The rules and standards that govern how information travels across the Internet have been around for decades. Since they work behind the scenes, invisible to the everyday user, they can sometimes seem complex and even mysterious. As long as you can send and receive information online, you don't usually worry about the details. Fortunately, the basics of the Internet are easy to understand. Before we explain what an MX record is, let's back up and give you a working knowledge of the Internet's components.
The Domain Name SystemA central component of the Internet is the Domain Name System (DNS). This can be described as the global address book for connected servers and computers. DNS is how your web browser finds a website, and also how your email messages are sent and received. The architects of the Internet wrote out the specifications for DNS in 1983, long before the general public would be able to access it, and six years before the World-Wide Web was invented. Even so, it wasn't until the 1990s that the Internet was serving up both text and pictures. Before that, most of the information exchanged online between civilians (as opposed to government or academic employees) was in the form of electronic mail, otherwise known as email.
The domain nameIn its earliest form, email was not the virtual version of postal mail that we think of today. Messages between users were exchanged live and instantly, delivered directly between two terminals. For one person to send a message to another, the sender would have to know the internet protocol (IP) address of the recipient, which would be a series of numbers and periods. And the recipient would have to be sitting at their computer to see it. With the advent of DNS, a global address book was created so that IP addresses could be translated into easier to understand domain names. For example, instead of having to remember 22.214.171.124, you only needed to know google.com. In fact, the IP address of a computer or server could now change, and others could still reach it as long as its DNS entry was updated. Meanwhile, in order for email to be handled separately from other data, the Mail Exchange (MX) system was introduced in 1989. This allowed email to be queued or held until the recipient was able to receive it.
The MX recordAlmost every domain name has an MX record attached to its DNS. At the highest level, DNS tells other computers where to find the server in question, and the MX record tells them where to send email. Domain names frequently have more than one MX record, allowing mail to be distributed to different servers. This provides the ability to have a backup mail server, for example, or to split up the email load in case of high message volume. Finally, because an MX record can point to a different server than a web server, it's possible to have separate service providers for your website and for your email. You might choose a webhost for the features it can provide on the web, and chose a different email service provider because it can provide HIPAA compliant email. SEE ALSO: How to Make Sure You Have a HIPAA Compliant Website
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