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We’re all fighting a battle against the daily deluge of incoming emails, and one of the ways you can turn the tide—and get your inbox a little more organized—is by creating an email alias. This feature is available on email services from Google, Apple, and Microsoft, and is also useful for protecting your identity and your privacy.

An email alias is essentially your existing inbox in disguise—the email address people use to reach you is different, but messages sent to it still end up in the same place. You can, for instance, use an alias as a temporary address you give out to people you don’t know all that well while on vacation, and delete the alias again if they don’t end up becoming lifelong friends you want to stay in touch with.

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That’s just one example, but you get the idea. Email aliases can be used on sign up forms on the web, or when you want to differentiate professional relationships from personal ones, or when you’re creating new accounts inside apps on your phone. It’s up to you.

These aliases are also handy when it comes to organizing your incoming messages too. Maybe you’ve got an alias you only use with your closest friends and family or your most important clients—messages to this address can be starred and marked as important perhaps. Aliases used for newsletter sign-ups, on the other hand, can be filtered into certain folders until you’re ready to read them.

Email aliases can be used in all kinds of creative ways, and they’re easy to set up on the big email services—though, the feature works slightly differently in each case.

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Outlook

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If you’re using an address provided by Microsoft, you can log in on the web then click the cog icon (top right) and View all Outlook settings to start configuring your aliases. Click Email, Sync email, and Manage or choose a primary alias to add a new alias to your account—it will share the same inbox, list of contacts, and account settings as your current email address, and you can log into the same account with it too.

Choose Add email address and pick something new in the Create a new email address box. It can be completely unrelated to your current address, though of course, it has to be unique—you can’t steal someone else’s email address. Click Add alias to confirm. On the following screen you can even make this the primary address for your Microsoft account, so the one you use to log into Windows, Xbox, and so on.

Back in Outlook on the web, messages sent to this new address will arrive in your inbox, just like messages sent to your original address, and the new address comes up as an option when you’re composing new messages or replying to messages (as it will in the official Outlook mail apps for desktop and mobile). Click the three dots in the top right of an incoming email then Create rule to set up a filter using this alias.

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For quick and straightforward alias creation, when giving out your email details, you can add a “+” symbol and anything you like at the end of your current email address in front of the “@” and still get the message—so messages sent to johnsmith+test@outlook.com will arrive in the inbox for johnsmith@outlook.com. You can’t send messages using this type of alias, but there’s nothing to set up, and it’s useful for quickly filtering incoming mail (like newsletters, for example).


Gmail

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Google’s gargantuan email service doesn’t let you set up completely new email addresses as aliases in the consumer version of Gmail, though it is available in G Suite (where one of your team might be managing emails sent to multiple addresses). For normal users, you can make use of plus and period symbols instead.

It’s not quite as comprehensive as the feature Outlook offers, but there’s nothing to set up so you can start using it straight away. As with Outlook, you can add a “+” symbol than anything else to the end of your email address (before the “@gmail.com” bit) when giving out your address and it’ll still reach you. What’s more, you can put “.” symbols anywhere you like in the front part of your address.

Say your email address is johnsmith@gmail.com. Emails sent to johnsmith+test@gmail.com, or johnsmith+work@gmail.com, or john.smith@gmail.com, or j.ohnsm.ith@gmail.com, are all going to arrive in the same inbox. You can’t send email messages using these aliases, but you can receive them.

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That gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to setting up filters, which you can do by clicking on the cog icon in Gmail on the web, and choosing Settings then Filters and Blocked Addresses. Click Create a new filter, make sure the To box includes your chosen modified email alias, and you can mark these incoming messages as read, or apply a label to them, or star them, or mark them as low priority.


iCloud

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If Apple is your email provider of choice, then you can join in on the alias fun. Log in on the web, choose Mail, and then click on the cog icon in the lower left-hand corner. Pick Preferences, then Accounts, then Add an alias—you’re then free to choose any email address you like, as long as someone else hasn’t already claimed the iCloud address, and you can add up to three aliases per account.

Right on the alias creation screen, you can add a label and a label color to the alias to make messages to this address easier to find. The pop-up dialog also lets you change the sender name that people will see when you send messages from this account. You don’t, however, get the option to set an alias as a primary Apple ID address as you do with Outlook.

And that’s really all there is to it. When you compose new messages, your newly created alias appears as an option, and messages sent to the alias will show up in your regular inbox (with whatever label you applied in the previous step). Click the cog icon then Rules to set up more filters for emails sent to a particular alias (moving them to a folder or forwarding them somewhere else for instance).

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As you would expect, all of this gets synced to Mail on macOS and iOS as well—so the alias shows up as an option when you’re composing new messages. Aliases can be managed from a Mac, if needed: Choose Mail then Preferences, click Accounts, and pick your main Apple ID address. Select the Email Addresses pop up menu, then choose Edit Email Addresses to add or remove aliases.