Please tell me what happens to email boxes when their holder ceases living
or becomes disabled?
In this excerpt from
Answercast #64, I look at the steps that most email services go through when
an email account is abandoned.
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How long do emails last?
This is actually an important thing that a lot of people don’t think
The answer, as it turns out, depends entirely on what email service you’re
talking about – what email service you’re using.
By that, I mean the rules that your ISP might use (if that’s where you’re
getting your email) will be different than the rules that say Gmail uses or
Hotmail uses – and those may be different than the rules that Yahoo Mail
In other words, there is no single answer. You really need to understand (if
this is a specific you are looking at)… you need to understand what the rules
are for the provider you’re using.
Email account rules
Now, in general, it’s actually fairly simple: the account stays
active for “a while.”
A “while” can be anywhere from a few months to a couple of years. By
active, I mean nothing changes: it continues to accumulate email. If
the account holder doesn’t login to it, that’s all it does; it just sits there
and accumulates email.
Some email services have what they call “quotas” – which means you’re only
allowed to accumulate a certain amount of email. If the provider has such a
quota and if this account continues to receive so much email that it exceeds
that quota, then email sent to that account will typically start getting
bounced. It will start getting rejected.
People sending email to that account may usually get a notice that says
Now, it is also the case that in most email services, after a certain period
of time where you have not logged into the account, you haven’t downloaded
email from the account, the service will say, “Oh, you’ve abandoned this
Typically, what then happens is a two-stage process. The first thing that
happens is that the email and contacts and everything are removed from that
account – so that the account is effectively empty. It is still there – and in
fact, if you were to come back and login to that account, you would then
reactivate the account: except that nothing would be in it.
This is important for people who want to reclaim an email address after
they’ve abandoned for some period of time. They won’t be able to get the email
if this has happened, but they’ll at least be able to regain control of the
email address and continue using it from that point forward.
If they continue not to login to that email account address, then
eventually the service will say, “Nope, you’ve really abandoned this. I’m going
to return this email address into the pool of available email addresses.”
Now, someone new can come along and create a brand new account that now uses
what used to be your email address because you stopped using it.
How much time?
It’s important to note once again here that all of the different times I’m
talking about: the amount of time that it may take to hit a quota (if there even
is a quota); the amount of time that it may take to cause your account to be
emptied (because it’s considered abandoned); and the amount of time it may take
for that account to be completely shut down (and the email address returned to
the pool of available email addresses); that’s all of the stuff that varies
from one ISP, from one email provider to another.
That’s the stuff I can’t give you specifics on because that’s the stuff
that is going to be different depending on exactly who it is you’re talking
But in general, those are things to realize will happen if an account holder
suddenly stops logging into that account. Email will accumulate. A quota, if
any, will be exceeded. Email may then start bouncing. Eventually, email may be
removed from the account. And then finally, the account will be completely and
formally closed and the email address returned to the available pool of free
Next from Answercast 64 – Is
there technology that would allow a file to be opened only once?