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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?

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 last published in July 2001

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