My Email System

As I’ve said in blog posts before, I am a strong believer in internet decentralisation, especially with regard to email. Today, I’m going to explain my whole system – from email clients to server, from DNS to domain.

The Server (VPS)

For the VPS (virtual private server) I run my email server from, I went with a €5/mo plan with the German company Contabo. But it’s always worth looking around for good deals with VPS’, as pricing can be very competitive. Linode, for example, will give you a $100 free 60-day credit if you use this URL: linode.com/unplugged (this code is from a podcast I listen to – Linux Unplugged).

My server runs Ubuntu Server 18.04 LTS, though I plan to update this to 20.04 LTS soon. Debian is a great server OS too.

The Email Server

For the email server, I use Dovecot, Postfix, Spamassassin, and OpenDKIM. I did try set this up myself, but found it to be a huge pain. Instead, I used EmaiwWiz by Luke Smith, which set everything up, though I did have to comment out one line in Dovecot config about SSL, so maybe watch out for that. Other good email software examples are MailCow, iRedBox, and MailInABox – the issue I had with all of these is that they require Nginx to run, and I much prefer Apache.

Emailwiz is a very customisable solution, for example, if you want auto-replies, virtual users, etc, you may want to install PostfixAdmin. To add aliases (hello@example.com > you@example.net), you can do it via CLI or using Webmin.

The Domain

*sighs*. It took me a long time to find the right domain – 4 months. At first I just used jacobsammon.com – but this had issues. First off, jacob@jacobsammon.com is long, and people have to spell my last name – I was going to buy jacobsalmon.com for this very issue, but it was snatched up by some bot as it expired (I checked WHOIS and it had been registered 15 minutes ago).

In the end, I opted for eml.pm – I love it. It’s short, recognisable, and actually means something. Eml means email, and .pm means private message (not really, but that’s how I see it). This has a few caveats, though, .pm is a ccTLD with restrictions requiring you to be a resident of the EU or EEA. I got around this as I registered it 3 days before the end of the UK-EU transition period, and AFNIC have said I can keep it and renew it. If you are wanting a .pm domain, I recommend using INWX and using their proxy service; the entire domain with the service will cost around €13/year.

Mine personally was registered with OVH, if you’re eligible to have a .pm, they have quite cheap pricing (£8.50/year ish), and include DNS, WHOIS protection, a 5gb email account, email forwarding, and web hosting.

DNS

So I know I mentioned that I registered eml.pm with OVH, and that they include DNS, but I decided to switch to Hurricane Electric, because when I enabled email for my email redundancy (more on that later), OVH overwrote some of my DNS, and it was much easier to move to Hurricane Electric.

Hurricane Electric are actually really good. Better than I expected. Though the interface isn’t super user-friendly, you get used to it – I quite like it.

Other free DNS services include places like Cloudflare. I personally host my own DNS server, but didn’t put eml.pm on it, because if my main server goes down, and DNS, my email redundancy becomes futile.

Email Redundancy

I recently wrote a blog post about email redundancy, sort of explaining it. So I use OVH’s included email forwarding and have it set so some addresses forward to other email providers (ProtonMail).

When OVH gave me the records I needed to add to my DNS to allow for forwarding, I changed them a tad.

OVH wanted me – from memory – to put their primary server at an MX priority of 1, and secondary at an MX priority of 100. Instead, I put their primary at 30, and secondary at 50 (my main one is at 10).

This mean if an email is not able to reach my main server, it’ll then go to OVH’s primary, then OVH’s secondary. I took down my email server and did a test – this all works.

Email Clients and Webmail

For a long time, I used Rainloop webmail, I still actually have an instance installed on my Nextcloud instance. But, I recently found something much better: Roundcube. I can’t recommend Roundcube enough, it’s modern, fast, responsive, and supports hundreds, if not thousands of great plugins.

As a local email client, I use Thunderbird. It’s not perfect, but I like it.

Summary

In summary, I really like my email system. I do pay around £5/mo for it, but have 200gb storage and loads of other great features. It’s cheaper than any of the privacy-based mail providers, and I pay in cash, not with my privacy.

A Domain To Watch: SaveAmerica45.com (Registered by Trump)

Donald Trump’s campaign, I believe, recently registered SaveAmerica45.com.

On 23rd January, 2021, the domain was registered with GoDaddy before the nameservers were changed to Cloudflare, and the MX server Outlook. The domain also now redirects to donaldjtrump.com.

Trump is currently running some “Save America” campaign, and I suspect he may run it from this domain, or maybe it’s being used for email, or something else.

The registration and DNS trends follow his other domains exactly, these are: DNS with Cloudflare; domain with GoDaddy; email with Outlook.

