SockMail is described by its creators as a “100% Java client/server e-mail list management system”, and it is just that.
100% Java Installation

SockMail can be installed via a command line or GUI (graphical user interface). The application installs in literally seconds because the whole thing is only 197KB. It is designed to be purchased and downloaded over the Internet and is not available on CD-ROM or floppy disk. However, because SockMail is truly platform independent, it requires the use of the command line to start the GUI installation. This could be a little confusing for the novice Windows NT user, but a system administrator or anyone used to UNIX should have no problem getting the install up and running.

Figure 3. Preference Window

The install is done with JShield because the company insisted on keeping the application 100% Java; WinInstall uses Windows native code. However, it is not just a case of getting hooked on Java. Since it is 100% Java, the whole program can be installed remotely using TELNET. Most servers have remote administration capabilities, but taking its network-friendly cue from UNIX, everything on SockMail can done without being on a console. On Windows NT, this type of remote installation is rare, and Sockem Software has done a good job of building this functionality into the application.

The Server

To deliver client applets, the SockMail server must be running on the same computer as a web server, which limits its scalability. SockMail Pro, due out soon, will be able to run independently of a web server. The SockMail server has its own 100% Java database used to store e-mail addresses. It is a proprietary database without JDBC (Java database connectivity) functionality which could lead to problems in an enterprise setting. The server processes all requests from clients to add and delete names from lists and must have access to a local JVM (Java Virtual Machine). Although the server component is 100% Java, it can't function on most Windows 95 or Macintosh desktops, because most JVMs for Windows 95 and Macintosh don't support the TCP/IP socket connections the SockMail server needs. Security must be set up once the server is installed. Security features include an administrative login, IP filtering and separate administrative port. Only one user login is allowed. The server can handle multiple tasks, simultaneously updating one list and mailing to another.

Figure 4. Server Window

The Clients

SockMail uses three client applets: one to administer the server, one to add and one to delete addresses. Users can add and delete themselves from lists, but mailings can be performed only from the administrative applet; this applet is just 85KB and loads quickly. The add and delete clients are less than 30KB each. The applets can be customized to fit the look and feel of a particular web site. The clients run on any browser with a Sun compatible JVM version 1.02 or later. In case users don't have a Java-enabled browser, SockMail includes two HTML forms with CGI scripts. These can also be used to add and delete addresses.

Built-in Intelligence

SockMail includes the ability to intelligently retrieve e-mail addresses from web sites. A spider can search an entire web site, collect any e-mail addresses and add them to a specified list. This feature could give the product a bad name; however, the spider can search only about 1000 pages before running out of memory. This limits its usefulness as a tool for spamming. For quickly scanning a single URL, however, the spider works well. It is a useful tool for collecting contact information. It only picks up addresses after the mailto attribute.

To be more web friendly, the spider identifies itself as a robot. Webmasters can put configuration files on their pages to inform the spider not to search the site. As these intelligent agents become common, sites not wanting to be searched are starting to deny access to them.

SockMail also includes an easy way to check the InterNIC database for information about an e-mail address. For any registered domain, SockMail can query the InterNIC to find out the technical, administrative and billing contact information.

The Potential for Linux and Java

Sockem Software is a strong supporter of Linux. The company moved its own web site off of Sun Solaris and is a complete Linux shop. SockMail was developed on Linux boxes using Emacs, the newest versions of which have Java editing tools. The biggest advantage to developing Java on MS Windows remains the visual editing tools that are available on that platform. However, many visual development programs use version 1.1. of the JVM, which can lead to incompatibilities with version 1.0 used by most older browsers. By developing on Linux, Java programmers are assured they will be developing 100% Java because there are no proprietary JVMs on Linux. Organizations such as Blackdown ( ported the JVM to Linux, and standard distributions of Linux include a JVM.