Welcome to Post.Office, the powerful and versatile e-mail server thats easy to use!
This manual is intended for people like yourself who have e-mail accounts managed by Post.Office. Depending on your needs, you may never read as much as 90% of this manual. This is a reference book; you can peruse individual chapters as you need them.
Before we dive into specific Post.Office features, you need to get yourself set up to access your e-mail account. If youre new to the world of e-mail, there are also a few concepts you should probably understand before proceeding. The following section gives an overview both of e-mail in general and Post.Office in particular; if you already feel comfortable with your level of knowledge regarding e-mail, youll probably want to skip ahead to Section 1.3 and begin setting up.
E-mail is all about messages; that is, e-mail provides a way for two or more people to exchange messages. Just as the postal service is used to send postcards, letters, and magazines, e-mail is used to send various kinds of electronic messages, ranging from a simple memo or letter to a complex multimedia presentation designed to overload and delight your senses. Regardless of its content, the message is the fundamental currency of electronic mail.
The most rudimentary method of leaving a message for someone who uses a computer is to tape a hand-written note on his or her monitor. The next step, electronic messaging in its most basic form, occurs when you type a few words in an open window on the computer screen hoping the next person who comes along will find it. This basic electronic message system works if nobody else needs to use that particular computer and if you dont mind leaving the computer and monitor on.
However, if more than two people are using this computer, then the electronic message must be stored (as a file on a disk) until the recipient comes along. Only when the message is safely put in a file can the computer be used for other purposes, employed by other users, or shut off. As long as the two users who wish to communicate agree upon a common file where they will store messages for each other, this system works.
However, using a large, single file is clumsy. Instead, users may agree upon a directory in which to store messages. Each message could then be stored as an individual file with a descriptive file name. Even so, a large volume of messages between several users can fill up a directory awfully fast, and it can become difficult to make heads or tails out of the resultant mess.
When confronted with a large number of message files, it would be nice to know several things about the message without opening the file, such as: who a message is for, what its about, and when it was sent. If more than two users share this system, its also useful to know who a message is from before reading it.
Historically, postal mail solved this problem of message organization with various conventions of encapsulation. An envelope includes only the necessary information for the postal service to deliver a message (as well as a return address in the event a message cannot be delivered). Once a message is delivered, the header information (that is, any information that precedes the body of the message) allows recipients to sort and prioritize their mail before taking the time to examine the body of the message. In this manner, encapsulation allows mail to be processed efficiently.
Similarly, the conventions observed in the creation e-mail messages allow recipients as well as the programs that serve them to process mail expediently. Messages are divided into bodies and headers and are "enclosed" in electronic envelopes, which include a destination and return address. In general, the principles behind e-mail are as simple as the postal mail that youve been using all along relax, its not all that complicated.
When delivering a message from one user to another, an e-mail program only needs to know two things:
This information is used to create an envelope, which is directly analogous to a postal envelope: both are labeled with "to" and "from" addresses, and both contain the message (headers and body) within.
Only programs use envelopes; all that users ever get to see are the headers and body of a message. Still, its good to know that envelopes exist in case we ever need to really pin down an ontological definition of e-mail.
Corporations and other institutions have long used messages (often called memos) that have key pieces of information laid out in a series of headers at the beginning of the message (see Figure 1-1). Header information allows institutional mail services to deliver memos efficiently and gives memo recipients an initial idea of what the message is about before delving into the full content.
To: Jane D.
From: John S.
Subject: Toga contract termination
Date: July 27, 1997
I have decided to terminate our contract with the Toga
company. The togas don't seem to convey the corporate image
that we require.
Let's meet at 3:30 to discuss the details. OK?
Headers can be just as effective in managing a gaggle of electronic messages in a directory. One can make sense of a message file only by opening it and checking the header information to see who a message is for, what its about, who sent it, and when. This is tedious work. Fortunately, the dull, tedious, and repetitive work of opening a large number of message files and examining their headers is exactly the kind of thing that computers are good at.
As long as headers are consistently formatted, an e-mail program can easily scan through a pile of messages and find all the messages that begin, for example, with the line "To: Jane." Similarly, if other header information indicates when messages were written, a computer can organize these messages and present them to Jane in chronological order.
The key to headers, as far as computers are concerned, is that they be absolutely consistent. E-mail interoperability depends on an agreement (or standard protocol, as the people working on such things like to call agreements) for the formatting of the headers. While different e-mail systems do things differently, all have some kind of header information, and for two systems to be interoperable, any differences must be eliminated or somehow resolved.
It is the tight regulation of the use and format of headers that allows users with disparate e-mail programs to send each other electronic mail. At the same time, headers provide users with valuable information about their e-mail.
Just as the body of a letter tends to make up the bulk of traditional postal mail, in general the body makes up the bulk of an e-mail message. While users must cater to the needs of computers and programs when writing headers, there are no such restrictions on the body of a message. As a result, the body of an e-mail message tends to look a lot like the body of a postal letter.
Although often limited to the rather rudimentary ASCII character set, newer and more sophisticated electronic mail programs are increasingly allowing users to send each other elaborately formatted text and graphics, sound, and even video clips (multimedia). The more complex the message medium, the larger the amount of data that must be transferred when a message is sent from one user to another. In some systems sending a large, complex file can create a bottleneck, a sort of traffic jam on the information highway. As increasing bandwidth allows larger data streams on networks, e-mail users will be able to make more and more use of data-intensive e-mail features.
