November 27, 2021

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Send an email as we know he just turned 50

Send an email as we know he just turned 50

At the end of October, Google joined Blog post It is said that the concept of email turned 50 in October of this year. This is only partially true.

In October 1971, engineer Ray Tomlinson associated Project Arpanet with what is today the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), after which he is said to have developed the first system that could send email between computers.

Network first

men, Tomlinson also writesEmail has been around since the early 1960s. The big difference was that with Tomlinson’s solution, email could be sent between different computers.

Until then, the sender and recipient had to use the same computer, despite having different mailboxes.

The timing of the first network email is also controversial, something Digi.no mentioned 20 years ago, when the 30th anniversary was celebrated.

What Tomlinson did anyway was send text messages between two computers standing next to each other. The two devices were only connected via Arpanet. The picture of the two computers, BBN-TENEXA and BBN-TENEXB can be found on the site This page.


Ray Tomlinson in 2004. Photo: Andreu Veà, WiWiW.org (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Almost all of the pieces are ready

Initially, Tomlinson worked for a small group of programmers who developed a time-sliced ​​operating system called Tennis for the then Bolt Beranek and Newman Company, which later became part of Raytheon.

Tomlinson worked on both a program called SNDMSG, which can allow different users on a computer to leave messages for each other, and CPYNET, an experimental program for transferring files over a network. The combination of these two solutions made up most of the solution, but one thing was missing. CPYNET did not have a function to add text to the end of existing files, which is necessary to add a new email to the mailbox.

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But it was easy for Tomlinson to be in the right place. Then it can send the message between the two computers. What message is contained in the text, no one remembers. But maybe it was simply something.

Unlike email today, emails back then could only contain plain text.

The Curl Alpha

There’s also something else about email today that Tomlinson takes credit for, which is the use of the @ sign (“curl alpha”) to distinguish between an account and a hostname in email addresses.

In the self-written instructions, writes about the character selection that it was due to the fact that at the time at least it was not used in names, and it was not of any importance in the text-editing tools that could be run on TENEX. It was even worse in operating systems like Multics, where @ was used as a command character to delete lines.

Tomlinson passed away in 2016 at the age of 74. Before that time, he was registered i Internet Hall of Fame, for an invention he was playing with, apparently because he was looking for something to use ARPANET for.