Public uptime URL from pingdom.com

There were some reports recently in our forum about people having problems accessing the FastMail website and IMAP services. There’s been no recent outages on our servers (the last problem we had was with one IMAP server on Aug 12 as reported on our status blog), so it can be hard to work out exactly where the problem is.

To try and get a sense of if the problem is with the site in general, or only a localised one, I’ve setup an account at www.pingdom.com to check our servers regularly. The nice thing about pingdom.com is that they’re a completely independent service that have servers situated around the world, so we are getting a broad health check. The things I’ve setup to check are:

  • Fetch the login page http://www.fastmail.fm every 5 minutes
  • Check messagingengine.com resolves via DNS every 5 minutes
  • Check the IMAP server responds at mail.messagingengine.com every 5 minutes
  • Ping ns1.messagingengine.com (the main IP at our NYC data center) every 1 minute

pingdom.com allows you to make the reports public, so I’ve done that. The URL for the public reports of the above tests is here:

http://stats.pingdom.com/x8mbe1jgimkn/49229 (updated 2012-09-07)

(Previously http://www.pingdom.com/reports/x8mbe1jgimkn/ and http://www.pingdom.com/reports/lzdx4pr0pdhk/)

Another recommendation if you’re experiencing intermittent problems is to download our network test tool fasttest.exe and keep a copy on your computer. When you experience any problems, run the program and it will run a series of network tests and generate a diagnostic report that may help us track down any problems.

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Proxy servers for alternate IMAP port (may be useful for Blackberry BIS users)

I recently posted about our new IMAP alternate namespace port that may be helpful for some users.

Some blackberry BIS users reported that their service provider wouldn’t let them change the IMAP port number, which meant that couldn’t use the alternate namespace port. To deal with this, I’ve setup a “proxy” server for the IMAP alternate namespace port.

Our “proxy” servers are special hostnames that listen on every port and respond with a particular service. Our current proxy servers are:

  • imap.proxy.messagingengine.com – IMAP
  • imaps.proxy.messagingengine.com – IMAP SSL
  • pop.proxy.messagingengine.com – POP
  • pops.proxy.messagingengine.com – POP SSL
  • smtp.proxy.messagingengine.com – SMTP
  • smtps.proxy.messagingengine.com – SMTP SSL
  • ldap.proxy.messagingengine.com – LDAP
  • ldaps.proxy.messagingengine.com – LDAP SSL
  • imapalt.proxy.messagingengine.com – IMAP (alternate namespace)
  • imapalts.proxy.messagingengine.com – IMAP (alternate namespace) SSL

So for BIS users, what you would do is:

  1. Login to the BIS website your provider gave you details for
  2. Setup an external email account
  3. When it asks for the username and password, just enter the username and leave the password blank
  4. It should then take you to a page with more advanced configuration options. There you can say to use IMAP + SSL, and when it asks for the servername, use “imapalts.proxy.messagingengine.com”
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Dell laptop keyboard slow/freezing in Vista

I got a new laptop a few weeks back, a Dell XPS M1330. It’s a nice laptop; light, a good keyboard and bright screen. I spec’ed it reasonably nicely and it’s got 4G of RAM and a 7200RPM 200G HD.

Despite the high specs, I found that after a week of using it that it started behaving oddly. Basically the keyboard would start being slow and whatever I was typing would start lagging. This was regardless of application (Mail, Notepad, Firefox, etc).

After that it got even worse, with intermittent “pauses” occuring anywhere from 1 second to 10 seconds. The pauses would occur when I was typing or even holding down a key. For instance, hitting the Ctrl key (to do a Ctrl-click on a link in Firefox to open in a new tab) would sometimes cause the machine to “freeze” for 1-10 seconds.

I pulled up a bunch of monitoring tools, but they didn’t show anything interesting. The machine was barely using any CPU. If I left the performance monitor up, normally it updates every second. But if I typed into another window, the performance monitor too would “freeze up” for 1-10 seconds.

So turning to the Internet, I found lots of reports of Vista problems, but nothing that seemed to be specifically like this problem… until I came across this:

http://www.randomsupport.com/rs/blogs/index.php?title=dell_laptop_slow_lagging_delayed_keyboar

The problem description sounded the same. Looking at the update at the end, I pulled up the Dell Mediadirect program, disabled the “Instant Office” feature, rebooted, and suddenly my keyboard is back to actually being useable!

This seems like a serious bug to me. And that post is from September 2007. I can’t believe that every Dell Vista laptop was and still is shipping with this bug?

