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What is an SMTP Server and How To Choose One

Since an email can be sent and then picked up by the recipient in a matter of seconds, you may not have thought about the journey that it takes along the way. But interestingly, the journey of an email is not in a straight line. Typically, an email will not simply travel straight from the sender to the recipient, but actually completes several transactional steps along the way in a clearly ordered process, all in a matter of seconds. SMTP servers are the main players in this process, ensuring that the email reaches the correct recipient according to protocol. And, the entire internet has a whole network of these distribution stations and relays, which ensure that the movement of email traffic is made possible.

How Do SMTP Servers Work?

An SMTP server is simply a mail server which forwards emails to at least one recipient from the sender, doing so in accordance with the various network protocol regulations across the internet. For example, one such function of the SMTP server is to prevent spam, using a range of authentication methods which allow only users who have been authorised to send emails. The protocol extension ESMTP is supported by most modern SMTP servers in order to enable this. Known as ‘relays’, SMTP servers are a crucial link in the process of email transmission, in which several different servers are involved. These are the sender’s outgoing mail server, at least one external forwarding server, and the recipient’s incoming mail server.

Choosing an SMTP Server:

As the sender, you will have a wide range of options from a wide range of providers that you can use to send and forward your emails to the network. Alternatively, you may consider setting up your own SMTP server.

SMTP servers from the top providers tend to be considered trustworthy by other providers – check out the benefits given here at Quora –  and due to the large amount of data that they process, they also tend to have particularly strong spam filters. However, as discussed by Sendinblue on their website, the main drawback of using an SMTP service provider is that there are usually strict limits on the number of emails that you can send per day, plus additional limits on attachment sizes and mailbox sizes. Some options to consider include:

Email Providers:

These are often the most common ways in which individuals send emails. They use a free email provider’s web application, such as Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo. With these, the only requirement is to have an email address that is suitable for the domain that can be used for personal correspondence with the provider’s SMTP server. You will need to configure your mailbox for the correct SMTP server address – there’s more information on doing that at LifeWire.

Internet Service Providers:

ISPs like TalkTalk, Virgin, and Sky often provide an email address to users alongside an internet connection, giving access to big-name email servers.

Hosting Service Providers:

Many hosting packages also include access to an SMTP server as standard, enabling online businesses and website owners to handle both internal and external email traffic.

Specialised Providers:

Finally, certain companies will specialise in leasing SMTP servers exclusively. For example, companies like Sparkpost and Amazon SES allow you to rent specific hardware tools upon request.

Personal SMTP Server:

If you have some basic knowledge of IT, then another alternative option to consider is setting up a personal SMTP server. This comes with a set of clear advantages; for example, there are no restrictions placed on usage by a provider and you will retain full control over all settings, plus maximum data security. Plus, using a self-built personal server is also an excellent method of gaining more familiarity with all the processes around email traffic.

But, bear in mind that this option also comes with some downsides. Since personal internet tends to transmit a dynamic IP address, private SMTP servers are often more likely to be classed as spam distributors by all the major mail providers, increasing the risk of your emails being sent to junk folders rather than inboxes. However, the good news is that this issue is not impossible to rectify; you can get around it with a few restructuring methods but expect an additional cost.

Finding an SMTP Server:

Finally, if an error occurs during the transmission of an email, it can be rectified easily if you are aware of the SMTP servers address. Usually, you will be able to find the correct address for your email account in the account settings area of your mail application or program. Or, you can check the help section of your provider’s homepage if you are trying to find your SMTP address for the first time. This can be useful if you are manually configuring your mail program, for example.

Hopefully, this article has helped you gain a better understanding of how SMTP servers work and what you should look for in one. We’d love to hear back from you in the comments.

About John-Shea

Internet Marketing Entrepreneur