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by Ray DeCosta

Q. I occasionally have some emails returned to me after sending them out. Sometimes there's an error message which attempts to explain what went wrong but it is really not very helpful. What can I do to stop this from happening?

A. Emails have to travel through many different servers to get to their intended destinations and sometimes this path is rather bumpy. Proper connections may not be made, some important bit of data may be lost or there's just a general delay which causes the message to be lost in the system. As a result, emails may "bounce" for many different reasons and, as you have noticed, the "explanation" of the problem leaves a lot to be desired.

The very first item to check on any returned email is whether the address is wrong. While this seems like a very basic step, it is easy to overlook an extra space at the beginning or end of the address. Usually the exact address shown in a bounce notification is inside of certain delimiters such as "<>" Make sure that there are no spaces anywhere in the address because they will certainly cause the email to go astray. Of course, you need to make sure you have actually typed in the correct address. Sometimes you can tell from the person's name or other information what a more logical address might be. Send the email out using the "new" address and see if it comes back to you again.

Many times you will receive a bounce which refers to a sparse explanation of the problem or even just a numerical error code. In the latter case, simply Google it to find out what it means. Usually the stated error will give you an idea what is wrong and why the bounce occurred. And sometimes the explanation will be so vague as to be useless. The main reasons for a bounced email are "mailbox full", "account unknown" or "classified as spam". Sometimes a server just becomes overloaded and bounces ALL email for a few hours. Try resending the email later on - it may magically go through without a problem.

Published: Courier 10/5/14 - Page 3D