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Old 23 Aug 2021, 03:33 PM   #1
Smidgen
Junior Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2021
Posts: 1
Timestamps

A company claimed to have sent me an important email which I never received - I was checking the spam and inbox of my Gmail account during the period they claim they sent the email and saw nothing. I asked them to resend me a copy of the email they had originally sent me. Initially they just sent me a pdf print out of their email to me which included the previous exchanges attached. I wondered if they might have 'created' the print out of the email, so I also asked them to forward me a copy of the email they claimed they sent. The odd thing was the printed and forwarded emails had timestamps that differed by one minute. Is there any logical explanation as to why the timestamps might differ, assuming the original email had been sent as they claim?
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Old 23 Aug 2021, 06:04 PM   #2
JeremyNicoll
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Join Date: Dec 2017
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Posts: 314
I think it maybe depends on where the timestamps are in the mails.

A timestamp in a Date: header is meant to be set by the software that composes the mail. Others get set by the process that sends the mail, and others again by servers that the mail passes through on its way to you and by your mail provider's servers when it arrives.

If you use a mail client on your own device it may also add a timestamp as it acquires an incoming mail from a mail-provider.

The sender may also have had a "log copy" or "sent copy" copy of the mail that isn't the originally-composed instance but a copy made as the original was sent, and maybe that's what was sent to you while the screenshot was of the original mail. Different email clients certainly, and - I'm sure - different webmail or corporate mail systems will make the log/sent copy at different points in the sending process.

Different software displays "the date and time" of a mail in different ways, taking the value it intends to show you from different parts of the mail - eg some will show you when it was written, or when it was sent, or when it arrived. Just possibly your comparisons are not looking at the same type of date/time in each case.

Dates/times are also stored normally in mails in UTC/GMT plus/minus a difference because of time zones. Most software will display the equivalent local time, but might round up/down that value to the nearest minute and not show you the whole number of seconds let alone fractions of seconds. So what you see as two times "a minute" apart might in reality have been eg hh:mm:59.999 and hh:nn:00.0000 ... ie only 1 microsecond apart.

You would expect that all the servers running in one particular company's server network to have the same time-of-day setting ... but not necessarily exactly the same. Time-of-day clocks are not always running at precisely the right speed.

There's time-checking software that some people run that adjusts machines' time-of-day setting every so often to try to keep their clocks more accurate. On my home PC I have it check the time every 5 minutes with a time-server that's in my ISP's network, and one would expect the overhead in connecting to that to be pretty constant. But every 5 minutes the software logs a small discrepancy. The Windows default (I think) is to check times, if it does it at all, once every two or three days. Server editions of Windows may have different defaults, and such checks may or may not be made. Linux, especially on servers, is perhaps more likely to be doing such things.


Rather than asking for a copy of the mail that they sent, what you should ask them for is a copy of the log from their sending SMTP server. That will show their server attempting to connect to your mail provider's server and whether or not the mail was actually sent. You may have to make a formal complaint to get that done, depending on the company concerned, as it will require someone in their IT dept to dig the information out of the logs, not someone in their ordinary customer services dept who more-than-likely won't even understand what you are asking for and won't be able to do it themselves. If they are able to provide proof that their system did send the mail you should then ask your mail provider for a copy of their incoming server's log (and perhaps subsequent servers eg spam-scoring servers and then the server the mail should have ended up on) showing what it did with the arriving mail. I have no idea if "free" email providers will do this sort of thing but I know that my two paid-for providers - who both have excellent technical support - will do it.

Last edited by JeremyNicoll : 23 Aug 2021 at 06:13 PM.
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