JafSoft's Introduction to the Internet

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4 Email

4.1 Email addresses

4.1.1 What does my email address mean?

Email addresses come in the form

<local user name>@<Internet domain name>

The domain name describes the Internet node your mail should be addressed to (see Domain Names). The local user name determines how the mail is addressed within your Internet node, and will depend on either

  1. The machine you run mail on, and more particularly the mail protocol used.


  1. The Internet service provider you use to gain access to the Internet.

Some providers, such as AOL, basically give you an account and web space on their machine. You therefore get a specified number of usernames and it's a safe bet that your name (e.g. "paul") will have been used. This explains the many odd AOL user names you see.

In this case, mail addressed to your machine is delivered to you, and it's down to your machine's mail software to determine what address before the "@" it supports.

However, this is usually more work than most people wish to get involved in, and careful choice of ISP will usually allow you to find a suitable email address such as


4.1.2 How do I find people's email addresses?

Apart from being told someone's address and writing it on a Post-it sticker (don't knock it... this works!), there are a number of ways of attempting to find the email address of someone you want to contact.

In the most part these rely either on the person having registered their address, or it being "captured" by one of the Internet search engines that exist. This last technique will only work if the person has taken an "active" role on the Internet such as posting to a newsgroup.

People who have dormant accounts (i.e. never used publicly) are virtually impossible to find. In such cases you're as well to ring them up and ask.

Other techniques include

4.2 How to use email

The details of using email will depend largely on the software package and computer that you use. The following discussions are just about general usage.

4.2.1 Composing email

Normally you compose a new mail either by selecting "new message" in your mail package, or by selecting a "mailto" link in your browser in email. The latter is discussed in Using email inside a browser.

When creating an email you will have to supply an email address to send to, and can then optionally supply

This is bad news as some computers have a limit on how large a line can be, and in such cases the last part of each paragraph is lost.

To avoid this either

  1. Manually add line breaks every so often.

  2. Configure your mailer to do this for you.

If in doubt, stick to (a).

When adding attachments you will normally be asked for the name of the file to attach. Depending on the file type you may also be asked whether you want the file sent as plain text or encoded in some way (e.g. mime encoded). Encoding is a way of splitting files into text that is safe to pass through the email system. Binary files have to be encoded.

Some mail readers cannot process attachments. If you're sending to such a person (or don't know), you may be wise to select "attach as text" if the option arises. This won't be an option for binary files.

4.2.2 Getting your mail

How mail gets to you depends on what type of internet access you have. If you work for a large organisation you probably have a permanent connection to the internet, and mail will simply arrive in your inbox.

If you have a home account, you may need to get your modem to dial up your ISP and check for new mail. This can be done manually or semi-automatically.

Either way, when you next start your mail program it will tell you you have new mail, and will list the messages available.

You simply select the message(s) you want to read, and view them.

4.2.3 Reading your mail

Reading your mail is normally done in a edit-style window. Depending on the mail software you're using you will normally be able to read the message, and scroll up and down through it. You probably won't be able to edit it.

Usually once you've read the message it remains in a Mail folders. If you wish you can re-read the message at any time by selecting it from the folder.

4.2.4 Replying to your mail

It's common to reply to incoming mail. Usually your software will offer a reply option (e.g. an icon or button) from inside your read window. This will normally launch a window like the one used for mail except that

Note, Netiquette decrees that it is bad practice to keep all this text in the reply, instead you should delete all bar those parts you genuinely wish to quote and respond to in your reply.

4.2.5 Forwarding your mail

Forwarding takes two forms:

  1. You wish to forward your mail to another address (e.g. whilst you're on holiday). This can usually be done by playing with the configuration options available in your software package.

  2. You wish to forward a particular mail to a third party who might be interested. This can usually be done via a "Forward" option (or icon or button) available whilst you have the message selected.

Depending on the software, you may or may not be allowed to edit or add to the original message, and it may add "FWD:" to the subject line to signal that the message has been forwarded.

4.2.6 Organising your email

After using email for a while you'll start to accumulate a large amount of mail and contacts which you'll need to start organising. Mail Folders

Most email software allows you to organise your mail into folders, and to move mail between folders.

Some packages allow you to have subfolders as well.

Another common feature is for "deleted" mail to be placed in a wastebasket folder, from where it can be retrieved. In such cases you should make sure you understand how and when (or if!) this folder gets empty before relying on being able to retrieve such mail. For example the wastebasket will often be emptied once you exit the email software. Address books

Some email packages will allow you to store email addresses in an "address book". This will usually allow you to give commonly used addresses a nickname, shortcut or alias that will allow you to type in "John" when sending mail, rather than a somewhat less memorable email address. Deleting old mails

Every so often you should delete any old, unwanted mail. Depending on your software you may be able to automate this, e.g. for mails over a certain age to be deleted. Compressing your mail files

Depending on the computer system and software package you may need to "compress" your mail files ever so often. Read the help for you software for details.

4.3 Email services

There are a number of services that are available via email.

4.3.1 mailing lists

The commonest use of email. Mailing lists are organised for discussion round a single topic. Topics range from rock band fan clubs, to self-help groups for all sorts of medical conditions.

Mailing lists usually have two mail addresses, one you use to join and leave the list, and one you send actual posts for the list to.

When you join a list you will normally be sent a lengthy message describing

When you post mail to the list a copy is forwarded to all recipients of the list. Equally any replies to the list are sent to you. In some cases all posts have to be accepted by a list Moderator, although more commonly the list will simply have an administrator responsible for list maintenance, rather than content.

To help you distinguish email from a list from other mail, some lists put some common text on the subject line.

Where a mailing list has higher volume, it may offer the list in Digest form. These are single mails containing several posts to the list. Digests are sometimes easier to manage.

Depending on how the list is organised, old mails may be archived, allowing you to read back through discussions previously held on the list.

Contact your list administrator for details.

For a searchable directory of mailing lists, visit http://www.liszt.com/

4.3.2 Netmind

Netmind is a free email service that allows you to monitor when web pages are updated. Visit http://www.netmind.com/ for more details.

4.3.3 FTP

It is possible to FTP files via email. This is mainly of interest when accessing files on slow sites, and over an expensive modem link.

4.4 Subject lines

In order to help people better anticipate the contents of an email some conventions have evolved on use of subject lines. These conventions are basically a subset of the conventions used in newsgroups.

See Newgroup Subject Lines for details.

4.5 How to deal with spam and junk mail

In the context of Email, Spam means any unsolicited emails, usually of a commercial nature. These are the "junk mail" of the Net, and can become quite irritating.

You'll start getting these as soon as your email address becomes known. This can happen without you even realising it, most commonly once you delurk in USENET.

Spammers are the scum of the earth, often using fake email addresses so that you can't reply to them (they'll give a telephone number or Snail mail address for that).

There are a number of counter-measures you can use.

A useful site that discusses a lot of the issues and techniques involved can be found at


There is also an FAQS on email abuse which can be found at


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© 1997-1999 John A Fotheringham and JafSoft Limited
Last Minor Update : 4 December '99