Back in the days when people were still relieved about not having to use punch cards any more, sending any kind of text message was considered pretty cool. E-mail evolved without any allowances for video and audio files, or even rich text, the highly formatted text with bold, italics, and all the other spiffy stuff weve gotten used to since the word-processor consigned the typewriter to the antique shop.
In order to incorporate multimedia into the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), which is currently the most common existing e-mail protocol, a new protocol called MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension) was developed. MIME allows you to incorporate anything from a recording of your newborns voice to a short movie in an e-mail message.
As long as both parties have MIME-enabled e-mail programs (not all e-mail programs support MIME), people can exchange any kind of multimedia file they want by simply appending the file to their message. Since multimedia is still in the early stages, you should check to make sure that someone has MIME capabilities before you send them a pile of stuff.
Most folks tend to get confused when talking about e-mail software, since they dont realize that there are two very different types of programs here. The first (and most commonly understood) type of program is a mail client. Mail clients are programs that allow you the user to create, send, and receive e-mail. If you asked a computer user what e-mail program he or she uses, they would probably tell you the name of their mail client, such as Z-mail or Eudora.
But just what happens to that e-mail in the great big Internet after your mail client sends it, but before it ends up in the mail client of the recipient? The answer is that it is handled by one or more message transport agents (MTAs), or mail servers, the second type of e-mail program.
Mail servers do most of the work in the e-mail universe, including the sorting, forwarding, storing, and delivering of mail. The function of an mail server is analogous to the postal service: late at night, in post offices around the globe, thousands of insomniacs sort through mountains of bills, catalogs, and coupon mailers, so that in the morning postal carriers can deliver these missives to our doors. If we think of a mail client as a personal secretary who helps us write our messages, we can liken a mail server to the thousands of letter-sorters and others who work behind the scenes to ensure that we get our mail.
A mail server is also a database which stores information about your e-mail account, not the least of which is your e-mail address. All information regarding your account is stored in your mail server, including your password, instructions for how your mail should be delivered, and some other items that you probably never knew existed. Having an e-mail account really just means having an mail server account, so when your system administrator mentions "setting up an e-mail account," what theyre really talking about is adding a new user account to the mail server database.
Mail servers are daemon programs, which means that they are running 24 hours a day, ready and anxious to serve. When a mail client (or another mail server) wants to give a message to a mail server, it contacts it and gives it the message. In contrast, mail clients are usually only active when a user is interested in writing, sending, receiving, or perusing e-mail.
Post.Office is a mail server. Like other mail servers, it diligently works away day and night keeping your e-mail system up and running. However, unlike many mail servers, in which the mail administrator is the only user with access to the system, you the end user can use Post.Office yourself to view and modify many attributes of your account.
Post.Office can help you:
If any of this seems a bit foreign to you, read on and things will make more sense. E-mail should be fun and easy, so if its giving you grief, take the time to acquaint yourself with how your mail client and mail server work by looking through this manual. You may also find it helpful to talk to people about how they set up their account and how they use their mail client. Once you get over the all the ridiculous jargon and weird computer quirks, you should soon be wondering how you ever managed to get along without it.
Before you can start collecting mail from Post.Office, you must meet the following requirements, which fall roughly into the categories of hardware, software, and stuff you need to know. As with all Post.Office operations, contact your mail administrator also known as the Postmaster if you need help or information to complete these tasks.
Given the large number of vastly different e-mail clients, it would be impossible to provide specific instructions for configuring each one. However, regardless of the make and model of your mail client, you will need to set all of the following parameters:
The hostnames for the incoming (POP/IMAP) and outgoing (SMTP) mail servers may be the same system or two different systems, depending on how your mail provider has set things up. Typically, these are both the server that is running the installation of Post.Office that contains your e-mail account. Your Postmaster can provide you with the correct hostnames.
Refer to the documentation that came with your mail client for detailed instructions on configuring the mail client.
Once your mail client is successfully set up to send and receive e-mail, youre pretty much done thats all there is to it. With Post.Office, you also have the option of setting a vacation message and finger information, joining a mailing list, changing the way your mail is delivered, and lots of other goodies. But if all you want is to do is basic sending and receiving of e-mail, you can stop reading now and just get on with it.
This section provides a short list of common setup problems, along with some ideas for dealing with them.
Make sure youre looking in the right place. With POP3/IMAP delivery, you need to configure your mail client to point to the system where Post.Office is installed, and you must specify the correct login name and password. Review the instructions for setting up your mail client in Section 1.4 if youre having trouble. If the problem is something simple like entering an incorrect password, your mail client should be sophisticated enough to explain the source of the trouble.
Also, check to make sure the computer you are using is within your access domains (you may have to ask your Postmaster about these if youre new to wide-area networking).
If the people youre looking for have their e-mail accounts stored on the same Post.Office server as yours, then the mail directory described in Chapter 3 may be able to give you this information. Otherwise, try calling them on the phone, or ask a mutual friend. There are a couple of other ways to try to obtain someones e-mail address, but theyre a whole lot more work. The Internet, due to the distributed nature that also spawns its awesome power, does not yet have a comprehensive address directory service.
Consult the available online documentation, or ask your Postmaster or system administrator, since they tend to be really good with this stuff.
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