Understanding E-Mail settings

This is long article, and it tries to explain the basic of e-mail so you can understand what to do when things go wrong.

The main thing to know about e-mail is that there are two ways of doing it. You can use

  • webmail
  • an e-mail program (such as Outlook or Windows Mail)

Webmail just uses Internet Explorer (or any other web browser) to access the suppliers website. On a tablet or phone it usually uses an “app” from the mail provider. It’s easy, but you might have to put up with adverts.

An e-mail program has to be given details of your e-mail settings, so us harder to set up and only works on that PC (or Mac or tablet or phone).

Most mail services (Gmail, Hotmail, BT Yahoo, Virgin Mail and so on) can be used either via webmail or with and e-mail program – your choice (and you could do it both ways).

The rest of this post is about using an e-mail program

Setting up a e-mail program can be quite daunting, and there may be some unfamiliar language. The key thing to know is that there will be three areas you need to configure:

  • general settings like your name and e-mail address
  • settings for incoming mail (to you)
  • settings for outgoing mail (from you)

Incoming mail can be done in either the “POP3” way, or the “IMAP” way. This post covers only the “POP3” way (because I prefer it in most cases).

So, what settings do you need?

I assume you know your name (for example “Paul Doherty”) and e-mail address (for example “paul1@pdoc.co.uk”).

For your incoming mail settings, you need to know the name of your POP3 server (sometimes called a POP3 host),  what “port” it uses (usually 110 or 995), what type of security it uses (if any), and how you identify yourself to it (invariably with a username and password, which you will need to have been told by the mail provider … your username is usually, but not always, you e-mail address).

For your outgoing mail, you’ll need to know the name of your SMTP server, what “port” it uses (usually 25, 465, or 587), what type of security it uses (if any), and how you identify yourself to it (sometimes with a  username and password, sometimes by using that suppliers broadband service). You may also have to satisfy other criteria, such as using an email address from that supplier.

Getting incoming email settings working is usually fairly straightforward;  getting outgoing settings working can be much trickier.

Why might your outgoing mail settings fail?

  1. You’re not on the Internet
  2. Something in your PC is blocking the connection (I have seen anti-virus programs to this, and also some viruses/trojans)
  3. Something between you and teh server is blocking your connection — a router, a firewall, etc. Some hotels, internet cafes and the occassional Internet provider block access to SMTP servers (to prevent them being used to send spam)
  4. You have the wrong name of the SMTP server
  5. You have the wrong username for your SMTP server
  6. You have the wrong password for your SMTP server
  7. Your email address  (who the email is “From”) is not valid for this SMTP server
  8. Your e-mail is rejected by the SMTP server for being too big
  9. Your email is rejected by the SMTP server for having too many recipients
  10. Your email is rejected by the SMTP server because you’ve sent too many emails in the last hour (or day)

All these will give an immediate error message when your email program tries to connect to the SMTP server. Different programs have different ways of showing you the error message.

The first four will give the error “Can’t connect” or similar. The next two will give the error “Authentication failed” or similar. The fifth will give the error “Relaying not permitted” or “You must validate your sender address” or similar. The others will have some error text which (maybe) explains the problem.

Many Microsoft programs (Outlook and similar) show the “Network Password” box for almost any error, whether it’s a password problem or now, which isn’t helpful.

The Network Password dialog box
The Network Password dialog box

Once the SMTP server has accepted your email, it may still not get through. Your SMTP server has to sent it to the server user by each recipient, and some or all of these servers may not accept your email.  In which case your email will appear to go, but you later get a “Non-Delivery Report” or NDR. There is lots of useful information in this, but it seems like gibberish to most people, so if you want someone to help you, send them the NDR. (You make have to look in your spam or junk folder to find any NDRs.)

An NDR can be generated for lots of reasons:

  1. The receiving server doesn’t have a user with that e-mail address
  2. The receiving user’s mailbox is full (of spam, usually)
  3. The sending server (your SMTP server) is on a spam blacklist and the receiving server refuses to accept mail from it

The NDR will give details.