Five types of email address, part 1

If you thought that all email addresses are the same, think again. There are five main types of email address and if you want to organize your email sensibly you should know the difference.

All email addresses are formatted the same way @ but what isn’t obvious are the different ways that email sent to an address is handled.

In this and the next issue we’ll explain the basics of these types of addresses – it may seem a bit theoretical but in the next issues you’ll see how this knowledge can make your email setup much, much better.


We all know about mailboxes, each email address ends up at some type of mailbox (POP, IMAP, Web, Exchange Server etc).   The type of mailbox doesn’t matter to the sender, you send a message and it ends up in a mailbox for the receiver to collect.

Most people have a mailbox that’s supplied by their Internet Service provider.  That’s immediately convenient but also ties you to that ISP, and the companies know that.  If you want to change the way you connect to the Internet, one hurdle can be having to change all the places where your old email address is used.

The solution is to separate the email address given to the outside world from the mailbox.  You can change mailbox at any time while your publicly disclosed email address stays the same.

Which brings us to the second type of email address .. alias.



An alias email address is an address without a mailbox.  Any messages to an alias address are automatically forwarded to another address or mailbox.

In other words, an alias is like a post office re-direction order.  You ask your post office to intercept your letters and forward them to another address – an alias email address is an automatic email version of your post office.

The most common way to use an alias is to forward mail to an Internet providers mailbox.  Give out your alias email address to people and you can change your mailbox and alias forwarding arrangements without disturbing your correspondents.

We’ve called it ‘forwarding’ but it’s not the same as when you click on Forward from your email program.   In that type of forwarding the message comes from your mailbox and has ‘FW’ in front of the original subject.  The sender doesn’t know the message has been re-directed.

Aliases do re-direction – which means the message isn’t changed at all (no ‘FW’).  The incoming message is simply passed along to another address with no change to the visible parts of the message.  When you get the message it’s still addressed to the alias address – not the final mailbox.

This is one reason why aliases are so powerful, since the TO address is the alias you can sort and filter incoming messages according to the alias they were sent to.  Even though you grabbed them from one mailbox, the aliases give you a way to tell them apart.

Aliases can re-direct mail to any valid email address – not just within the same domain.


Fred manages a domain called and has a mailbox called  with some alias addresses like: this is the address given out to most people messages are re-directed to the mailbox is for mailing lists.  Messages to news@ go to the mailbox, when picked up by Outlook a rule moves all messages sent to to a special folder. goes to Fred’s mailbox.  Messages to this address trigger a rule in Outlook which highlights the messages.  Gumboots are quite an obsession with Fred. is for Fred’s daughter, she prefers to use Gmail and her messages are directed to that account.

Savvy people have more than one alias or have their own domain with messages going to many aliases.  

That can get hard to manage without the next type of email address, the catch-all which we’ll talk about in the a future issue of Email Essentials.