EDIT: It seems some media has picked up on this (https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/trump-cpac-fundraising_n_603aa9e3c5b617a7e40e172f)

Briton Wanting A European Domain Post-Brexit? Here’s How

On December 31st, 2020, at 23:00, over 66,000,000 people lost access to registering domains under ccTLDs like .eu, .fr, pm, .it, and many others. This is because the UK left the EU transition period, and, in-turn, access to many European countries domains, and the EU’s .eu domain.

Whilst this is all gloomy, especially for those of us that rely on a European domain (eml.pm for me), there is a solution: domain proxies. A proxy service, usually for a fee, essentially registers a domain on the behalf of an individual/institution from a country where the domain is able to be registered, and allows you full control over it.

You should check the situation with the domain you have by contacting the country that runs the ccTLD you own (you can find these by looking at the article for your ccTLD on Wikipedia).

Do note that some countries are continuing to allow registrations and renewals from Brits, others are only allowing renewals, and others are deleting Brit’s domains (namely .eu). It all depends on what domain you have; so do some research.

In my case, my domain is a French one, meaning AFNIC control it. AFNIC have said that they will not delete any domains registered by Britons before the end of the transition period (31/12/2020), however, when I emailed them, they said I would not be able to renew my domain after it expires in 2022.

So my plan is to, a few months before it expires, move the domain to INWX, a German domain registrar. INWX offer a domain proxy service for several European domain at a reasonable price – just €2.50/year for .pm, compared to around €40/year with 101Domains.

In summary, if you want a European domain post-Brexit, a domain proxy is often your best choice.

A Quick Note on ccTLDs

In a previous blog post, I talked about how hard it was to get a good domain and how stupid it was that gTLDs like .creditcard now exists.

My friend Hayden posted a comment on that post about ccTLDs and how some smaller countries allow registrations across the world, eg .io, .cc, .pw, .tv.

A few days after that post, I registered two domains with the .pm ccTLD: salut.pm and eml.pm.

.pm is the ccTLD for a small island near Canada that is a French ‘oversees territory’. All citizens of the EU, EEA, and Switzerland are allowed to register these, although the Australian government managed to register aus.pm and, shockingly, Australia is not in the EU – this leads me to think that the registration rules aren’t really enforced.

My domains costed £8.50 from OVH using he .pm ccTLD, but smaller islands often have massive renewal costs – we’re talking £40 for .io or .tv.

Whilst ccTLDs can be attractive, you must remember the massive risk that comes with setting yourself up with one. Research the country – check it’s stable. Also aim to go for a democratic country. Countries such as Libya who own .ly have been known to take domains down that do not follow their strict laws on, for example, homosexuality.

Domains Are a Mess

On the 1st January, 1985, the world was forever changed. The .com domain was introduced, along with all the other original domains – .com; .edu; .net; .gov; .mil; .int.

Since the mid ’80s, the world-wide-web (WWW) has grown massively, not just in users, but the amount of domains registered.

The first domain to ever be registered by a private citizen was broken.net, by someone called Jason. To this day, Jason owns that domain, using it for email.

Jason was lucky. Jason got a damn good domain. The rest of us, well, we aren’t so lucky. I’ve owned domains ever since I’ve had a debit card and have been able to register them, I’ve never lived in a world where many good domains have been available; and those that are are snatched up within 1-millisecond by the bots of GoDaddy or DAN.com.

The best domain I own is jac0b.net. Ouch. Don’t get me wrong, I really do like my domain, but having to swap an o for a 0 is… well… yeah. I own a lot of domains, around 24, among them is jacobsammon.com – which I use for a lot of back-end stuff and for email, but I’d have much preferred jacobsa.com or jacobsa.net; both are owned by the same person and have no content – not even a DNS record.

Anyway, people like me are forced to get longer and longer domains with every passing year if we want a .com, .net, .org, or other highly used TLD.

ICANN, the non-profit responsible for everything domain related, started to recognise this issue in around 2007. ICANN opted to allow companies to bid on proposed gTLDs (generic top-level-domains). Since then, thousands of domains have become available; you can see a list of them on Wikipedia.

These, to put it mildly, are awful. Some are OK, .xyz, .blog, .app, .codes, .art, .news.

Most are awful. .domains, .online, .email (should be .eml), .accountant, .black (which, I am not joking, is for “those who like the colour black”), .christmas, .cyou.

I mean, c’mon, .cyou. What idiot came up with that? I read the company that runs the registry’s website and it said it’s for “GEN X”. Cool.

I don’t know what the solution to the domain problem is. But maybe it’s to have short, logical, recognisable new gTLDs that people’ll actually want, and not whatever .spreadbetting is.

ICANN needs to seriously rethink their entire strategy on gTLDs. The people at ICANN don’t realise the scope of the issue – most of them have had domains since the ’90s.

PS, good luck even getting a good new gTLD. The best one that someone that I know owns is hn.fyi, but Hayden got very lucky with his!