That is an excellent question. I will be more than happy to assist you with your E-mail.
E-mail is the way of the world now. Everyone has one, if not multiple, E-mail addresses for work, personal, and any other number of reasons. I know I have at least 10 different E-mail addresses over a number of platforms. We check them at home, at work, on our phones, tablets, and computers. It all seems so easy and simple until that inevitable day when it stops working. So what is happening, where do E-mails go and why does it seem that sometimes it just doesn’t work, and what the hell are servers and port numbers anyway?
Servers are where the E-mails are stored before they get downloaded to the computer. E-mails get downloaded to the computer through an E-mail client. A client is an E-mail program that downloads our E-mail off of the server and saves it onto the device. In simple terms when you look at the E-mail at the website, you are looking at the server. So we need to tell the computer where to look on all of the internet for your specific E-mail address.
So the first thing to think about is how do you want the E-mail to act. There are two main E-mail set ups that we will look into- POP and IMAP.
The first is call POP or POP3 (Post Office Protocol). An E-mail is sent to you, it shows up on the server (domain website) then the program delivers the E-mail to you. A domain is the end of the E-mail address so if the E-mail is @gmail go to gmail.com or if it is @yahoo go to yahoo.com. The @(blank) is the domain of the E-mail.
Now the benefit of POP is that it leaves a copy of the E-mail on the server to be used by another program. So let’s say you have a home computer, a cell phone, and a work computer. For most people that is standard now. You check the E-mail at home before you leave and delete it. Now you check your phone and the same E-mail is there so you delete it again, now at work you check and again the E-mail is still there. This is because all three are set up as POP. Each program independently requests any new E-mails from the server. Since POP does not update the server after an E-mail is removed, when a new device contacts the server it sees that E-mail as a new untouched E-mail so it downloads it. Now this is good if you want to keep a copy of every E-mail you get.
For example I keep the E-mail on my phone pretty clear. I only want to see new messages that need my immediate attention. However at home where I have a computer with a lot more hard drive space, I allow my E-mail program to download every E-mail I get. I do clear out spam every once in awhile but two years from now if I need to reference an E-mail I received, I have a copy somewhere. This is a good backup for emergencies.
The only way to permanently delete a message would be to go to the web mail and delete the message off of the server. That way any new connections will not see the message and stop it downloading. There is a setting in E-mail programs where you can tell it to “remove message from server” and set a time frame like “when I delete” or “after two weeks”, that will remove the message from the web site automatically.
Now let’s say you don’t care about keeping a copy of every E-mail. You just want to see the same E-mails on the phone, home computer, and work computer. If you delete an E-mail from one, you want that to update all the other devices.
This is possible through a set up called IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol); a mouthful I know. That is why we use acronyms for everything. IMAP allows you to set up all devices to update anytime something happens on one of them. So if you read that E-mail at home in the morning and delete it, the phone and work computer will be updated and that E-mail will be removed. So you will see the same inbox on all the devices. This is a much more organized and streamlined set up.
So now we know how we want the E-mail to behave, how do we set it up? Each E-mail domain and E-mail program have different settings and menus so I can not go into specifics here but a quick google search should give you all the information you need on both.
However here are some things to know. First off there are two servers for every E-mail incoming and outgoing. Makes sense right? One server deals with the incoming E-mails (messages sent to you) and an outgoing server (messages you send). Now the incoming server is easy to find since it is usually labeled incoming or IMAP/POP on the E-mail programs. The Outgoing can be a little harder to find since it is labeled SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). Again the name itself it not important –just know that SMTP means outgoing E-mail.
For this example I am going to use Gmail. The specific settings for your E-mail may be different but the set up and terminology is the same no matter the E-mail address.
Below is an example of an E-mail setting page on an E-mail program. The main information you need is the server names, the port numbers, and the user name and password.
Now we move into the specifics of what each setting is. The first is simply the name and password for the E-mail. That is the same name and password you would use to log into the E-mail website. Basically the E-mail program will use that to log into the website for you to retrieve the E-mails.
A server name is just the web address where the server is sitting so that the computer can find it and connect (imap.gmail.com). So if you were to go to gmail.com, you are looking at the server.
The port number is something I will get into in a later blog post but for this just know it is used for networking to tell the computer what type of data it is sending. So there are common port numbers for E-mail. Incoming POP is 110 and Outgoing is 25. Incoming IMAP is 993 and 465 is for Outgoing IMAP. An E-mail address may use different port numbers for their server, but these are the most common. Usually the only time you will see different ports is a secure business E-mail that may have security built in. It depends on the server and type of E-mail you are using. IMAP and POP port numbers are different.
The last server setting that is needed is the security type. You will see settings that say SSL (Secure Socket Layer) or other encryption types. This is what security needs to be on the E-mail for it to be delivered. You do not have much control over this; the server determines what security type is needed. You should find that setting in with the other server info when looking for the set up.
Now we know what E-mail we want and how to set it up, so troubleshooting E-mail issues becomes a little easier.
The rule of troubleshooting is to always start with the simplest answer and work our way up. The first thing to check when your E-mail stops working and you have not made any other changes to the server information on the E-mail program is the password. Go to the website of the E-mail’s domain. If the password does not work at the website, then there is your answer. Set a new password, update it in the E-mail program, and it should start working again.
If the password is working, check the inbox on the web site. Are there E-mails on the website that the E-mail program is not getting?
-If not then you have not received any new E-mails or whoever sent you the missing mail spelled your E-mail address wrong and they need to double check the address and try again. Remember there is no room for error with E-mail addresses. One wrong letter or number and the message will not be delivered or delivered to the wrong person.
-If there are E-mails on the website that are not showing up on the E-mail program, then the issue is with a setting on the E-mail program. It is not able to communicate with the E-mail server correctly.
I see an E-mail at home but not at work. Do I have POP or IMAP? Check the server settings and make sure it is doing the E-mail type that you want.
So we checked and the E-mail address is correct, the password is working, we have E-mails in the web mail that are not showing up on the E-mail program. Then there is a server setting that is incorrect. Double check everything and test again.
The best way to make sure everything works after troubleshooting is to send yourself an E-mail. This forces the mail to go out on the SMTP server and come back in on the Incoming server. If the message is delivered successfully then everything works and you should be able to send and receive all mail. Also always remember to have the sender check the exact spelling of the E-mail address when sending to you. People like to blame computers for all the mistakes, but believe me, 90% of the time it is user error that causes issues.
So a few things to keep in mind that I have found through troubleshooting a lot of people’s E-mails. First if you have been trying to send mail for a while and it is not working, the outbox is probably filled. Even after you have fixed the issue you may need to clear out the outbox before it will start sending mail again. Sometimes changing a setting does not fix it right away. You may have to set up the E-mail as a new account on the program to get it to work. MAC users I do not know why the MAC mail servers go offline all the time for no reason. It happens to me at home all the time and drives me crazy. No settings have changed and they come back online by themselves eventually. If anyone can give me a good reason for it I would greatly appreciate that.
If you have a technology question you would like answered, please E-mail email@example.com and I will be happy to look into it for you.