Smarthosts were originally open mail relays, but most providers now requiring authentication from the sender, to verify that the sender is authorised - for example, an ISP might run a smarthost for their paying customers only.
Use in spam control efforts
In an effort to reduce email spam originating from their customer's IP addresses, some internet service providers (ISPs), will not allow their customers to communicate out directly with recipient mailservers via the default SMTP port number 25. Instead, often they will setup a smarthost to which their customers can direct all their outward mail - or customers could alternatively use one of the commercial smarthost services.
Sometimes, even if outward port 25 is not blocked, an individual or organisation's normal external IP address has difficulty getting SMTP mail accepted. This could be because that IP was assigned in the past to someone who sent spam from it, or appears to be a dynamic address such as typically used for home connection. Whatever the reason for the "poor reputation" or "blacklisting", they can choose to redirect all their email out to an external smarthost for delivery.
When a host runs its own local mail server, a smart host is often used to transmit all mail to other systems through a central mail server. This is used to ease the management of a single mail server with aliases, security, and Internet access rather than maintaining numerous local mail servers.
- Moen, Rick (June 2005). "Mail Relaying/Authentication". Linux Gazette (115).
The term 'smarthost' harks back to the days before SMTP was universal and DNS reasonably reliable: The idea was that you assumed that your own host probably wasn't as well-connected and capable as, say, the UCBVAX machine at Berkeley. So, you would configure your local outbound mail processes to lob all outgoing mail over to UCBVAX via batched, dialed-up UUCP, or SMTP, or whatever, trusting to UCBVAX to perform necessary DNS lookups and redeliver the mail. UCBVAX was, in that sense, dubbed a "smarthost" for your site, in the sense that it's smarter about DNS and mail connections than yours is.
- John, Chris. "When Using a Smart Host is the Smart Choice". SocketLabs. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
- "Getting past email blocking". The National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved 19 December 2018.