Electronic Mail

About Electronic Mail

Electronic Mail (Email) is a way for Internet users to communicate with each other in a way similar to corresponding through the US Postal Service. If you know a person's Email address, you can send him/her an electronic "letter."

An electronic "letter" is a computer file sent from one Email address to another using a special program that attaches an envelope to the file. This envelope contains all the address and return address information that is needed to complete the transaction.

Email Address

An Email address is made up of two parts: (1) a userid (unique to each person that has an account on a particular computer), and (2) a computer address (unique to each computer that is a part of the Internet). The userid and computer address are ordinarily separated by the "@" symbol. The following is a typical Email address:


alex is the userid. People who use the same system that you do can send you an Email message using only your standard userid. For example, other Strauss users can send Email to alex by sending mail to:


If another user on campus wishes to send you an Email message, but that user uses a different computer system, e.g., EMC2, then s/he will need to send your Email to the following address:


The vast majority of Email users do not have a computer account at the University of Delaware. If you want to send an Email outside the University you will need to use the full address:


NOTE: This is true even for users outside the US. Although there is an international code that needs to be appended to computer addresses outside the US, i.e., .au for Australia. Computer addresses within the US do not need an additional country code when a user outside the US is sending mail.

Each computer address on the Internet has a unique numeric address that, for network purposes, is usually translated into a string of "words" separated by periods (strauss.udel.edu). Internet addresses are hierarchical: the general form for Email addresses is:




The following examples illustrate this concept:


"Josie" reads mail on her account at chopin, a computer at the University of Delaware, an educational institution.


"Smythe" reads mail on his/her account at chemvax, a computer on the eng network at Syracuse University, an educational institution.


"Reg3g" read his/her mail at acadvm2, a computer at the University of Ottawa, a Canadian institution.

Accessing Your Email

To access your UNIX account, which gives you access to Email and the other tools you can use on the Internet, you need to logon to any of the following four computers (the "composers"):

Because the University's central UNIX systems are networked, it does not matter which of the four composers you use to connect to the system. Because each composer accesses the same files, each UNIX user has four (actually five) addresses that can be used to reach that user:

Similarly, when accessing your Email messages on this system, it does not matter which of the four composers you use and you do not have to be consistent with your usage. You may access the system through chopin, read your mail and file it at a particular time, and then reaccess the system through another composer and see the changes you had previously made!!

Email Software

With the US Postal Service, it doesn't matter what kind of mailbox you have. You could have a PO Box, a big metal rural route box, or even a slot in your front door. It doesn't matter if you use the finest stationary and pens, or brown paper and crayons. As long as your message has the proper address (and postage :-)) your letter should get to the person for whom you intended.

In the Internet world, it doesn't matter what kind of Email software you have on what computer. If the Email software understands Internet Email addresses, you can send mail to and get mail from anyone on the Internet.

Email Uses and Benefits

There are many different ways that we can communicate with each other so why do we need another medium for communication? Of course, we don't need another medium for communication, just as we didn't need the telephone before Alexander Graham Bell invented it. How would life be now if we were not able to communicate via the telephone? There are benefits afforded to Email users that are not evident to users of other forms of communication.


You may send your message at any time you desire and it will arrive almost instantaneously, unlike campus mail, US mail, Air mail, Surface mail, Federal Express, United Parcel Service or any other mail carrier you care to mention. You do not have to be concerned with minor details such as whether your recipient's receiving mechanism (computer) is busy, unlike the telephone or fax machine, or what time of day you send your message, unlike the telephone (you wouldn't want to wake anybody up or have to deal with "telephone-tag") or regular mail (make sure you catch the last mail before the weekend). You do not need to worry about determining what type of letterhead you have to use, or finding your envelope and stamp, but you can still construct a thoughtful message.


Communicating with Email is very inexpensive compared to telephone communication. A commercial Internet provider may charge $30 for a month's service. Compare this to your telephone bill, especially if you regularly make international calls in the middle of the afternoon!! Students enrolled at the University of Delaware automatically have an Internet account, make the most of it!

There are three reasons why Internet communication is very inexpensive:

  1. An Internet Access provider, whether it is the University of Delaware or a commercial provider, usually leases a very high-speed telephone line from a regional Internet provider. Because of the amount of traffic that these lines can handle, the Internet access provider is usually able to lease the line at a "volume discount."
  2. When you send an electronic message or computer file over the Internet, the network hardware and software allow your message or file and other people's messages or files to travel at the same time. That is, since more than one message can be transmitted over the same link at the same time, the overhead cost is dramatically reduced.
  3. If you call someone on the telephone and chat with her for twelve minutes, both of your telephones and telephone lines are tied up for those twelve minutes. However, if you spend twelve minutes composing an Email message to someone, your system and hers are both able to send and receive other messages while you compose your message. Further, when you send the message, it is delivered in seconds, it actually "ties up the line" for a fraction of a second, allowing the free flow of messages to continue since many files are traveling over the network.


