First, it would help to note the
difference between a POP (Post Office Protocol) account and an SMTP
(Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) account. Although the ability to send
and receive email comes with most email accounts, receiving email is
normally accomplished through a POP (input) account, while sending email
is an "SMTP" (output) feature.
Mailboxes and email aliases deal with the POP (receiving) aspect of your
email. A POP account is essentially a mailbox. As the term mailbox
implies, it's like a real-life mail box, a place to receive your mail (a
major difference being that email travels at the speed of light while
regular mail sometimes never sees the light of day.) Once in your
mailbox, email just sits there until you "retrieve" it. (Some services
allow mailboxes to be forwarded, but then you'd need another mailbox to
receive the email in.)
This is where setting up your "email
client" (Outlook, Netscape email, Eudora, etc.) comes in. By setting up
the mail-server, ID and password parameters, you tell the program where
to retrieve your email from. Many email clients even give you the option
to "leave email on server after retrieval." This means that you can
retrieve your email (with the "leave email ..." option on) on your
laptop, when you're away from home, for example, then later, when you
get home, retrieve the same email messages on your desktop (where you
might want to keep a more permanent record of your email).
Once you retrieve email with the "leave
email..." option off (perhaps on your desktop, in the above example),
the same email messages are no longer available for retrieval; they have
been deleted from the server.
Email aliases are a different animal.
Let's say you have a website mysite.com and you've set up a mailbox "mybox;"
so your email address is now email@example.com. Now you decide that your
cousin, who works for you, also needs an email address. So you set up an
email ALIAS firstname.lastname@example.org. (If the only reason you hired him is to
make your aunt in Wisconsin happy, you might give him an email address
This email alias, email@example.com,
MUST be forwarded to a mailbox, or another alias which eventually goes
to a mailbox. This is because aliases do not have a "box" of their own
for email to accumulate in; they are simply forwarding tools.
As a result, if firstname.lastname@example.org
were forwarded to email@example.com, when you retrieve your email for
firstname.lastname@example.org you will automatically also get the email for email@example.com.
Using this approach, you can have many aliases forwarded to one mailbox.
Why, then, you might ask, would anyone
ever need more than one mailbox? Good question. (Why didn't I think of
One reason might be, let's say your
aunt from Wisconsin comes to work for you and you want to give her the
email address firstname.lastname@example.org. (If the only reason you're hiring her
is because your cousin can't live without her, you might want to give
her the email address email@example.com.) If you make her email
address an alias (as opposed to a mailbox), then every time you retrieve
your email from firstname.lastname@example.org, you'll also get her email, which was
sent to email@example.com. What's worse, if you give her access to the
mailbox so she can retrieve her own email, she'll also see your email.
Technically, there's nothing wrong with this. But from a family
relations standpoint, this may lead to "technical difficulties" of
So, you make firstname.lastname@example.org a
mailbox, not an alias. (The menu options for setting up aliases and
mailboxes can vary from one service to another, so I won't get into
that.) Now she can retrieve her email directly from email@example.com
and you can still retrieve your email from firstname.lastname@example.org, and neither
one of you would see nor interfere with the other one's email. This
would probably be the best solution; because the last thing you want is
to find out that your aunt is not really your aunt, your cousin is not
really your cousin, and that you were adopted, and you're not even you.
This can't be good for business.
Email accounts given to you by an ISP
(like Earthlink, Verizon, etc.) are usually much simpler in construction
and less flexible. In a simple setup, you might get one mailbox with
several aliases that automatically get forwarded to the mailbox. If this
is good enough for you, there's no need to mess with your website's
email features. One serious downside to this is if you change ISPs,
you'll have to give people your new email addresses. While if you use
domain-based email addresses and then change your web hosting company,
presumably your domain name will go with you and your old email
addresses will remain valid.
The only question remaining now is, if
you change your ISP, you change your hosting company, and you change
your business location, do your aunt and cousin come with you? Even tech
support can't answer this question.