What is SMTP?

The Internet is a crazy, complex “place.” Full of servers, clients, ports, and protocols, trying to understand the Internet without first knowing its jargon is nearly impossible. Take, for instance, SMTP. If you’ve never studied networking before, you’ve probably already zoned out.

 But, while it is a crazily complex process, understanding how SMTP works is possible and much easier than you think! First, let’s define all of our terms so that we have a better understanding of what we’re really talking about.

First of all, what is SMTP. SMTP stands for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. And, while writing out its full name may not help you much yet, we’ll break it down for you so that you can be an SMTP expert!

Simply put, SMTP deals with the transfer of emails. You, the client, access an SMTP server to send an email, and from there, contact is made with another SMTP to deliver the email before the receiving server is ultimately accessed by the recipient client.

When you log onto your computer and access the Internet, your computer is the client. A server is a computer that is directly connected to the Internet. And, if you’re like most people, your computer isn’t connected directly to the Internet. Instead, you get your Internet through an Internet Service Provider (AOL, Charter, etc.).

How about the word “protocol“? How should one think of a protocol? Without extensive studying of networking, a protocol can be very hard to understand. A very basic definition of a protocol could be “rules of communication.” And, while that definition makes sense, it can be hard to understand without understanding how networked computers communicate.

The good news is: you don’t have to. In order to understand SMTP, just understand that SMTP lays down the rules for the transfer of emails from clients to servers. For now, don’t worry about what the rules are.

So, in order to wrap it up, let’s take an example. Let’s say that you want to send an email to your professor, and let’s imagine that you use Gmail. When you log into your Gmail account, you access the Gmail server. When you press “send,” your email will travel from your email server (Gmail) to your professor’s (whatever it may be).

When your professor accesses her email, she makes contact with her email service provider’s server (Yahoo!, for instance). Then, she can read her email. During this process, SMTP breaks down the specifics of your email, making contact with the DNS server and ultimately another SMTP server in order to deliver the email to the correct location.

There you have it! Now you have a basic understanding of how SMTP works!