Update: It seems disabling the “Instant Office” feature wasn’t enough. Over the next day the machine became slow and laggy to keyboard response again. Killing the PCMService.exe process and removing Dell Media Direct does seem to have permanently fixed the problem.

robm@fastmail.fm

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Alternate namespace IMAP port (may help Outlook, OL Express, Apple Mail and BIS users)

Background summary: Since we started FastMail, we’ve been using cyrus as our IMAP server. By default, cyrus uses 2 different namespaces for folders: “INBOX” for personal folders, and “user” for shared folders. What this means is that all personal folders are actually a sub-folder of INBOX looking like this:

  • INBOX
    • Drafts
    • Sent Items
    • Trash
    • My Folder

Since cyrus is a well used email server, and most people prefer personal folders being at the same level, most email software includes a “root prefix” option or the like, and setting that to “INBOX” will promote all the sub-folders of INBOX up one level, and display INBOX as Inbox, to create this:

  • Inbox
  • Drafts
  • Sent Items
  • Trash
  • My Folder

The problem is that not all programs handle this as well as they should, some programs not at all, and for some when you do set the root prefix, it “hides” the “user” namespace, so you then can’t use shared folders at all.

Alternate namespace: cyrus does have a mode where you can enable what’s called the “altnamespace” feature. What this does is basically cause cyrus to internally remap folder names to (eg promote sub-folders of INBOX up one level), rather than getting the client to do it.

The problem is this is a server wide setting, and we can’t just change it for everyone in one go, because every existing person that had an IMAP client setup would suddenly start getting errors. (eg their email client would try to select the folder INBOX.Drafts say, and the server would say that that folder doesn’t exist anymore because it’s now called just Drafts). Every existing user would have to remove the root prefix from their client, and then re-download a lot of email in many cases. This would cause massive disruption.

Solution: Well it turns out that while it’s a server wide setting, it’s actually per “service instance”. What this means is that we can actually run two completely separate imap service instances at the same time, and one has regular namespace, and one has the “altnamespace” setting set. To make this accessible, we basically have to put it on a separate server/port.

So what I’ve done now is set this up, and map it to separate port numbers. So if you setup your email client with:

  • Username: yourusername@domain.tld
  • Password: yourpassword
  • Server: mail.messagingengine.com
  • Root prefix: (leave blank)
  • Port: 142 (or for SSL 992)

You’ll get the alternate namespace IMAP instance.

Who is this for?: This is most useful for the following people:

  • Outlook/Outlook Express users with folders shared from another person – If you set the root prefix in Outlook/Outlook express, it will hide the shared folder “user” namespace. With the alternate namespace ports, shared folders will appear under the “user” folder
  • Apple Mail users with folders shared from another person – ditto to above, and additionally, leaving the “root prefix” blank which used to be a solution now causes Apple Mail to warn you every time you start it up. With the alternate namespace ports, and the “root prefix” left blank, this shouldn’t happen
  • Blackberry BIS users – it seems the Blackberry BIS server uses some fairly hardcoded folder paths (eg “Sent Items” and “Trash”) and won’t search for sub-folders of INBOX, so this should work better. To set this up, you need to login to the BIS website, create the FM account and leave your password blank. It should then take you to a more advanced configuration screen where you can set the port to use explicitly.

Thunderbird users don’t need to use this, because Thunderbird seems to be a bit smarter with an INBOX root prefix. It promotes the sub-folders correctly, but still shows the “user” namespace for shared folders as well.

Limitations: One thing the cyrus altnamespace instance doesn’t handle properly is creating sub-folders of Inbox. I’m not entirely sure what will actually happen, but I’d recommend you don’t do it.

If you have any issues, please email me at robm@fastmail.fm

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Network outage and details

Yesterday around 12:30pm GMT (see in your timezone) we experienced a network outage. As information came to hand, we updated details on our status blog. Over the course of two hours, our network connection to the Internet went up and down, causing FastMail to be intermittently accessible and inaccessible for those two hours.

We’ve worked with NYI to identify the problem, which turned out to be a faulty supervisor card in the upstream switch we were connected to. The intermittent access was caused by switching network switches while troubleshooting the issue.

The faulty switch has now been replaced, but to avoid the possibility of this problem happening in the future, we’re working with NYI to create a dual/redundant uplink for our configuration.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve been striving hard to create an extremely reliable replicated infrastructure. This setup has been very successful, and creating dual/redundant uplinks will be another step along this process.

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LDAP access to address book

You can now access your FastMail address book via LDAP. Many email programs (eg Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, etc) support LDAP access for address books.

