Web-based email

Web Design & Development Guide

Web-based email


Web-based email or webmail is a term referring to an e-mail service intended to be primarily accessed via an web browser, as opposed to through an application such as Mozilla's Thunderbird, Apple's Mail or Microsoft Outlook.

One of the earliest Webmail services was Hotmail. Now, the most popular Webmail providers are arguably Gmail and Yahoo! Mail.[1] Some other webmail services include AIM Mail, Mail.com, Lycos Mail, and Windows Live Hotmail; see also Wikipedia's Comparison of webmail providers.

Gmail, a popular webmail service.
Gmail, a popular webmail service.

A major advantage of web-based email over application-based email is that a user has the ability to access their inbox from any Internet-connected computer. However, the need for Internet access is also a setback, in that one cannot access their old messages, or work on new ones, when they are not connected to the Internet.

In 1997, prior to its acquisition by Microsoft, Hotmail introduced its service, which became one of the first popular web-based email offerings. Following Hotmail's initial success, Yahoo! released their webmail service, which also grew to become widely popular.

Google's introduction of Gmail in 2004 sparked a period of rapid development in webmail, due to Gmail's new features such as JavaScript menus, text-based ads, and massive storage.[2] Other webmail providers responded by offering similar features, such as Yahoo!'s introduction of its new version of Yahoo! Mail.

Software packages

There are also software packages that allow an organization such as company to offer email through the web for their associates. Some solutions are open source software like SquirrelMail and others are closed source like the Outlook Web Access module for Microsoft Exchange, Socketmail and Atmail.

Conversely, there are programs that can simulate a web browser to access web mail as if it were stored in a POP3 or IMAP account. They are susceptible, though, to changes in the user interface of the web service since there is no standard interface.

Rendering and Compatibility

There are important differences in rendering capabilities for many popular web mail services such as Gmail, Windows Live mail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. Due to the various treatment of HTML tags, such as <style> and <head>, as well as CSS rendering inconsistancies, email marketing companies rely on older web development techniques to send cross-platform mail. This usually means a heavy reliance on HTML tables and inline CSS.


  1. ^ Brownlow, Mark "Email and webmail statistics", Email Marketing Reports, May, 2007
  2. ^ CNN article: Google is going to offer a free e-mail product that should be far superior to Yahoo! and Hotmail.

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