A mailbox is a single file that contains email for a particular user. Mail is delivered to the system where the user's mailbox resides, which can be on a local machine or a remote server. A mail server is any system that maintains user mailboxes in its /var/mail directory. For task information, refer to How to Set Up a Mail Server in Chapter 13, Mail Services (Tasks).
The mail server routes all mail from a client. When a client sends mail, the mail server puts the mail in a queue for delivery. After the mail is in the queue, a user can reboot or turn off the client without losing those mail messages. When the recipient gets mail from a client, the path in the From line of the message contains the name of the mail server. If the recipient responds, the response goes to the user's mailbox. Good candidates for mail servers are systems that provide a home directory for users or systems that are backed up regularly.
If the mail server is not the user's local system, users in configurations that use NFS software can mount the /var/mail directory by using the /etc/vfstab file, if they have root access. Otherwise, users can use the automounter. If NFS support is not available, users can log in to the server to read their mail.
By establishing a mail server for all mailboxes, you can simplify your process of doing backups. Backups can be difficult to do when mail is spread over many systems. The disadvantage of storing many mailboxes on one server is that the server can be a single point of failure for many users. However, the advantages of providing good backups usually make the risk worthwhile.