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Oxford Email Addresses

This document describes email addresses and how they are used in Oxford. The sections below describe the set-up for the majority of people within the University. A separate section near the end deals with the special cases.

For the purposes of this page,

  • Department includes Faculty and Sub-Faculty
  • College includes Society and Permanent Private Hall

1. Email Addresses

Email addresses are used by electronic mail systems to determine where to deliver messages. They consist of two parts separated by an at sign (@, sometimes called commercial at): name@domain

The domain part consists of a number of items separated by period marks. It identifies an institution or other organisation and sometimes a specific part of the organisation or even an individual server computer.

The name identifies an individual email user. A typical form is the first and last name separated by a period, but other forms using an underscore, initials, a job title, or a one-word server username are all valid. A username may be generated in a numerical series or based on a first or last name, or a job or project title.


2. How email reaches the addressee

Every domain which is valid for email has associated with it the Internet address of one or more computers which will accept email addressed to the domain. This information is accessible to any computer on the Internet, so a message will not leave the originating computer unless the domain part is valid. The accepting computer may be a server or it may be a router. A router will have additional information about the name component of the email address (and possibly the domain part if it handles several domains) and will send the message to the appropriate server. In either case, the name part will be used to identify an account on the server.

An email server accepts incoming mail and stores it in the correct account according to the recipient address on the message. The email user activates a client such as Outlook Web Access, Outlook, Eudora or Pine to check the account for new messages. The client can also be used to view new or old messages, or to organise or delete messages.

IT Services provides the web-based client Outlook Web Access which is self-contained and can be used anywhere world-wide. Other clients should be configured specifying IMAP as the server type. This keeps your active email on the server so that it is available whether or not you are using your own office computer.

3. Email Addresses in Oxford

Because of the large number of people entitled to use email in the University, and given the distributed and autonomous nature of computing facilities here, a comprehensive scheme of consistent email addresses was set up in 1992. This provides for personal email addresses of the form where the firstname.lastname part is the preferred name of the person concerned and unit is a name chosen by the department or college. Prior to that, email addresses had a computer (server) name for the domain and an account code for the name part.

This style of email address is called the generic Oxford University address (because it does not identify a specific server). It is only available to departments and colleges which are considered full institutions of the University (i.e. not to Recognised Independent Centres or Anglican Theological Colleges).

IT Services will generate the firstname.lastname part of your email address from your University Card record. The firstname will be the forename you underlined when using a paper University Card application form, otherwise your first forename. The lastname will be your full surname (with any spaces or apostrophes removed). If this name is not the one by which you are usually known (or it is inconveniently long), then you may ask that your email address be changed to reflect your preferred name. This allows for changes such as "Stephen" to "Steve" or dropping complete components of a multi-word or hyphenated family name.

Note that the University has a policy of transparency in email names, so initials or completely unrelated nicknames are not acceptable.

Each address is potentially linked to a central Nexus account. However, IT Services Registration will alter this default if a departmental or college server is to be used. The relevant local IT officer will usually arrange this on your behalf.

People with affiliations to both a department and a college will have an email address for each. This allows people a choice of how they wish to be addressed.

For example, Mary Brown is a member of staff at the Department of Food Studies and is a fellow of Enstone College. She has an email account (username food0032) on the central Nexus system. Her email addresses are:

Typically, Mary would advertise only one of these, but mail addressed to either of them will be delivered to the username food0032 on the Nexus system.

An email account is not the same as an email address. More than one address can be associated with a single account, and you will not usually get a new account when you move within the University, though you will usually get a new address.

4. Policy on email names for individuals

4.1. Entitlement

Each person is entitled to one email address of the form for each unit (department, college, etc) to which they have a current active affiliation.

4.2. Preferred name

A person can change the preferred form of their name but we do not offer permanent multiple forms of the personal name for any unit or different forms between different units.

4.3. Overlap period

When a person changes name or ceases to belong to a particular unit, the old address will no longer be advertised but it will be supported for an overlap period which is currently two months. However, this overlap period may be shortened at the request of an appropriate member of a unit's administration, or at the user's own request. There will be similar overlap arrangements if a unit is closed or merged due to reorganisation by the University authorities.

4.4. One name only

The reason for restricting name variants is to avoid confusion because only the latest preferred version will be shown in any published items such as the Contact Information on the Oxford University web pages.

