What Are Mail Servers and How Do They Work?

Mails, mail servers, and extra.

Emails are at the moment a very powerful type of communication amongst companies. So it goes with out saying that you have to means to verify your e-mail communications are as safe and environment friendly as could be. That’s the place establishing a mail server can come in useful. A mail server can assist strengthen the privateness and confidentiality of your e-mail knowledge. It additionally lets you have higher management over knowledge and content material customization and means that you can arrange your personal service ranges, amongst different advantages. But how do mail servers work, and which sort is finest for what you are promoting?

In this text, I’ll talk about mail servers, how they work, and the differing types you’ll be able to select from. Let’s get going with the definition first!

What Is a Mail Server?

In its easiest kind, a mail server is a system that collects user-drafted emails and distributes them to the meant recipients. A mail server or a mail switch agent (MTA) is an software that handles the method of sending and receiving emails together with all of the middleman steps related to the method. While this course of may be very quick, every e-mail transmitted traverses by a number of servers earlier than being delivered to the recipient. It additionally includes a complex set of network protocols, algorithms, and processes. 

Because e-mail platforms are broadly accessible at this time, they might not have as a lot safety as you want. But to counter these privateness considerations, you’ll be able to host your personal mail server as an alternative of counting on giant e-mail platforms, like Gmail and Yahoo.

Let’s now find out how a mail server works within the subsequent part.

How Does a Mail Server Work?

As talked about earlier, sending an e-mail includes a number of processes, algorithms, and community protocols. For a mail server to perform, it must have mail server software program — this lets you management the mailing alongside community mailing protocols. Every sender facet wants a consumer node like a laptop computer or a cellular phone and a mail server working with a mailing protocol to ship and obtain emails.

Graphical representation of how a mail server works along with the sequence of steps and the components involved in the process.
How a mail server works.

In addition, SMTP and POP/IMAP are probably the most broadly used mailing protocols that deal with outgoing and incoming mail requests, respectively. Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) transmits and strikes your e-mail throughout networks and sends it to the recipient. 

Meanwhile, a Post Office Protocol (POP) and Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) are utilized in receiving emails. Both IMAP and POP3 servers are broadly used to repeat emails from distant servers into the native mail consumer. POP3 is thought for its ease of utilization, options, and excessive success charge. That stated, IMAP is extra handy for syncing emails between gadgets.

To additional bolster your understanding of the steps and processes concerned in sending an e-mail, listed below are the 4 completely different steps that designate the end-to-end technique of sending an e-mail. 

4 Steps Involved in Sending an Email

Emails are actually a necessary a part of our work routines. Almost all corporations throughout the globe use some type of mailing resolution to hold out their each day business communication. Here’s a step-by-step course of that can assist you perceive how a mail server works.

Image of a laptop and a smartphone with many mails flying out of it.
Mail overflow!

1. Connecting to the SMTP Server

To ship an e-mail, any e-mail service supplier like Gmail, Exchange, or Yahoo has to attach with an SMTP server. An SMTP server connects together with your area and has a particular deal with like smtp.gmail.com or smtp.ExampleService.com. In this step, your e-mail service supplier will even give out essential info like your and your recipient’s e-mail deal with together with the e-mail content material to the underlying SMTP server for processing.

2. Processing the Recipient’s Email Domain

As a subsequent step, the SMTP server will work on processing the information it receives from the e-mail service supplier. It parses the recipient’s e-mail deal with and identifies the area to which you have to ahead the e-mail. If the area is identical because the sender’s, it straight transmits the information to the inner POP3/IMAP server. On the opposite, if the SMTP server identifies the receiver’s area to be exterior, the SMTP server might want to determine the recipient’s server. 

3. Identifying the Recipient’s IP

Once the SMTP establishes the connection, it must work on figuring out the recipient’s server to ship the e-mail. For this, the SMTP server then connects with the Domain Name System (DNS). The DNS will work as a translation system to assist convert the recipient’s area into an IP deal with. This IP deal with is then used to uniquely determine the recipient and transmit the e-mail.

Image showing multiple IP addresses on a plane with a magnifying glass to showcase the search.
IP addresses being mapped for mail supply.

4. Delivering the Email

The last step is to ship the e-mail to the recipient. The technique of your SMTP server sending the e-mail to your recipient includes a number of SMTP server hops. When the recipient receives the e-mail, their SMTP server checks the e-mail and forwards it to their corresponding POP3 or IMAP servers for receiving the e-mail. The e-mail is then positioned in a queue till it’s made out there for the recipient to eat it. 

Now, let’s take a look at several types of mail servers primarily based on their perform and goal.

2 Different Types of Mail Servers

Mail servers could be broadly labeled as outgoing and incoming primarily based on their functioning. As the title suggests, an outgoing mail server is chargeable for sending emails from the sender to the recipient. Meanwhile, an incoming mail server is chargeable for receiving emails and making them accessible to the recipient. For any mailing system to ship and obtain emails, they should have each incoming and outgoing mail servers configured. 

Feature Outgoing Mail Server Incoming Mail Server
Purpose It allows the consumer’s machine to speak with SMTP, which handles the method of mail supply It is a digital model of an precise postbox that shops incoming emails and forwards them to your inbox 
Example Protocols SMTP POP3, IMAP
Protocol Details SMTP Function: It sends e-mail from an e-mail consumer or a server to a different e-mail server POP3/IMAP Function: Both these protocols’ major perform is to retrieve emails from an e-mail server
Learn the variations between outgoing and incoming mail servers.

You may be questioning now about your choices in the case of mail servers. You can select from conventional on-premise or cloud-based e-mail servers to your firm. 

