Webmail (or web-based email) is an email service that can be accessed using a standard web browser. It contrasts with email service accessible through a specialised email client software. Examples of webmail providers are AOL Mail, Gmail, GMX Mail, Mailfence, Outlook.com/Hotmail.com, Yahoo! Mail and IceWarp Mail Server. Additionally, many internet service providers provide webmail as part of their internet service package. Similarly, some web hosting providers also provide webmail as a part of their hosting package.
Webmail access is made possible through webmail software, such as Roundcube or SquirrelMail, installed and running on the email server.
As with any web application, webmail's main advantage over the use of a desktop email client is the ability to send and receive email anywhere from a web browser. Its main disadvantage is the need to be connected to the Internet while using it.
The first Web Mail implementation was developed at CERN in 1993 by Phillip Hallam-Bakeras a test of the HTTP protocol stack, but was not developed further. In the next two years, however, several people produced working webmail applications.
In Europe, there were three implementations, Søren Vejrum's "WWW Mail",Luca Manunza's "WebMail", and Remy Wetzels' "WebMail". Søren Vejrum's "WWW Mail" was written when he was studying and working at the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, and was released on February 28, 1995. Luca Manunza's "WebMail" was written while he was working at CRS4 in Sardinia, from an idea of Gianluigi Zanetti, with the first source release on March 30, 1995. Remy Wetzels' "WebMail" was written while he was studying at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands for the DSE and was released early January 1995.
In the United States, Matt Mankins wrote "Webex",and Bill Fitler, while at Lotus cc:Mail, began working on an implementation which he demonstrated publicly at Lotusphere on January 24, 1995. Matt Mankins, under the supervision of Dr. Burt Rosenberg at the University of Miami, released his "Webex" application source code in a post to comp.mail.misc on August 8, 1995, although it had been in use as the primary email application at the School of Architecture where Mankins worked for some months prior.
Bill Fitler's webmail implementation was further developed as a commercial product, which Lotus announced and released in the fall of 1995 as cc:Mail for the World Wide Web 1.0; thereby providing an alternative means of accessing a cc:Mail message store (the usual means being a cc:Mail desktop application that operated either via dialup or within the confines of a local area network).
Early commercialization of webmail was also achieved when "Webex"began to be sold by Mankins' company, DotShop, Inc., at the end of 1995. Within DotShop, "Webex" changed its name to "EMUmail"; which would be sold to companies like UPS and Rackspace until its sale to Accurev in 2001. EMUmail was one of the first applications to feature a free version that included embedded advertising, as well as a licensed version that did not.
Hotmail and Four11's RocketMail both launched in 1996 as free services and immediately became very popular.
As the 1990s progressed, and into the 2000s, it became more common for the general public to have access to webmail because:
In some cases, webmail application software is developed in-house by the organizations running and managing the application, and in some cases it is obtained from software companies that develop and sell such applications, usually as part of an integrated mail server package (an early example being Netscape Messaging Server). The market for webmail application software has continued into the 2010s.
Email users may find the use of both a webmail client and a desktop client using the POP3 protocol presents some difficulties. For example, email messages that are downloaded by the desktop client and are removed from the server will no longer be available on the webmail client. The user is limited to previewing messages using the web client before they are downloaded by the desktop email client. However, one may choose to leave the emails on the server, in which case this problem does not occur. The use of both a webmail client and a desktop client using the IMAP4 protocol allows the contents of the mailbox to be consistently displayed in both the webmail and desktop clients and any action the user performs on messages in one interface will be reflected when email is accessed via the other interface. There are significant differences in rendering capabilities for many popular webmail services such as Gmail, Outlook.com and Yahoo! Mail. Due to the varying treatment of HTML tags, such as <style> and <head>, as well as CSS rendering inconsistencies, email marketing companies rely on older web development techniques to send cross-platform mail. This usually means a greater reliance on tables and inline stylesheets.
Microsoft Windows applications by default create email messages via MAPI. Several vendors produce tools to provide a MAPI interface to webmail.
Although emails stored unencrypted on any service provider's servers can be read by that service provider, specific concerns have been raised regarding webmail services that automatically analyze the contents of users' emails for the purpose of targeted advertising.At least two such services, Gmail and Yahoo! Mail, give users the option to opt out of targeted advertising.
Webmail that is accessed over unsecured HTTP may be readable by a third party who has access to the data transmission, such as over an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. This may be avoided by connecting to the webmail service via HTTPS, which encrypts the connection.Gmail has supported HTTPS since launch and in 2014 began requiring it for all webmail connections. Yahoo! Mail added the option to connect over HTTPS in 2013 and made HTTPS required in 2014.
