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Is There a Place for SMTP in Your Environment?

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In spite of the fascination with client/server and graphical front-ends, I suspect that many users still walk up to their desks in the morning and flip the power switch on a nonprogrammable terminal (NPT). Some companies that still use NPTs also have sophisticated internal LAN and Internet sites running on powerful UNIX, Windows NT, and, yes, even OS/400 systems.

Many of these companies offer NPT users a shared PC to exchange E-mail and so forth. However, a department may have 50 or more people vying for use of the shared PC. As a result, the NPT users aren't able to fully and conveniently use the LAN or Internet.

Other companies have no PCs at all and are trying to decide if there is any benefit to connecting their AS/400s to the Internet. Both types of companies may see a substantial productivity improvement by implementing Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP) on the AS/400.

Currently, SMTP primarily provides a way to exchange E-mail between OfficeVision and E-mail systems on your LAN or on the Internet. You can also send short messages using the Send Distribution (SNDDST) and Receive Distribution (RCVDST) commands. If the thought of exchanging E-mail between systems interests you, I'd suggest also reading "AnyMail/400," MC, August 1995.

AnyMail/400 provides additional support in OfficeVision and through a set of APIs for sending mail across multiple transports, including SMTP. In any case, you'll need to set up and configure SMTP if you decide to use it to transport your E-mail. SMTP is going to play an even more significant role in the future of the AS/400.

IBM's recent announcements indicate that the company plans to replace OfficeVision with Lotus Notes. (For more announcement information, see "AS/400 Announcements: Entry-level Systems Take the Lead" and Significa elsewhere in this issue.) In the short term, Notes will run on an FSIOP; in the long term, we may get a native implementation of Notes on the AS/400. In either case, SMTP is likely still going to be the primary method for exchanging E-mail between the AS/400 and PC LANs and the Internet.

If you think you'd like to give your NPT users the ability to exchange mail with the users on your LAN and on the Internet, or if you want to get a handle on this technology for the future, read on.

SMTP is a standard protocol that allows the transfer of mail between servers. It's part of the Internet standards-just like TCP/IP, FTP, and Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). A process called RFC (or Request For Comments) is used to create many of the standard tools and protocols that exist on the Internet, and SMTP is part of that ongoing RFC process. If you'd like to view the RFC for SMTP, try the following Uniform Resource Locator (URL):

ftp://35.1.1.48/documents/rfc/rfc0821.txt

SMTP is not really an E-mail system in the sense of creating post office accounts and so forth. SMTP enables the transfer of E-mail between servers, from one site or system to another.

On a PC LAN, you often encounter SMTP in conjunction with a Post Office Protocol (POP) server. POP is a standard used to connect individual users to an E-mail system. The SMTP software gets the mail to the correct server, and POP gives the users the ability to view and respond to those E-mail messages. An example of a PC E-mail application that uses the POP protocol is Qualcomm's Eudora.

On the AS/400 with OfficeVision, however, you don't need POP. IBM supplies SMTP gateway functionality between OfficeVision and other SMTP servers. OfficeVision acts as a POP server in an SMTP framework; you can create and administer user accounts, and users can view, create, and respond to E-mail. So if you have a LAN E-mail system that supports SMTP, OfficeVision users can exchange messages with the users on the LAN and vice versa. The same holds true with the Internet.

Certain LAN E-mail systems don't directly support SMTP. For example, Microsoft Mail has its own standard for exchanging mail (MAPI), and it isn't like SMTP. You can, however, get SMTP gateways for many of the PC LAN E-mail products. If you're on the Internet, it's a different story. SMTP is the standard.

Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which are the companies that connect you to the Internet, support handling your SMTP mail. For example, the ISP's software may hold your mail while your AS/400 is IPL'ing and then send the mail to your AS/400 when the system is available. If you hook your AS/400 to the Internet, you need to talk to your ISP to see if and how they will handle your SMTP mail.

The SMTP server on the AS/400 is a gateway. Within OfficeVision, you can transfer documents from one OfficeVision user to another, including users on another AS/400. The gateway function allows you to exchange messages with an SMTP server over TCP/IP. So you need to have both TCP/IP and the SMTP server configured.

When you send an OfficeVision document from one user on an AS/400 to another user on another AS/400, you typically use SNADS. (SNADS is the functionality in OS/400 that allows you to send data from one AS/400 to another over an SNA network.) The design of the SMTP server on the AS/400 allows you to continue to use that method for documents that are intended for the Internet or your LAN-based E-mail system. So, in the process of configuring SMTP, you must also configure SNADS.

