Computers & Technology



Gmail is a free webmail, POP3, and IMAP service provided by Google.[1][2] In the United Kingdom and Germany, it is officially called Google Mail.

Gmail was launched as an invitation-only beta release on April 1, 2004 and it became available to the general public on February 7, 2007. As of July 2009[3] it has 146 million users monthly. The service was upgraded from beta status on July 7, 2009, along with the rest of the Google Apps suite.[4][5]

Why Use Gmail?

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With an initial storage capacity offer of 1 GB per user, Gmail significantly increased the webmail standard for free storage from the 2 to 4MB its competitors offered at that time. The service currently offers over 7350 MB of free storage with additional storage ranging from 10 GB to 400 GB available for $20 to $500 (US) per year.[6][7][8]

Gmail has a search-oriented interface and a "conversation view" similar to an Internet forum. Software developers know Gmail for its pioneering use of the Ajax programming technique.[9]

Gmail runs on Google Servlet Engine and Google GFE/1.3 which runs on Linux.[10][11][12]



The Gmail service currently provides more than 7350 MB of free storage.[6] Users can rent additional storage (shared between Picasa Web Albums and Gmail) from 10 GB (US$20/year) to 400 GB (US$500/year).[13]

On April 1, 2005 the first anniversary of Gmail, Google announced the increase from 1 GB, stating that Google would "keep giving people more space forever."[14]

In April 2005 Gmail engineer Rob Siemborski stated that Google would keep increasing storage by the second as long as it had enough space on its servers. On October 12, 2007 the rate of increase was 5.37 MB per hour.[15] As of July 27, 2009, the rate was 0.000004 MB/s, or 0.0144 MB/hr[16]

Gmail Labs

The Gmail Labs feature, introduced on June 5, 2008, allows users to test new or experimental features of Gmail, such as bookmarking of important e-mail messages, custom keyboard-shortcuts and games.

Users can enable or disable Labs features selectively and provide feedback about each of them. This allows Gmail engineers to obtain user input about new features to improve them and also to assess their popularity and whether they merit developing into regular Gmail features. All Labs features are experimental and are subject to termination at any time.

On December 10, 2008 Gmail added support for SMS Messaging through its integrated Chat.[17][18][19]

On January 28, 2009 Gmail added support for offline access through its integration with Gears.[20]

On July 14, 2009 Gmail brought Tasks out of Labs testing and made it an official feature.[21]

Spam filter

Gmail's spam filtering features a community-driven system: when any user marks an email as spam, this provides information to help the system identify similar future messages for all Gmail users.[22]

Gmail Mobile

Gmail Mobile is a version of Google's Gmail email service. It is a free service, developed to provide access to Gmail from mobile devices such as cell phones, or smartphones. Gmail Mobile was released on December 16, 2005 and is available in many different languages. Gmail Mobile offers many of the features as Gmail delivered effectively to smaller, mobile screens. Users have the ability to compose, read, reply, forward, mark unread, add a star or trash email messages.


The Gmail interface differs from other webmail systems with its focus on search and its "conversation view" of email, grouping several replies onto a single page. Gmail's user experience designer, Kevin Fox, intended users to feel as if they were always on one page and just changing things on that page, rather than having to navigate to other places.[23]


Gmail was a project started by Google developer Paul Buchheit several years before it was announced to the public. Initially the e-mail client was available for use only by Google employees internally within the company. Google announced Gmail to the public on April 1, 2004.[24]

Domain name

Before its acquisition by Google, the gmail.com domain name was used by a free e-mail service offered by Garfield.com, online home of the comic strip Garfield. After moving to a different domain, that service has since been discontinued.[25]

As of 22 June 2005 (2005 -06-22), Gmail's canonical URI changed from http://gmail.google.com/gmail/ to http://mail.google.com/mail/.[26] As of July 2009, those who typed in the former URI were redirected to the latter.

The domain gmail.com is unavailable in certain countries due to trademark disputes, in which cases users are able to use the domain googlemail.com. The Gmail service does not discriminate between these two domains for incoming e-mails, therefore a user with the address "john.doe@googlemail.com" will receive mail sent to "john.doe@gmail.com", and vice-versa. Accordingly, users obliged to use the googlemail.com domain are unable to select addresses already chosen by gmail.com users.

Gmail hoaxes

Gmail Paper hoax

On April Fools' Day 2007, Google made fun of Gmail by introducing "Gmail Paper", where a user could click a button and Gmail would purportedly mail an ad-supported hard copy for free.[27]

Gmail Custom Time hoax

On April Fools' Day 2008 Google introduced a fake service, "Gmail Custom Time", which would allegedly allow a user to send up to ten e-mails per year with forged timestamps. The hoax stated that by bending spacetime on the Google servers, the e-mails actually get routed through the fourth dimension of time itself before reaching their intended recipient.[28][29]

Gmail Autopilot hoax

On April Fools' Day 2009 Google introduced a service called Gmail Autopilot by CADIE.[30] According to Google, the service purported to automatically read and respond to emails for the user. It appeared to work by analyzing messages for the emotions expressed in the message and either providing advice to the user or automatically responding to the message.

