The State of the Email Address

Mike Afergan, Robert Beverly.
ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communications Review,
Measuring the Internet's Vital Statistics (CCR- IVS)
Volume 35, Number 1: January 2005.

Electronic mail is an unquestionably vital component of the Internet infrastructure. While the general perception of email is that it ``just works,'' surprisingly little data is available to substantiate this claim. While SMTP is a mature technology of over twenty years, the architecture is increasingly strained by both normal and unsolicited load. In this paper we seek to provide a greater understanding of the behavior of Internet email as a system using active measurement. In order to survey a significant, diverse, and representative set of Internet SMTP servers, to which we have no administrative access, we develop a testing methodology that provides an email ``traceroute'' mechanism. Using this mechanism, we measure email loss, latency, and errors over the course of a month to popular, random, and Fortune 500 domains. Our initial results are \emph{quite unexpected} and include \emph{non-trivial loss rates, latencies longer than days, and significant and surprising errors}. While we present plausible explanations for some of these phenomena, there are several that we cannot, as of yet, explain. By better understanding Internet protocols which lack explicit end-to-end connection semantics, our eventual hope is to derive guidelines for designing future networks and more reliable email systems.

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