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Replying to Email

Email programs usually have some kind of "reply" feature to make responding quick and easy. For your part, this involves typing reply, or clicking a reply button with your mouse. The reply feature takes care of filling in the address and subject fields (using information in the original message's header), and puts you in the email message composer. A very common convention when replying to messages is to include the original message within your reply message, with each line prefaced by a "}" character (or just three spaces). Your email program may automatically do this for you or provide a command that does it. That way, people can distinguish between their original comments and your response. It may not seem important to provide explicit reference to parts of the original message, but some people receive so many messages that they may not remember your conversation without some background material.The header lines will alert you to reply messages. For example, "Re:" will precede the original subject line, and there may also be an "In-Reply-to" line.

Sometimes you can carry on entire conversations, keeping track of who said what by how many "}" signs are in front of comments. You may want to edit out irrelevant parts of the conversation to eliminate some of the resulting confusion.

Bounced Email and Other Errors

Sometimes an email message may not actually reach its destination because of an incorrect address or some other error. Just as postal mail may come back to you stamped "Returned to Sender," you may get a bounced message back wrapped in an error message that gives you some clues as to what went wrong. Most often the problem is something you've mistyped in the address. One common error message is User unknown: the message is received by the computer specified in the address, but the local part, or username, doesn't match any username or mailbox on the computer. Most often, the cause is a typo or a misspelling, but if you think you typed it correctly, then you should contact the person you're trying to reach by other means to find out the correct username.

Another common error is Host unknown; in this case, the hostname is wrong. Again, check for typos first. Sometimes parts of the name are missing—for example, perhaps you forgot to include part of the domain name.Other bounced messages—such as Network unreachable, (the computer) Can't send for several days, Connection timed out or Connection refused, and Bad file number—usually have something to do with problems on the network or at the destination computer. These problems are usually beyond your control, so you should contact your system consultants for assistance.

Most of the time, if you type something wrong or have an incorrect address, you will get a bounced message. Sometimes, however, your email will simply disappear into the elusive black hole, the place where lost messages go and where they'll never be heard from again—or at least that's what it feels like. There are several possible causes of this phenomenon. The message may arrive at the intended destination, where an error is detected, but because your own return address is incorrect, the bounced message can't be sent to you. Or, the message may arrive safe and sound, but your friend never reads it or decides not to respond to it. Usually, trying again, using another addressing method, or contacting your friend by other means to find out if the message was received will help you figure out what went wrong.

Finding Email Addresses

Probably the most frequent burning question from new users is how to find out someone's email address. Unfortunately, there's no comprehensive Internet-wide directory assistance available at this time, as there is for finding out telephone numbers in many countries. There are ways, though, to find email addresses, and the more proficient you become in using the Internet, the more tricks you'll be able to use. There's no law, of course, that prevents you from just calling someone and asking. In fact, if you are clueless, this is probably the first thing you should do to save yourself some time!

A new trend these days is to include email addresses on business cards, so when trying to reach a business associate, check there first. Or just guess—a frequently used and often successful method, believe it or not! For example, if you know where someone works, you can guess at the domain name (like Many organizations now allow email to be delivered toperson-name@domain-name, where person-name is either the person's last name or the first and last name separated by a dot (as in paul.shaffer). As in the company mailroom, an email "hub" at the domain-name may distribute all the email to the correct computers internally. This is not standard, though, so don't count on it working every time.Online directory service databases are springing up around the Internet. Many organizations have their own online "white pages," named after the white pages in phone books, but they are by no means universal. Some of these are mentioned in Chapter 5.

Sending Email to Other Networks

As was mentioned in Chapter 2, electronic mail is the one application that can be sent between the Internet and outernets. Most networks offer an electronic mail service, and many are connecting to the Internet by email gateways. (Remember, email gateways are computers that have connections to both networks and know how to translate the different email languages between those networks.) For example, if you have a friend or client who has an account on CompuServe, and you're on the Internet, you can send electronic mail to him or her, and vice versa.

Sometimes, sending email between networks is a bit tricky because you might have to specify a little bit more information in the email address, such as the actual name of the email gateway. If you have to do that, your email address might look like this:


Here, the email will be sent to gateway-hostname, which will then deliver it to the username at the hostname. For example:

This would send the message to daves-mom at the olympics node (which is part of the BITNET network) through the gateway.

