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How do mail servers work?

Mail servers have the capabilty of sending mails to a specific domain. They can also automatically determine the mail exchange of a particular domain. How do they do this?

For example, the mail exchange for Yahoo is normally located at mx1.mail.yahoo.com. How can mail servers determine this?


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Mail server systems use the DNS -- Domain Name System. When one is about to deliver a piece of e-mail, it looks at the address and queries the DNS (there are system calls to do this) to determine to what system(s) to send the e-mail. If the e-mail should go to a mail exchanger (MX), as most Internet e-mail does today, the MX record for the address will point to the systems that claim to accept mail for the particular domain.


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This was first published in July 2001

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