As with (almost) everything on the Internet, electronic mail follows a set of standards, one of which is the message format, but before we attempt to describe that let's step away from technology briefly to look at a typical (non-electronic) letter:
The Fire Station
16th December 2001
Dear Mr Minton,
I would like to apologise for attempting to set fire to your rocking horse during our recent visit to your area.
And the envelope that would go with it:
Mr C Minton
3 Willow Walk
So, our letter comprises two pieces: an envelope that says who the letter should be delivered to (and sometimes who the sender is); and the message itself.
Now, if we leap back into our computerised world and take a look at the same letter sent electronically, we get something like this:
To: Chippy Minton <firstname.lastname@example.org> From: Captain Flack <email@example.com> Date: 16 Dec 2001 10:32:20 +0000 Subject: Apology Dear Mr Minton, I would like to apologise for attempting to set fire to your rocking horse during our recent visit to your area. Yours sincerely Captain Flack
Aside from the obvious differences between an Internet email address and a house name, the letters look pretty similar, don't they?
What we also get (but don't often see) is an electronic "envelope" that, like its physical counterpart, says who the message sender is and who the recipient should be. The reason we don't get to see this information is because the computer usually throws it away. Try thinking of the computer as a butler - it has received your letter, opened it for you, and is now standing beside you bearing the message itself on a silver tray. The computer in its role as butler has decided that since the message has reached its intended recipient it has no need to bother you with trivia like an empty envelope and disposes of it on your behalf.