Replies to SMTP commands are devised to ensure the synchronization of requests and actions in the process of mail transfer, and to guarantee that the sender-SMTP always knows the state of the receiver-SMTP. Every command must generate exactly one reply.
The details of the command-reply sequence are made explicit in Section 5.3 on Sequencing and Section 5.4 State Diagrams.
An SMTP reply consists of a three digit number (transmitted as three alphanumeric characters) followed by some text. The number is intended for use by automata to determine what state to enter next; the text is meant for the human user. It is intended that the three digits contain enough encoded information that the sender-SMTP need not examine the text and may either discard it or pass it on to the user, as appropriate. In particular, the text may be receiver-dependent and context dependent, so there are likely to be varying texts for each reply code. A discussion of the theory of reply codes is given in Appendix E. Formally, a reply is defined to be the sequence: a three-digit code, <SP>, one line of text, and <CRLF>, or a multiline reply (as defined in Appendix E). Only the EXPN and HELP commands are expected to result in multiline replies in normal circumstances, however multiline replies are allowed for any command.