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SMTP servers

What is an SMTP Server?

In the financial services industry, representatives are required to send email from their registered email address.  The emails they send typically need to be archived. For these reasons, it is imperative for the representative to send any email correspondence through their SMTP server.

SMTP stands for “Simple Mail Transfer Protocol.” This is a function of the email process. Understanding the basics of SMTP, how it works, and why it is important requires some understanding of how email actually works and how a message travels from you to your intended recipient.

How does email work?

A common analogy is that the SMTP server is like the post office, taking your email from your computer to the email inbox of your intended recipient. As you can imagine, the nuts and bolts of the SMTP are far more complicated than this brief explanation, but it is important to recognize that the SMTP server is a vital component of any system that sends and receives email.

When you drop a letter at the post office, the postmaster reads the address on your envelope and figures out the path your letter needs to take to get to the desired address. The letter is sent from post office to post office until it reaches its destination. The path an email takes from your computer to your recipient is similar in some respects.

Any program that sends emails utilizes SMTP to relay the message from server to server, from your outbox to the recipient’s inbox. SMTP is the language that your email program uses to communicate with servers. When an SMTP server receives your email message, it looks at the message to see if there is a matching inbox for the recipient. If so, the email is delivered to the appropriate inbox. If not, the message is relayed to another SMTP server closer to the recipient.

By now, most people are familiar with the traditional email address format: someone@something.com.  This is actually a large part of how the email delivery process works. The “someone” part is the name associated with the inbox, analogous to a street address or a post office box number. The “@something.com” part is the name of the domain, equivalent to the city and state part of the address.  The Domain Name Service (DNS) determines the priority of the SMTP servers it will receive mail from, from the intended recipient’s SMTP server to other, backup servers where the email may wait until it can be delivered to the intended recipient’s server. (Note:  Not all email users will have backup servers.)

When your message arrives at a server, the server makes a note of this in the message. (Not unlike cancelling a stamp on a letter, to continue the metaphor.) The person who receives the email has the ability to see the path that the email took, from your SMTP server, to each server it passed through on its way to their inbox.

When a person checks their email, what they are really doing is accessing the file from the SMTP server. Until then, an email waits for the recipient in the server.

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