This is a flow of mail through the internet from a sender to a receiver; as depicted is a fully-fleshed flow, though some steps are optional. The simple picture is: sender - transfer - recipient: MUA - MTA - ... - MTA - MUA, but there can be finer details.
|action||actor||pass to next actor by||step|
|Sender wants to send a message.|
|write new email||MUA (mutt itself, and mutt-var $editor)||\/ mutt-var $sendmail \/|
|queue & send||local MTA (optional)||\/ SMTP \/|
|validate & accept||ISP's MSA||\/ SMTP \/|
|now email is stored at own ISP's MSA = ISP's MTA|
|relay to next MTA||internet MTA||\/ SMTP \/||this repeats for each MTA between source & destination|
|now email arrives at remote ISP|
|deliver||MDA||\/ rules, filters, forwards \/|
|store||ISP filesystem||delivery complete|
|Recipient now wants to read the stored mail.|
|action||actor||get from previous actor by||Note: The activity direction changes. So far the sender "pushed" the msg, now the receiver has to "pull" the msg.|
|access & store locally||MRA (optional)||/\ IMAP, POP /\|
|read||MUA||/\ local filesystem /\|
|Success: the message has gone from sender to recipient.\|
Recipient may want to become the sender of a different message; start over.
Several steps above are optional:
- The local MTA is omitted on most desktop computers; instead, the MUA directly submits the message to the ISP's MSA.
- The MSA/MTA distinction is relatively recent, and the ISP may not distinguish between user submissions and message transfers.
- The MRA step is included as part of most desktop MUAs, though traditionally email was read directly from a local or shared (as by NFS) file, and still is if one uses a shell account and mail spool on the server to read mail. A separate MRA such as fetchmail is used to replicate the traditional "MUA doesn't handle delivery" design, and allows very light-weight mail checking; in integrated MUAs it may be a separate thread or process.