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A screenshot of a Gmail inbox
Developer(s) Google
Initial release March 21, 2004 (2004-03-21)
Operating system Server: Linux; Client: Any Web browser
Platform Google Web Toolkit (Java/JavaScript)
Type POP3, IMAP, E-mail, Webmail

Gmail is a free, advertising-supported 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, though still with beta status. 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]

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.

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.[6]

Gmail runs on Google Servlet Engine and Google GFE/1.3 on Linux.[7][8][9]




File:Gmail login page.png
Gmail's log-in page (July 2009)

The Gmail service currently provides more than 7400 MB of free storage.[10] Users can rent additional storage (shared between Picasa Web Albums, Google Docs and Gmail) from 20 GB (US$5/year) to 16 TB (US$4096/year).[11][12][13][14]

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."[15]

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.[16] As of January 18, 2010, the rate was 0.000004 MB/s, or 0.0144 MB/h.[17]

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.[18][19][20]

On January 28, 2009 Gmail added support for offline access through its integration with Gears.[21]

On July 14, 2009 Gmail brought Tasks out of Labs testing and made it an official feature.[22]

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.[23] Users may tune the system to allow mail marked as spam to be handled in particular ways. [24]

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.[citation needed]

On September 22, 2009 Google brought Push Mail support to its Gmail service using Google Sync for iPhone and iPod Touch platforms[25]


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.[26]


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.[27]

Domain name history

Before its acquisition by Google, the domain name was used by a free e-mail service offered by, online home of the comic strip Garfield. After moving to a different domain, that service has since been discontinued.[28]

As of 22 June 2005 (2005 -06-22), Gmail's canonical URI changed from to[29] As of July 2009, those who typed in the former URI were redirected to the latter.

GoogleMail domain for certain countries

The domain is unavailable in certain countries, such as the United Kingdom and Germany, due to trademark disputes, in which cases users must use the domain[30]

Because the domains are interchangeable, users obliged to use the domain are unable to select addresses already chosen by users. Inbound e-mails sent to either or addresses will reach the user. When registering for an online service, Googlemail users must use the form of their email address to ensure that any administrative emails they send to the service, such as confirmation messages, are recognized.

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.[31]

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.[31]

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.[32]

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.[33][34]

Gmail Autopilot hoax

On April Fools' Day 2009 Google introduced a service called Gmail Autopilot by CADIE.[35] 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".[36][37][38][39]

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.[38][40][41][42][43]

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.[44]

On December 12, 2008 Gmail added support for faster PDF viewing within the browser.[45]



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.[46][47]

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-mail messages with information from Internet searches. Google has not confirmed how long such information is kept or how it can 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.[48]

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."[49][50]

Google defends its position by citing their use of email-scanning to the user's benefit. Google states that Gmail refrains from displaying ads next to potentially sensitive messages such as those that mention tragedy, catastrophe, or death.[51]

Gmail accounts of human rights activists in China were hacked in a sophisticated attack in late 2009. [52][53] The fact that Gmail stores, analyzes and retains user's email contents makes Gmail an attractive target for such attacks.[54]

Technical limitations

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.[55][56]

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 if the client has a copy of it already.[57] 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.[58]

Gmail sorts e-mail only by conversations (threads), which can be 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 labeling, can only be performed on whole conversations. Conversations cannot be split up or combined.[59]


Gmail has been unavailable on several occasions. On February 24, 2009 the Gmail service was offline for 2 hours and 30 minutes, preventing millions of users from accessing their accounts. People who rely entirely on Gmail for business purposes complained about these outages.[60][61] Another outage occurred on September 1, 2009. The problem was widely reported by users on Twitter, and Google acknowledged that the problem affects "a majority of users" and promised an update on the situation by 1:53:00PM PDT which would include a time estimate on when they expect to have the problem fixed.[62][63][64] An update at 1:02PM PDT stated that the problem was still being investigated and promised another update by 2:16:00 PM PDT. According to an Official Gmail Blog post, IMAP and POP3 access was unaffected.[65] Later that day, a Google vice president, Ben Treynor, explained that the problem, which ultimately resulted in about 100 minutes of outage, was caused by overloaded routers, triggered by a routine configuration change which added more router load than expected. Treynor wrote, "Gmail remains more than 99.9% available to all users, and we're committed to keeping events like today's notable for their rarity." [66][67]

