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Email Best Practices

How to choose an SMTP server

With email being older than the World Wide Web itself, it comes to no surprise that there is a plethora of SMTP server implementations out there. Learn how to choose the right SMTP server.

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With email being older than the World Wide Web itself, it comes to no surprise that there is a plethora of SMTP server implementations out there. They range from command line applications to full blown corporate servers, covering all operating systems with prices going from zero for open source servers to tens of thousands of dollars.

 But besides the huge variety of servers out there, the market is established enough to have some real leaders.

Sendmail, Postfix, Exim, and Microsoft Exchange Server together cover about 85% of the total market, which gives us reason enough to concentrate on these famous four first.

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Of all four, only Microsoft Exchange runs on Windows, leaving users of this operating system no choice. There are however a couple of smaller SMTP servers for Windows out there, notably hMailServer, which comes at no cost. When you have a Linux-based system, you can choose between the other three.

When it comes to features, they all cover more or less the same, namely almost everything. However, the more features a system offers, the more complex it becomes. To configure this SMTP server, it gets really tricky. But first, let's pick one.


When choosing a server you should ask yourself whether you really need all these features or whether there might be a smaller server covering only the subset of features that you really need. Unneeded features may slow the server down or not, they definitely blow up the documentation and steepen the learning curve. Going with a less feature-rich server may therefore save you quite some time.


Emailing is a very complex topic and so are most of the SMTP server implementations out there. As your SMTP system complexity increases you will need the help of experts. This can be quite problematic when you chose a lesser-known system and is quite easy when you go with the mainstream. You should definitely do some research on which systems are supported by experts in your area, because local support is really important, whether you hire someone or whether you pay a consulting firm to do the job. When things are on fire, it's good to be able to walk to the person in charge.


Surprisingly most of the biggest SMTP server implementations are open source and don't cost you a penny no matter you big you are. Same as with Linux vs Windows, free in software does equal to free in money terms. Most of the Linux servers, notably Sendmail, are really complex and hard to configure. Without the help of true experts you soon end with a broken system. Microsoft software on the other costs a lot yet sometimes is definitely easier to set up and configure. Most often, your operating system is already chosen, so you have to go with one or the other anyway. Just keep in mind that the real cost factors are configuration, support, and maintenance.

We hope that keeping these three factors, Complexity, Support, and Pricing in mind, you make the right choice and keep the total cost of ownership down.

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