Like a postal address, an e-mail address specifies the destination of an electronic message.
- An Internet e-mail address looks like this: user name@domain name
- The user name is a unique name that identifies the recipient.
- The domain name is the address. Many people can share the same domain name.
- E-mail is sent and received through electronic “post offices” known as mail servers.
- To read your e-mail, you download it from the mail server. For Web-based e-mail services, like Hotmail or Gmail, you can read your messages directly on a web page.
- Once you enter the address of the recipient, compose your message, and click Send, your e-mail software handles the delivery.
- If the message can't be delivered, for example because of an incorrect address, you typically receive a message explaining why.
To better understand how all of this works, let’s look at the entire process as if it were traditional mail. When you send an e-mail, your computer sends it to your domain server, just like dropping off a letter at your local post office. Your domain server (the mail clerk) then checks the address and sends the e-mail to the corresponding domain server, like the post office putting your letter on a truck to its destination city. When it reaches its destination, the letter is sorted and delivered to the correct mailbox, where it can be picked up at any time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can two people sign up for the same e-mail address?
No. If you consider the domain name portion of an e-mail address to be your post office, think of the user name portion as your PO Box number. If two people were to use the same user name and domain name combination, it would be impossible for your mail server to distinguish between the two. To solve this, when you sign up for an e-mail address, you will be advised if your name has already been taken and offered several alternative addresses you can choose from.
If you want to use your own name for your e-mail address, you may need to try a different e-mail provider, or sign up for your own domain name.
Of course, this is not to say you can’t share an e-mail address. Just as you can share a PO Box with your family, you can let them use your e-mail too. But you’ll have to wade through all of their messages and vice versa.
Do I have to type the address perfectly when I send an e-mail?
Unfortunately, yes. e-mail servers have to be very specific. A slight misspelling could result in your message getting bounced back to you (because that address does not exist) or, worse, arriving in a stranger’s mail box. That’s why it’s important to double-check your spelling. Or, if you are e-mailing someone that has already sent you a message, open their old message and click reply.
What if I don’t know the exact address?
There are several ways to locate an e-mail address, which we’ll cover in more detail in Finding Addresses. If you’re e-mailing someone you know, the best thing is to give them a call. Or you could send them a letter…if you have the patience for that sort of thing.
Can I sign up for the same user name as someone else, but with a different domain?
Yes. While e-mail addresses must be unique, it is fine for the same user name to be used with different domain names. For instance, if firstname.lastname@example.org is already in use, you could sign up for email@example.com. In fact, many people have the same user name for multiple domains, allowing them to use each address for a different purpose, such as one for personal communications and one for business.