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Email Servers: MTAs, MDAs, and MUAs


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An older article from Ars Technia on running your own email server/service. I have a distinct memory of looking into how all this worked back in the late 90s or early 00s (the memory’s distinct, the timeline isn’t) and being stymied by the complexity as some old Times New Roman text and a grey background started talking about MTAs, MDAs, and MUAs as if I already knew what they were. This Ars article is a more gentle introduction to the topic, and their simple acknowledgment that all this is complex and banana-cakes goes a long way.

Once of my unscratched itches is building systems for better programatic control/manipulation of email. I was always impressed by 37 Signals/Basecamp’s “email in” systems that let you forward a message to a custom address and have near-instant access to that data in their web applications. There’s not, to my knowledge, simple off the shelf software/services that would let you build a system like that yourself. Email’s old, and fiddly, under constant attack by spam, and if you put the work into building a system that can address it in a modern way you’re more likely to chase after dollars with a newsletter service or a full on email service.

“Maybe a project for retirement”, he thought to himself while nervously eying his bank account and thinking of a well, but perhaps mis, spent youth

Copyright © Alan Storm 1975 – 2022 All Rights Reserved

Originally Posted: 12th April 2021