How email works: the basics

colorado-springs-website-designer-emailMost people know how to use email but don’t really understand how it works, so sometimes emails mysteriously disappear from the server and you’re left scratching your head. Here’s the basics of how emails work.

Your email is hosted on an email server, which is separate from the server that hosts your website, in most cases. Your email server has a name for incoming mail and outgoing mail. For instance, it might look like this:



These are the settings you need to set up an email account in your email program, such as Outlook. You can have a POP account (email is sent to an account that has its own username and password) or an Alias account (also called Forward account, and this email address does not have its own username and password, but instead simply forwards to another email address). For instance, you might want “” to simply forward to “”

There are two ways top access your email.

  • Go straight to the email server using your browser, such as Internet Explorer or Firefox. Most times you are provided with a “remote” access to your email. When you log in this way you are accessing your email server directly. This is how Gmail works, for instance.
  • Download your email from the server to your computer using Outlook or another email program.

When someone sends you an email, it goes straight to your email server and sits there until you either view it using your internet browser, or download it onto your computer. In your email program, such as Outlook, there is a setting that asks you how many days you want to leave messages on the server. If you set it to 30 days, your email will sit on the email server and be accessible for 30 days. Then it will disappear. If you have it set to delete once it’s been downloaded, then once you download it using a program like Outlook, it will be deleted from the email server. The common misconception about email delivery is that email sent to you comes directly to you and does not pass Go and does not Collect $200 dollars. In actuality, emails go directly to the email server and then your computer downloads them from there. Emails remain on that server for as long as you tell them to. This is how you are able to download email on multiple computers. If you have a laptop and you click “Get Mail” it will download everything on the server since the last time you checked email on your laptop…yet those emails will remain on the server so you can later download them on your desktop (as long as you have it set to remain on the server for a certain amount of days). So if you ever delete something accidentally in Outlook. you can go straight to the server and see if there.

The remote email server is also very useful if you are traveling or don’t have your laptop and want to check your email. You can login to see  and respond to your email and then it will still be there waiting on you to download it when you get home!