4.5. Difficult names

It is appreciated that many people have names which are not easy to spell or where the exact choice of preferred email name may not be obvious to someone wishing to initiate a new correspondence. The system will respond to an incorrectly addressed message by referring the sender to the University's contact information page; this offers exact matching or approximate match which is a "sounds-like" option. The contact page is also directly accessible by using the Contact Search link on the home page of the Oxford University web site. Where a person's family name has several parts, the contact search will match any single part, or the "approximate match" option can be exercised. This will allow most addresses to be located but some restriction is unfortunately necessary to prevent people using this mechanism to obtain long lists of University email addresses for junk mail purposes.

4.6. Help with failed email

As a long-stop, every unit has a address which can deal with queries. This is a standard Internet protocol for all email addresses and anyone having difficulty should either be aware of this option or be able to get advice on it from their internet service provider.

5. Policy on Email Domains for Institutions

The domain addresses are only available for units officially recognised by Planning and Resource Allocation. If reorganisation removes a unit from the University, the email domain will be discontinued.

Several unofficial units have web site names but the existence of a web domain does not imply entitlement to an email domain.

For application for a new domain, select 'new unit form' on for details of the official University Structure spreadsheet maintained by Planning and Resource Allocation.

6. What happens when mail arrives?

Mail coming in to any address ending with is received initially by one of the central mail routers (collectively known as oxmail). These machines are responsible for routing practically all mail traffic within the University. The mailers hold details of all Oxford email addresses and the routing information (username/server combinations) associated with them. When a message arrives, the mailer checks to see if it is for an address it knows about and has routing information for. If so, it passes the message on to the relevant account on the correct server for that address. If the server is temporarily out of action, oxmail will hold the message and attempt to send it later.

In Mary Brown's case, mail arriving for either of the two addresses listed above would be passed on to the IT Services Nexus system for the username food0032.

If the incoming mail address is not recognised by the mailer, the message is returned, with an explanatory note, to the sender.

7. What happens when I send mail?

Each mail message has a mail header associated with it. This provides information such as the address of the sender, when it was sent, and so on. When mail is sent from a system in Oxford the message is passed to the central mailer, which checks that the domain part of the address to which it is being sent is valid (if not, it rejects the message), and then passes the message onto the wider network to the relevant machine. The mailer includes in the header a value for the "Sender's address" - this will be the relevant generic address. People may choose which of their affiliations (department or college) is used to make up the outgoing mail header.

So, the Mary Brown described above could choose whether she wanted her outgoing mail headers to be written as one of:

8. What if I move to a new Email Server?

This is why we strongly recommend generic email addresses rather than explicit server addresses. Because the generic first.last@ addresses do not indicate which username or email server you use, it is a simple matter to redirect where oxmail sends any incoming mail for you. There is no need to tell all your colleagues that you have changed to a different email account. Incoming mail addressed to your generic address will simply be sent to your new server.

All you need to do is inform IT Services Registration of your new username/machine combination. Changes can also be made by the IT Officer for the unit.

For example, supposing Enstone College started to run their own email server, and Mary Brown wished to use that instead of using Nexus. Suppose also that the email system is known as and that her username on the system is mary_b. All she would need to do is let IT Services Registration know this and the change would take place next time the records were updated on oxmail (normally 10:00, 13:00, 16:00, 19:00 for requests processed at least 30 minutes before those times). In practice, all arrangements for the changeover would usually be handled by the College's IT Officer.

9. Different email addresses routed to different servers?

This setup is allowed for. Different email addresses can be routed to different destination username/machine combinations. A good example of where this might be useful is if someone with both a department and college affiliation, and with more than one username available to them, wished to keep different aspects of their academic work separate. Further, as the outgoing mail headers can be set differently for mail sent from each username, it is possible to separate different aspects of your work completely.

Continuing the Mary Brown example, assume that her main work is related to her job in Food Studies, but that there was a certain amount of email relating to a research project she was involved with at her college. She could request that the address directed mail to the username food0032 on Nexus, but that the address passed the mail on to the username mary_b on the Enstone mail system. By setting the outgoing mail headers accordingly, the two aspects of her work could be kept completely separate.

10. What if I change department?

If you move jobs within the University (or move to a different college), then you might acquire new email addresses. These will normally be set up on the central mailer to work for incoming mail the day after your University Card is updated. Changing your default outgoing mail headers can be done from the Nexus mailbox settings on the self-registration pages. The old addresses (reflecting your previous department or college) will continue to accept incoming mail for two months. You should inform people of your new addresses, and you might need to re-subscribe to any email discussion lists.

