The invention of email is arguably one of the greatest technological advancements in people's daily lives. Programming languages are at the core of email applications, and over time the choice of programming languages in building email services has changed. While Fortran was used to build the very first email service, powerful and feature-rich languages such as Ajax and Python are now preferred because the whole idea of offering email services has been evolving. Email users constantly want better experiences. For example, page-loading, search and storage features have changed a lot over the years. Now you have email apps, web-based email and desktop clients. (Learn about the evolution of programming languages in Computer Programming: From Machine Language to Artificial Intelligence.)

Almost any programming language out there can be used to build an email service. However, the choice of programming languages depends on many different factors. It cannot be said that certain programming languages aren't superior to others in terms of building an email service, but it is all about how much a language can fulfill requirements. Here we will review the various programming languages and their comparative abilities in helping build an email application.

Are There Specific Programming Languages for Building Email?

Any language that runs on a web server can help develop an email application. However, if you're planning to build an email application yourself, you need to keep in mind the following factors:

  • Since you would need a database to store addresses, it needs to be compatible with the language you choose.
  • You would need a server or a virtual private server (VPS) to run the email application. So, the operating system on which the server or VPS is installed will govern the choice of language.

However, as already stated, you do not want to just randomly pick out any language without making sure it fulfills your requirements. So, we will make a comparative analysis of different programming languages in the sections below. (Many businesses are opting for email alternatives. To learn more, check out Ditch Your Inbox? No-Email Initiatives and What They're For.)

Note that an email application, like any software application, has two parts: server and client. Programming languages can power both server and client.

Factors in Choosing Programming Languages

Business or any other unique considerations should govern your choice of programming languages. Still, you may want to keep the following criteria in mind:

  • The more features and interfaces you plan, the higher the possibility of choosing varied programming languages, and vice versa.
  • Choose a language that is compatible across platforms.
  • It is almost an axiom to have web-based or browser-based interfaces for your email application because potential users find them friendlier. Choose a web-friendly language.
  • Frameworks, plug-ins and libraries make the life of software developers easier. Choose languages like Java that have packaged libraries and plug-ins that are compatible.

Programming the Email Server

An email application should have certain objectives, barring exceptions: It should load fast, allow sufficient and permanent storage for free, offer fast search features and scale as demand rises. Popular email services like Gmail and Yahoo Mail have successfully fulfilled these objectives because they chose suitable programming languages, among other important choices and implementations. So, let us determine which programming languages help you better achieve these objectives.

Java and Python

If you want to build a big and comprehensive email application, Java is a good choice because it is easy to handle and offers a big library of preconfigured functions. Think of an email application like Gmail – it has a mobile app and a browser-based interface. Having these two interfaces interact with the email server is a complex task. Then if you consider features such as search, storage, loading, scaling, authentication and other fancy but useful features, implementing them is indeed a huge task. You do not want to invest a lot of time and money in developing an application of such scale. Java offers a huge library of built-in classes, functions and other utilities that not only reduces time and effort but also does a lot of work quickly. Additionally, email applications need a lot of memory, and Java is more efficient than many languages at memory management.

Python is like Java in many ways. Python, though, is easier to learn and implement. If you are a beginner, Python is probably a better bet than Java. Python, however, is not yet as feature-rich as Java.

C++

To start with, there are many similarities between C++ and Java, but don't let that confuse you. Like Java, C++ has a standard (if less voluminous) library. C++ is a strong and robust language, but note that unlike Java or Python, it might not be used as a general-purpose language. For example, if you want to build an app with C++, it might not work out so well. However, C++ is right for implementing some specific features. In fact, C++ plays a role in powering the Gmail app engine.

Programming the Email Client

The email client is the interface between the email features and capabilities and its users. So, the importance of email clients cannot be emphasized enough. When it comes to client-side programming, good old JavaScript, CSS and HTML are still the favorites, with Ajax fast gaining popularity.

HTML and CSS

Both HTML and CSS are great for managing the user experience of the email client interfaces. Both have evolved over the years and the latest versions are HTML5 and CSS 3. The main reasons HTML and CSS are suitable for email client interfaces are responsive design support, availability of easy-to-use editors, simpler management of HTML elements and tags and improved error communication. Though all features are important, considering that responsive designs and layouts are more favored, HTML and CSS gain a lot of importance.

JavaScript and Ajax

JavaScript has been the unchallenged client-side scripting language for a long time. Now, Ajax is being used too, but not as a replacement. The main benefit JavaScript and Ajax offer is the nimbleness and efficiency of transactions with the server. For all server communication, the email client takes some time. The less time taken, the better the user experience, and vice versa. JavaScript and Ajax can handle many requests at the browser end without contacting the server, thus saving a lot of time.

Conclusion

Building an email application is in some ways easier than in the past because of the availability of so many different choices, libraries and frameworks. Additionally, traditional languages like C++, HTML and Java have evolved. On the flipside, the availability of so many options can also be confusing. All in all, regardless of whether you build a plain or feature-rich email application, the wide array of language choices, libraries, frameworks, cloud storage and low cost of servers have put you in an advantageous situation like never before.