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Email with the wrong time on the sender's computer can result in a strange sort order on the receiver's end.

Sometimes an email arrives when I'm at my computer, but it slots itself into an arrival time that is before as many of five to six emails that are previously arrived. Why is this so?

In this excerpt from Answercast #81, I look at how time settings on the sender's computer can affect the order that it ends up sorting on yours.

Email with the wrong time

It's because the sender's clock is wrong.

What most people don't realize is that, in most cases, the "send time" on an email is actually set when the email departs the computer of the person who is sending it. If their clock is wrong, if it's off by a few minutes, if their time zone is set incorrectly, then that may cause a problem.

If their daylight savings time auto setting or summer time setting is set wrong and it's the wrong time of year - that can also impact the time that appears that they sent their mail.

Time set intentionally wrong

Spammers actually use this characteristic frequently. You will often get email from years in the future in your spam. They do that specifically because they know that most email is sorted by decreasing date - and by using a date years into the future, they can force their spam to show up at the top of the list.

Normally, a date being that far off is in fact one of the signals that many spam filters will use to determine whether or not something is spam.

A few minutes off? Yep. That's usually just the clock on the sender's computer being off by a little bit.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6164 - December 22, 2012 « »

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.

Not what you needed?

Nicholas J Gimbrone
December 25, 2012 8:52 AM

I suspect far more common is that the Mail User Agent being used to display the email to the recipient is not even displaying/sorting by the date/time that the email was sent, but rather by the date/time it was received at the recipient's system (and thus includes all of the transit time).

Neil Lomas
December 25, 2012 1:13 PM

I received an email message which was shown by Outlook 2010 as having been sent on 4th December (which was true) but was indexed under the date 10th August. The 10th August date was picked up when it passed through a third-party server - what was curious was that it seemed to have passed through a server belonging to my ISP before being passed to the offending server, which passed it on to a server belonging to my ISP!

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