Domain management at FastMail

Helping out a user yesterday with a few of his own domains helped me realise that a number of people don’t know how FastMail can be a valuable tool for managing domains, and the Web sites, email accounts and DNS settings associated with them. The one proviso is that you need an Enhanced individual account, or a family/business account.

What we can do

Email: The obvious one, but there’s quite a few options. We make it easy to set up email and channel it into your main or other FastMail Inbox. So if you have domains that you haven’t bothered setting up with email because you thought it was too hard, try it with FastMail. See the “Setting up your domain” section below to get started.

You can accept email for specific addresses (eg john@example.com) or for all addresses at your domain. You can direct email to any account, local or remote. We can also handle sub-domains, so you can use addresses like ebay@john.example.com to more easily classify your email.

DNS: We can host DNS for your domain regardless of which registrar you’ve registered it with. We set up sane defaults so email & websites (in your file storage) just work. We give you a simple control panel to set A, MX, CNAME, etc records to any values you want. For more complex scenarios, there’s no silly arbitrary limits on how many of each record you can create.

Websites/photo galleries/redirects: You can publish websites to your whole domain, or a sub-domain, or an arbitrary path within a domain one of three ways:

  1. Host a simple website with static HTML pages & linked images from any directory in your file storage area
  2. Create an “instant photogallery” just by uploading photos into a directory of your file storage area (more details and an example)
  3. Create a redirect to another URL (either a regular redirect or a “cloaked” redirect inside a frame)

Webmail login: Our default DNS will point http://mail.example.com to a login screen where you can login to your email account.

Accounts in your domain (Family/Business only): Create accounts in your own domain, so rather than joecitizen@fastmail.fm, you can create an account directly in your domain as joecitizen@example.com

What we can’t do

Domain registration: Currently we can’t register domains for you. You have to do that using a domain registrar. There’s lots of domain registrars out there. If you don’t have a favourite, just do a google/yahoo/live search for one.

Webhosting with database/scripting/PHP/etc: You can publish any directory in your file storage area as a website, or have it display any uploaded photos as a photo gallery, or set up redirects to other sites. We can’t do any dynamic sites that require server side scripting (eg PHP, ASP.Net, etc) or databases.

Setting up your domain

Add domain at FastMail: The first thing to do is add the domain so FastMail knows about it. You can do that on the Options -> Virtual Domains screen (Enhanced), or Manage -> Domains screen (Family/Business).

Email: Next you setup the addresses you want to accept email for in that domain. On the same screen as above, add any addresses you want to capture (we call these domain aliases), and set the Target to the address you want the email to go to. If you want to capture email for all addresses in the domain, use the special value * (an asterisks) on it’s own. If you’re in a family/business, you can also use the Manage -> Add / change / delete users screen to add users in the domain.

Websites/photo galleries/redirects: You can set these up via the Options -> Websites screen (Enhanced), or Manage -> Websites screen (Family/Business). Just fill in the parts at the bottom of the screen, and make sure you choose the appropriate “Publish as” option. To make things a bit simpler, you don’t have to setup separate example.com and www.example.com sites, just setup example.com, and www.example.com will automatically work as well.

Custom DNS: If you’re happy for FastMail to handle email and websites/photo galleries/redirects for your domain, then you don’t need any custom DNS. Just proceed below with the “Full DNS” instructions. If you have a website hosted at an external webhosting service, then you need to set the correct IP address for this. To do that, go to the Options -> Custom DNS screen (Enhanced), or Manage -> Custom DNS screen (Family/Business), select the domain and click Select, then change the radio button to Custom DNS and click Change. After that, there will be a new section at the bottom where you can add/delete/change the DNS records for your domain. There will be two records with the Data STANDARD_WEB, change that to the IP address given to you by your web host. If your webhost gives you a CNAME record instead of an A record, see the “Extra tricks” section below.

Changing DNS to us

After you’ve done the above, you’re now ready to actually point the domain to us. There’s two main ways people might want to do this:

Full DNS

This is the easiest and most common. In this mode, we handle all the DNS for your domain. As mentioned above, the defaults are set so that email and websites/photo galleries/redirects will all just work, but you can use the Custom DNS settings as described above if you need to point to an external web host.

To use this mode, you just have to point the nameservers for your domain to us. Unfortunately we can’t do this for you. You have to login to the control panel provided by your domain registrar, and look for where you can change the “name servers” for your domain. You want to make sure there’s only two values, and that the two values are:

  • ns1.messagingengine.com
  • ns2.messagingengine.com

That’s it. After you make that change, and wait an hour or two usually, our servers will then be handling DNS for your domain.

Email only

In some cases, people only want email for their domain to come to us, and they want to handle DNS for their domain with an external DNS provider rather than with us. In that case, you want to change the MX records for your domain to:

  • in1.smtp.messagingengine.com
  • in2.smtp.messagingengine.com

That’s it. After you make that change, and wait an hour or two usually, email for your domain should start coming to our servers.

We recommend you consider hosting DNS for your domain with us (eg. the “Full DNS” instead of the “Email only” solution). Our nameservers are reliable and secure, and our web interface for managing DNS is simple, but powerful enough to allow any number of records of any type.

Extra tricks

CNAME only web hosts

Some website hosting places will only give you a CNAME record to point your domain to, not an IP address. This is a little trickier to setup and you have to be a bit careful. The core rule is: never set a CNAME record for your domain (example.com), this will break email delivery for your domain. Instead, do this:

This means users going to http://www.example.com will directly access your web hosts server, and users going to http://example.com will be redirected by us to http://www.example.com.

Mirrored domains

Sometimes people have multiple domains that they want to basically “mirror” each other. So you might have example.com and example.com.au, and you want any address for example.com to work for example.com.au as well. With email, that’s easy to do.

Just pick a “primary” domain (say example.com), and create all your domain aliases and accounts in that domain. Then create a single alias in your alternate domain with the special * value (eg *@example.com.au) and set the target of that alias to *@example.com. Then any valid email address at example.com, will also be valid at example.com.au. Note that this only works for email addresses, for websites, you have to explicitly create the website for each domain, or setup a redirect to the primary domain.

Existing users in FastMail domains

A number of people start off with individual accounts, and at a later stage want to move to a Family/Business account. That’s no problem. Just signup the Family/Business, and once you’ve done that, use the Manage -> Import User screen to import the users into the Family/Business. All the calculations are done on a pro-rata basis, so no money is ever “lost”.

You can also use the Manage -> Rename User screen to rename those users into your own domain (eg joecitizen@fastmail.fm -> joe@example.com), so then in the future they can go to http://mail.example.com and login with just the username part (eg “joe”) of their account name. After that, users will even be able to publish websites/photo galleries from their file storage area in their own sub-domain (eg for joe@example.com, they’ll be able to use http://joe.example.com)

Website only domains

In some rare cases, users want to host websites at FastMail, but want to host DNS and/or email for their domain elsewhere. In that case, you should preferably point your domain to the CNAME record “web.messagingengine.com”. Because of the issues with setting a CNAME record for your primary domain as described above, we recommend you set the CNAME for www.example.com. If you absolutely must use IP addresses, you can currently use 66.111.4.53 and 66.111.4.54, but we recommend against this where CNAME or hosting DNS with us is possible.

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