To, Cc and Bcc: what’s the difference when sending an email?

A paper plane, representing sending email, against a light, grey, brick wall

Whenever you send an email there are 3 fields available to you to specify who you want the email to go to – To, Cc and Bcc. But what are the differences and when should you use them?

Where’s Cc and Bcc?

These are much less used these days so many email clients hide these by default.

When using web email clients, the Cc/Bcc option is often a link at the side- click on either Cc or Bcc to add them under the “To” field…

Mobile clients, though, will often use a drop-down to hide the option instead…

What do they all mean?

“To” is a list (comma separated usually) of email address that you wish the email you’re send to go to. By specifying people as “To”, you’re indicating that your email is aimed at them.

“Cc” is short for “carbon copy”. When writing letters on paper, carbon paper can be placed between 2 sheets, with anything written on one sheet to be duplicated on the other. Hence a carbon copy would be a copy. In email terms, any emails specified as “Cc” are being copied in but the content may or may not be relevant to them.

“Bcc” is short for “blind carbon copy”. It’s just the same as a carbon copy, except the recipients can’t see each other – more on that in the next section.

Be careful of visibility!

What both “To” and “Cc” have in common is that any emails included here will be visible to everyone else on the list. “Bcc” is so named because the names are kept secret from each other – you’ll only see yourself on this list. For this reason “Bcc” is important for security – the last thing you want, when messaging a group of people who don’t know each other, is to make all of their emails visible to each other (although it’s easy enough to unsend an accidental email).

Let’s make up an example. Let’s say I set up an email like so…

From: David Artiss
To: Neil Overall, Gary Cheeseman
Cc: Ron Waffle
Bcc: Harry Harryman

In this case, everyone will see this in the email that turns up…

From: David Artiss
To: Neil Overall, Gary Cheeseman
Cc: Ron Waffle

Harry will have got the email too but will not be visible.

As a real-life example, let’s take this press release that I received recently…

I’ve covered the names of those people involved but you can make out that they placed all the email addressed – all 178 of them – into the “Cc” field, making them visible to everyone. Some would argue that this is a security breach, releasing 177 emails to each person.

Yes, I did let them know.


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