How Email Works
By Development Staff June 6, 2016

Email is an important part of owning and running a website, and often times changes to hosting or DNS records for a website can have a big impact on email deliverability, so it is important to know how email works… at least on a basic level.

The following information pertains to anyone using email addresses that utilize your domain name, but does not apply to services such as Gmail or Yahoo that do not use the domain name for your website.

It Starts with DNS

Everything starts with the DNS (Domain Name System.) We have to start here for you to understand how your email works. When your domain name is accessed, be it to visit a website or to send/receive an email, the domain name is looked up against the DNS to see where everything goes.

Although there are a number of other more advanced aspects, the DNS setup for your domain name consists of 3 basic elements:

  • Nameservers
  • A Records
  • MX Records

Nameservers are pseudo names that the domain name registrar will use to delegate the DNS management of a domain to a specific location. These nameservers are registered to a specific IP address assigned to a specific hosting server. Nameservers can be provided by the domain registrar, or assigned to the hosting company. Either way, ALL traffic goes to that location immediately.

Once at the DNS location, the DNS system determines what type of request we are dealing with and sends the information as required:

  • If this is a request of the website, the A Record is used, which points to the proper IP Address for the website host (often, the same IP address as the Nameserver, but not always.)
  • If the request is mail related, the system uses the MX records, which point to the location of the email server (often a part of the hosting server, but not always.)

Since we are dealing with email, let’s assume an email is being sent to “”

The DNS system would instruct where to go for the email service for, based on the MX Records. If the MX Record is something like, the email is most likely running on the main hosting server. However, if you are using a 3rd party service, such as Outlook 365 or Google Apps for Business, the MX Records could look like (fancy, huh?) In this instance, the email is being routed to the 3rd party service instead of being managed by the hosting service.

2 Flavors of Email

Let’s talk about the most common 2 basic types of email:

  • POP3
  • IMAP

While these are not the only types available, they are the most common. Both mostly work in the same way, with one big exception… POP3 does not synchronize between multiple devices and IMAP does.

Think of POP3 as a Post Office Box you wold get with the U.S. Mail. You go to the post box and remove your mail, and once you have done so, it is in your hands and not in the mailbox. POP3 works much like this. When you access the email from your computer using a program such as Outlook or Mail, the program downloads the email to the computer and stores it there. No copy of left in the mailbox. For many people, this is just fine, which is why many hosting companies only offer POP3 mail.

Think of IMAP differently though. IMAP keeps a copy of the email on the server unless it is deleted from the server itself. This allows you to connect via multiple devices, such as computer programs on multiple computers, as well as mobile devices like your phone or tablet. Each device will have a copy of the email available, allowing multiple devices to stay in sync. For a larger, power user need, this can be a very convenient feature to have! However, since email is not automatically removed, over time the size of your inbox can eat up the space allotted for your account, so proper management of older emails is important.

If offered either option, choose the option that works for your own needs, not only today, but in the future.

Moving Services

If you change your hosting server, for example by moving away from and to Big Head Web Host, it is important to know how your email is currently working.

If you are using a 3rd party email service, it is important that the DNS has a copy of the 3rd party’s records. Often times when moving from one host to another, the Nameserver records will change, and since the location of the Nameservers will dictate where the DNS points everything to, the new host needs to be given the proper information. This will allow for a seamless move without email interruption, as well as no need to update any email addresses or logins for them.

However, if your current host is also managing your email, it is important to check all email for each address before migrating, as well as setting up the same email accounts on the new host. Email accounts don’t migrate from one host to another, and the settings to connect can vary… so having the accounts set up prior to migration will help reduce or remove any interruption of email during the process.

If you are moving your hosting to Big Head Web Host from another hosting service, don’t worry! We can help! We can make the changes needed on your behalf, although you still may need to help gather some of the information. But in the end, we want to help make your move simple and easy.


Comments are closed.

Comments are closed.