We all think of email as reliable and instantaneous, but there are conditions that can cause things to slow down noticeably, or even prevent a message from arriving at all. The trip an email message makes from sender to recipient is very similar to when we travel.

You start the trip by going to your local airport, which is your starting point.

Outgoing email messages first go to the outgoing mail server, which is their starting point.

Once you’re at your starting point, you wait in the terminal for your plane to board before you can actually begin your trip. If your plane is late arriving, or had a mechanical problem that delays boarding, your trip takes longer than expected.

An email message waits on the outgoing mail server until it can hand off that message to another mail server, usually the recipient’s incoming mail server. If the outgoing mail sever is unable to make a connection with the next mail server to which a message is traveling, the message will take longer to be received than expected.

If your plane trip is a direct route, you need only worry about whether traffic is on time at your departure and arrival airports. But if your trip involves stops and layovers, you also have to worry about delays at each additional airport where you stop. Delays, equipment failures, or the unavailability of equipment at any of those airports can delay or cancel the next leg of your trip. Of course thiis happens more frequently for long distance or international travel than for local travel.

An email message that has to travel a long distance may be handed off to intermediate mail servers (we call them relay mail servers) before it reaches the recipient’s incoming mail server. There is always the potential for each of those servers to experience a delay because of unusually high email traffic (usually caused by a spam attack) or a malfunction. Whenever that happens, it delays the delivery of email messages. In addition, some relay mail servers may be set (by their owners) to delete or return to the sender messages it identifies as spam (or messages that contain a virus or worm). If that server returns the message to the sender, the sender will receive a “bounce” message saying that the message could not be delivered, and usually including information about the specific mail server that rejected the message, the time, and the reason. If the server is set to delete such messages, the sender will not know the message was never delivered, and recipient won’t know either.

If Everything Macintosh Web Hosting (or EM Web Hosting) hosts your web site and/or email, we have control over your outgoing mail and incoming mail servers. We can not only troubleshoot, but also directly resolve delays and deleted messages caused by malfunctions in those servers. The outgoing and incoming mail servers of people to whom you send messages are controlled by whoever hosts their web site and/or email, and the relay mail servers that are part of the internet’s infrastructure are owned by other companies like AT&T, WorldNet, Cisco, etc. We have no direct control over servers owned by other companies, but we’ll always work with you and those companies to troubleshoot delays and deleted messages.

In troubleshooting delayed or deleted messages, the first step is to determine which mail server was responsible. In order to do that, we need a copy of either the delayed message, with its long mail headers displayed, or the bounce message, with its long mail headers displayed. The email headers are the part of a message contains the From, the To, the Subject…which most email programs will display. They also include the unique message ID number, and a running list of all the email servers through which that message has passed in its travel from the sender to the recipient, including arrival and departure times at each mail server. Most email programs don’t display that information because it would take up lots of room on screen, and few users care to see it. But that information tells us which mail server has caused a delay. If the delay was caused on a server we control, we can inspect the operation logs for that server at the time the message was there to see why the delay occurred…and take corrective action if there is a problem. If the delay occurs on a server owned by someone else, we alert them to the problem, which gives them the information they need to resolve it.

This tech note describes how to cause the long mail headers to appear in a delayed or bounce message and send a copy of that message to us. As soon as we receive it, we’ll begin tracing the problem. We’re grateful for your help.

How You Can Help Us Troubleshoot Delays

Long headers


Every email message that travels through the internet has a unique identification number, and a log of each mail server through which it passed…including the time it arrived at that server, and the time it left. That information is invaluable to us in identifying why messages are taking longer than they should to arrive. The information is contained in the “headers” of the email messages, along with the To, From, Date Sent, and Subject of the message.

Knowing that most people don’t care to trace the progress of their messages through the internet, most email programs display only the “short headers” of messages. That includes the To, From, Date Sent, and Subject. To see the long headers, you usually have to manually select a particular message and click a menu command.

We need those long headers to trace the progress of a delayed message through the internet and determine where delays occurred. That also allows us to determine the level of incoming traffic at your mail server when the message arrived. Here we’ll tell you how to cause the long headers to display for a specific message. Once they’re showing, simply select the whole message, copy it, and past it into a new message addressed to [email protected] One message is good, between two and four delayed messages are better.

If you’re using Apple’s Mail program, make sure the text of the delayed message is showing in the Mail window. Then, under the View menu drag down to Message, and click Long Headers in the submenu. That will cause the long headers to appear at the top of the message. Highlight all the text of the message, including the long headers, copy it, and paste it into a new message addressed to [email protected]

ENTOURAGE

If you’re using Microsoft Entourage, select the message in the Inbox. Click on Source in the View menu. A new window will contain full headers and message text. Select all the text in this window, copy it, and paste it into a new message addressed to [email protected]

OUTLOOK 2002

In Outlook 2002, right-click the message without opening it, then click Options from the drop-down menu. A box called Message Options pops up. Near the bottom of the box you’ll see a text area titled Internet headers. Highlight the contents, then right-click. Copy the headers and paste them into a new message addressed to [email protected]

OUTLOOK 2000

Right click on the message without opening it. Select Options, then Full Headers. Highlight and copy the entire message, with the long headers, and paste it into a new message addressed to [email protected]

OUTLOOK 98

Open the message and select View, then Options from the drop-down menus. Near the bottom of the screen you’ll see a section titled INTERNET HEADERS. Copy the headers and paste them into a new message addressed to [email protected]