Code changes

Gmail's JavaScript front-end was rewritten in late summer and early fall of 2007 and was released to users starting on October 29, 2007. The new version had a redesigned contacts section, quick contacts box and chat popups, which were added to names in the message list as well as the contact list. The contacts application is integrated into other Google services, such as Google Docs. Users granted access to the new version were given a link at the top-right corner which read "Newer Version". As of December 2007, most new registrations in English (US) along with most pre-existing accounts are given the new interface by default when supported. There remains the option to downgrade via a link labelled "Older Version".[31][32][33][34]

These coding changes mean that only users of Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 2, Google Chrome and Safari 3.0 (or more recent versions) can fully use the new code. Internet Explorer 5.5+, Netscape 7.1+, Mozilla 1.4+, Firefox 0.8, Safari 1.3 and some other browsers will give limited functionality. Other browsers may be redirected to the basic-HTML-only version of Gmail.[33][35][36][37][38]

During the week of January 18, 2008 Google released an update that changed the way Gmail loads JavaScript. This caused the failure of some third-party extensions.[39]

On December 12, 2008 Gmail added support for faster PDF viewing within the browser.[40]

Gmail : Final Cut

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Google automatically scans e-mails to add context-sensitive advertisements to them. Privacy advocates raised concerns that the plan involved scanning their personal, assumed private, e-mails, and that this was a security problem. Allowing e-mail content to be read, even by a computer, raises the risk that the expectation of privacy in e-mail will be reduced. Furthermore, e-mail that non-subscribers choose to send to Gmail accounts is scanned by Gmail as well, even though those senders never agreed to Gmail's terms of service or privacy policy. Google can change its privacy policy unilaterally and Google is technically able to cross-reference cookies across its information-rich product line to make dossiers on individuals. However, most e-mail systems make use of server-side content scanning in order to check for spam.[41][42]

Privacy-advocates also regard the lack of disclosed data retention and correlation policies as problematic. Google has the ability to combine information contained in a person's e-mails with information about their Internet searches. Google has not confirmed how long such information would be kept and how it could be used. One of the concerns is that it could be of interest to law enforcement agencies. More than 30 privacy and civil liberties organizations have urged Google to suspend Gmail service until these issues are resolved.[43]

Gmail's privacy policy contains the clause: "Residual copies of deleted messages and accounts may take up to 60 days to be deleted from our active servers and may remain in our offline backup systems." Google points out that Gmail adheres to most industry-wide practices. Google has stated that they will "make reasonable efforts to remove deleted information from our systems as quickly as is practical."[44][45]

Google defends its position by citing its use of email-scanning to the users' benefit. Google states that Gmail refrains from displaying ads next to potentially sensitive messages, such as those that mention tragedy, catastrophe, or death. [46]

Technical issues

Gmail does not allow users to send or receive executable files or archives containing executable files if it recognises the file extension as one used for executable files or archives.[47][48]

Tech-savvy users who are not prone to casual errors report loss of random messages in random amounts.[49]

By design, Gmail does not deliver all of a user's e-mails. When downloading mail through POP or IMAP access, Gmail fails to deliver messages that users have sent to themselves.[50] It also does not deliver to a user's inbox (via any access interface) those messages that users have sent to mailing lists and which they might expect to receive back via the mailing list.[51]

Gmail has been unavailable on several occasions. On February 24, 2009 the Gmail service was offline for 2.5 hours, preventing millions of users from accessing their accounts. People who rely entirely on Gmail for business purposes complained about these outages.[52][53]

Gmail sorts e-mail only by conversations (threads), which is a problem for large conversations. For example, if a user sends a query to a large group of people, all of the responses are stored in a single conversation that is impossible to break apart. There is no way to search for responses from one user without getting the entire conversation. While deletion of individual e-mails is possible, most operations, such as archiving and labelling, can only be performed on whole conversations. Conversations cannot be split up or combined.[54]

"On behalf of"

Prior to July 2009, any email sent through the Gmail interface included the Gmail.com address as the "sender", even if it came from a custom email account. For example, an email sent from an external account via the Gmail interface displayed to an e-mail client user as From user@gmail.com on behalf of user@OtherDomainEmailAddress.com. By exposing the Gmail account name, Google claimed that this would "help prevent mail from being marked as spam".[55] A number of Gmail users complained that this implementation was both a privacy concern and a professionalism problem.[56]

On July 30, 2009, Gmail announced an update to resolve this issue.[57] The updated custom 'From:' feature allows users to send messages from Gmail using the SMTP server provided for the given email address, instead of Gmail's (which will continue to add the On behalf of).[58]

Requirement for mobile phone number

When attempting to create a Gmail account from some countries, Google requires a mobile phone number that supports text messaging. In other countries this is not required for sign-up, according to Google due to service limitations.[59]

Google explains this:

"If you'd like to sign up for a Gmail address, you need to have a mobile phone that has text-messaging capabilities.

