We commonly receive questions from users who tell us an expected email has not arrived, and they don’t know how to go about finding it.
Fortunately, with proper information and the right approach, it’s not really that hard to track down missing email messages.
Like snail mail, email follows a path from the sender to the recipient and problems can arise along the way. When a package or letter hasn’t arrived, it doesn’t make much sense to start yelling at the mail carrier; instead you have to start at the beginning and follow the message from point to point.
Following the chain of possession, the most common causes of missing email are as follows:
- The message never left the sender’s email client software.
This happens to all of us from time to time. Either we didn’t hit the “Send” button quite right, or a a software or network issue prevented the email from leaving our computer.The first step in tracking down a message is to ask the sender to double check their “drafts” or “outbox” and “sent” email folders just to make sure.It’s amazing how often the sender will either admit the message is still there, or will tell you that it’s not… but then, all of the sudden, the email arrives within minutes.
- The message is still waiting on the sender’s outbound mail server for delivery. Once an email leaves the sender’s mail software, it’s delivered to their email account’s outbound mail server. If that server cannot process the message for any reason, the message could be stuck in limbo for a few days while the server tries to resolve the delivery problem.Such reasons could include equipment malfunctions, problems resolving DNS, message filtering issues or any number of other technical problems.Because of this, the second step is always to contact the email administrator of the sender’s system to verify that they received the message from the sender and to also verify the disposition. Do they still have the email on their systems, or have they delivered it to another mail system. If they have delivered it, then to whom and exactly when?Fortunately mail servers keep logs of such things, so any email admin should be able to easily provide you with logs showing exactly what they did with the email… just like tracking a package with Fed-Ex or UPS.
- The recipient’s server rejected the message. If the sender’s mail server logs show that they tried to deliver the message to the recipient’s mail server but it was rejected, then there will be a log showing the “reason” for the rejection.Sometimes rejections are not too difficult to understand:”Unknown User” or “User Not Found” means the address was not valid. Perhaps the account has been closed or the sender made a minor typo in the recipient’s email address? Happens all the time.Any variation of “Quota Exceeded” means the recipient’s mailbox is full. When the recipient removes some email to make space, then more mail can be delivered.
On the other hand, some messages are clearly “geek speak” and sometimes so much so that event he geeks can get confused.
In any event, if the sender’s email admin can’t provide an easy explanation and solution, then take the error message or log to the recipient’s email admin. Since it’s their system that did the rejection, they should be able to tell you why.
- The email was accepted by the recipient’s mail server, but was marked as spam. If the recipient’s mail server accepted the message but didn’t deliver it to the recipient, then they should be able to find it on their system and correct whatever filter or process originally blocked it from being delivered.
- The recipient’s email software marked the message as junk/spam. Nowadays it’s very common to find that the recipient’s email admin will have logs showing that the message was accepted and also delivered to the recipient.If this is the case and the recipient still claims they’ve never seen it; then it’s time to have them check any Internet Security software running on their own computer and/or to search their email software client so see if it filtered out the message and put it into some spam or junk folder.This might sound like a chore, but today’s email programs can keyword search the entire system in a matter of seconds.Not only will searching the recipient’s email files often turn of spam filtering mistakes, but it’s also common to find that the email has been moved to a folder where the recipient wasn’t looking. They might have a email management filter or rule that rerouted an email into a special mailbox, for instance.
Occasionally the sender’s computer might have an inaccurate clock, and so the email’s time-stamp can be out of sync with the recipient’s computer. Since most email programs sort messages by time, it’s not uncommon to find the email in the “inbox” just where it should be, but it could sorted with emails several hours or days old.
Every now and then someone’s system clock has the wrong year so the email could be grouped several hundreds or even thousands of message past.
While this research can take some time and may require the cooperation of several parties involved, the good news is that unlike snail mail, electronic messages seldom actually get lost. They’re usually somewhere, and as long as you follow the chain of possession, they are typically not all that hard to find.
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