Changes between Initial Version and Version 1 of Documentation/What is e-mail

Aug 15, 2012, 10:26:32 PM (6 years ago)
Jens Maus


  • Documentation/What is e-mail

    v1 v1  
     1= Basics – what is e-mail?
     3E-mail was the first service to be implemented on the Internet and
     4is still the most popular method of communication over the Internet.
     5A substantial proportion of the people on the Internet use only this
     6service.  It is predicted that in the next few years e-mail will replace
     7the traditional forms of communication like letters and fax for many
     8purposes.  At the present time one can in a matter of minutes reach
     9several million people world-wide by e-mail.  Users of other networks,
     10such as Compuserve and T-Online, are connected to the Internet through
     13== Make up of a message header
     15Every e-mail starts with a header which is separated from the
     16actual message body by a blank line.  YAM constructs this header
     17automatically following the settings specified in the configuration.
     19The header of an e-mail is divided into fields which each start on
     20a new line and have the general form 'Field: contents'.  Fields which
     21are too long to fit in a single line can be split to run over several
     22lines.  The majority of the header lines can be omitted but are added to
     23provide the recipient's mail program with additional information about
     24the message or to give data needed to check for errors caused by
     25transmission problems.  A few of the important fields are explained by
     26means of the following example.
     29  Return-Path: <>
     32This field is added by the recipient's mail server and contains
     33the e-mail address of the sender to allow the recipient's computer to
     34send a reply by e-mail.
     37  Received: from by
     38            (8.8.5/INA-1.05pri) id XAA29100;
     39            Tue, 23 Dec 1997 23:40:45 +0100 (MET)
     40  Received: from by
     41   (AIX 3.2/UCB 5.64/ZFNserver) id AA26355;
     42            Tue, 23 Dec 1997 23:40:13 +0100
     45Each computer which sends the message on the next stage of its
     46journey, and also the recipient's own system, adds on a "Received:"
     47field to the header to say when the message arrived and where it
     48came from.  This allows one to reconstruct transmission problems
     49which may have affected the message along its route.
     52  From: Christian Just <>
     55E-mail address and real name of the sender.
     58  Reply-To:
     61The address to which any reply to this message should be sent.
     62This is used if the message is despatched from a computer which the
     63sender cannot use to read mail, for whatever reason.  Then he can use
     64this field to say where a reply should be sent.  In the absence of a
     65'''Reply-To:''' field, replies go to the address given in the '''From:''' field.
     68  To: "Marcel Beck (Yet another Mailer-author)" <>
     71The address of the recipient; additional names can be given,
     72separated by commas.  This field may contain simply the address
     73in the form name@domain or else it may be prefaced by an additional
     74comment, such as the recipient's name -- in this case, the address
     75must be enclosed in pointed brackets.
     78  Date: Tue, 23 Dec 1997 23:28:30 +0200
     81Date and time of despatch of the message.  The figure after the time
     82represents the timezone, expressed as the difference from Greenwich Mean
     83Time.  Here the first two digits show the hours, and the next two the
     87  Message-ID: <>
     90An unique identifier, created automatically on despatch.  Using
     91this it is possible unequivocally to cancel any particular message.
     94  In-Reply-To: <>
     97A precise reference to the message being replied, such as its
     101  X-Mailer: YAM 2.0beta4 - Amiga Mailer by Marcel Beck -
     104Name and Version of the sender's mail program.
     107  Subject: Re: YAM2beta5
     110This field should state concisely the topic of the message.  Giving
     111a clear and informative Subject is a mark of good style Netiquette.
     114 Mime-Version: 1.0
     115 Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
     116 Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1
     119These fields indicate that the message is set out in MIME format.
     120In this example, it contains plain text in the ISO-Latin-1 character
     121set and characters which cannot be represented using 7 bits are encoded
     122as 'Quoted-printable'.
     124== Mail protocols
     126YAM uses the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) in order to send
     127your mail to the SMTP server, which also uses SMTP to transmit your
     128mail across the whole world.  Incoming mail arrives at your Post Office
     129Protocol (POP) server, where it waits until YAM downloads it to your
     130computer, using the POP3 (POP version 3) protocols.  The messages which
     131YAM sends and receives conform to the conventions set out in RFC 822
     132and RFC 1521 (MIME).
