Reading Your Mail Offline

Question: After entering the inbox of a particular mail account we get the unread messages. Is there any chance to read them offline (that is without the internet connection).
Sampath Kumar

Answer: The answer to this question is yes and no. It depends firstly on what type of mail access that you are using and also what is contained within the email itself.

There are two ways to access mail. You can use web mail which runs in your browser or you can use a separate mail program on your own computer. If your email account is a web mail only account such as Hotmail, Operamail, or yahoo mail, then you can only access your mail account when connected to the appropriate web site via the internet. You can't access mail in these types of account while offline.

There are also web interfaces that allow you to access any of your mail accounts from anywhere. These are useful for when you want to access your emails when you're away from the computer that you usually use to access your mail but when again when you access your mail this way you must be online to do it.

If you have an email account that allows you to use a mail protocol such as POP3 or IMAP4 to download your emails to your computer then you should be able to access most of your emails while not connected to the internet. This is the case when you use the mail program that came with your browser to access your mail such as Outlook Express (which comes with Internet Explorer) or when you use a stand alone mail program such as Eudora.

Provided that you do not have your web programs set to automatically connect to the internet when you start them up you can first start your mail program and connect to the internet and send and receive your emails. You then disconnect from the internet after your mail program reports that it has received all of your incoming mail.

You can now access most of your emails without having to reconnect to the internet. Why most and not all? Well this depends on the content of the emails. Firstly, any plain text emails and the text in all emails is accessible while not connected to the internet because the text content of all of your emails is stored on your computer.

There are two different ways of attaching images to emails depending on what type of email program was used to create the email. If the images are actually embedded in the email then they will be accessible while you are offline. If instead the email links in the images from the sender's web site then those images will not be accessible while you are offline unless you have previously viewed the email and have copies of the images cached on your computer. Unless the images are an important part of what you are trying to access in the email you can choose to continue to work offline when the email program asks if you want to connect and download the images and you will then see all of the email content except for those images. You might also want to suggest to the sender of the email that they should embed rather than link images so that you can actually see them when offline (in order to properly secure your email program you should turn off externally linked images completely - in which case you wont see linked images even when online - another reason why the sender needs to embed instead of link).

The final thing in the emails that is not accessible while offline are any web links that are embedded in the email. To be able to click on a link in an email and display the corresponding web page (unless you have already visited the page and still have it cached) will require that you go online.

What this all means is that downloading your emails and then disconnecting from the internet is a really useful way of reducing your connection time. You can read through your emails while offline and take the appropriate action (such as writing a reply that will be sent the next time that you connect to the internet).

There may be an occasional email where there is a linked image that you need in order to make sense of the email or where the email contains web links that you need to follow. In these instances you can go back into these emails to take the appropriate action the next time that you connect to the internet.

As an example, let's consider the monthly newsletter that I send to everyone on my mailing list. The images are embedded in the email itself and will appear even when you access the email while offline as will the actual content of the email including the way that it is laid out and the coloured background (of course if you use an email program that doesn't support HTML you wouldn't see any of this but would instead see the text only version). You would be able to read the My Word article and the On Site report on what I have been doing with my web site without having any need to be connected to the internet while reading. You would also be able to read the list of new pages added during the last month in the What's New section of the newsletter but you would not be able to click on any of these links and actually view the new pages unless you reconnect to the internet. In other words the newsletter itself can be read in its entirety while you are offline and you only need to go online if you want to access one or more of the web pages that the email links to.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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