Email Etiquette



In order to answer new user’s questions about transferring files over the Internet. We much prefer to teach new users the correct way right off the start. That way everyone is happier, things run smoother, and we don’t have to deal with a member trying to send their 640MB Windows 95 CD-ROM through the improper channels and disrupting, or stopping services for all members. After all, it’s much easier to hammer a nail with a hammer than with a screwdriver. Not to mention a Federal Offense if you try the above.

Email isn’t and never was designed for transfer of large files. It’s primarily for email messages, and small attachments. Email isn’t good at long sustained connections. It’s designed to do many quick connections efficiently. The last sections of this message contains some “rules of thumb” on email. FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is the proper application to transfer large files across the Internet.

We set our servers to reject email files over 2048K. It’s considered a “newbie cardinal sin” to email anything over 50k. The fact of the matter is; the Internet would be a much faster place if people wouldn’t abuse email so much. Whenever a large file is attached to an email, there are several processes that must take place. First the email message itself must be translated to MIME with any boundaries included into the message. Next the attachment must be converted to ASCII for transmission. Next the ASCII conversion of the attachment has to be converted to MIME format and any boundaries to the attachment. Next that attachment has to be added to the original email message and the whole process started over. Well we haven’t even sent out the message from the mail server yet…Now it’s at the destination mail server…the message has to be parsed with the attachment and the whole process repeated.

Small files are processed much faster than larger files. In fact the file size increases the amount of processing not proportionally by logarithmically! Meaning you can send (correctly) broken up smaller files (which most email software will do automatically) much, much faster that one large file. However, most email software will allow you to break up larger emails into small 50K chunks! It will do this automatically. Simply access the HELP menu on your email to see how.

Of course the proper application for transfer of files over the Internet is FTP. That’s what the acronym stands for: File Transfer Protocol. FTP takes the file, sends it and that’s all there is to it. It’s much faster, more secure, and more reliable than trying to use email to do FTP’s job.

Well, being the best ISP around (a shameless plug we know), we want to offer a better alternative. We are more than happy to set up a “semi-public” ftp site, (in addition to your secure site for web pages), so you can transfer/share (in accordance to the policies of NCKCN which you will find in your web and ftp sites) files to your hearts content. If this sounds like the ticket, just drop the webmaster a note.

Here are some common email mistakes that will cause problems:

  • Changing the default settings of “deleting messages from the server” to “saving E-mail on the server” after being downloaded to your computer in your email application. This is a very bad idea all the way around. It’s like if you went to your real life post office box and instead of taking out the mail, you looked at it and then stuffed it back in the box. You then told the Postmaster to keep delivering new mail and to keep stuffing it back in the box. Well, soon there won’t be any room left in the mailbox either to deliver new mail or to stuff the mail you look at back in.
  • Non-use of your email account, thus having too many messages pile up. Please let us know if you will be away for awhile, or unable to check your email. We are glad to put your account on hold.
  • Someone sending large attachments on several email messages (our servers reject anything over 2MB per message). The proper application to use to send files is of course FTP. In fact, sending attachments is one of the absolute sure fire ways to get a computer virus if the attachment is an executable file or macro. This practice is increasing at an alarming rate.




Some Proper Use of Email:

