Email, short for "electronic mail," is one of the most widely used features of the Internet, along with the web. It allows you to send and receive messages to and from anyone with an email address, anywhere in the world.
Email uses multiple protocols within the TCP/IP suite. For example, SMTP is used to send messages, while the POP or IMAP protocols are used to retrieve messages from a mail server. When you configure an email account, you must define your email address, password, and the mail servers used to send and receive messages. Fortunately, most webmail services configure your account automatically, so you only need to enter your email address and password. However, if you use an email client like Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail, you may need to manually configure each account. Besides the email address and password, you may also have to enter the incoming and outgoing mail servers and enter the correct port numbers for each one.
The original email standard only supported plain text messages. Eventually, email evolved to support rich text with custom formatting. Today, email supports HTML, which allows emails to be formatted the same way as websites. HTML email messages can include images, links, and CSS layouts. You can also send files or "email attachments" along with messages. Most mail servers allow you to send multiple attachments with each message, but they limit the total size. In the early days of email, attachments were typically limited to one megabyte, but now many mail servers support email attachments that are 20 megabytes in size or more.
When composing an email message, it is important to use good netiquette. For example, you should always include a subject that summarizes the topic of the email. It is also helpful to begin each message with the recipient's name and end the message with your name or "signature." A typical signature includes your name, email address, and/or website URL. A professional signature may include your company name and title as well. Most email programs allow you to save multiple signatures, which you can insert at the bottom of an email.
If you want to send an email to multiple recipients, you can simply add each email address to the "To" field. However, if the email is primarily intended for one person, you should place the additional addresses in the "CC" (carbon copy) field. If you are sending an email to multiple people that don't know each other, it is best to use the "Bcc" (blind carbon copy) field. This hides the email addresses of each recipient, which helps prevent spam.
NOTE: Email was originally written "e-mail," but is now more commonly written as "email" without the dash.
Updated: October 31, 2014