Understanding Email: MX Records

Where to start: Understanding Email Retrieval: POP vs. IMAP

All right, time for round two. MX Records. While POP and IMAP handle the retrieval of email, MX Records answer the question: which server is responsible for handling and accepting email for exampledomain.com?

Reclaim users: when you create a new email in your cPanel, these MX Records are created automatically. Which makes sense, right? If you create an email through cPanel, then cPanel is going to assign their servers to handle the functions of your email.

The only time that you’ll really need to mess with MX Records is if you want a third party service to handle your email. Since email can cut into your hosting storage quota, sometimes it can be useful to move your email to a service like Google Apps to free up your storage space for your website.

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Understanding Email Retrieval: POP vs. IMAP

This week at Reclaim, the guys and I have spent a lot of time brushing up on all things email related. I say “brushing up,” but take that with a grain of salt as MX Records weren’t heavily discussed in my liberal arts, English major classrooms. I’ve learned a whole lot in the last year of being taken under the Reclaim wing, but I’m honestly thrilled that there’s still so much more to learn. So much more to conquer. I think that’s one of the major reasons why I love what I do. But I digress. 🙂

Like I mentioned, we’ve been discussing the big green monster that is email. I’ve found that this is one of the hardest topics to provide support for, given that there are so many larger concepts, as well as so many unique set ups that can be at play. So to start I wanted to go back to the basics of email configuration, and then branch off into specific scenarios in later blog posts.

So before setting up your email at Reclaim, or anywhere really, it’s important to understand what your options are. As a Reclaim Hosting user, email is configured through cPanel. cPanel supports two different methods of accessing mailboxes on the server: POP3 and IMAP.

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Using External SMTP Servers for Forwarded Email with Google Apps Address

In the spirit of Documentation December at Reclaim Hosting, I’m following up on a tutorial I wrote about Sending Mail from a Forwarded Email Address through Gmail. I was having issues adding my jim@reclaimhosting.com email account to my Gmail account as a sender. I checked and double-checked my SMTP settings, but no luck. I kept recieving the error message “Authentication failed. Please check your username/password.” I was stuck in a weird authentication limbo, and according to this forum thread I was not alone.

What was worse, none of their suggested solutions worked for me. I then went to the oracle Tim Owens who noted Google requires the use of external SMTP servers for sending to additional addresses, and given we are using Google Apps servers for our Reclaim Hosting email accounts, they’re probably not be considered external. And if there is anything resembling a theme in my life these days, it is the following: Timmmmyboy was right!

I used the SMTP servers and credentials for our Mandrill email account and it worked perfectly, the credentials look something like the following.

SMTP Host: smtp.mandrillapp.com
Port: 587
Username: your@mandrill.email
Password: yourmandrillpassword


Using Google Apps with your Domain

Managing e-mail can be one of the harder parts of reclaiming your space on the web. While building a web presence is easier with modern applications like WordPress, the state of email clients and protocols is much less advanced. You'll have to grapple with getting your IMAP accounts setup and all the settings correct, webmail options are limited in functionality, and deliverability is always a concern with shared hosting servers.

Many users for this reason decide to use a service like Google Apps with their domain. Google Apps allows you to have email addresses based on your domain but completely powered by Google using Gmail as a webmail interface and connecting to any Google-supported client. Luckily it's absolutely possible to push mail to Google while still maintaining complete control of your domain for building out content on Reclaim Hosting. This is done by editing several MX Records which are a type of record for your domain that tells our servers who is in charge of handling email for the domain.

Google outlines the necessary records for setting up Google Apps on your domain at https://support.google.com/a/answer/33915?hl=en. Essentially we'll be editing the MX records to reflect the following:

Priority Mail Server

To make these changes you'll log into cPanel and navigate to the Email section and choose MX Entry.

Email Section in cPanel

By default cPanel creates a single MX entry that points to your main domain as the server for email (so if your domain is hosted by Reclaim Hosting mail will be routed through the server your domain is on). We'll need to change that to take advantage of Google Apps for email. Each MX record has two items, a Priority number which tells the server which order to check for email records, and a Destination which is a domain that will serve the email.

MX Entry Editing Interface

You'll need to edit the existing one (or remove it) and then add a few additional ones from the table above. When you're done the records should look like this:

Completed MX Records

You're all done! Keep in mind changing records can take 24-48 hours to begin working, though it typically will happen much sooner. Once the records have propagated globally all email will be routed to Google and you can use their system to handle all of your email functionality while still maintaining control of your domain from Reclaim Hosting.

Sending Mail from a Forwarded Email Address (Gmail)

Immediately after my last post for “Documentation December” on Forwarding Email in CPanel, I got a question about whether you can reply to messages sent to that email from the forwarded address. This is possible, and I will try and document the process with several email providers, but I’ll start with Gmail because that’s the one I use.

In order to send email from the forwarded address mail@jimgroom.com, I need to create an email account. This is not the case if you simply want to forward that email address to another account, but if you also want to send or reply to mail with this address you need to create an account. Click on the Email Accounts link in the Email section of CPanel.

Screenshot 2015-12-16 14.49.07

At that point you need to add an email account, and below is an example of how you can fill out the fields and then create the account. Keep the email quota low because you don’t want this to be storage, you will simply be using the email settings for this account to send them through Gmail.

Screenshot 2015-12-16 14.48.43

Once the account is created you will see it listed under Email Accounts.

Screenshot 2015-12-16 14.48.16

Click on the Configure Mail Client link to get the settings you will need to add to Gmail. The settings you will need are your username, password, incoming server and SMTP port. Once you have those you are ready to head over to the Gmail account you’re forwarding this email to and go to Settings.

Screenshot 2015-12-16 14.49.30

Once in settings, go to Accounts and Import and look for the Send mail as option. Then click on Add another email address you own.

Screenshot 2015-12-16 14.50.16

At that point you will see the following pop-up window, and you can add your name and the email address you are forwarding to Gmail. This should be the same email as the account you just created.

Screenshot 2015-12-16 14.50.33

After that, add the incoming mail server/port info, your username and password. Also, be sure you choose the SSL connection.

Screenshot 2015-12-16 14.51.08

You will then be sent an email with a code that will verify the addition of this email account.

Screenshot 2015-12-16 14.51.20

After that, you will see the additional email address in the Accounts and Import tab. I recommend selecting the “Reply from the same address the message was sent to”  if you don’t want to worry about manually selecting the From field for each email you get. It’s a lot less mental overhead that way.

Screenshot 2015-12-17 09.36.10

After that, you will see the additional address available in the From: field of your Gmail account. Screenshot 2015-12-16 14.53.06

And that’s all she wrote.