Email management simplified: Decoding the email header
Email management simplified: Decoding the email header

Whether you're sending a personal note to a client, a response to a colleague, or email marketing (like a newsletter), the email header contains valuable technical information that can help you simplify and organize your inbox. 

Most email clients have features that allow you to sort, organize, and filter emails by the information in the email header. AI-powered email like Superhuman makes it especially easy to use email header information to stay on top of your inbox. 

Plus, the data in email headers can help you stay safe from any scams, spam, or phishing attacks.

Let's explore exactly what email headers are and how you can benefit from them. 

What is an email header?

The email header contains vital metadata like the sender, recipient's email address, date and time information, and other technical details unique to that specific email. These headers aren't immediately visible but can be accessed through your email service provider when you click on an option such as "view message source" or "original message."

Every email message you send or receive includes this header information, making email headers a powerful tool for managing and organizing your inbox. 

What are the main elements of a message header?

An email header can contain many different fields, some of which are mandatory and some that are specific to the email service provider or how the email was created. Each email has unique header elements, ranging from simple sender information to technical specs.

Here are the key email header elements: 

  • From: Who the email came from, including the sender's name and email address
  • To: The receiver's name and email address.
  • Subject: Any text that the sender entered in the subject line field.
  • Date: A mandatory field that includes the timestamp and date the email was sent.
  • Message-ID: A unique code made up of about 50 letters and numbers that is automatically created when you send an email.
  • Return-Path: Like a return address for a letter, this is the email address that a message will be sent back to if it can't be delivered to the intended recipient.
  • Reply-to: An optional field that lists the specific email address where any response will be delivered, which could be different from the sender's email.
  • Content-Type: A field describing the format of an email's message, such as HTML, TXT, or multipart (which can include both text and HTML components).
  • MIME-version: Details about the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) protocol used for formatting the email. MIME allows emails to include things like attachments and HTML formatting.
  • SPF: Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is an email authentication method designed to detect if a sender is forging addresses during the delivery of the email.
  • Received: Once an email has gone through an SMTP server, the received field will show the path that the email took to get to the recipient.
  • DKIM-Signature: DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) is an authentication method used to validate that the email was actually sent and authorized by the owner of that domain.
  • X-Headers: Custom headers added by email clients or servers that provide more information on tracking data or anti-spam measures.

From the uber-technical to the basic, each element of an email header provides vital information that can be used to manage your inbox. 

Why are email headers important?

An email header can provide valuable information about the message source, routing, and delivery of your email. This information can help you identify any potential threats and confirm the legitimacy of an email.

Here are some of the reasons you should pay attention to email headers.

Improve security

Email headers can help you spot phishing attempts or suspicious emails, which could be a cybersecurity risk. By looking closely at the Return-Path or Reply-To information in the message header, you can confirm that it matches the sender's information and avoid responding or interacting when something looks malicious.

Fix email deliverability issues

Did you know that 1 in 6 marketing emails never reach the recipient's inbox? 

If your email delivery is hit-and-miss or your emails are regularly landing in a recipient's spam folder, you can look at your header information to see where things might be going wrong. The email's path (contained in the Received field) can help you identify any IP address issues or delivery problems that could be preventing your emails from reaching the recipient. 

Or, if you notice your emails aren't being received by specific email clients (like Gmail or Microsoft Outlook), you can use the email header information to troubleshoot and understand why. 

Organize your email inbox

Beyond the technical aspects, email headers can help you organize and filter your email inbox to make it more manageable. By using the data found in the message header, you can set up rules to automatically sort incoming emails into specific folders or apply labels to them, making it much easier to navigate and prioritize your emails.

Identify an email route

When you examine the technical data in an email message header, you can trace the route the email followed to reach your inbox. This includes a record of the IP addresses involved in the transmission process. This information can be valuable if you need to verify the origin of the email or if you wish to gather more details about the sender of the email.

How to view email headers on your email client

So, where can you find email headers in your own inbox? Here's how to find the data you're looking for in various email clients. 


To find an email header on Gmail:

  1. Open the email you want to look closer at.
  2. Click on the three vertical dots in the top-right corner of the message.
  3. Select "Show Original" from the dropdown menu. A new window will open that displays the full email header.


On Outlook, you can find an email header with these steps:

  1. Open the email you want to view.
  2. Click on the "File" menu.
  3. Select "Properties."
  4. In the "Internet headers" section at the bottom, you'll find the full email header.

Apple Mail

On Apple Mail, find an email header by doing the following:

  1. Open the email you wish to check.
  2. In the menu bar, select View.
  3. Select "Message" and then "All Headers."
  4. The full header information will be displayed at the top of the email.

Yahoo Mail

To find an email header in Yahoo Mail:

  1. Open the email you're interested in.
  2. Click on the "More" (three dots) button on the right side of the screen.
  3. Select "View Raw Message." A new window will display the complete header information.

How to organize your inbox with email headers

Once you know how to find and understand the elements of email headers, it's time to leverage them to help you work more productively. 

There are several ways to maintain a more organized email inbox with email headers, including: 

Filter and categorize emails

You can use the "From" and "To" fields to categorize emails based on their purpose, like setting up a "Newsletter" or "VIP" filter to easily sort through your inbox.

Prioritize responses

You can use the "Reply-To" field to figure out if a response is needed immediately or set a reminder to respond later.

Automatically sort for most important emails

By setting up a unique workflow in your email provider, you can automatically do things like archive older emails, flag important messages, or delete old promotional content.

When you start automating your inbox based on email headers, you'll spend less time dealing with messy inboxes and have more time to focus on things that really matter.

The bottom line

When you understand the makeup of your email headers, you can better master your inbox and ensure you're engaging in safe email practices. From small business owners to busy executives, your email headers can help you unlock peak productivity, security, and better efficiency in your day-to-day work.

Looking for an email solution that keeps your email organized as you go through your busy day? 

Superhuman helps you keep your inbox tidy, secure, and calm โ€” plus, you'll fly through your inbox twice as fast. Visit Superhuman now for the fastest email experience ever made.