When to Run an SMTP Server


SMTP servers are often referred to as mail transfer agents (MTAs). These systems potentially function as both clients and servers in a mail transfer chain. An MTA can accept mail that's sent by a user or by another MTA. It can then store that mail locally and, if necessary, send it on to another MTA. There are several possible uses for a Linux MTA:

  • Network mail recipient ” The most obvious use of an SMTP server is to function as a central mail server for a network. Such a system might support local reading of mail via local programs like pine or mutt , or remote retrieval via pull mail protocols. The SMTP server in this instance functions to receive mail (from within the local network or from outside it).

  • Network mail relay ” Users on local networks frequently need to send e-mail to others on the Internet at large. An MTA can be configured to forward mail ”that is, to accept mail from the local network, hold it temporarily, and send it to remote systems. Such configurations are extremely important and potential sources of problems, so this chapter discusses them at some length.

  • Local mail origination ” Programs that run on the mail server computer itself may call the mail server directly in order to send mail. Such a configuration doesn't require that the MTA accept incoming mail at all. Many Linux programs assume that a local MTA is available to fill this role, although most such programs can be reconfigured to use a remote SMTP server as a relay. Some of the mail that originates locally may also be destined for local users. For instance, automatic maintenance tools frequently send e-mail to the root account on the local computer.

These functions are so important that most Linux distributions install an SMTP server by default. In particular, the local-to-local mail delivery issue makes the presence of an MTA on a Linux system very desirable. (In theory, you could track down everything that tries to send mail locally and reconfigure or rewrite it to use a remote SMTP server, but this may not always be practical.)

Most distributions' default SMTP server configurations are adequate to handle local mail delivery. The question therefore becomes one of when you should alter or at least check that configuration so that the computer can take on additional duties , such as handling mail for an entire domain. E-mail is so important in today's world that few networks can do without it. Even within a small office or a home, e-mail can be an important communications medium. Running your own e-mail server can be a way to provide e-mail, but it's not the only way. Outside e-mail providers are not uncommon, and you may already have access to an outside supplier. Such providers can be a good choice for receiving mail for a small domain, if you don't want to be bothered with creating such a configuration locally. Running your own e-mail server provides you with more control over how it operates, though. For instance, you might be able to more quickly and easily add, delete, or modify users if you run your own server. You can also configure your own server to block unwanted e-mail, adjust quotas on the size of messages the server will accept, and so on. Running your own server may be less expensive than contracting with an outsider to do the job. As a general rule, you may want to run your own mail server to handle the bulk of your mail needs if your network hosts more than a handful of users or if you have particularly exotic e-mail needs.



Advanced Linux Networking
Advanced Linux Networking
ISBN: 0201774232
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 203

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