The MX records that were mentioned in Chapter 2 may come into play and bail you out. If the outernet computer to which you're sending email has a Domain Name System (DNS) name, then you can just use that. You don't need to specify a gateway explicitly; the DNS database will figure it out for you. In fact, you probably won't have to address email this way because nearly everyone has changed over to DNS. But it doesn't hurt to know about it in case someday you have to specify an email gateway.


America Online



May need to specify an email gateway, such as

Convert the "," in the CompuServe userid to a "." Example, 12345,678 becomes

Eliminate the hyphen in the userid. Example, MCI address: 123-4567 becomes


(if UUCP node has a DNS name)

In the preceding table, words in bold should be copied literally when constructing an email address. Words in italics should be replaced with the appropriate host, username, or gateway name. This table lists the most common syntaxes for sending email from the Internet to another network. If these don't work for you, contact your system consultants. Note that some commercial services charge a small fee for incoming and outgoing Internet messages. Many, many more networks have connections to the Internet. For more information and references, see the Appendix.


You can limit your email use to swapping "letters"—just like your regular snail mail, only faster—but its electronic nature allows another dimension entirely. Imagine a newsletter focused on your interests, where every subscriber is also a writer, and the articles and information all flow around in hours or days instead of weeks or months. Imagine being able to send a question to a group and receive responses from twelve different people from all over the world in a matter of hours. Online conferencing can do just that. Some discussions and conferences are more opinion-centered than work-centered, like a newspaper's editorial page, except that the opinions, commentary, and letters are all online and are sent to every member of the list or newsgroup, not just to the editor. There are interest groups for everyone, centered on business, academia, research, games, humor, or hobbies—you name it. The possibilities for information sharing, problem solving, and—let's admit it—recreation are staggering.

Email Lists

Once you start using the Internet, you'll notice people talking about joining lists and participating in discussions on various subjects. They're referring to electronic mailing lists, which are group discussions or interest groups. Email lists can involve as few as two people or as many as tens of thousands. There are literally thousands of different mailing lists on subjects ranging from cooking to etymology, from music to genealogy. And if there's not a list on a subject you are interested in, then you might be able to create one yourself. (Creating an Internet email list requires that you have the resources—a multi-user, directly connected computer, and knowledge of email system administration—to do so, or know someone else who does. Directions for doing this are beyond the scope of this book. Just ask around. Many times someone will volunteer to help you.)

A mailing list is simply a list of email addresses of people interested in a certain subject. Each list has its own distribution address, which looks just like the email addresses described above. All you have to do to get involved in an interest group is to request to be added or "subscribed" to it by sending email to the list administrator, which is either a regular human being or an automated list maintenance program. Your email address will be added to the list, and you'll start receiving discussion contributions from other list members. You may reply to these messages or send new thought-provoking topics at any time. Any message you send to the email list address will be distributed to every member of that list. You don't have to participate actively by sending messages all the time; you can just "listen" to the discussion. Such listeners are often called lurkers (with no derogatory connotation).

The Eggplant Lovers Electronic Mail List
List name:      Eggplant Lovers 
Description:    An interest group for people who 
                love eggplants. 
List address: 
List members:

How to Subscribe. To subscribe to an email list on the Internet, generally speaking, you send a subscription request to the list's administrative address, which is different and separate from the actual list address. In most cases, the administrative address name is the list address name with -request added to the end of it. Let's use our Eggplant Lovers list example above. If this list really existed and you wanted to subscribe to it, you would send email to the administrative address:

and then state your request in the body of the message. (For example: "I'd like to subscribe to the eggplant list, please. My email address is . . .") The list administrator will add you to the list and you'll start receiving any messages sent from fellow eggplant lovers. (You can also unsubscribe with a similar request sent to the same address.) A common new-user mistake is to send subscription requests to the regular list address—a quick way to annoy the other list members, because it adds unnecessary mail to their already burgeoning inboxes. So don't forget about the administrative address.

The bottom line is to remember to read carefully any instructions or associated descriptions of email lists. Some may tell you to subscribe (and unsubscribe) by sending a sequence of commands to an automated list program (with a name like the below-mentioned LISTSERV, or Majordomo and Listproc); other lists are handled by humans.

Backward Forward Copyright © 1994 by Tracy LaQuey and Editorial Inc.

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