You don't have to concern yourself with where your recipient lives, as long as you know his/her Email address. Sending an Email message to the United Kingdom or Australia is as easy and reliable as sending one to another student on campus.

An Email address is specific to a person, and not to a location. Therefore you can send an Email message to someone knowing that even if she is not at her place of work, or residence, she can still get that message, assuming she has a lap-top and a modem. This is very beneficial for business people who can send and receive documents after working hours and on weekends. Businesses do not need to come to a standstill outside of office hours especially if office hours among businesses do not coincide, an issue for global organizations. This may be true to a certain extent for the telephone with new voice messaging services, but is certainly not true with the fax machine or regular mail.


Faxes and letters are both hard-copy documents that cannot be manipulated. An Email message can take many forms. A recipient can print the Email message it then becomes similar to a fax or a letter. A recipient can download the Email message and save it in a file for future reference, unlike a fax or a letter. Because a recipient can download the Email message, it can be edited as needed. This has proved very beneficial in many areas, perhaps the most important being when two or more people are collaborating on a document. It has also helped tremendously as this guide was written. We were able to Email the drafts to many Interneters throughout the world who then added their comments and suggestions, and then Emailed them back (see acknowledgments for a list of these Interneters.)


A major benefit in the business world is the ability to "avoid the gatekeeper". Have you ever tried telephoning someone, only to be told that they are unavailable, by someone else? That was the gatekeeper. S/he is there to determine who gets to communicate with the boss. This is also true with a letter. It is very rare that someone who employs a secretary actually opens his/her own mail. The secretary will do that and then determine whether his/her boss needs to read it. Email messages go directly to the boss! Do you want to communicate with the gatekeeper or the person who was originally intended to read your message!!

A second disadvantage of communicating with the gatekeeper is that the gatekeeper becomes a link in your communication channel and therefore increases the chances that the message will be altered before it reaches its intended recipient. This does not happen when the Email message is sent directly to the boss.


You decide when you want to read your Email messages, unlike answering the telephone. You may be in deep thought writing your final group project, or developing a yearly budget, when the telephone rings. If you answer the telephone you will run the risk of losing your train of thought, and therefore wasting valuable time getting back up to speed. If you don't answer the telephone you run many risks: someone else answers it and edits the message for you, the caller hangs up and does not relay some important information, or you have to return the call and pay for it!

Communication Processing is also important from the sender's perspective. You can send an Email message and not worry about intruding on the time of the recipient, knowing they will read it when they wish. This is especially advantageous with upward communication, communicating with someone at a higher level in the organization. This type of communication can be intimidating when using the telephone, that is, if the gatekeeper ever lets you through ;-). If you find it intimidating to communicate with someone, the chances are your message will not be very effective. CAVEAT: Although Email does facilitate "upward communication," and many organizations are becoming less hierarchical, you must be careful if you do operate within a hierarchical organization. For example, just because you can send an Email message to the CEO, should you? It may not be appropriate without getting your message funneled through the regular channels. Failure to remember your organization's communication hierarchy may upset your peers or intermediate supervisors, or the CEO herself, who may feel threatened by such liberal access!!


Email is a very effective communication medium if you need to send the same information to two or more people at one time. You can create a mailing list of all the intended recipients, write your message and send it to the mailing list's "nickname". The simplicity of this form of mass communication is not evident in any other communication medium. Through the Internet, one can also subscribe to various mailing lists and receive mailings on a regular basis on many different subjects.


The Telephone is certainly the most interactive of the communication media. Interactivity may be seen as one of the major faults of Email, but is it? Email is certainly more interactive than any of the written communication media. Although you cannot hold a conversation through Email, you can make direct references to the Email messages you are replying to by adding them to the Email message you are sending; you can highlight certain parts of a note, and cut-out the irrelevant parts. This is possible through other written communication media, such as regular mail and fax, but is certainly much more cumbersome and inefficient.


Filing and storing Email messages is certainly much more efficient than filing and storing regular mail and faxes--and environmentally friendly. Follow-up correspondence is more efficient, as old messages can be reaccessed from the appropriate file folders and replied to when the recipient wishes, knowing that s/he has the correct Email address and a copy of the correspondence that can be attached to that message.

A copy of all messages that you send via Email can be stored in your sent-mail folder, making it much easier to track your outbound correspondence. Many people find that stored Email messages make an excellent journal.


The major drawback to using Email as a communication medium is that the sender and receiver must both have Email access. All forms of communication have this problem. You cannot make a telephone call to someone who doesn't have a telephone, or fax a message to someone who does not have access to a fax machine. Email is becoming more and more an accepted means of communication as more and more people have access to the Internet. The Internet (and hence Email access) is growing exponentially, and as predicted by John Naisbett, there will be 1.5 billion Internet users by the year 2001. With so many people having access to Email, Email will become a phenomenally powerful medium for communication.

Index to Demystifying the Internet UD Home Page
Index to Internet Tools Index to Internet Tutorials

The University of Delaware
August, 1996