Email & Communication Protocols

Learning Objectives

  • Identify all the communication protocols which are used online.

Learning Outcomes

Must – be able to discuss how email protocols are used to send and receive messages.

Should – be able to identify the security protocols used to protect the content of messages and communications sent online.

Could – advise someone how to avoid getting caught out online.


Email, which stands for Electronic Mail, is a digital form of communication between digital devices.  It is a much more efficient form of communication compared to a letter or a telephone conversation.

Email has different types of Protocols.  You must know all 3 for the exam.

The 3 are; SMTP, POP and IMAP

SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol)

SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) is used when email is sent from the sender’s email client, for example, GMail, to the sender’s email server and when the email is delivered to the recipients’ email server.

POP3 (Post Office Protocol)

POP or POP3, which stands for Post Office Protocol, If a user has POP set up for reading and sending emails on their email client, POP will download the email from the server to the user’s computer.  The email is then removed from the server which it was downloaded from.

POP has both positive and negative aspects for its users.  A positive is that the email is downloaded directly to a users computer or device.  This means that they can access the email without the need for the Internet or mobile data.  A negative of POP is that if the person accesses their email on a different device, the email has been removed from the server so it will not show up.

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol)

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) allows a user to read the email on the mail server.  The email remains on the mail server and stays there until it is deleted.  A benefit of IMAP is that emails can be accessed anywhere on any device using an Internet Connection.  The biggest drawback of IMAP is that it needs the Internet, so it is not ideal if the user has no Internet and they cannot access the messages.

Why do people use email facilities?

Email is popular as it has several benefits compared to communication such as letters or telephone conversations:

  • Emails can be composed in a draft.  This means that they can be written, left and then added to before being sent.
  • Emails allow documents or files to be attached to.  This cuts down on postage costs.
  • Attachments can be shared which can be edited by others, such as in Google Drive.
  • Emails can be sent to multiple people at different times
  • Contacts can be added to an address book.
  • Emails are much more cost efficient compared to a letter or a telephone call.

Exam tip!  Students often comment that emails are free, and are surprised to learn that the answer is marked wrong. Whilst an email might not cost money to send, you need to have an Internet Service Provider Package which costs money along with the monthly line rental.  It’s not technically free when these things are factored in and costs are shared based on Internet usage.

A better answer is to put that emails are a much more cost effective form of communication compared to a letter or a phone call.  That answer would then attain points.

Abuse and Overuse of Email

Because email is so common it has sadly become overused and abused.  Email Etiquette (which are rules of emailing) are often broken.  Lots of information that would be better to be communicated verbally is now emailed, and this can be lost in translation.  Some people use email to avoid difficult conversations which should be had face-to-face, in order to avoid arguments.  This can sometimes make the situation worse!   Some people do not follow rules about email and this can lead to messages being miscommunicated or in the worse case causing offence.

Security Protocols used in Email and when using the Internet

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol)

HTTP is a protocol that is used on the world wide web.  It is a protocol that determines how a message is formatted and transmitted.

HTTPs (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure)

HTTPs is a secure version of HTTP.  Messages sent using HTTPs are sent under encryption and the message requires a cypher to code and decode the message.  The s at the end of HTTPs means a message is “Secure”.  This uses a form of security called SSL.

Watch this video below to see how SSL works.

Other Communication Protocols you need to know about:


See below.


a) Use the Internet to help you in order to find about the final protocol which is VoIP.  VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol.  Record your findings in your exercise book.

b) Draw a diagram to show how POP, IMAP and SMTP work.  Again include detail where possible.

c) write a short newspaper article to explain the importance of using secure connections online for important activities such as banking and shopping (HTTPs)