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SMTP was first defined by RFC 821 (1982, eventually declared STD 10), and last updated by RFC 5321 (2008) which includes the extended SMTP (ESMTP) additions, and is the protocol in widespread use today. SMTP is specified for outgoing mail transport and uses TCP port 25. The protocol for new submissions is effectively the same as SMTP, but it uses port 587 instead. SMTP connections secured by SSL are known by the shorthand SMTPS, though SMTPS is not a protocol in its own right.

While electronic mail servers and other mail transfer agents use SMTP to send and receive mail messages, user-level client mail applications typically only use SMTP for sending messages to a mail server for relaying. For receiving messages, client applications usually use either the Post Office Protocol (POP) or the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) or a proprietary system (such as Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes/Domino) to access their mail box accounts on a mail server.

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