     134=== Outgoing mail
     136If you want to send an e-mail message to anyone, YAM transfers the
     137message by SMTP to your local SMTP server.  This computer forwards the
     138message to the recipient's computer, generally also by SMTP.
     140Why does YAM not deal directly with the recipient's server ?
     141Firstly, it would take quite a long time for your Amiga to get a
     142connection to one particular computer and then transmit the message.
     143Secondly, many computers are hard to find; it is much better to let the
     144mail server look for the address, instead of burdening your Amiga.
     145Thirdly, quite frequently the recipient's server will not be available
     146at the time you want to send the mail.  The SMTP server solves these
     147problems, holding back the message until the other computer is ready to
     148receive it.
     150=== Incoming mail
     152If someone sends you email, the other computer transfers it using
     153the SMTP protocol as far as your POP server.  This stores the message
     154in a sort of mailbox, where it remains until YAM collects it.  When you
     155look for new mail, YAM downloads the message to your Amiga using POP3.
     157Why doesn't YAM use SMTP for incoming mail?  SMTP works best if
     158both computers are ready to receive messages.  Unless you run YAM and
     159your Amiga 24 hours a day and seven days a week, SMTP would not be
     160particularly suitable for you.
     162== What is MIME?
     164MIME stands for ''Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions''.  MIME serves
     165two main purposes: it allows one mail application to tell another what
     166sort of data is contained in a message, and it also provides
     167standardised rules by which mail applications can encode data, so that
     168it can be sent through the Internet mail system.
     170=== MIME Encoding
     172The Internet uses the SMTP protocol to move mail around.  SMTP is
     173limited to the US-ASCII character set.  This is a problem for people
     174who speak languages other than American English and so need accented
     175characters or non-American letters, or for people who want to use
     176special symbols like the bullet.  Even more difficult is the
     177transmission of binary files, as it is often the case with attachments.
     178MIME provides a way around this restriction by offering two
     179encodings: '''quoted-printable''' and '''base64'''.
     181These encodings use US-ASCII character codes to represent any sort
     182of data you like, including special characters or even non-text data.
     183Quoted-printable is used for data that is mostly text, but has special
     184characters for very long lines.
     186Quoted-printable looks just like regular text, except when a
     187special character is used -- the special character is replaced with
     188a "'''='''" (dash) and two more characters that represent the (hexadecimal)
     189character code of the special character.  Thus, a bullet in
     190quoted-printable looks like '''=95DA'''.
     192No line in quoted-printable is allowed to be more than 76 characters
     193long.  If your mail has some line longer than 76 characters, the
     194quoted-printable encoding will break your line in two, and put a "'''='''"
     195at the end of the first line, to notify the mail reader at the other
     196end that the two lines are really supposed to be one.
     198'''Base64''' encoding is another way to protect binary data from the
     199SMTP mail system.  However, Base64 makes no attempt to be readable,
     200and is more appropriate for non-text data.  It is equivalent to the
     201older UUencode, but more reliable in use.
     203=== Content type
     205The other important function of MIME is to allow mail programs to
     206exchange information about what kind of data is in a message (or part
     207of a message).  The primary mechanism used for this is the '''Content-Type:'''
     208header.  The main content types are:
     211  text        readable text
     212  image       pictures and graphics
     213  audio       sound
     214  video       animations
     215  message     messages or parts of messages
     216  multipart   several different kinds of data in a single message
     219The subtype gives additional information about the type of data:
     222  text/plain   plain text
     223  text/html    text in HTML format
     224  image/gif    image in GIF format
     225  etc.
     228By looking at the '''Content-Type:''' header, a mail program can select
     229the most suitable utility to display an attached file.
     231== Encrypting with PGP
     233In order to ensure that the e-mail cannot be read by anyone other
     234than the recipient, it is necessary to encrypt the transmission.  Is
     235this important?  Sometimes very much so!  It is not possible to say in
     236advance what route electronic mail will take through the Net and along
     237the way it is possible for someone to read your mail unauthorised,
     238admittedly with more trouble than one would normally bother to take.
     239In particular, encrypting e-mail is a wise precaution if you want to
     240send passwords, credit card numbers or some such over the Net.  Such
     241encrypted data is then often transmitted more safely than if sent by
     242normal letter post.  A simple, effective and widely used tool for this
     243sort of encryption is '''PGP''', short for '''Pretty Good Privacy'''.
