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How to Decode a Failure to Deliver an Email

When an email message fails to deliver, it is typically referred to as a bounced message All the information needed to determine why a message bounced is contained within the returned email.

Email messages are composed of headers, such as To or From, and a body. The information needed to decode a failure with email delivery is contained within the headers of the email.


Things You’ll Need

  • Email headers


4 Steps to Decode a Failure to Deliver an Email

Failure to Deliver an Email

1. Display the full headers for the email message that bounced.

The process to do this will vary according to the email client that you use. With Google’s Gmail client, you select the individual message, click the disclosure triangle on the top right of the message and select “Show original” from the menu.


2. Read the headers from bottom to top.

Headers are added to an email message at the top, so the topmost header lines will be the newest.


3. Examine the top-most or last stage of the email delivery process.

A bounced email, or a failure to deliver notification, will reveal the cause for the bounce in the header. Look to the top of the headers for the last step that the mail servers attempted before the failure.


4. Convert a numeric delivery failure code to more meaningful data.

The topmost header will contain a textual response that indicates precisely why the failure occurred, for example if the recipient address is unknown, or it will contain a numeric error code.

You may need to convert the numeric code into a more meaningful response. A search engine will enable you to do this most effectively.


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