Every email message consists of two parts, the body and the header. The header can be thought of as the envelope of the message, containing the address of the sender, the recipient, the subject and other information. The body contains the actual text and the attachments. Email programs usually display some header information like the From, To, Date and Subject fields. The actual delivery of email does not depend on any of these headers, they are just convenience. Usually, the From line, for example, will be set to the sender’s email address. This is so you know who the message is from and can reply easily.

Spammers want to make sure you cannot reply easily, and certainly don’t want you to know who they are; so they insert fictitious email addresses in the From lines of their messages. This makes the From line useless in determining the real source of an email. Fortunately, the “hidden” headers of every email message can be very helpful in tracing spam.

Just like a postal letter will go through a number of post offices on its way from sender to recipient, an email message is processed and forwarded by several mail servers. Imagine every post office putting a special stamp on each letter. The stamp would say exactly when the letter was received, where it came from and where it was forwarded to by the post office. If you got the letter, you could determine the exact path taken by the letter. This is exactly what happens with email. As a mail server processes a message, it adds a special line to the message’s header.

How to View Headers

    • Outlook Express: Select the email message and press Ctrl+F3.
    • Outlook Express for Mac: Select the email. From the View menu, choose Source. A new window will appear containing the email with full headers.
    • Outlook 2000-2003: Right click on the message without opening it then select Options.
    • Thunderbird: Open the selected email and click on View. Click on Headers, All.
    • Window Mail: Open the selected email and click on View. Click on All Headers
  • Windows Live Mail: Open the desired email in Windows Live Hotmail. Click the down arrow next to Reply in the message’s header area near the sender and subject. Pick View message source from the menu
Category: Email