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August 1982 RFC 821
Simple Mail Transfer Protocol


The SMTP design is based on the following model of communication: as
the result of a user mail request, the sender-SMTP establishes a
two-way transmission channel to a receiver-SMTP. The receiver-SMTP
may be either the ultimate destination or an intermediate. SMTP
commands are generated by the sender-SMTP and sent to the
receiver-SMTP. SMTP replies are sent from the receiver-SMTP to the
sender-SMTP in response to the commands.

Once the transmission channel is established, the SMTP-sender sends a
MAIL command indicating the sender of the mail. If the SMTP-receiver
can accept mail it responds with an OK reply. The SMTP-sender then
sends a RCPT command identifying a recipient of the mail. If the
SMTP-receiver can accept mail for that recipient it responds with an
OK reply; if not, it responds with a reply rejecting that recipient
(but not the whole mail transaction). The SMTP-sender and
SMTP-receiver may negotiate several recipients. When the recipients
have been negotiated the SMTP-sender sends the mail data, terminating
with a special sequence. If the SMTP-receiver successfully processes
the mail data it responds with an OK reply. The dialog is purposely
lock-step, one-at-a-time.


+----------+ +----------+
+------+ | | | |
| User |<-->| | SMTP | |
+------+ | Sender- |Commands/Replies| Receiver-|
+------+ | SMTP |<-------------->| SMTP | +------+
| File |<-->| | and Mail | |<-->| File |
|System| | | | | |System|
+------+ +----------+ +----------+ +------+

Sender-SMTP Receiver-SMTP

Model for SMTP Use

Figure 1


The SMTP provides mechanisms for the transmission of mail; directly
from the sending user's host to the receiving user's host when the

[Page 2] Postel

RFC 821 August 1982
Simple Mail Transfer Protocol

two host are connected to the same transport service, or via one or
more relay SMTP-servers when the source and destination hosts are not
connected to the same transport service.

To be able to provide the relay capability the SMTP-server must be
supplied with the name of the ultimate destination host as well as
the destination mailbox name.

The argument to the MAIL command is a reverse-path, which specifies
who the mail is from. The argument to the RCPT command is a
forward-path, which specifies who the mail is to. The forward-path
is a source route, while the reverse-path is a return route (which
may be used to return a message to the sender when an error occurs
with a relayed message).

When the same message is sent to multiple recipients the SMTP
encourages the transmission of only one copy of the data for all the
recipients at the same destination host.

The mail commands and replies have a rigid syntax. Replies also have
a numeric code. In the following, examples appear which use actual
commands and replies. The complete lists of commands and replies
appears in Section 4 on specifications.

Commands and replies are not case sensitive. That is, a command or
reply word may be upper case, lower case, or any mixture of upper and
lower case. Note that this is not true of mailbox user names. For
some hosts the user name is case sensitive, and SMTP implementations
must take case to preserve the case of user names as they appear in
mailbox arguments. Host names are not case sensitive.

Commands and replies are composed of characters from the ASCII
character set [1]. When the transport service provides an 8-bit byte
(octet) transmission channel, each 7-bit character is transmitted
right justified in an octet with the high order bit cleared to zero.

When specifying the general form of a command or reply, an argument
(or special symbol) will be denoted by a meta-linguistic variable (or
constant), for example, "<string>" or "<reverse-path>". Here the
angle brackets indicate these are meta-linguistic variables.
However, some arguments use the angle brackets literally. For
example, an actual reverse-path is enclosed in angle brackets, i.e.,
"<John.Smith@USC-ISI.ARPA>" is an instance of <reverse-path> (the
angle brackets are actually transmitted in the command or reply).

Postel [Page 3]

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