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Email Protocols Explained

A protocol can quickly be defined as a set of rules or language for performing a specific task. For example TCP/IP stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. This simply means that TCP/IP is the language that computers on the Internet use to speak to each other.

E-mail has it's own set of rules or protocols to control what means to your e-mail when it's travelling around the Internet. The most common of these e-mail protocols is listed below.

Post Office Protocol 3 is a protocol or set of rules used to download e-mail from a mail server. Most current e-mail applications (Outlook Express, Eudora, Pegasus Mail, etc..) support POP3. The only exception to this rule is AOL.

Simple Mail Transfer Protocol is a protocol or set of rules for sending e-mail between mail servers. The vast majority of mail servers use SMTP. SMTP is used to send the e-mail to a mail server whilst POP3 is used to retrieve or download the same e-mail.

Internet Message Access Protocol is a protocol or set of rules for retrieving or downloading e-mail from a mail server. IMAP4 is the latest version and is similar to POP3 but has some extra features such as being able to search through your e-mail messages by keyword while the e-mail is still on the server.

Other e-mail terminology

A server is a computer dedicated to managing specific resources on a network (a network being one or more computers connected together and sharing resources). A mail server on a network would consist of at least one PC whose sole function is to send and receive e-mail for the entire network.

The Oxford English dictionary defines spam as irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of newsgroups or users. Check out our What is spam page for more information

Is forging the mail header (information section) of an e-mail to make it appear that it came from somewhere else. This allows spammers to get past your ISP by using a mail header like As far as your ISP is cocerned this is legitimate e-mail from Yahoo and it allows it through.


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