How to host email for custom domains for free (or almost free)

Hi! I was looking for a way to cut costs and among other things I replaced a paid email hosting service for my custom domains with free services. I thought I'd share in case someone might be interested.

Here's the post:
https://vitobotta.com/2022/07/26/how-to-host-email-for-custom-domains-for-free-or-almost-free/

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Comments

  • bikegremlinbikegremlin ModeratorOG
    edited July 26

    I can see some downsides to this setup:

    1)
    The inbound emails get forwarded to Gmail.

    I think it's safer to use any decent shared hosting and configure Gmail to POP3 import emails from it.
    Or, even better, use an MXroute lifetime. :)

    2)
    You noted this problem in the article. Gmail used as a sending domain, for your own domain's emails.

    You could use a shared hosting provider's SMTP for sending, configuring Gmail in a similar way.
    Or, again, get an MXroute lifetime and call it a day. :)

    BikeGremlin I/O
    Mostly WordPress ™

  • What downsides? For 1), I use Gmail but this works with any free email service. What's wrong with Gmail as free account? For 2) I did offer the suggestion of using an SMTP relay :)

  • bikegremlinbikegremlin ModeratorOG

    @vitobotta said:
    What downsides? For 1), I use Gmail but this works with any free email service. What's wrong with Gmail as free account? For 2) I did offer the suggestion of using an SMTP relay :)

    Direct pull (or IMAP push) is better than forwarding, at least in my opinion.
    More reliable deliverability.

    Also, if you mark an email as spam, you'll be marking your own domain as a spammy one, not the domain that sent the original email to you.

    BikeGremlin I/O
    Mostly WordPress ™

  • Pull from where? With this setup the email only gets stored in Gmail (or equivalent), it's not stored by Cloudflare. Cloudflare only forwards/routes the email and that's it :)

    Also, if you mark an email as spam, you'll be marking your own domain as a spammy one, not the domain that sent the original email to you

    Can you clarify?

  • vyasvyas OGContent Writer
    edited July 26

    @vitobotta I also read the discussion on OGF on similar topic, and now I prefer to pay for services. There was a period in my life where the Lure of Free existed, not that much anymore.

    I see you use/used Zoho mail as well - I use Zoho workplace for my business, personal is on MxRoute- though the annual plan
    Keeps my country's Tax Lady happy. And my life simpler.

    Thanked by (1)Asim

    VPS reviews | | MicroLXC | English is my nth language.

  • bikegremlinbikegremlin ModeratorOG
    edited July 26

    @vitobotta said:
    Pull from where? With this setup the email only gets stored in Gmail (or equivalent), it's not stored by Cloudflare. Cloudflare only forwards/routes the email and that's it :)

    Also, if you mark an email as spam, you'll be marking your own domain as a spammy one, not the domain that sent the original email to you

    Can you clarify?

    Correct me if I'm wrong - might as well be
    (btw, I'm really interested in looking at a link to a mail-tester results for an outbound email using your setup - if that's OK via a PM - for spam-prevention):

    Cloudflare forwards your emails to gmail, with your domain configured as the origin one, using CF's IP of course?
    It is basically email forwarding using Cloudflare?

    If that's the case, then I could send you spam, you get it in your Gmail inbox, mark it as spam, and Gmail marks CF's IP and your domain as the spam "originator." Instead of my spammy domain.

    Edit:
    Spamers are why we can't have nice things and why this all is a big hassle. :(

    Thanked by (1)Falzo

    BikeGremlin I/O
    Mostly WordPress ™

  • @bikegremlin said:

    @vitobotta said:
    Pull from where? With this setup the email only gets stored in Gmail (or equivalent), it's not stored by Cloudflare. Cloudflare only forwards/routes the email and that's it :)

    Also, if you mark an email as spam, you'll be marking your own domain as a spammy one, not the domain that sent the original email to you

    Can you clarify?

    Correct me if I'm wrong - might as well be
    (btw, I'm really interested in looking at a link to a mail-tester results for an outbound email using your setup - if that's OK via a PM - for spam-prevention):

    Cloudflare forwards your emails to gmail, with your domain configured as the origin one, using CF's IP of course?
    It is basically email forwarding using Cloudflare?

    If that's the case, then I could send you spam, you get it in your Gmail inbox, mark it as spam, and Gmail marks CF's IP and your domain as the spam "originator." Instead of my spammy domain.

    Edit:
    Spamers are why we can't have nice things and why this all is a big hassle. :(

    Cloudflare basically has MX servers who receive the email and forward it to whichever address you configure. Do you have any resource confirming that flagging an email as spam in Gmail with this setup would mark Cloudflare as the spammer? It doesn't make much sense to me because forwarding is one basic email feature.

