Carrie Dils wrote a post on why mixing email with hosting is a terrible idea. She’s getting some glory from it, and frankly, I’m a ittle jealous. 😛 I also know that the biggest follow-up question is going to be something like “yeah, but how do I separate them?” So in this post, I’m going to show you how by giving you a step-by-step tutorial on how to migrate your email to a provider like Google Apps.

I don’t want to click. So tell me why this is a bad idea.

The TL. DR. version is this.

  • If one goes down, they’re both going down
  • Your host may not prioritize email delivery
  • Things may not always be rosy between you and your developer
  • Changing hosts is easier when email’s not involved
  • Email might not be your host’s biggest strength

OK, that’s not exactly the TL. DR. I added an extra in there. But that extra is something important to consider.

So how do I move my email?

I’m going to assume you clicked the link and read the post, have decided that it’s a good idea to separate mail and hosting, and have picked one of the choices Carrie recommended. Now, here’s how you move your email.

I’m using Google Apps for this example, but the process is typically the same no matter which service provider you choose.

It boils down to MX entries and priorities

Wwhen migrating your email, you’ll be provided with a series of MX records that you need to add to your domain via your DNS settings. Here’s Google’s list. There are two parts to these entries. The server address and the priority.

MX stands for “mail exchange,” and these records tell the Domain Name System (DNS) which mail server or servers are responsible for accepting mail on behalf of a recipient’s domain. If multiple servers are available, they are prioritized according to preference as part of the record.

When you send an email, a piece of software called a mail transfer agent queries DNS to find out where that email is supposed to go. the mail exchange records provide that information. They also provide, in the form of a preference, which server should be tried first and, if there are multiple servers, the order in which they should be tried. The lowest number is the highest priority.

To configure your MX records, you’ll first need to get your mail provider’s records and priorities. Then, you’ll need to log into your DNS provider’s website (in a lot of cases, it’s the same as your domain registrar, such as Godaddy or Namecheap, for example), and add the records and their priorities. In some cases, you’ll need to add a “time-to-live” value which is typically one hour or 3600 seconds. Then, save the new entries and wait for propagation. This can take up to 72 hours at maximum but can also happen sooner.

Doing this ensures that your email stays tied to your domain while giving you the advantages of separating your email from your hosting, thus avoiding all the bad things I listed above. So if you haven’t done so already, start that move. It’ll save you a lot of headaches in the long run.


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