Thanks to internet and email, sending a message to someone is no longer a laborious task. There are just two parties involved

  1. The sender, and
  2. The recipient.

Although sending an email seems like a simple task that’s only involves two parties, as with all internet transactions, there is always more going on than meets the eye. Let’s take a look at the behind the scenes action that goes into delivering your email to your intended recipient.

There are multiple stages to delivering an email. These stages are called hops, and they are bound by rules, called protocols, to ensure that mail is sent and received correctly.

There are 3 types of protocols that govern email :

  • SMTP – Simple Mail Transport Protocol, that governs outgoing mail.
  • POP3 – Post Office Protocol, that governs incoming mail to keep a set of messages on a server that email software (such as Outlook or Thunderbird) can access, to download the email to computer. Once downloaded to the computer, the message is deleted from the server.
  • IMAP – Internet Mail Access Protocol, more sophisticated set of rules to govern incoming email. Allows messages to remain on the server, so email can be access from multiple devices. The messages aren’t deleted, and remain on the server, you can access them at any time.


Like a physical letter needs a postal address for it to be delivered, an email requires an email address. An email address (id) is usually in the following format

There are TWO parts to an email id, separated by the “@” symbol

  1. Yourname – The name / alias of the user
  2. – The domain name of the email service provider, such as gmail, yahoo, Hotmail etc.

The SMTP of the service provider uses a service called DNS (Domain Name System) to find the domain of the intended recipient, and uses this information to send them the email.


The process of delivering an email is by far one of the simpler internet transactions

1. You write up an email, sign it off and click send.

2. Your email is first sent to your email service provider.

3. Your email service provider gets the destination address using a DNS.

4. Your email service provider sends the email to your recipient’s email service provider

5. The recipient’s email service provider sends the email to the recipient’s inbox.

Thus, an email does have some similarities to snail mail when we consider the process involved. The differences being, of course, the time taken, and the fact that the actions require no physical labour.