  • @bikegremlin said:

    @vitobotta said:
    Pull from where? With this setup the email only gets stored in Gmail (or equivalent), it's not stored by Cloudflare. Cloudflare only forwards/routes the email and that's it :)

    Also, if you mark an email as spam, you'll be marking your own domain as a spammy one, not the domain that sent the original email to you

    Just did the test and got this

    Looks good to me :D

  • bikegremlinbikegremlin ModeratorOG
    edited July 26

    @vitobotta said:

    @bikegremlin said:

    @vitobotta said:
    Pull from where? With this setup the email only gets stored in Gmail (or equivalent), it's not stored by Cloudflare. Cloudflare only forwards/routes the email and that's it :)

    Also, if you mark an email as spam, you'll be marking your own domain as a spammy one, not the domain that sent the original email to you

    Can you clarify?

    Correct me if I'm wrong - might as well be
    (btw, I'm really interested in looking at a link to a mail-tester results for an outbound email using your setup - if that's OK via a PM - for spam-prevention):

    Cloudflare forwards your emails to gmail, with your domain configured as the origin one, using CF's IP of course?
    It is basically email forwarding using Cloudflare?

    If that's the case, then I could send you spam, you get it in your Gmail inbox, mark it as spam, and Gmail marks CF's IP and your domain as the spam "originator." Instead of my spammy domain.

    Edit:
    Spamers are why we can't have nice things and why this all is a big hassle. :(

    Cloudflare basically has MX servers who receive the email and forward it to whichever address you configure. Do you have any resource confirming that flagging an email as spam in Gmail with this setup would mark Cloudflare as the spammer? It doesn't make much sense to me because forwarding is one basic email feature.

    And, thanks to spam and abuse, it is a problematic one, again - in my opinion and experience.

    Would have to google for a third source.

    Also - you will probably test it and know in the following months - that’s most reliable info.

    Edit:
    I’m worried more about the domain. CF is huge. They will be fine.

    BikeGremlin I/O
    Mostly WordPress ™

  • @bikegremlin said:

    @vitobotta said:

    @bikegremlin said:

    @vitobotta said:
    Pull from where? With this setup the email only gets stored in Gmail (or equivalent), it's not stored by Cloudflare. Cloudflare only forwards/routes the email and that's it :)

    Also, if you mark an email as spam, you'll be marking your own domain as a spammy one, not the domain that sent the original email to you

    Can you clarify?

    Correct me if I'm wrong - might as well be
    (btw, I'm really interested in looking at a link to a mail-tester results for an outbound email using your setup - if that's OK via a PM - for spam-prevention):

    Cloudflare forwards your emails to gmail, with your domain configured as the origin one, using CF's IP of course?
    It is basically email forwarding using Cloudflare?

    If that's the case, then I could send you spam, you get it in your Gmail inbox, mark it as spam, and Gmail marks CF's IP and your domain as the spam "originator." Instead of my spammy domain.

    Edit:
    Spamers are why we can't have nice things and why this all is a big hassle. :(

    Cloudflare basically has MX servers who receive the email and forward it to whichever address you configure. Do you have any resource confirming that flagging an email as spam in Gmail with this setup would mark Cloudflare as the spammer? It doesn't make much sense to me because forwarding is one basic email feature.

    And, thanks to spam and abuse, it is a problematic one, again - in my opinion and experience.

    Would have to google for a third source.

    Also - you will probably test it and know in the following months - that’s most reliable info.

    Yeah I have Zoho paid for a while still so I'll see how it goes. In the worst case it takes just a few hours to switch back (config + email migration). But so far it looks promising

  • bikegremlinbikegremlin ModeratorOG
    edited July 26

    @vitobotta said:

    @bikegremlin said:

    @vitobotta said:
    Pull from where? With this setup the email only gets stored in Gmail (or equivalent), it's not stored by Cloudflare. Cloudflare only forwards/routes the email and that's it :)

    Also, if you mark an email as spam, you'll be marking your own domain as a spammy one, not the domain that sent the original email to you

    Just did the test and got this

    Looks good to me :D

    Any chance of PM sending the results link, to see the headers and other stuff?
    Would PM the analysis, you chose what to share.

    Edit:
    I’d love to be wrong on this. :)

    BikeGremlin I/O
    Mostly WordPress ™

  • vyasvyas OGContent Writer

    Get a room, you two !

    -cheers :-)

    Thanked by (1)bikegremlin

    VPS reviews | | MicroLXC | English is my nth language.

  • @bikegremlin said:

    @vitobotta said:

    @bikegremlin said:

    @vitobotta said:
    Pull from where? With this setup the email only gets stored in Gmail (or equivalent), it's not stored by Cloudflare. Cloudflare only forwards/routes the email and that's it :)

    Also, if you mark an email as spam, you'll be marking your own domain as a spammy one, not the domain that sent the original email to you

    Just did the test and got this

    Looks good to me :D

    Any chance of PM sending the results link, to see the headers and other stuff?
    Would PM the analysis, you chose what to share.