  • Unless you have your own Internet access through an Internet provider, be sure to check with your employer about ownership of electronic mail. Laws about the ownership of electronic mail vary from place to place.
  • Unless you are using an encryption device (hardware or software), you should assume that mail on the Internet is not secure. Never put in a mail message anything you would not put on a postcard.
  • Respect the copyright on material that you reproduce. Almost every country has copyright laws.
  • If you are forwarding or re-posting a message you’ve received, do not change the wording. If the message was a personal message to you and you are re-posting to a group, you should ask permission first. You may shorten the message and quote only relevant parts, but be sure you give proper attribution.
  • Never send chain letters via electronic mail. Chain letters are forbidden on the Internet. Your network privileges will be revoked. Notify your local system administrator if you ever receive one.
  • A good rule of thumb: Be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you receive. You should not send heated messages (we call these “flames”) even if you are provoked. On the other hand, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get flamed and it’s prudent not to respond to flames.
  • In general, it’s a good idea to at least check all your mail subjects before responding to a message. Sometimes a person who asks you for help (or clarification) will send another message which effectively says “Never Mind”. Also make sure that nay messages you respond to was directed to you. You might be cc:ed rather than the primary recipient.
  • Make things easy for the recipient. Many mailers strip header information which includes your return address. In order to ensure that people know who you are, be sure to include a line or two at the end of your message with contact information. You can create this file ahead of time and add it to the end of your messages. (Some mailers do this automatically.) In Internet parlance, this is known as a “.sig” or “signature” file. Your .sig file takes the place of your business card. (And you can have more than one to apply in different circumstances.)
  • Be careful when addressing mail. There are addresses which may go to a group but the address looks like it is just one person. Know to whom you are sending.
  • Watch Cc’s when replying. Don’t continue to include people if the messages have become a 2-way conversation.
  • In general, most people who use the Internet don’t have time to answer general questions about the Internet and its workings. Don’t send unsolicited mail asking for information to people whose names you might have seen in RFCs or on mailing lists.
  • Remember that people with whom you communicate are located across the globe. If you send a message to which you want an immediate response, the person receiving it might be at home asleep when it arrives. Give them a chance to wake up, come to work, and login before assuming the mail didn’t arrive or that they don’t care.
  • Verify all addresses before initiating long or personal discourse. It’s also a good practice to include the word “Long” in the subject header so the recipient knows the message will take time to read and respond to. Over 100 lines is considered “long”.
  • Know whom to contact for help. Usually you will have resources close at hand. Check locally for people who can help you with software and system problems. Also, know whom to go to if you receive anything questionable or illegal. Most sites also have “Postmaster” aliased to a knowledgeable user, so you can send mail to this address to get help with mail.
  • Remember that the recipient is a human being whose culture, language, and humor have different points of reference from your own. Remember that date formats, measurements, and idioms may not travel well. Be especially careful with sarcasm.
  • Use symbols for emphasis. That *is* what I meant. Use underscores for underling. _War and Peace_ is my favorite book.
  • Use smileys to indicate tone of voice, but use them sparingly. 🙂 is an example of a happy smiley face. Don’t assume that the inclusion of a smiley will make the recipient happy with what you say or wipe out an otherwise insulting comment.
  • Wait overnight to send emotional responses to messages. If you have really strong feelings about a subject, indicate it via FLAME ON/OFF enclosures. For example: FLAME ON: This type of argument is not worth the bandwidth it takes to send it. It’s illogical and poorly reasoned. The rest of the world agrees with me. FLAME OFF.
  • Do not include control characters or non-ASCII attachments in messages unless they are MIME attachments or unless your mailer encodes these. If you send encoded messages, make sure the recipient can decode them.
  • Be brief without being overly terse. When replying to a message, include enough original material to be understood but no more. It is extremely bad form to simply reply to a message by including all the previous message: edit out all the irrelevant material.
  • Limit line length to fewer than 65 characters and end a line with a carriage return.
  • Mail should have a subject heading which reflects the content of the message.
  • If you include a signature, keep it short. Rule of thumb is no longer than 4 lines. Remember that many people pay for connectivity by the minute, and the longer your message is, the more they pay.
  • Just as mail (today) may not be private, mail (and news) are (today) subject to forgery and spoofing of various degrees of detectability. Apply common sense “reality checks” before assuming a message is valid.
  • If you think the importance of a message justifies it, immediately reply briefly to an email message to let the sender know you got it, even if you will send a longer reply later.
  • “Reasonable” expectations for conduct via email depends on your relationship to a person and the context of the communication. Norms learned in a particular email environment may not apply in general to your email communication with people across the Internet. Be careful with slang or local acronyms.
  • The cost of delivering an email message is, on the average, paid about equally by the sender and the recipient (or their organizations). This is unlike other media such as physical mail, telephone, TV, or radio. Sending someone mail may also cost them in other specific ways like network bandwidth, disk space or CPU usage. This is a fundamental economic reason why unsolicited email advertising is unwelcome (and is forbidden in many contexts).
  • Know how large a message you are sending. Including large files such as Postscript files or programs may make your message so large that it cannot be delivered or at least consumes excessive resources. A good rule of thumb would be not to send a file larger than 50 Kilobytes. Consider file transfer as an alternative, or cutting the file into smaller chunks and sending each as a separate message.
  • Never send unsolicited information to people.
  • If your mail system allows you to forward mail, beware the dreaded forwarding loop. Be sure you haven’t set up forwarding on several hosts so that a message sent to you gets into an endless loop from one computer to the next to the next.


We hope you found some value reading this online guide provided to you by NCKCN.

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Todd Tuttle is the System's Administrator for NCKCN as well as the Assistant Executive Director for NCRPC. For more information about Todd, visit: Todd's Profile page.