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Email evolved

In a way, Mail Transfer Agents (MTAs – like Sendmail and Postfix) are somewhat like relics of our past.

They stand like great monuments to the baroque and arcane tasks that were once required to get an email from one person to another.

Like vast pyramids raised up just to inter some dead person, MTAs hint at the monumental complexity that used to be email.

And indeed, getting email successfully from one person to another across the Internet used to be quite a chore. These days, it is handled in seconds, shot through some relatively simple configurations, and rarely encountering anything really obscure.

Back in the days before the Web, an email could take hours or days, or longer – and quite often would not be able to be delivered between two points directly at all, requiring complicated routing, over different kinds of infrastructure and protocols, not limited to intermittently dialled-up connections, or transport on spools of magnetic tape.

The process was so complex and fraught that younger, modern-day System and Network administrators scarcely believe tales of the old days, and wonder why MTAs are full of so much arcane complicated configuration. While there are still some very – necessarily – involuted email setups still out there, the majority of email setups are pretty straightforward these days, and can be set up in mere minutes.

Yet the older MTAs slumber like brobdignagian prehistoric machines, standing ready in case their vast capabilities are once-again needed. Always ready in case you have to do something really complicated. If only you could remember quite how to make them work.

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Categories: Opinion, Software.

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