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Email can be delayed for many reasons; it's the nature of the email infrastructure. If your message is delayed, your options are limited.

I am trying to send an e-mail to a co-worker and I keep getting the following message:

Delivery Status Notification (Delay)
This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification.
THIS IS A WARNING MESSAGE ONLY.
YOU DO NOT NEED TO RESEND YOUR MESSAGE.
Delivery to the following recipients has been delayed.

The strange thing is that it is only happening with that specific e-mail address? What does it mean, and why it is happening?

It means exactly what it says: the email you sent hasn't been delivered yet - it's delayed. The mail system will continue to attempt to deliver the email. Eventually it'll either be delivered, or you'll get a fatal error message.

Why? Because.

Seriously, there are many, many reasons that email could be delayed.

If that's a problem for you, then you may be thinking about email the wrong way.

(Portions of this answer are taken from my essay "Email is never urgent. Really." out on TamingEmail.com.)

One thing that many people fail to realize is that email was never meant to be "real time". The entire email infrastructure is built to expect and properly handle delays ranging from minutes to hours to even days. While most of the time email arrives nearly instantaneously, the fact is you can't count on it.

"If you get this 'message has been delayed' warning, there's nothing you can really do."

Email is what's called a "store and forward" system. When you send an email, it's received by a mail server, stored for some period of time, and then forwarded on to the next server in the path to get your email to your recipient. Finally it lands on the recipients mail server, where it's stored until the recipient downloads it (another kind of "forward" to their inbox), or reads it on-line.

Those "periods of time" that a server might hold on to your message before forwarding it are typically very short, but there's really no guarantee that they will be. There could easily be any of a number of legitimate different mail server delays along the path that your email will take to get to your recipient. That's not the system being broken, that's how the system works.

One example might be simply that the recipient's mail server is temporarily off-line. Rather than fail to deliver the email, your mail server simply keeps trying to pass the message along. In some cases it's nice enough to let you know that this is happening by sending you the "Delivery to the following recipients has been delayed." message. Eventually, when the recipient's mail server comes back on line, the delivery succeeds.

A sending server will only try for so long. If I recall correctly, if after 5 days the message cannot be delivered you'll get an error message instead of a warning telling you that the mail didn't make it through.

There are many reasons mail could be delayed. I see it most often when mail servers themselves are overloaded, unstable, or when they have problems with their connectivity to the internet.

If you get this "message has been delayed" warning, there's nothing you can really do. If your message is urgent, you may need to find a way other than email to make contact.

Article C3040 - May 30, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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11 Comments
Shiraz Janjua
July 27, 2007 11:51 AM

Hi, I have recently been told my people trying to email the above address that it either comes up with a "Delivery Status Notification (Delay)" or "Unable to deliver message to the following recipients, due to being unable to connect successfully to the destination mail server" Delivery Status Notification (Failure). What can I do about this as this has only recently started & I have been using the account for over 5 years with no problems.
The only thing I have done is started to use Norton internet security 2007
Please advise. Thanks in advance Shiraz

Piet
December 7, 2007 5:37 AM

Hi, It has nothing to do with NIS. The delay notification and the failed to deliver message are set on the mailserver.

Piet

snowmaster
January 29, 2009 8:34 AM

I understand the reasons for delayed messages..sort of. But, why do I get on-time e-mails from some people and accounts while other people are getting a delayed message prompt for messages sent to me and I don't get their e-mail?

Cheryl
December 3, 2009 5:50 AM

My emails are being delayed also. I am using hotmail, is there any what that I can go and just pull those emails so that they just don't deliver at all?

Kevin
January 22, 2011 6:56 AM

It's not entirely true that there is "nothing you can do". If you are on a local network sending out emails or going through a local doman, MS has a good KB article on the subject and how to resolve it by adjusting settings on the SMTP server:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/329636

This may help some of you with this issue.

Oh, that's going to apply to about 1/100th of 1% of my readers. First step is to "Open Exchange System Manager." - something most people have never heard of, don't use or have no access to. Great for the rest though Smile.
Leo
22-Jan-2011

Tyler
June 26, 2011 1:08 PM

Well i understand that i cant do anything, but the message i sent was an important one, how do i know when it will send, if not ever? its pretty annoying.

If you get a delay message you should eventually get a failure message if it's unable to send. The delay can be days, however.
Leo
28-Jun-2011

Don M.
December 29, 2011 7:09 AM

I get a "WARNING. Mail Delayed: from "MAILER-DAEMON@server115.appriver.com" several times a day. This has been going on for at least 1 month. How do I make is stop. Can I spam out the from address without losing other emails? When is looked up that server I get info on an email address extractor from text.

Bill
June 12, 2012 6:17 AM

I've noticed that this only happens when I send an MS Outlook meeting update to the invitees. The original meeting invite gets sent and received fine. But if I change the date or time of the meeting, I get the "Delay" message. I'm using SBS2003 w/Exchange server and MS Outlook 2007.

Shyne
September 24, 2012 7:31 PM

Can a email that has been sent hijacked an its attachments edited before getting to its destination?

Theoretically possible, but I've never ever heard of it actually being done.
Leo
25-Sep-2012
lara
February 1, 2013 6:25 AM

I`ve got such message from postmaster@mail.hotmail.com.....
what actually does it mean ?

"This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification.
THIS IS A WARNING MESSAGE ONLY.
YOU DO NOT NEED TO RESEND YOUR MESSAGE.
Delivery to the following recipients has been delayed.
{email address removed}"

Mark J
February 1, 2013 6:55 AM

@Lara
Basically, the article answers your question. When I get a message like this, I resend the message anyway as it will usually get delivered before the original one I sent.
Why is some email to me delayed by days?

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