Electronic mail is a method of exchanging messages ("mail") between people using electronic devices. Email entered limited use in the 1960s, but users could only send to users of the same computer, and some early email systems required the author and the recipient to both be online simultaneously, similar to instant messaging. Ray Tomlinson is credited as the inventor of email; in 1971, he developed the first system able to send mail between users on different hosts across the ARPANET, using the @ sign to link the user name with a destination server. By the mid-1970s, this was the form recognized as email.
Within the Internet email system, a message transfer agent (MTA), or mail transfer agent, or mail relay is software that transfers electronic mail messages from one computer to another using SMTP. The terms mail server, mail exchanger, and MX host are also used in some contexts.
An email client, email reader or, more formally, message user agent (MUA) or mail user agent is a computer program used to access and manage a user's email.
Microsoft Outlook is a personal information manager software system from Microsoft, available as a part of the Microsoft Office suite. Though primarily an email client, Outlook also includes such functions as calendaring, task managing, contact managing, note-taking, journal logging, and web browsing.
Messaging Application Programming Interface (MAPI) is an API for Microsoft Windows which allows programs to become email-aware. While MAPI is designed to be independent of the protocol, it is usually used to communicate with Microsoft Exchange Server.
Yahoo! Mail is an email service launched on October 8, 1997, by the American company Yahoo!, now a subsidiary of Verizon. It offers four different email plans: three for personal use and another for businesses. As of January 2020, Yahoo! Mail has 225 million users.
AOL Mail is a free web-based email service provided by AOL, a division of Verizon Communications.
IBM iNotes offers a full-featured web-based version of IBM's IBM Notes client. Formerly known as IBM Lotus Domino Web Access, IBM iNotes provides IBM Notes users with browser-based access to their IBM Notes mail, calendar, and contacts. The software combines with IBM Domino software to provide a client interface that is available both online and offline. It provides access to collaboration tools using a variety of Web browsers across multiple platforms.
Push email is an email system that provides an always-on capability, in which new email is actively transferred (pushed) as it arrives by the mail delivery agent (MDA) to the mail user agent (MUA), also called the email client. Email clients include smartphones and, less strictly, IMAP personal computer mail applications.
An email hosting service is an Internet hosting service that operates email servers.
cc:Mail is a discontinued store-and-forward LAN-based email system originally developed on Microsoft's MS-DOS platform by Concentric Systems, Inc. in the 1980s. The company, founded by Robert Plummer, Hubert Lipinski, and Michael Palmer, later changed its name to PCC Systems, Inc., and then to cc:Mail, Inc. At the height of its popularity, cc:Mail had about 14 million users, and won various awards for being the top email software package of the mid-1990s.
The following tables compare general and technical information for a number of notable webmail providers who offer a web interface in English.
GMX Mail is a free advertising-supported email service provided by GMX. Users may access GMX Mail via webmail as well as via POP3 and IMAP4 protocols. Founded in 1997, GMX is a subsidiary of United Internet AG, a stock-listed company in Germany, and a sister company to 1&1 Internet and Fasthosts Internet. In addition to an email address, each GMX account includes a Mail Collector, Address Book, Organizer, and File Storage. Every user can register up to 10 individual GMX email addresses. Premium or not, users are greeted by pop up ads at login. GMX is currently the only large email provider to support popup ads. Currently GMX Mail has more than 11 million active users.
Windows Live Mail was a freeware email client from Microsoft. It is the successor to Windows Mail in Windows Vista, which was the successor to Outlook Express in Windows XP and Windows 98. Windows Live Mail is designed to run on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, but is also compatible with Windows 8 and Windows 10, even though Microsoft bundles a new email client, named Windows Mail, with the latter.
Outlook.com is a personal information manager web app from Microsoft consisting of webmail, calendaring, contacts, and tasks services. Founded in 1996 by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith as Hotmail, it was acquired by Microsoft in 1997 for an estimated $400 million and relaunched as MSN Hotmail, later rebranded to Windows Live Hotmail as part of the Windows Live suite of products. Microsoft phased out Hotmail in October 2011, relaunching the service as Outlook.com in 2012.
The Gmail interface makes Gmail unique amongst webmail systems for several reasons. Most evident to users are its search-oriented features and means of managing e-mail in a "conversation view" that is similar to an Internet forum.
EmailTray is a lightweight email client for the Microsoft Windows operating system. EmailTray was developed by Internet Promotion Agency S.A., a software development company.
A mailbox provider, mail service provider or, somewhat improperly, email service provider is a provider of email hosting. It implements email servers to send, receive, accept, and store email for other organizations or end users, on their behalf.
The JSON Meta Application Protocol (JMAP) is a set of related open Internet Standard protocols for handling email. JMAP is implemented using JSON APIs over HTTP and has been developed as an alternative to IMAP/SMTP and proprietary email APIs such as Gmail and Outlook. Additional protocols and data models being built on top of the core of JMAP for handling contacts and calendar synchronization are meant to be potential replacements for CardDAV and CalDAV, and other support is currently in the works.
Media related to Webmail at Wikimedia Commons