    Edit:
    I’d love to be wrong on this. :)

    PM sent :)

    Thanked by (1)bikegremlin
  • Interesting read https://support.google.com/mail/thread/146261119/can-email-forwarded-by-cloudflare-marked-as-spam-harm-the-domain-reputation?hl=en

    In Gmail's web app emails I get forwarded by Cloudflare show 'mailed-by: mydomain.com' not Cloudflare. Uhm

  • I think Google could code their spam filtering to identify the real source, doubt they do mail forwarding has always been problematic if you just forward the email as it is without rewriting the sender it will probably end up in junks since it will fail SPF.

    The better option is rewriting so it looks like it came from your domain SPF/DKIM is fine so probably not end up in junks downside any spam that gets forwarded effects you're domain rep.

  • bikegremlinbikegremlin ModeratorOG

    @Razza said:
    I think Google could code their spam filtering to identify the real source, doubt they do mail forwarding has always been problematic if you just forward the email as it is without rewriting the sender it will probably end up in junks since it will fail SPF.

    The better option is rewriting so it looks like it came from your domain SPF/DKIM is fine so probably not end up in junks downside any spam that gets forwarded effects you're domain rep.

    I think this could be easily faked
    The “real” source I mean.

    Google can only be more “tolerant” to spam from CF IPs. Which may get abused…

    Spamers (“email marketing”) have ruined the game.

    BikeGremlin I/O
    Mostly WordPress ™

  • RazzaRazza OG
    edited July 26

    @bikegremlin said:
    Google can only be more “tolerant” to spam from CF IPs. Which may get abused…

    I think that probably how they do it be more tolerant from certain IP but I think it gets a time if enough spam get relayed via CF Google will just start delivered forwarded mail to junk.

    I don't like forwarding it better than it was in the past with SRS so it doesn't break SPF/DKIM, one of the main issue you might suffer with mailing forwarding service if the spam filtering on it is rubbish or they just forwarded everything without even basic filtering it wouldn't be long until the forwarding IP rep is bad.

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  • @bikegremlin said: Direct pull (or IMAP push) is better than forwarding, at least in my opinion.

    More reliable deliverability.

    OP is using Cloudflare + Google. And in normal siutration, OP are most likely using CloudFlare DNS, so Cloudflare + random shared hosting,
    Cloudflare + Google vs Cloudflare + random shared hosting
    Google is more more reliable than a random shared hosting.

    Action and Reaction in history

  • Update..... after reading more about the risks with spam filtering etc I decided to switch back to normal email hosting because I don't want to risk to affect the reputation of my domains. I didn't want to stay with Zoho though so I purchased a plan with MXroute, which many recommend.

    Thanked by (1)AaronSS
  • vyasvyas OGContent Writer

    And this, this becomes a Much ado about nothing thread

    VPS reviews | | MicroLXC | English is my nth language.

  • Forwarding to Google being more reliable, you mean? :sweat_smile:
    I don't think so. In my experience Google even started dropping forwarded email when some undisclosed limit were reached. (Free GMail account.) B)

  • edited July 27

    @vitobotta I suggest checking out @MichaelCee OnePoundEmail. Nothing wrong with MXRoute at all but with OnePoundEmail you still get MXRoute but you get additional support and migration assistance. @MichaelCee is well known in the community and provides great support.

    https://onepoundemail.co.uk/

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  • @AaronSS said:
    @vitobotta I suggest checking out @MichaelCee OnePoundEmail. Nothing wrong with MXRoute at all but with OnePoundEmail you still get MXRoute but you get additional support and migration assistance. @MichaelCee is well known in the community and provides great support.

    https://onepoundemail.co.uk/

    Oh. I already purchased MXRoute although I have not set it up yet because I will be traveling tomorrow. What's the difference between the two? I have seen MXRoute mentioned often but not the other one.

  • bikegremlinbikegremlin ModeratorOG
    edited July 27

    @vitobotta said:

    @AaronSS said:
    @vitobotta I suggest checking out @MichaelCee OnePoundEmail. Nothing wrong with MXRoute at all but with OnePoundEmail you still get MXRoute but you get additional support and migration assistance. @MichaelCee is well known in the community and provides great support.

    https://onepoundemail.co.uk/

    Oh. I already purchased MXRoute although I have not set it up yet because I will be traveling tomorrow. What's the difference between the two? I have seen MXRoute mentioned often but not the other one.

    If you bought MXroute lifetime - it's the best fit for your use (if I understand it correctly).
    MichaelCee gives you a lower price with a monthly fee - and more hand-holding support - using the same infrastructure.

    If you use Gmail integration, no email migration is needed (Gmail will POP3 all the emails).