Because SMTP is a gateway that uses SNADS, you only need to configure SMTP on one system if you have multiple AS/400s in your network. The other AS/400s can route mail intended for an SMTP user to the appropriate SNADS distribution queue on the gateway AS/400. (See 1.) Once the intended SMTP mail arrives on the SMTP gateway system, the SMTP server treats it like any other mail.

Because SMTP is a gateway that uses SNADS, you only need to configure SMTP on one system if you have multiple AS/400s in your network. The other AS/400s can route mail intended for an SMTP user to the appropriate SNADS distribution queue on the gateway AS/400. (See Figure 1.) Once the intended SMTP mail arrives on the SMTP gateway system, the SMTP server treats it like any other mail.

As I said previously, the SMTP gateway service is bidirectional. Your OfficeVision users can both send and receive mail from LAN and Internet mail users. There are some considerations, though, when sending mail using OfficeVision.

OfficeVision has many fairly sophisticated features that help it perform as a functional word processing package on the AS/400. For example, you can use subscripts in an OfficeVision document. These features are coded in the document in a format known as Document Interchange Architecture/Document Content Architecture (DIA/DCA). When SMTP receives a document to send out, it reviews the document for unsupported features, such as a subscript. The SMTP server converts the DIA/DCA codes to ASCII text so that non-OfficeVision users can read the mail. The mail reader won't see the subscript; however, the content of the document isn't lost.

Here's what the SMTP gateway doesn't support. You can't distribute binary objects across a TCP/IP network. Documents need to be in final-form text (FFT), not revisable-form text (RFT) format. You also can't send information using the Send Network Message (SNDNETMSG), Send Network Spooled File (SNDNETSPLF), or Send Network File (SNDNETF) command.

You could create your own interface, using the AnyMail/400 APIs for example, to allow users to send notes and messages through SMTP. To build a simple E-mail interface, you could also use the Query Distribution (QRYDST), Send Distribution (SNDDST), and Receive Distribution (RCVDST) commands. Depending on your situation, though, creating your own mail system may not be practical. The content and methods supported by SMTP on the AS/400 are shown in 2.

You could create your own interface, using the AnyMail/400 APIs for example, to allow users to send notes and messages through SMTP. To build a simple E-mail interface, you could also use the Query Distribution (QRYDST), Send Distribution (SNDDST), and Receive Distribution (RCVDST) commands. Depending on your situation, though, creating your own mail system may not be practical. The content and methods supported by SMTP on the AS/400 are shown in Figure 2.

If you're concerned about security when connecting your AS/400 to the Internet, which I think is a very reasonable concern, you might want to exchange E-mail over the Internet without directly connecting your system to the Internet. You could run an SMTP server on a standalone PC that is connected to the Internet. The AS/400 could send mail to and receive mail from the PC, which could then forward the mail to your ISP. That certainly doesn't solve all the security issues, but it allows you to create an environment in which the AS/400 is somewhat isolated, and, therefore, safer from people on the Internet who are interested in doing damage.

If this seems like an interesting idea, I have some good news for you. While I've never considered the IBM AS/400 manuals terribly easy to plow through, the material on configuring SMTP is comparatively well done. The specific manual you need is OS/400 TCP/IP Configuration and Reference V3R1.

The chapter on SMTP has a section called "Configuring SMTP for Operations with SNADS." In that section, there's a very clear nine-step process that you can follow to configure SMTP on your AS/400. If you're looking for more background material on SMTP, check the Internet. A wide variety of information is available there. Probably the best place to start, though, is by reviewing the RFC that I described earlier.

If you still have users working with NPTs, don't leave them out in the cold. While PC users may have other advanced capabilities, such as a Web browser, your OfficeVision users can still take part in your LAN or E-mail group. With the SMTP gateway, users on NPTs can become part of the interconnected world.

Jim Hoopes is a senior technical editor for Midrange Computing. He can be reached by E-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

REFERENCE

OS/400 TCP/IP Configuration and Reference V3R1 (SC41-3420, CD-ROM QBKANL00).

Is There a Place for SMTP in Your Environment?

Figure 1: An AS/400 SMTP Gateway


Is There a Place for SMTP in Your Environment?

Figure 2: Content Supported by AS/400 SMTP


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