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People who use email for more than just personal purposes often have to make decisions about how to access their email on multiple machines.  A typical scenario might be a PC at work, and another at home, and a mobile phone as well.  This might not seem to be too complicated to set up, and indeed it isn’t, but some subtle problems can result if the mechanism isn’t fully understood.  Look here for solutions to some common problems.

A very simple overview

Mail on the Internet has long been sent and received using a set of well-established protocols.  For sending mail, there is the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP).  For receiving, you are likely to use Post Office Protocol version three (POP3 or just POP), or Internet Mail Access Protocol (IMAP).

Client and Server

The protocols operate between “Client” programs, which prepare emails and send and receive them, and “Servers”, which store email until it is ready to be read.  Typical clients (only a specimen list) are programs like “Microsoft Outlook” or “Lotus Notes”, if you are in business, or simply “Mail”, if you are using the default client program supplied with Windows PCs.  These are just the most likely candidates, and if you are an enthusiast for free software, you might be using “Thunderbird” or “Evolution”.  On a mobile phone, you are likely to be using whatever program or “app” your phone persuaded you to use.  If you run any of these Client programs, they will download mail to your device, and messages that you prepare and send will be stored on your device.

The above are all programs that run on your device, but there is nearly always the option to use a Web page run by your email provider; these clients are generally known as “Webmail”, of which the most well-known is undoubtedly the ubiquitous Google Gmail.  The function is just the same, except that Webmail clients run on a remote machine, and simply use your device as a display.  The most important difference is that Webmail will not store your emails on the local device; this makes it the obvious choice for accessing your email on a public PC such as one in a library.

Editing and sending

Whatever client you use, it will provide means for you to create and edit your messages, and then it will use SMTP to send them to the recipient’s mail server (actually, your message is almost certain to be sent first to your own provider’s server and then possibly relayed through several more to reach its destination, but that's far too detailed for this description).


To receive mail, your Client will use POP or IMAP to connect to your provider’s server, where your mail will be waiting.  If you are using a Client that is a program running on your device (so not a Webmail page) then the Client will download the messages from the server, and you will be able to read them offline – that is, after disconnecting from the Internet.

Setting it up

If you choose to use Webmail then you have no need to set anything up on your device, and you simply open a Web browser and go to the page for your provider’s Webmail – for example,

Unless you are doing that, you will need to choose a Mail Client, and at a minimum the client will need your email address and password and the names of the provider’s SMTP server and POP or IMAP server.  In many cases the Mail Client might guess the server names from your address.  And it may even get them right! 

Local client, or Webmail?

Reasons for using Webmail:

  • You want to put zero effort into getting a mail client running.
  • You have a fast and reliable Internet connection that is always available.
  • You have a reason for not wanting your emails stored locally on the device.
  • You need to use a borrowed PC temporarily.

Reasons for using a local client program (for example, Microsoft Outlook):

  • You already use it for another email account.
  • You have a poor Internet connection, or one that is not always available (maybe you are working on a portable PC).
  • You want to, or you are willing to have your emails stored locally.
  • You want to prepare emails or browse existing emails while offline (not connected to the Internet).


Sorry, but we can’t go into specifics here.  There are too many different email clients out there, so for help on the details of yours, you'll need to refer to its own documentation.  Where we do give examples we will use the MS Outlook client and Ionos mail provider, simply because we have access to these.


But a couple of general ideas are worth mentioning:

  • When entering details of your provider’s servers, select the higher-security protocol options if they are offered. 
  • Find the settings for downloading mail from the server, and check that your client is not set to delete mail.  The default for some mail clients (MS Outlook, we’re looking at you) is to delete older messages after downloading them.  Unless your email provider charges you for using up space there is no reason why you should ever want to delete messages from your server.  Old mail stored on the server is one point of a backup strategy.
  • To expand on the previous point, if you use email clients on different machines, e.g. office and home, or you want to be able to check your mail using a Webmail client, you should certainly never allow your email clients to delete mail after downloading, as this would mean that messages that you downloaded in the office might not show up on your home machine or Webmail, and vice versa.

Sealand is very pleased to be a supporter of the Open Document Foundation, Linux Mint, and the Lancing and Sompting Churches’ Food Bank.

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