On-Premises vs Cloud-Based Mail Servers

With the exponential enhance within the cloud paradigm throughout nearly all industries, enterprise IT groups proceed to leverage each cloud-based and conventional on-premise e-mail servers. Let’s see the most important variations between on-premise vs cloud-based e-mail servers.

Parameter On-Prem Email Server Cloud-Based Email Server
Installation Costs Expensive to arrange  Cheap to put in and configure, however can develop into costly with excessive utilization
Control Offers full management of information Lacks management over the information because it resides within the cloud
Configuration Involves a fancy configurational overhead Are normally very straightforward to arrange and use
Scalability Aren’t straightforward to scale Are very straightforward to scale up or down cloud-based mail servers
Maintainability Need to deal with updates, upgrades, safety patching, and configurational overhead Are simpler to take care of with the seller assist
Here are the most important variations between on-prem and cloud-based e-mail servers.
Image of a hand with a cloud icon on top. The cloud has a lock icon in it.
Cloud setup for mailing servers.

Let’s think about why you have to have a mail server and all the advantages it supplies you. 

4 Reasons to Own a Mail Server

Although establishing your personal mailing server for what you are promoting may contain a number of challenges and complexities, it might probably supply a number of advantages to corporations, particularly SMBs. It additionally gives higher management, safety, safety, and integration together with your inside programs and companies. This means that you can obtain higher operational management and continuity. Let’s take a look at these benefits intimately.

  1. Customization: You can customise the emails and their content material to suit your enterprise wants. It additionally means that you can configure your emails to satisfy the corporate’s danger profiles, carry out whitelisting and blacklisting emails, and so on. 
  1. Data Confidentiality and Security: Owning your personal e-mail server means that you can safeguard your knowledge. It additionally means that you can carry out mailing, encryption, e-mail infrastructure administration, and extra in-house.
  1. Service Levels: You can customise and design your service ranges to manage the criticalities of incidents and emails. This additionally saves prices in establishing third-party programs to make sure service ranges.
  1. Control: Having your personal mail server additionally provides you full management over the mail, knowledge, and the method concerned in transmitting the information by way of emails.

If you’re contemplating transitioning or upgrading your mail server, you first must know your current mail server.

Accessing Mail Server Information on Your Device

If you’re engaged on making any adjustments, upgrading your mail server, or integrating a brand new service or device that makes use of your mail server configuration, you’ll must know which mail server runs throughout your organization. You can then entry, configure, and arrange your e-mail server’s SMTP and IMAP/POP3 configuration by accessing your account settings. 

To entry your mail server info in your system primarily based on the applying you utilize, you’ll additionally must comply with completely different steps. Here are the steps primarily based on every system. 

Windows PC/Microsoft Outlook

  1. Select View all Outlook Settings within the Settings menu
  2. Now, click on on Mail and choose Sync mail
  3. This gives you entry to the POP and IMAP settings with an choice to allow them

Apple Mail for macOS

  1. Launch the Mail software and go to Preferences > Accounts
  2. Select Server Settings from the Accounts menu
  3. Select the Account pop-up menu to entry the SMTP server checklist
Image showing the Server Settings tab in the Accounts section of Mail for macOS.
IMAP settings in Mail for macOS.


  1. Go to Settings and click on on Mail
  2. Select Accounts and choose the corresponding e-mail account
  3. Under the account info, you will note SMTP below the Outgoing Mail Server part to entry the SMTP settings

Access to mail server configuration and settings means that you can view your e-mail server settings. From right here, you’ll be capable of combine new programs and/or reconfigure the mail server settings. 

Final Words

Emails play a vital function within the operation and enterprise continuity of all corporations across the globe. A mail server means that you can configure, management, and customise your organization’s capacity to ship and obtain emails. The behind-the-scenes working course of for a mail server includes 4 steps. These steps are connecting to the SMTP server, processing the recipient’s e-mail area, figuring out the recipient’s ID, and delivering the e-mail. In addition, you’ll be able to differentiate between mail servers primarily based on differing types. Setting up and configuring your e-mail server additionally means that you can higher management your organization’s e-mail knowledge and set up a safe mail and mail knowledge monitoring system. 

I hope this text sufficiently solutions all of your questions on mail servers. If you continue to have any extra lingering questions otherwise you’d prefer to learn extra, take a look at the FAQ and Resources sections under. 


What are some examples of mail servers?

Mail servers are available all shapes and types. Some are open-source and free, whereas others can be found for business functions. For instance, some mail servers are Halon MTA, Oracle BeeHive, Amazon SES, and OpenSMTPD. 

Is the SMTP server safe?

SMTP server isn’t inherently safe and has no encryption requirements or safety mechanisms constructed into them. So, to keep away from unlucky happenings like spoofing, spamming, or knowledge thefts, you’ll be able to add extra layers of safety like Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)

What are some key points to contemplate earlier than selecting a mail server?

On high of selecting between a cloud-based vs on-prem mail server, you have to think about different essential elements earlier than selecting a mail server to your firm. Email security, value, options, integrations, and compatibility are additionally some elements.

What are a few of the widespread mail assaults?

The commonest e-mail assaults embody phishing, adware, scareware, spyware and adware, and ransomware. Each of those email attacks both steals, corrupts, or damages the information related to or transferred over emails. 

What is a Domain Name System (DNS)?

Domain Name System (DNS) is a distributed and hierarchical naming system that associates a site title with IP addresses. Mail servers additionally leverage and use DNS to precisely determine the area title related to the mailing addresses to ship and obtain mail.


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