If you move out of a department with local email facilities, note that the activation of a Nexus account will not automatically cause email to be re-routed to Nexus. Contact IT Services Registration to arrange this after your Nexus account is operational.

11. What if I leave Oxford?

IT Services accounts are disabled when your University Card expires. If you leave before the date shown on your card, the card may be cancelled at any time after you leave, so you should not rely on the printed date. If you use a Nexus account and take no action, mail will continue to be delivered to your account and the sender will not know that you have not received it.

There are various options for redirecting your email or saving your stored messages. These are covered in detail in the Leaving Oxford page. One month before your Nexus account is due to expire, you will be emailed a warning which includes a link to this page.

If your first.last@ addresses are routed to a Nexus account, they will automatically be cancelled when the account is deleted. If they are routed to a departmental server, IT Services does not have records of whether your server account remains valid or whether it has forwarding set to another address. Any queries will need to be addressed to IT staff in the relevant department or college. Please check first whether the information is already available on the unit's web site.

12. Generic Addresses for Departmental 'Functions'

It is possible to set up unit generic email addresses for certain titles or functions within a department or college. Names such as 'enquiries', '', 'library' can all be set up so that email addresses of the form will work. To arrange routing of such an address to an existing account, staff members can contact IT Services Registration. Students should contact a staff IT officer to submit their requests.

It is sometimes desirable to have separate accounts for such addresses. See the Non-Personal Accounts and Facilities section of the Registration home page for more information.

13. The University Email Directory

The University maintains an online directory of local email addresses. This gives name, email address and department/college for each person, with separate entries for each unit that a person currently belongs to.

You can request to be ex-directory for email via Registration but this can cause problems for people with a genuine need to contact you, so Council has specified that such requests must be authorised by your Head of Department or Head of House. However, if you are suffering actual harassment by email (keep the messages online as evidence until we can take action), IT Services will act as quickly as possible to protect you - contact

Note that requests to have your telephone number ex-directory also require the same authorisation but should be submitted via your college/department Telecommunications Coordinator.

14. Special case Departments and Colleges

The local procedures described above apply to the majority of people and the majority of departments and colleges. There will be some differences where a department or college runs its own email server.

14.1. Local server, routed by IT Services

Some departments run their own email systems and have the routing of their first.last@ addresses managed by IT Services. The IT Officer will arrange the local account, contact IT Services to arrange the routing, and let you know when the account and address will be fully operational. The behaviour will be the same as for the standard set-up in most respects.

14.2. Local server, self-contained

Some colleges and departments have total control of their incoming mail - oxmail recognises the domain part of the address and sends the mail immediately to the relevant server, which will do its own handling of the name part. In these circumstances, the email addresses will not necessarily conform to the standard generic format described above. Information in the online directory for the University contact page will be as supplied to IT Services by the department or college concerned. In most cases, oxmail will also hold messages if the server is temporarily out of action.

IT Services cannot reroute mail addressed to these departments and colleges. Check the institution's web page for local procedures, or email if you cannot find any special instructions.

15. History - Long-form Addresses

The original 1992 scheme provided for email addresses of the form where unit was a name chosen by the department or college. There was always a long form of a department or college name, used with There would usually be an additional short form, used with The domain components ox and oxford were not automatically interchangeable.

For example, Mary Brown could have four addresses:      (long form)                  (short form)           (long form)               (short form)

Email was still at a pioneering stage in those days and was not used with anything like the present-day frequency. The original idea was that the long form could be guessed easily because of its similarity to the full department or college name, and the short form (if any) was just a convenient shorthand for speed of typing.

When email became commonplace, there was a general move in the outside world, and for new units within Oxford, to use shorter and shorter domain names. Newcomers to the University were surprised and possibly confused at being issued two or four variants of their email address. In Autumn 2004, plans were announced to withdraw the long-form addresses over the lifetime of the next student intake, finally finishing in December 2008, and to make the short form standard across the University.

Other historical changes are the introduction of junk-mail and virus management, and changes in the response to invalid names in incoming email. An unrecognised name will now simply be referred to the contact page (which has an "approximate match" feature). In the past we offered likely lists of similar names; unfortunately the lists were used to generate junk mail address lists and we had to withdraw both this facility and the option to look up partial names on the contact page which started to be used for the same purpose.


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Written by IT Services. Latest revision 11 December 2017