "inline" or separately. "Inline" attachments appear within the e-mail text, either as photographs, PDF files, or icons which launch documents. Inline attachments can often be dragged and dropped onto the Desktop or into folders for saving.

Beware of Malware! Attachments can be an attack on your computer. Especially using Windows, you must never open an attachment unless you are CERTAIN that it is safe. Even if the e-mail seems to come from a friend, you must be VERY cautious.

Know Your Filename Extensions! Look at the filename extension for the attachment. If the extension is .exe, .zip, .bat, .vbs, .pif, or .src, you should be especially careful, although other extensions can be malware also.

Only Open Safe Attachments! How do you know if it's safe?

First, it must be EXPECTED. In other words, the sender told you they would send it. If you receive an attachment that you did not know about previously, then it is probably a virus.

Second, it should be in a specific e-mail--that is, the e-mail message must have a message clearly written to you, and should make reference to a specific event or project the attachment is related to. DO NOT open attachments where the message just says "look at this!" or "very funny!" or "photos from the party." The message must be specific, for example, "Luis: This is the PDF of the schedule that you asked for two days ago at the meeting."

A very common form of malware received by e-mail will open a victim's address book and send a copy to everyone on the list. The recipients, seeing the e-mail as coming from a friend, will more often open the attachment.

Spam

You might have run into spam before, although recently spam filters have become good enough that many people get hardly any. But spam is, unfortunately, a fact of life on the Internet. A recent study by Microsoft found that as much as 97% of all e-mail sent is spam. How do you avoid it?


(1) Spam Filters. This is usually included automatically in e-mail setups; some are better than others. Some filters "learn" what is spam after you mark it as such. Others learn from general spam identification. Spam filters will usually let through e-mail which is sent from anyone on your address book--but they will usually mark as spam e-mail from someone you have never received e-mail from before. So, it's a good idea to check your spam folder from time to time, and make sure no "real" e-mail got sent there by mistake.

(2) Use "Junk" Accounts for "Signing Up" or "Registering." So many sites on the web require you to enter an e-mail address. Want to join a forum? Enter your e-mail address. Want to use this cool web-based service? E-mail address, please. You usually cannot enter a fake address, because they will send you an e-mail and require you to follow a link in the e-mail to complete the registration. However, most of these sites want the e-mail address for a reason: so they can sell the addresses and make money.

So, what can you do? Easy: create a junk account. Accounts from GMail, Hotmail, and Yahoo are free, so make one up just for this purpose. Make an account such as "luissignup@gmail.com" and don't bother to log in except when you need to see the confirmation e-mail. If you do this, then most of the spam that would normally attack your main account gets sent here instead.

(3) Don't Publish Your Main Address on the Internet. Don't write your e-mail address on a web page, or even on a file on a web site. Do not include it in forums, even private ones. Spammers have automated programs which search every file they find for e-mail addresses.

To test this, I created a "virgin" e-mail account which was never used before. No one knew the address. I then put the address up on my blog, but I disguised it: I made the text color the same as the background color. As a result, it was there, but it was "invisible" to humans. Within a few days, I started getting spam at the address.

If you absolutely MUST publish an address for some reason, try to spell it out in a way that automated programs won't catch. For example, if your address is "myname@domain.com", then spell it "myname followed by an at-mark and then domain-dot-com" or some other way that humans can understand, but software probably cannot.

(4) Never Answer Spam. No matter what, never reply to a spam e-mail. If possible, don't even look at it, but you should never, for any reason, reply to it. Doing so will alert the spammers that your e-mail account is active and you read the spam that comes in.

When spammers send spam, they know that most of they addresses they have are not active. The thing is, they don't know which ones. The most valuable thing to a spammer is an e-mail address they know is in use. Better, if the person actually opens spam e-mail. Or best, someone who is foolish enough to answer the spam e-mail.

Many spam e-mails include an "opt out" message. They claim that you "requested" or "signed up for" the spam, but if you don't want to get more spam, then click the link they give and request to stop the spam. DON'T DO IT. It's almost always a trick to see if you are reading their e-mail and are foolish enough to fall for their trick.

I tested this as well: I went to several such "opt out" sites and entered another "virgin" e-mail account. Again, within days, spam started pouring in.

(5) And, of course, NEVER BUY ANYTHING from a spammer. NEVER.

(6) Turn off HTML graphics. Some spam includes pictures. Some of these pictures are not in the e-mail; instead, they are on the spammer's web site. The e-mail has HTML code which tells your e-mail program to go to the spammer's web site, get the image, and display it in the e-mail message. The problem: if this happens, then the spammer knows that you looked at the e-mail! They can see which address was used, and they will start sending much more spam to that address.

To turn off HTML graphics, go into the "Settings" ("preferences," or "options") of your e-mail program/web page and try to find the option for HTML images. In LCJ Mail, go to "Settings," click on "General," and under "External Content," set it to "Ask before displaying external content."

(7) Protect Others from Spam: Be Considerate. Years ago, a cousin of mine signed me up for a service he thought I would like. It turned out that they were spammers, and I started getting lots of spam as a result. NEVER enter another person's e-mail address anywhere without their express permission. If you think they will like something, then tell them directly.

Many web sites have a "Tell a Friend" option. Don't use it. Once, a friend sent me such a notce through a popular news web site, for an article about a new electronic watch. Within minutes after I got his e-mail, I started getting spam for similar watches. if you see a news story or other web content you think they will enjoy, then copy the URL, and send your friend an e-mail directly, pasting the URL into the e-mail.

 

If you follow these rules, then you have a good chance of avoiding the worst of the spam. It is sometimes impossible to avoid spam completely, but you can do it for years. One teacher at LCJ used e-mail without any spam filter, and for years had no spam. But then suddenly, the teacher started to receive so much spam that they had to abandon their account.