In 2009, Google continued to experience outages across its network, leaving users without access to their email, calendars, and virtual files.[68]

Key outage dates include:[68]

  • September 24, 2009: Gmail outage
  • September 1, 2009: Gmail outage
  • May 14, 2009: Google network outage
  • March 9, 2009: Gmail outage
  • August 7, 2008: Gmail and Google Apps outage

Twenty-four hour lockdowns

If an algorithm detects what Google calls "suspicious activity", the account can be automatically locked down for 24 hours (possibly less). The user is not told which reason the account was locked down, but only given a list of possible reasons from which the user has to guess (if the reason is even in the list). Possible reasons for an automated 24 hours lockdown include:

  • "Multiple instances of your Gmail account opened"
  • "Browser-related issues. Please note that if you find your browser continually reloading while attempting to access your inbox, it is likely a browser issue, and it may be necessary to clear your browser's cache and cookies."
  • "Receiving, deleting, or popping out large amounts of mail (via POP) in a short period of time" (even if Gmail has features which do so)
  • "Sending a large number of undeliverable messages (messages that bounce back)" (spam, possibly using a keylogged name and password)
  • "Using third party file-sharing or storing software, or software that automatically logs in to your account and that is not supported by Gmail"

On behalf of

Prior to July 2009, any email sent through the Gmail interface included the address as the "sender", even if it was sent with a custom email address as "from". For example, an email sent with an external "from" address using Gmail could be displayed to a receiving e-mail client user as From on behalf of (the display used by versions of Microsoft Outlook). By exposing the Gmail address, Google claimed that this would "help prevent mail from being marked as spam".[69] A number of Gmail users complained that this implementation was both a privacy concern and a professionalism problem.[70]

On July 30, 2009, Gmail announced an update to resolve this issue.[71] The updated custom 'From:' feature allows users to send messages from Gmail using a custom SMTP server, instead of Gmail's (which will continue to add the gmail address as "sender").[72]

Disabling accounts

Google's terms of service allow it to disable customer accounts at any time without warning. Google provides a page for users to complain if an account has been disabled in error, but although some users are able to get their accounts back, for others it often generates no response, and users have no other way to get their accounts returned to them. [73] [74] [75] [76]



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.[77][78]

Gmail has drawn many favorable reviews from users for generous space quotas and unique organization.[79]

Trademark disputes


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

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.[80]

Google spoofed "offering" the same service in the Gmail Paper April Fool's Day joke in 2007.[81]


In February 2007 Google filed legal action against the owners of, a poet group known in full as Grupa Młodych Artystów i Literatów abbreviated GMAiL (literally, "Group of Young Artists and Writers").[82]

Russian Federation

A Russian free Webmail service called owns the "Gmail" trademark in the Russian Federation.[83]

The domain name dates from January 27, 2003.[84]

United Kingdom

File:Google Mail Beta logo.png
The Google Mail logo

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.[85][86]

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 address, although a reverse of either in the sent email will still deliver it to the same place.

In September 2009 Google began to change the branding of UK accounts back to Gmail following the resolution of the trademark dispute.[87]

United States

A trademark for "Gmail" was first filed in January 28, 1999 in the United States by an individual named Milo Cripps.[88] However, the mark became abandoned on July 31, 2000 because of a failure to respond to an inquiry by the U.S. trademark office. Google, Inc. refiled for the mark on April 4, 2004, and was granted a federal U.S. trademark on "Gmail" on December 11, 2007.[89] Since then, Google's trademark rights for the Gmail mark in the United States have not been challenged.


After Gmail's initial development and launch, many existing web mail services quickly increased their storage capacity.[90]

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.[91]

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.[92]

In June 2005 AOL started providing all AIM screen names with their own e-mail accounts with 2 GB of storage. [93]

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.[94] 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.[95][96]

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[97] and to 25 MB in June 2009.[98]

See also

Third party software


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