There are some important caveats with using this:

  1. The address book is read-only via LDAP, so you can’t make changes or add addresses to your address book from your email program
  2. The address book is not cached offline (in theory Thunderbird 2 supports this, but the implementation is currently broken, it should be fixed in Thunderbird 3), so it will only work while you are connected to the Internet

LDAP is most useful for families/businesses that have a large global address book. In these cases, the LDAP address lookup will search the users private address book & and the global address book.

If you understand these limitations, and want to give LDAP a go, here are some quick instructions for setting up LDAP on the most popular email clients:

  • Outlook Express – Go to Tools -> Accounts. Click Add -> Directory Service, then see below
  • Thunderbird 2 – Go to Tools -> Options. Click Composition tab, then Addressing sub-tab, click Edit Directories. Click Add, then see below.
  • Outlook 2007 – Go to Tools -> Account Settings. Click Addressbooks tab. Click New then see below.

Once you follow the above steps, you’ll be asked for some information about the LDAP server. You need to enter the following details:

  • Server/Host name: ldap.messagingengine.com
  • Port: 389 (or 636 for SSL)
  • Login: Required (but must be “plain”, not “SPA”)
  • Username/Bind DN: cn=[your-username]@[your-domain],dc=User
  • Search base/Base DN: dc=AddressBook

Obviously replace [your-username]@[your-domain] with your actual full login name in the above settings (and remove the [ and ] brackets as well, they’re just to make it clearer which bits need some changing), but remember the “cn=” part at the start and the “,dc=User” part on the end.

Here’s some photos for the Outlook Express setup:

And this is for Thunderbird:

To actually do an address book search via LDAP

  • Outlook Express – Go to Tools -> Address Book (or click Address Book on the main toolbar), then Edit -> Find People (or click Find People on the toolbar). Select the LDAP directory from the Look in popup menu. Then use the fields below to search. To automatically search the LDAP address book when composing, make sure that when you setup the LDAP account, you select the Check names against this server when sending email checkbox on the General tab. Note that any local addresses will always be matched first. Only names that can’t be matched in your local address book will use LDAP for the search.
  • Thunderbird 2 – Go to Tools -> Address Book (or click Address Book on the main toolbar), select the LDAP address book from the list at the left. Use the search box at the top right of the window to search. To automatically search the LDAP address book when composing, go to Tools -> Options. Click Composition tab, then Addressing sub-tab. In the Address Autocompletion section, make sure the Directory Server checkbox is checked, and make sure you select the LDAP account you setup above from the popup menu.

If you have any questions, please see our forum or email me at robm@fastmail.fm.

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New mail.messagingengine.com SSL certificate

Sometime in the next 24 hours we’ll be changing over the SSL certificate for mail.messagingengine.com to a new one. In theory, users shouldn’t notice any change at all. However there are two changes in the new certificate that might affect some users.

  1. We’re changing our SSL provider from Thawte to Digicert. Some users using older devices may have had to install the Thawte root certificate into their device to be recognised properly. Those devices may also be missing the Digicert root certificate. A copy of the Digicert root certificate can be downloaded from http://www.fastmail.fm/DigiCertCA.crt (It’s actually a chained certificate, and the correct root to use is http://www.fastmail.fm/Entrust.net_Secure_Server_CA.pem). Most devices that don’t recognise the Digicert certificate by default should allow you to install a root certificate from the above URL.
  2. We’re changing from a pure mail.messagingengine.com certificate to a wildcard *.messagingengine.com certificate. Some old devices may not understand wildcard certificates properly. For those devices, we’ve included mail.messagingengine.com as a “server alternate name” in the certificate, which should work.

We’ve checked that compatibility with this new certificate should be good, but as always, there are edge cases and some users may have issues. If you do have any problems, please email me directly at robm@fastmail.fm with details of the device you’re using and the error you’re getting.

The reason we’re changing is that Digicert offer more flexibility with their SSL certificates, such as wildcard certificates with multiple “server alternative name” options.

Update: I rolled out the new certificate, and shortly afterwards had some reports of problems with Eudora/iPhone/Thunderbird/etc. I contacted Digicert support who were very helpful. Turns out I’d forgotten to RTFM fully, and hadn’t included the chained certificate in the PEM file. I’ve now done that, so things should be better for Eudora/iPhone/Thunderbird/etc users that were having problems.

Update: Unfortunately for Eudora users, it seems Eudora does not come with the required root certificate built in. This means Eudora users will still see an error message with the new certificate. Fortunately, it’s easy to fix this, just follow the directions here to add the list of trusted certificates in Eudora.

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