Note: this article refers to email that you download onto your computer via an email program such as Outlook Express, Windows Mail or Windows Live Mail. If you only access your email via webmail i.e. you log into a website to read it, this article is not applicable to you.
An error message may appear when you try to either send email or receive it – or both. The error message will say something like ‘invalid user/password’ or ‘username/password not recognized’ and a popup window may be displayed asking for your correct email username and password – the username may already be filled in and the password will be a row of blobs/asterisks (because it is hidden for security purposes).
The worst thing you can do is panic and start typing in a different username or password – in 99% of cases there is no need to do anything at all because it is not your problem, just close the error message and your email program and try again in a few hours.
What Causes The Problem? It helps to understand a little of what happens when you try to send or receive email. Very simply, within your email program settings you will already have stored all the details of your email account. These will include your username, password and the names of two computers belonging to your email provider (usually your broadband provider) – a POP computer that deals with email you receive and a SMTP computer that deals with email you send.
When you try to receive email, your email program sends your email username and password to the email provider’s POP computer to be validated (to make sure it is you) – if correct, the POP computer then sends you any new emails. Likewise, when you try to send email, your email program sends your email username and password to the email provider’s SMTP computer to be validated – if correct, the SMTP computer sends your email on to the person you addressed it to.
So far so good. But what if either (or both) of the email provider’s computers are unavailable/broken or just too busy to validate your request to send/receive email?
In this case they will not be able to validate your details or respond to your email program. Unfortunately your email program will then assume that because your details could not be validated, they must be wrong – and display the error message saying that your username/password are incorrect and ‘helpfully’ offer to let you change them – don’t!
How To Fix The Problem – Hopefully by now you will have realized that there is no problem with your username or password.
All that has happened is that your email provider’s computer(s) have stopped working and your email program has therefore (incorrectly) assumed that your details are wrong. You will not be able to send or receive email (or both) until your provider fixes the problem – which is at their end, not yours.
So, to ‘fix’ the problem, just wait for a few hours and try again – most email providers will fix their email computers within a day or two so you should get there eventually. If you did try typing in a different password, change it back to what it was originally or the sad fact is that your email will never work (because it now has the wrong password!) – even after your email provider fixes their computers…
Whereas if you had left it alone you would likely already be back up and running again – lesson learned ;-)
Are Their Any Exceptions?
The guide above applies to an existing email account in an email program that has been working fine previously.
1. If you have just set up a new email account for the first time and have never used it before then it is quite possible you put in the wrong email account details – double check them.
2. Similarly, if you have just set up an existing email account on a different computer or new email program then it is quite possible you put in the wrong email account details – double check them.
3. It is theoretically possible that an email program could ‘lose’ your username/password or account details but this is extremely rare with today’s email programs. Double check your email account settings – if your email is still not working after a day or two then contact your email provider to confirm all your account details/password etc and establish if they still have a problem with their email.
4. It is possible that your email provider may have made a change to the email settings required to connect to them e.g. they changed the name of their POP or SMTP email computers – they should have told you of this well in advance but do contact them if in doubt.