Order/timing of thread reply emails

I frequently subscribe to threads that I’m posting to, at least initially. One thing I’ve noticed many times is that not only does the timing of these emails (from the time of the post) vary a lot, but the order in which you receive new post notification emails is frequently not the same as the order of those posts. Meaning, you sometimes get an email notifying you of a post and only later (sometimes much later) get notification of earlier responses to that same thread.

For example, at 3:06 PM I just received an email notifying me of a “new post” to a thread; that new post was posted at 10:05 this morning. Meanwhile, I’ve already received 6 other notification emails for subsequent posts to that same thread.

I had previously assumed it might be connected to the length of the post, but this was pretty much a one liner.

Any explanation for this? (Not that this is a problem or anything, but I’m curious as to what might account for it.)

E-mails are kinda funny in the way they work. It’s not like a web page where you instantly (sorta) access the data. An e-mail, once it is created, typically goes into some sort of spooling system on the mail server where it basically gets queued up to be sent.

When it is sent, it doesn’t go straight from point A to point B, but instead follows a meandering path around the internet. Most e-mail programs hide the e-mail headers from you, but on most programs there is some way to look at the headers. In outlook, for example, you can click on File and then Properties, and the headers are down near the bottom. There’s a lot of junk in the headers, but one of the things in there is the path that the e-mail took. Note that this path can be easily spoofed, which spammers often do so that you can’t trace the e-mail back to their server.

Once the e-mail is received by your mail system, it also usually gets spooled again. Basically, the message gets queued up again so that it can be processed.

Your e-mail program will then check your e-mail queue periodically, so there can be an additional delay there.

If things show up out of order, it could be because something got queued up because the system was busy, on either the sending end or the receiving end. It could also be that one of the messages managed to find a faster path across the internet from one e-mail server to the other.

These days, the spooling and queuing is fairly minimal and fast, so most e-mails come through within seconds from when they were sent, maybe a minute or two if things are really busy. In the old days, when computers weren’t as fast and networks didn’t have as much bandwidth, e-mails could take hours to get from point A to point B.

We also had a problem with one system that I used where the e-mail server would occasionally spool an incoming message and would then forget about it. Since most messages came through, no one really noticed that it had a problem. After about six months, it finally completely filled up its disk and crashed. Once the system administrators figured out what was going on, they got it to unspool the messages, and everyone got six months of missing e-mails all at once.

Weird things can happen sometimes. Most of the time though, e-mails are pretty quick these days.

I think they finally shut down the e-mail server on Neptune …

For the past several weeks, my email notifications are so out of order that they are actually frustrating. I’ll read new posts in a thread, then get a new email notification and toddle back to the thread to discover that it’s from a post hours before. On one occasion, it was the day before. This was never the case before. Any thoughts/suggestions? Is anyone else who uses email notifications having this issue?

I have had post reports come in several hours after the offending post was made.

To be fair, I ordered a dishwasher from Lowes back in January (was delivered back in January too), and just today got my e-mail confirmation that it was delivered.

So we’re not the only ones with a bit of slowness going on.

The thing is, email is faster than ever now. So it makes more sense that problems would be caused by server issues. An occasional email taking longer is not the same as consistent problems. And it’s not exactly like load issues are uncommon here.