It’s 2023, and in the age of rapid technological advancements, there still remains a slight haze around a seemingly basic topic: the case sensitivity of email addresses. I work in a job where someone reads me their email address perhaps 20 times a day. I would estimate that around a third or more of them say “OK, it’s all lowercase” and then reads out the address.
Where do people get the idea that email addresses are case-sensitive and are they right? I decided to dig a little deeper to answer some questions.
### The Short Answer:
Email addresses are *not* case-sensitive in terms of delivery. In other words, whether you send an email to “JohnDoe@example.com” or “email@example.com”, the email should reach the same inbox. However, it’s important to note that while the local part (the part before the “@”) *can* be case-sensitive according to the Internet standards document, in practice, most email providers and servers treat it as case-insensitive. In fact, I have been unable to find any in my research that does enforce the local part as case-sensitive. That does not mean that they do not exist, if you know of one, let us know.
### The Technical Details:
1. **The Local-part**: According to the Internet standards document (RFC 5321 and RFC 5322), the local-part of an email address can indeed be case-sensitive. So technically, “JohnDoe” could be different from “johndoe”. However, the vast majority of email servers and providers do not enforce this. They treat the local-part as case-insensitive, mainly because it could lead to immense confusion and missed emails.
2. **The Domain**: The domain part (after the “@”) is not case-sensitive. This is in line with the DNS (Domain Name System) standards which treat domain names as case-insensitive. So, “example.com” is the same as “Example.Com” or “EXAMPLE.COM”.
### Why the Confusion?
There are several reasons why many believe email addresses to be case-sensitive:
1. **Visual Identity**: Some people use varied capitalisation to make their email addresses more readable or to give them a unique visual identity. “John.Doe@example.com” might be more readable than “firstname.lastname@example.org”. But this distinction is purely cosmetic.
2. **Password Confusion**: Passwords, unlike email addresses, *are* case-sensitive. Some might conflate the case-sensitivity of passwords with email addresses.
3. **Official Documentation**: The fact that RFCs mention the local-part *can* be case-sensitive, even if not commonly practiced, can add to the confusion.
4. **Different Platforms**: While most platforms treat email addresses as case-insensitive, there could be outlier platforms or systems that don’t. Encountering one such system might lead someone to generalise the behaviour across the board.
### Best Practices:
1. **Consistency**: Even though email addresses are generally not case-sensitive, it’s a good practice to consistently use the same format when sharing your address. This prevents confusion and ensures you remember exactly how you’ve presented it.
2. **Communication**: If you’re designing a system or service, always communicate to your users about how email addresses will be treated. If your system does treat the local-part as case-sensitive (though rare), it’s crucial to inform them.
3. **Testing**: If unsure about an email platform, try sending test emails using different case variations of an email address. This can help you determine how the system treats them.
Email addresses, in practical usage, are not case-sensitive, I use a computer programme at work that enforces all lower-case email addresses, this is one of the reasons I wanted to know more. However, misconceptions arise due to a mix of official standards, visual preferences, and experiences on different platforms. While this might seem like a small detail, understanding the nuances ensures smoother communication in our digitally-driven world. So, next time someone asks you about the case-sensitivity of email addresses, you’ll know just what to tell them!