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who invented the email shiva or rayShort Bytes: fossBytes turns the pages of computer networks history to unveil the truth of “who invented email?” Was it Ray Tomilson or was it Shiva Ayyadurai? Who should be given credit for the invention of Email — know all the facts and decide yourself.

After the death of Ray Tomilson, fossBytes shared a picture of Ray Tomilson with a heading Inventor of email Ray Tomlinson dies at 74. RIP. The sharing of picture attracted the comment by a reader that lead to a discussion regarding the fact “who invented Email” on our Facebook page. So, we decided to list the facts in front of you and help you uncover the truth.

Ray Tomlinson: The one who invented email?

Ray Tomlinson gets the credit for inventing Email. Ray Tomlinson was an American computer programmer who first implemented an email system on the ARPANET system. The internet system was not developed that time and ARPANET system was just a precursor of the internet system.

Before the proper email system was invented, people used to send mail to only others who used the same computer. However, Ray Tomlinson gets the credit for implementing @ sign so that he could separate a username from the name of their machine. A convention which we follow until now and something which brought a complete revolution in the field of an email system and which credited him as the inventor of the email.

However, he himself had insisted that was not true. Instead, he has attributed the growth and success of email to many people who worked to build the tool that we all use today.

ray tomlinson dead

Evolution of Email from file transfer system:

Ray Tomlinson first developed the TENEX operating system which included ARPANET network control program and telnet implementations. Before the implementation of the email system, Ray wrote a file transfer program called CPYNET to transfer files through the ARPANET network. Later he modified the same program to add users on the same computers which defined the first email system.

Ray Tomlinson, Email and the truth:

Ray Tomlinson modified an early electronic mail program called SNDMSG and used that program to send messages across the computer connected via ARPANET. Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia which talks about SNDMSG program:

SNDMSG was originally the electronic mail program for a single multi-user time-sharing computer running the TENEX operating system. It allowed all users of the machine to send a simple form of an email to each other. but it was extended by Ray Tomlinson in 1971 to allow sending to users on other computers accessible over the ARPANET, addressing them by appending the other system’s hostname after an “@” sign.

He and others also defined the standards (that’ll be discussed later) for email headers (RFC 561).

However, it should be noted that Ray Tomlinson’s email could not send an email across different networks. His Email was just limited to the SAME NETWORK. For example, if you wanted to send an email to different universities in the US, let’s say, between MIT and Stanford — it was not possible using Ray’s email.

But it doesn’t nullify his importance as an Email pioneer. @ symbol was a way of determining both the user and which computer to send the email to. His idea and implementation of addressing a user using @ symbol cannot be denied and that is surely applaudable.

Shiva Ayyadurai, Email and the truth:

If we glance at the some of the commendable work by Shiva then Email is one of those things which cannot be ignored.

How Different is Shiva Ayyadurai’s Email to Ray Tomlinson’s Email?

As we have already discussed the Ray’s Tomlinson email, let’s talk about Shiva Email.

Shiva wrote this email software program for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in 1978. It was good a decent email system that allowed the university staff to send electronic messages. Then in 1981, he registered the copyright on this program called EMAIL.

If we take a look back at the conception then it is the extension and enhancement of the Shiva’s Email system which we currently use. He claims that it was him who introduced proper formatting to an email like To, From, CC, BCC, Subject, Body, Attachments, and Others.

But it’s argued that Ray Tomlinson has most of the headers that needed to deliver a message like to, cc, from etc. And it was Shiva, who coined the EMAIL word and used those header terms without being aware of the earlier work.

If we consider the facts and history, the Email came and grew out over many people’s work (lots of them even pre-dated Ayyadurai). You can take a look at RFC 733 from 1977 — that was published before Shiva started working at the University — it already mentions all the features of email that were later developed by Shiva.

So, Who Invented email?

Shiva calls this controversy a product of racism. He says, “If an Indian does great software coding, Outsourcing or is the chairman of Microsoft, then that’s cool. But an Indian cannot be an innovator. I am labeled a fraud.”

However, he forgets that Tomlinson was actively involved in setting the earlier standards for email in 1973, five years before Ayyadurai. Here’s the reference RFC 561, in which he and others already defined standards for email headers.

rfc email invention ray

Another interesting fact — In this RFC 561 document called ‘Standardizing Network Mail Headers’, along with Ray’s name, you’ll find the name of another Indian Abhay Bhushan (author of FTP). Well, I don’t smell any type of racism.

Well, whatever be the case, If Ray Tomlinson defined the term and standards, Shiva claims to give it a face, shape, and body. Still, the decision lies in your hand. Tell us your views in the comments below.