Terms and explanations for a few Mail servers

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Mail servers


Short for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, a protocol for sending e-mail messages between servers. Most e-mail systems that send mail over the Internet use SMTP to send messages from one server to another; the messages can then be retrieved with an e-mail client using either POP or IMAP. In addition, SMTP is generally used to send messages from a mail client to a mail server. This is why you need to specify both the POP or IMAP server and the SMTP server when you configure your e-mail application.


IMAP means Internet Message Access Protocol. It is a method of accessing electronic mail or bulletin board messages that are kept on a (possibly shared) mail server. In other words, it permits a "client" email program to access remote message stores as if they were local. For example, email stored on an IMAP server can be manipulated from a desktop computer at home, a workstation at the office, and a notebook computer while traveling, without the need to transfer messages or files back and forth between these computers.

IMAP's ability to access messages (both new and saved) from more than one computer has become extremely important as reliance on electronic messaging and use of multiple computers increase, but this functionality cannot be taken for granted: the widely used Post Office Protocol (POP) works best when one has only a single computer, since it was designed to support "offline" message access, wherein messages are downloaded and then deleted from the mail server. This mode of access is not compatible with access from multiple computers since it tends to sprinkle messages across all of the computers used for mail access. Thus, unless all of those machines share a common file system, the offline mode of access that POP was designed to support effectively ties the user to one computer for message storage and manipulation.


Post Office Protocol 3 is the most recent version of a standard protocol for receiving e-mail. POP3 is a client/server protocol in which e-mail is received and held for you by your Internet server. Periodically, you (or your client e-mail receiver) check your mail-box on the server and download any mail, probably using POP3. This standard protocol is built into most popular e-mail products, such as Eudora and Outlook Express. It's also built into the Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers. POP3 is designed to delete mail on the server as soon as the user has downloaded it. However, some implementations allow users or an administrator to specify that mail be saved for some period of time. POP can be thought of as a "store-and-forward" service.

An alternative protocol is Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP). IMAP provides the user more capabilities for retaining e-mail on the server and for organizing it in folders on the server. IMAP can be thought of as a remote file server.

POP and IMAP deal with the receiving of e-mail and are not to be confused with the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), a protocol for transferring e-mail across the Internet. You send e-mail with SMTP and a mail handler receives it on your recipient's behalf. Then the mail is read using POP or IMAP.

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