Behind-the-scenes POP and IMAP mail upgrades

Over the next month or so, we’ll be upgrading the POP and IMAP software we use for e-mail mailboxes. We don’t expect customers to notice any change (except possibly improved speed) or experience any service interruption at all; we’re mentioning it just for completeness.

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“POP before SMTP” support phased out

Many, many years ago, some e-mail programs didn’t use a password when sending outgoing mail. That meant they didn’t work with many mail servers, including ours. To help customers with that problem, we used to allow a horrible alternate method called “POP before SMTP”, although it was never recommended or officially supported (it was unreliable and made it harder for us to prevent spam).

Well, here we are in a new millennium (“welcome!”). No popular mail program has needed “POP before SMTP” for more than a decade, and only a small handful of our customers are still using it. But spammers are continually trying to take advantage of the security problems it creates for all e-mail addresses, making it just as much of a nuisance on our end as it ever was.

Because of that, we no longer allow e-mail addresses to send mail using “POP before SMTP” unless they were previously doing so. In other words, if an address wasn’t using “POP before SMTP” before now, it won’t be able to start using it in the future.

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Sieve e-mail filtering

We now offer Sieve e-mail filtering software on our mail servers. Sieve allows you to process incoming e-mail when it arrives in your Inbox on our server. This is great for anyone who uses a mail program (such as an iPhone) that doesn’t have its own filtering capabilities, or anyone who runs multiple mail programs and doesn’t like having duplicate copies of their filters. It’s also very useful because Sieve filters always run immediately on our server, rather than requiring your mail program to be always running.

If you are happy with the filtering rules available in your mail program (such as Thunderbird, Outlook, or Webmail), then you probably don’t need to use Sieve.

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Encrypting mail between SMTP servers

One of the positive developments on the Internet over the last few years has been increased encryption of e-mail. The Internet is a hostile environment; sometimes your data goes through the servers and routers of companies you’ve never even heard of, or of governments you’ve heard of but don’t like. It makes sense to encrypt e-mail whenever possible.

We’ve supported encryption between our customers and our e-mail servers for a long time, protecting you from eavesdropping “hackers” when you use a WiFi connection at an Internet cafe, for example. But like most companies, we didn’t try encrypting outgoing e-mail after it left our servers or encrypting incoming e-mail from other servers. Although technical standards for doing that exist, they’re relatively new in Internet terms, and our original testing indicated it could cause problems with mail delivery due to many misconfigured servers on the Internet.

That’s changed: More recent testing indicates that it’s much more reliable, and other large companies like Gmail are starting to use it. Because of that, we now use strong TLS (SSL) encryption for inbound and outbound SMTP mail connections (“MX” mail delivery) wherever possible.

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Slow folder switching in Outlook 2007

If you use Microsoft Outlook 2007 to read mail and you installed the December 2010 Outlook update, you might find that Outlook is slow to respond when you click between folders. Sometimes it can take several seconds.

This is caused by a bug in the Outlook update, not by a problem on our servers. To fix this, Microsoft recommends uninstalling the update for now.

AOL e-mail outage December 21 (resolved) had an outage lasting about 3 hours last night (from 11:24 PM Pacific time December 20 to 2:28 AM Pacific time December 21). This problem — a failure of AOL’s DNS servers — affected many people sending e-mail to AOL, and wasn’t related to our service (see this report and this one).

However, if you sent mail to an address during this time, your messages probably “bounced” with an error saying “Host or domain name not found. Name service error for”. If so, you should try sending the message again, and it will work normally. As always, we’ll continue to monitor AOL deliveries closely.

Having trouble sending mail to (resolved)

The mail servers have been having problems for the last 24 hours, according to the AOL blog and the AOL Twitter feed.

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Unexpected internal systems problem 2010-01-15

Starting at about 1:30 PM (Pacific time) today, some of our internal database systems had an unexpected failure. This lead to problems with our control panel (“My Account”), support site, and blog. Some customers may have also had problems with some aspects of Webmail (in particular, with the address book).

No customer data or Web sites were affected, and no e-mail was lost.

All systems are running again, so no one should see any problems — please let us know if you do! Some things are running on backup systems, so we’re working on finishing up the fixes and restoring everything to its normal status.

This was an unplanned and fairly horrible (and embarrassing) problem. This is the first time our own account management database has completely failed in the 10 years we’ve been providing Web hosting service. Obviously, we consider this sort of thing to be unacceptable, and we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused.

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E-mail now supports blacklists and whitelists

We’ve enhanced our e-mail service with support for manual blacklists and whitelists.

A blacklist lets you list individual e-mail addresses, entire domains or IP addresses from which incoming e-mail should always be rejected. A whitelist lets you list senders from which e-mail should always be accepted.

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Mail improvements

In the past few months, we’ve made a couple of behind-the-scenes improvements to our mail systems that have improved reliability for our customers.

  • Redundant outgoing mail delivery
  • Automatic whitelisting of replies

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