If you don't have a phone, you may want to ask a friend if you can use his or her number to receive a code.

One of the reasons we're offering this new way to sign up for Gmail is to help protect our users and combat abuse. Spam and abuse protection are two things we take very seriously, and our users have been very happy with the small amount of spam they've received in Gmail. We take many measures to ensure that spammers have a difficult time sending their spam messages, getting these messages delivered, or even obtaining a Gmail address (spammers will often use many different addresses to send spam). Sending invitation codes to mobile phones is one way to address this, as the number of addresses created per phone number can be limited.[59]"



Gmail was ranked second in PC World's "100 Best Products of 2005," behind Mozilla Firefox. Gmail also won 'Honorable Mention' in the Bottom Line Design Awards 2005.[60][61]

Gmail has drawn many favorable reviews from users for generous space quotas and unique organization.[62]

Trademark disputes

United Kingdom

On October 19, 2005 Google voluntarily converted the United Kingdom version of Gmail to Google Mail because of a dispute with the UK company, Independent International Investment Research.[63][64]

Users who registered before the switch to Google Mail were able to keep their Gmail address, although the Gmail logo was replaced with a Google Mail logo. Users who signed up after the name change receive a googlemail.com address, although a reverse of either in the sent email will still deliver it to the same place.


On July 4, 2005 Google announced that Gmail Deutschland would be rebranded to Google Mail. From that point forward, visitors originating from an IP address determined to be in Germany would be forwarded to googlemail.com where they could obtain an e-mail address containing the new domain. Any German user who wants a gmail.com address must sign up for an account through a proxy. German users who were already registered were allowed to keep their old addresses.

The German naming issue is due to a trademark dispute between Google and Daniel Giersch. Daniel Giersch owns a company called "G-mail" which provides the service of printing out e-mail from senders and sending the print-out via postal mail to the intended recipients. On January 30, 2007, the EU's Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market ruled in favor of Giersch.[65]

Google spoofed "offering" the same service in the Gmail Paper April Fool's Day joke in 2007.[66]


In February 2007 Google filed legal action against the owners of gmail.pl, a poet group known in full as Grupa Młodych Artystów i Literatów abbreviated GMAiL (literally, "Group of Young Artists and Writers").[67]

Mainland China

An information-technology company in mainland China named ISM Technologies (Chinese: 爱思美) has owned and operated a web portal from the domain gmail.cn since 2003.[68][69]

Russian Federation

A Russian free webmail service called gmail.ru owns the "Gmail" trademark in the Russian Federation.[70]

The gmail.ru domain name dates from January 27, 2003.[71]


After Gmail's initial development and launch, many existing web mail services quickly increased their storage capacity.[72]

For example, Hotmail increased space for some users from 2 MB to 25 MB, with 250 MB after 30 days, and 2 GB for Hotmail Plus accounts. Yahoo! Mail went from 4 MB to 100 MB and 2 GB for Yahoo! Mail Plus accounts. Yahoo! Mail storage then increased to 250 MB and in late April 2005 to 1 GB. Yahoo! Mail announced that it would be providing "unlimited" storage to all its users in March 2007 and began providing it in May 2007.[73]

These were all seen as moves to stop existing users from switching to Gmail and to capitalize on the newly rekindled public interest in web mail services. The desire to catch up was especially noted in the case of MSN's Hotmail, which upgraded its e-mail storage from 250 MB to the new Windows Live Hotmail which includes 5 GB of storage. As of November 2006, MSN Hotmail upgraded all free accounts to 1 GB of storage.[74]

In June 2005 AOL started providing all AIM screen names with their own e-mail accounts with 2 GB of storage. [75]

The Gmail system flags as dormant every Gmail account which remains inactive for six months. After a further three months, for a total of nine months dormancy, the system may delete such accounts.[76] Other webmail services have different, often shorter, times for marking an account as inactive. Yahoo! Mail deactivates dormant accounts after four months, while Hotmail matches Gmail's nine months.[77][78]

As well as increasing storage limits following the launch of Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail also enhanced their e-mail interfaces. During 2005 Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail matched Gmail's attachment size of 10 MB. Following the footsteps of Gmail, Yahoo! launched the Yahoo! Mail Beta service and Microsoft launched Windows Live Hotmail, both incorporating Ajax interfaces. Google increased the maximum attachment size to 20 MB in May 2007[79] and to 25 MB in June 2009.[80]

References and Notes

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