• What is electronic mail or email?
  • How does the computer know where to send the message?
  • What can be sent?
  • Using email
  • Email fields
  • What to do with a message
  • Comments concerning the use of email

What is electronic mail or email?

This is one of the most widely used services on the internet making it possible to send messages in the form of a text file. The Académie française uses the name "mél" while the Canadians (generally more imaginative) have adopted the name "courriel". However, it is also possible to use the term courriel in France.

To use email, you must have Internet access and an account with an email server (POP3 for Post Office Protocol) which can be likened to a post box into which you put the mail which you are sending. To prevent anyone being able to see your email, it is protected by a user name called a login and a password.

Your electronic address is therefore a combination of all this data, it is written in the format:
login@server.pop (for example "" - literally "Jean-François PILLOU at"). The "@" sign is pronounced "at" in the case of an email address.

How does the computer know where to send the message?

The operating principle of electronic mail is that of asynchronous communication, i.e. an IP address is associated to the domain name of the POP server (which relates to some extent to the recipient's address which you write on your envelope in the format first name - surname - street - town - country). The path that the email will follow will be chosen by the routers.

What can be sent?

Any file can be sent by email (text, images, URL links, videos), however, you must take care that the server does not have a size limit for email (some servers do not accept messages containing several Mb).

Using email

When you open your email software (which you use to look at your messages) a certain number of windows (or boxes... depending on your software) appear (their name varies from one piece of software to another):

  • Incoming, Inbox: it is here that your email arrives
  • Outbox, Sent: these are copies of messages that you have sent
  • Deleted, Trash: this is the dustbin, i.e. where deleted files remain
  • Folders: these are folders where you can file your emails

Email fields

Here are the meanings of the fields to be filled in when you send an email:

  • From: this is your email address, most of the time you will not have to fill in this field because it is generally defined by the email client according to your preferences.
  • To: this field relates to the email address of the recipient.
  • Subject: this is the title that your recipient will see when he wants to read the email
  • Cc (Carbon Copy): this allows an email to be send to a large number of people by writing their respective addresses separated by semi-colons
  • Bcc (Blind Carbon Copy): this is simply a Carbon Copy with the difference that the recipient does not see the list of people on blind copy in the header
  • Message: this is the body of your email

The Carbon Copy function allows people not directly concerned with the message but that you wish to keep up to date with the message contents or even the fact of having sent the email to the recipient(s) to be put on copy.

The Blind Carbon Copy function makes it possible to put people on copy without any of the recipients or even the hidden recipients seeing that they are on copy. It is generally recommended when sending an email to many people to put them on Blind copy so as to prevent one of the recipients answering everyone or even forming a list of addresses.

Other email functions are:

  • Attached files, Attachments: you can "attach" a file to your email by typing the absolute address of its location
  • Signature: if your software allows you can define a signature, i.e. several lines of text which will be added to the end of an email

What to do with a message

There are many operations that can be performed on emails:

  • New: write a new message
  • Erase, Delete, Remove: delete a message
  • Store, Backup: copy a message into a safer place
  • Print: print a message
  • Reply: send a message in reply to the sender (sometimes including his own message in the body of the document, with each line preceded by the ">" sign and "Re:" following his subject as a title to show that it is a reply). The Reply All button makes it possible to send a reply to the sender as well as everyone else who had been put as a recipient or on copy.
  • Forward: forwards the message to someone else, specifying that the message comes from you. The subject is generally preceded by Fwd: to indicate that it is a message that has been forwarded.
  • Redirect, Transmit: forwards the message to someone else, specifying the original origin of the message. The subject is generally preceded by Tr: to indicate that it is a message that has been redirected.

Comments concerning the use of email

In order to make good use of email, the following practices are recommended:

  • save messages to the hard disk regularly
  • regularly delete files which needlessly fill up the server
  • respect Netiquette
  • do not send adverts
  • in the body of the message refer to the principal lines of the message to which you are replying
  • avoid sending back the message in its entirety
  • use smileys
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