    Thanked by (1)MichaelCee

    BikeGremlin I/O
    Mostly WordPress ™

  • @bikegremlin said:

    @vitobotta said:

    @AaronSS said:
    @vitobotta I suggest checking out @MichaelCee OnePoundEmail. Nothing wrong with MXRoute at all but with OnePoundEmail you still get MXRoute but you get additional support and migration assistance. @MichaelCee is well known in the community and provides great support.

    https://onepoundemail.co.uk/

    Oh. I already purchased MXRoute although I have not set it up yet because I will be traveling tomorrow. What's the difference between the two? I have seen MXRoute mentioned often but not the other one.

    If you bought MXroute lifetime - it's the best fit for your use (if I understand it correctly).
    MichaelCee gives you a lower price with a monthly fee - and more hand-holding support - using the same infrastructure.

    If you use Gmail integration, no email migration is needed (Gmail will POP3 all the emails).

    I went with the regular yearly plan, not lifetime since I don't know if I am happy with it yet.

  • bikegremlinbikegremlin ModeratorOG
    edited July 27

    @vitobotta said:

    @bikegremlin said:

    @vitobotta said:

    @AaronSS said:
    @vitobotta I suggest checking out @MichaelCee OnePoundEmail. Nothing wrong with MXRoute at all but with OnePoundEmail you still get MXRoute but you get additional support and migration assistance. @MichaelCee is well known in the community and provides great support.

    https://onepoundemail.co.uk/

    Oh. I already purchased MXRoute although I have not set it up yet because I will be traveling tomorrow. What's the difference between the two? I have seen MXRoute mentioned often but not the other one.

    If you bought MXroute lifetime - it's the best fit for your use (if I understand it correctly).
    MichaelCee gives you a lower price with a monthly fee - and more hand-holding support - using the same infrastructure.

    If you use Gmail integration, no email migration is needed (Gmail will POP3 all the emails).

    I went with the regular yearly plan, not lifetime since I don't know if I am happy with it yet.

    I think @MichaelCee offers lower prices for a bit less storage space (irrelevant if you connect your Gmail and configure it to take all the emails).

    It should end up cheaper on a monthly/yearly basis.

    The offer:
    https://lowendspirit.com/discussion/4346/launching-onepoundemail-co-uk-to-sell-directadmin-email-hosting

    Couldn't resist (I get 10% of each package sold! :) ):

    Thanked by (1)MichaelCee

    BikeGremlin I/O
    Mostly WordPress ™

  • It’s too late anyway to consider it because I’ve already paid for mx route

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  • MichaelCeeMichaelCee ModeratorOGServices Provider

    @vitobotta said:
    It’s too late anyway to consider it because I’ve already paid for mx route

    For sure. Keep that bad boy! And if you ever need a hand with anything you don't want to bug Jar over, give me a shout :smile:

    Thanked by (1)bikegremlin

    Michael

  • @MichaelCee said:

    @vitobotta said:
    It’s too late anyway to consider it because I’ve already paid for mx route

    For sure. Keep that bad boy! And if you ever need a hand with anything you don't want to bug Jar over, give me a shout :smile:

    Thanks!

  • @bikegremlin said:
    I think it's safer to use any decent shared hosting and configure Gmail to POP3 import emails from it.

    I have recently transitioned from forwarding to gmail to getting gmail to collect via POP3. Overall, it has improved many cases, and mails that frequently behaved weirdly now get through fine. An example, for some legitimate mail with correct senders, gmail would sometimes accept then fail sending a spam bounce mail and I'd end up with only the copy of the failed bounce message (with the original quoted) but not the actual message.

    But what does suck now is that gmail has some annoying heuristics that mean that your mail is only checked between every 15 minutes to an hour, depending on how many mails it found last time. So, when you really want an e-mail, like a signup validation email, it's now annoying as you have to go into settings, accounts, scroll down to the thing and then select it. There used to be a simple way of forcing a check via labs, but that's gone now. Apparently, there's some hack of sending a lot of junk to your mailbox with cron, and then filtering it in gmail to delete it, but because then gmail thinks you get a lot of mail, it syncs more often. But to me, that's a worse solution.

    Or, even better, use an MXroute lifetime. :)

    For a single domain or two for personal use, MXroute seems way too expensive as it's clearly aimed at resellers. Although, I might try the onepoundmail reseller just so I can see if the MXroute webmail client is really as good as they claim. I'm very used to gmail now, and while I don't really like being tied into Google, all the open source webmail clients all seem pretty bad.

    You could use a shared hosting provider's SMTP for sending, configuring Gmail in a similar way.

    I updated my exim4 config to accept mail with TLS on my OVH dedi, only took a couple of hours. Haven't noticed any delivery problems yet, but provider's SMTP is probably safer if it's available. Or else MXroute as otherwise mentioned if you want to be really sure.

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