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Email: The Struggle is Real, Especially If You're Running a Server

EmailAt one time, I ran my email server in my home.  I had a small Linux server running either exim or postfix (I forget) and I had a “business” line from my ISP that included a static IP.  I had to move off of it a few years later because of spam.  Eventually my bandwidth was overwhelmed with spam traffic, making my day-to-day use of the Internet difficult.

Can you imagine doing that today?

Back in the day, hobbyists ran their own email servers all the time and for the most part they worked fine.  I don’t think many do today, other than for disposable inboxes.  Even just sending mail is tricky.  When I fire up a new VPS, I setup mail and test it by emailing myself from the command-line (“echo test | mailx -s ‘mail works’ someone@example.com”)…and then I go to Gmail and setup a filter for that sender otherwise it goes to spam.

Anyone doing marketing emails (however legitimate) or mailing lists has run into the problem of all the emails you send going into people’s junk folders.  There’s a whole host of remedies and advice to fix this.  Start by setting up reverse DNS and getting the IP you inherited off black lists.  Then look into DKIM(2011), DMARC (2012), and SPF (2014).  It’s not as simple as it used to be.

Or just give up and use a third party.

The advantage there is that they live and breathe this stuff 24/7.  You probably only look at your mail config when you set it up the first time and if there’s a problem.  If you’re running a third-party mail sender, you’re handling millions of emails a day and if O365 stops accepting them, you’ll immediately know and you’ll probably know why, as opposed to Joe Hobbyist googling through RFCs.

Leading Lights

There are many third-party email services today.  If you’re looking to send email and make sure it reaches people’s inboxes, here are some to consider.

Do You Need Full Email (Inbox and Outbound)?

MailCheap – we interviewed their CEO a while back.  They offer full-service email: inboxes, sending, etc.  They provision a dedicated (virtual) server to handle your mail.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find pricing on their site but I’m sure they’d love to tell you all about it.

MXroute – hosted by the legendary Jarland Donnell (interview here).  The service gets great reviews and the pricing is dirt cheap, but note they will not handle marketing emails.

Do you Need Only Outbound?

Mail Baby – another community provider.  Mail Baby handles outbound mail and is careful to filter spam and viruses before delivering it to the recipients inbox, and they have a very high delivery percentage.

Amazon SES – Amazon wouldn’t give us the time of day but their service does work very well.  At small volumes (e.g., a hobbyist sending alerts to himself) there is no cost.

 

10 Comments

  1. Susan:

    We stated using Amazon SES for our online businesses years back. Have never given it a second thought to change. Works grate and is totally affordable.

    January 9, 2023 @ 2:53 pm | Reply
  2. Andy:

    Oracle OCI smtp relay works fine for me. Mostly transactional and first 300 emails a day is in the free tier. The service just works and gives a very good 9.8 out of 10 with spam delivery checks (assuming correct DKIM etc setup). Even Microsoft doesn’t block senders and Microsoft just loves to block any and all they can.

    January 9, 2023 @ 10:36 pm | Reply
  3. John:

    have been running my own mail since 2008 now. I use the guide on workaround.org(whenever the mail server needs to move for one reason or the other, like hyper expert who used to run my mail server demanding everyone having their outgoing email sent through their relay). I still do it, my mails get inbox in all major providers

    January 10, 2023 @ 12:47 pm | Reply
    • Andy:

      Interesting John. I use Cyberpanel and a direct mail server gets near 10/10 scores except with Microsoft. The 9nly issue them is they do t line some VPS IP ranges. And they also don’t unblock their blanket blocks when you use their request system. It’s a brick wall. I tried a couple of times with courteous messaging but they are not helpful or friendly hence my downer on MS. Thry stand out as the most unhelpful and uncommunicative supplier I know of.

      January 10, 2023 @ 1:38 pm | Reply
      • Andy:

        Please excuse the mobile typos.

        January 10, 2023 @ 1:40 pm | Reply
      • John:

        A lot of it in fact depends on ip range, but for gmail(which is probably by far the most popular mail provider these days) its definitely more important to have a good configuration. Important for gmail is valid ipv4 and ipv6 rdns entries, a good spf/dmarc record. DKIM adds a little to the top, but not too much. I do get a 10/10 score on mail-tester.com, with the only thing they complain about being not having an unsubscribe-list header – since I am not sending out newsletters or anything the likes that is to be expected. Mail-tester.com is an extremely valuable tool in figuring out whats wrong with your setup btw, so if you didnt know about it, give it a try(warning, they want you to pay if you send more than I think 5 tests per day, and I am in no way affiliated with them).
        If you do get hit by a blacklist, I do recommend looking for another vps provider. I do remember moving the mail server in 2015, when my back-then provider had ignored abuse and spam to a degree where the whole /24 just ended up on pretty much any blacklist.
        As for support, try talking to google – 9/10 times you wont even be able to reach a human, and if so they will just give you a textblock and the note that you cant appeal.

        January 10, 2023 @ 1:49 pm | Reply
        • Andy:

          Yep, mail-tester.com is my go-to. Pity MS don’t publish their blacklist so you can check up before commiting.

          January 10, 2023 @ 2:04 pm | Reply
  4. Andy:

    Cheers John. Yep all good advice. I have all the DKIM RDNS etc all setup to standard and no issue with any other main providers, just MS. Agreed the only option is finding another IP but it’s pot luck.

    January 10, 2023 @ 1:53 pm | Reply
    • John:

      I had very good luck(3 machines in a row) with letbox(who are featured here on lowendbox and who I am also not affiliated with in any way shape or form). I currently run 2 machines in the us for my personal mail and my business one in the netherlands(due to stupid european privacy laws forcing me to keep customer data stored in the eu – those worthless bureaucrats clearly didnt understand the concept of the internet).
      As an added bonus letbox lets me install the os myself via vnc, so I can have my own debian installation, full backups that I draw myself and an encrypted file system(which, especially when I host email services on hardware that I dont own and dont have physical access to/can exclude security incidents on the level above virtualization) with dm_crypt.
      Something not said enough, always full disc encrypt your mail servers, even if you know your security, doesnt mean your provider does!

      As for letbox, the only downside with them is that support is sometimes a bit slow(but still answers within 24 hours), and in one instance(where my credit card would get declined because their fraud prevention claimed billing zip didnt match, funny thing european cards never used billing zip code verification and will approve on any zip code, the answer was a bit rude.

      Support is competent though, on one machine I wouldnt get ipv6 autoconfiguration so I had to ask for the gateway address(which in hindsight i could have just probed in less friendly ways), the answer was good and precise, I did not really like the way things were approached though: The answer was basically: we have ipv6 advertisement services enabled in the virtualization host, it should work, here’s your gateway, but we wont look into whats wrong because no one else complained

      Then again, I pay $3/machine per month and perfomance is excellent.

      Ok, I’ve given them enough free advertisement now, sorry about that and again I am in no way shape or form affiliated with them other than being a paying customer, who had good luck with getting clean ips

      January 10, 2023 @ 2:15 pm | Reply
      • Andy:

        Cheers John for the recommendation. Will look into letbox.

        January 10, 2023 @ 2:24 pm | Reply

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