What is a Mail Server?

With the click of a mouse button, you can send an email from one point of the globe to another in a matter of seconds. Most of us take this process for granted, giving little thought to how it actually works. It’s easy to understand how standard snail-mail gets from point A to point B – but how does an email message make its way from a sender to a recipient? The answer to that question revolves around something called a mail server. You can learn more about the role that mail serves play in email delivery by reading on below.

What is a Mail Server?

A mail server is the computerized equivalent of your friendly neighborhood mailman. Every email that is sent passes through a series of mail servers along its way to its intended recipient. Although it may seem like a message is sent instantly – zipping from one PC to another in the blink of an eye – the reality is that a complex series of transfers takes place. Without this series of mail servers, you would only be able to send emails to people whose email address domains matched your own – i.e., you could only send messages from one example.com account to another example.com account.

Types of Mail Servers

Mail servers can be broken down into two main categories: outgoing mail servers and incoming mail servers. Outgoing mail servers are known as SMTP, or Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, servers. Incoming mail servers come in two main varieties. POP3, or Post Office Protocol, version 3, servers are best known for storing sent and received messages on PCs’ local hard drives. IMAP, or Internet Message Access Protocol, servers always store copies of messages on servers. Most POP3 servers can store messages on servers, too, which is a lot more convenient.

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