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Interpreting the List of MX RRs Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia
Interpreting the List of MX RRs

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Interpreting the List of MX RRs

Interpreting the List of MX RRs

NOTE: This section only discusses how mailers choose which names to try to deliver a message to, working from a list of RR's. It does not discuss how the mailers actually make delivery. Where ever delivering a message is mentioned, all that is meant is that the mailer should do whatever it needs to do to transfer a message to a remote site, given a domain name for that site. (For example, an SMTP mailer will try to get an address for the domain name, which involves another query to the domain system, and then, if it gets an address, connect to the SMTP TCP port). The mechanics of actually transferring the message over the network to the address associated with a given domain name is not within the scope of this memo.

It is possible that the list of MXs in the response to the query will be empty. This is a special case. If the list is empty, mailers should treat it as if it contained one RR, an MX RR with a preference value of 0, and a host name of REMOTE. (I.e., REMOTE is its only MX). In addition, the mailer should do no further processing on the list, but should attempt to deliver the message to REMOTE. The idea here is that if a domain fails to advertise any information about a particular name we will give it the benefit of the doubt and attempt delivery.

If the list is not empty, the mailer should remove irrelevant RR's from the list according to the following steps. Note that the order is significant.

    For each MX, a WKS query should be issued to see if the domain name listed actually supports the mail service desired. MX RRs which list domain names which do not support the service should be discarded. This step is optional, but strongly encouraged. If the domain name LOCAL is listed as an MX RR, all MX RRs with a preference value greater than or equal to that of LOCAL's must be discarded.

After removing irrelevant RRs, the list can again be empty. This is now an error condition and can occur in several ways. The simplest case is that the WKS queries have discovered that none of the hosts listed supports the mail service desired. The message is thus deemed undeliverable, though extremely persistent mail systems might want to try a delivery to REMOTE's address (if it exists) before returning the message. Another, more dangerous, possibility is that the domain system believes that LOCAL is handling message for REMOTE, but the mailer on LOCAL is not set up to handle mail for REMOTE. For example, if the domain system lists LOCAL as the only MX for REMOTE, LOCAL will delete all the entries in the list. But LOCAL is presumably querying the domain system because it didn't know what to do with a message addressed to REMOTE. Clearly something is wrong. How a mailer chooses to handle these situations is to some extent implementation dependent, and is thus left to the implementor's discretion.

If the list of MX RRs is not empty, the mailer should try to deliver the message to the MXs in order (lowest preference value tried first). The mailer is required to attempt delivery to the lowest valued MX. Implementors are encouraged to write mailers so that they try the MXs in order until one of the MXs accepts the message, or all the MXs have been tried. A somewhat less demanding system, in which a fixed number of MXs is tried, is also reasonable. Note that multiple MXs may have the same preference value. In this case, all MXs at with a given value must be tried before any of a higher value are tried. In addition, in the special case in which there are several MXs with the lowest preference value, all of them should be tried before a message is deemed undeliverable.

Next: Minor Special Issues

Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia
Interpreting the List of MX RRs


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