     245PGP was developed by Phil Zimmermann and employs the ''public key''
     246method.  Using this PGP program, one can be sure that the message is
     247the one actually written by the sender, and that only the intended
     248recipient can read it.  The so called ''public keys'' offer the highest
     249possible level of security.
     251There are two kinds of key:
     253  - One is a private key, used on your computer and never revealed
     254    elsewhere.
     256  - The other sort is the public key.  You can make as many copies of
     257    this as you like, and send the copies to other users so that they
     258    can send you encrypted mail.
     260You need both types of key, public and private, because they are inherently
     261connected together.  You can distribute your public key as
     262often as needed, but it will only work when matched up with its exact
     263counterpart.  Hence, both public and private keys are involved in
     264locking and (generally) unlocking information.
     266PGP keys are used in two distinct ways:
     268   1. Another person can encrypt information using your public key and
     269      send the encrypted file to you, to decipher with your private key.
     271   2. You can encrypt information with your private key and send it
     272      safely over the Net.  Anyone in possession of your public key
     273      can read your communication.  The recipient can be sure that
     274      the communication is genuinely from you (your digital signature
     275      proves its authenticity) and that it has not been altered.
     277PGP is obtainable as freeware and the International PGP homepage
     278is easy to find on the Internet at
     280__Related topics:__
     282 * Installing PGP 2.6.x
     283 * Installing PGP 5.0i
     285== E-mail netiquette
     287- Keep your messages short and to the point.
     289- Give the message a concise and meaningful '''Subject:''' header,
     290  so that it can easily be found again.
     292- Put a signature at the end of the message.  This should contain
     293  your name and e-mail address and should not be longer than five
     294  lines.  Signatures often also give the postal address, telephone
     295  number, website and instructions about sending PGP messages.
     297- Only write in block capitals if you want to give particular
     298  emphasis to a point.  *Stars* are also used for emphasis (YAM
     299  interprets this by using bold type).  Remember, block capitals
     300  are generally taken as equivalent to SHOUTING.
     302- Set up YAM to use a line length of less than 80 characters and
     303  don't use any control characters.
     305- Don't use non-ASCII characters unless you are sure that the
     306  recipient's software interprets them correctly.
     308- It is regarded as extremely impolite to forward a private message
     309  to a mailing list without the permission of the original sender.
     311- Abbreviations and ''TLAs'' (Three Letter Acronyms) can be useful
     312  provided that they don't make the message unintelligible.
     313  The following are often used:
     315            IMHO   (in my humble opinion)
     316            BTW    (by the way)
     317            FYI    (for your information)
     318            AFAIK  (as far as I know)
     319            ASAP   (as soon as possible)
     320            CU     (see you)
     322- Use the ;-) smiley (winky?) to denote a touch of irony which could
     323  otherwise easily be misinterpreted.
     325- Be tolerant of people's failings, e.g. in spelling, grammar, expression
     326  or familiarity with e-mail.
     328- If you join a mailing list, read the messages for a while to get a
     329  feel of the general style, what questions are asked and what is
     330  not suitable.
     332- Study the ''FAQs'' (lists of Frequently Asked Questions).  It is
     333  annoying for the members of a group if the same questions are
     334  being asked repeatedly.
     336- If someone posts a message which is "off-topic", (i.e. it does not
     337  belong in the mailing list), reply privately and NOT in the list.
     339- If you quote another message, then cut all the bits which are not
     340  relevant to your answer.  No-one wants to read the same message
     341  three or four times, especially when all that is added is "Yes, me
     342  too".
     344- Resist the temptation to flame in the mailing list.  ("Flame" =
     345  write abusively, generally when provoked by idiocy.)  Remember that
     346  the list is public and meant for constructive discussion.  Do as
     347  you would be done by!
     349- If you are replying to a message coming from a mailing list, think
     350  carefully whether to send it direct to the sender or to the list,
     351  and check that the ''To:'' address is correct.  It can be very
     352  irritating when a letter addressed to a particular person appears
     353  on the list, unintentionally.
     355- When replying to a message coming from a mailing list, it is usually
     356  a good idea to mention the person who wrote that message as part of
     357  your welcome phrase, to avoid confusion.