Most SMTP servers require clients to authenticate themselves before they are allowed to send mail. Authentication usually involves supplying a user name and password.
If you have not configured anything, then the first time you try to send mail via a server, Emacs (version 24.1 and later) prompts you for the user name and password to use, and then offers to save the information. By default, Emacs stores authentication information in a file ~/.authinfo.
The basic format of the ~/.authinfo file is one line for each set of credentials. Each line consists of pairs of variables and values. A simple example would be:
machine mail.example.org port 25 login myuser password mypassword
This specifies that when using the SMTP server called ‘mail.example.org’
on port 25, Emacs should send the user name ‘myuser’ and the
password ‘mypassword’. Either or both of the login and password
fields may be absent, in which case Emacs prompts for the information
when you try to send mail. (This replaces the old
smtpmail-auth-credentials variable used prior to Emacs 24.1.)
When the SMTP library connects to a host on a certain port, it
searches the ~/.authinfo file for a matching entry. If an
entry is found, the authentication process is invoked and the
credentials are used. If the variable
set to a non-
nil value, then only entries for that user are
considered. For more information on the ~/.authinfo
file, see auth-source in Emacs auth-source Library.
The process by which the SMTP library authenticates you to the server is known as “Simple Authentication and Security Layer” (SASL). There are various SASL mechanisms, and this library supports three of them: CRAM-MD5, PLAIN, and LOGIN. It tries each of them, in that order, until one succeeds. The first uses a form of encryption to obscure your password, while the other two do not.