turns out I do not actually know how email works
March 24, 2018 4:03 AM   Subscribe

I own a domain which I currently pay for hosting on. I use an email address associated with this domain as my primary email, and I also pay for SMTP forwarding on that email address. Can I stop paying for web hosting and still keep using this email address?

I'm not doing anything with this domain currently (used to keep a blog there for several years until I decided I hated self-expression for several more years) but I do want to keep renewing the domain (firstnamelastname.com) because I'm not the only person with this name and there's a reasonable chance I'll want to do professional stuff with it in the next 5-15 years.

Domain renewal is cheap enough that I don't mind taking the hit, but I'm starting to resent paying for web hosting that I'm not using at all, and I'm pissed off with my hosting provider right now as we've had a couple of shitty interactions this week - they keep sending me auto-generated support tickets saying there's malware on my site (in all cases random PHP scripts which seem to have been on the site since I made it in 2012 and haven't caused issues until now), which I'm happy to remove but they have a multi-strike policy that involves requiring customers to pay for site cleanup if it happens more than twice and I just hit twice within one week, also their help page on this is basically just a series of ads for paid services from them and other third parties for cleaning up malware and NOT ACTUALLY HELPFUL AT ALL (also their customer service reps have been equally unhelpful). I definitely don't care enough about the domain to spend even more money on cleaning it up and at this point would rather just burn the whole thing down and stop paying for it at all.

However, I like my email address and wish to retain it (also it's my email address for everything and I definitely do not have the executive function capacity right now to change my email address everywhere).

Can I just keep paying for the domain and the SMTP forwarding and hope by magic that it keeps working once I cancel my hosting, or is the hosting a fundamental part of the whole deal that is also keeping my email address working? If I do need hosting of some sort, are there any cheaper versions for email only?

It would be super helpful if responders could assume I made a website by googling how to make a website and have literally no idea how any of it is actually meant to work (i.e. do not let the fact that I used terms like "PHP script" in this post fool you into thinking I know what one of those is or what it is meant to do).
posted by terretu to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can I just keep paying for the domain and the SMTP forwarding and hope by magic that it keeps working once I cancel my hosting, or is the hosting a fundamental part of the whole deal that is also keeping my email address working?

Web hosting isn't. Email hosting might be; not quite sure what the "SMTP forwarding" you're paying for actually does.

There is no technical reason why you can't buy domain registration, DNS services, email hosting, web hosting and assorted other components of your online presence each from its own provider. Administratively, though, your current provider might only sell what you're buying from them as a bundle.

If your hosting provider runs their own email service, and "SMTP forwarding" is just the words they use to describe the process by which emails addressed to your domain end up inside their SMTP server, then you'd need to keep paying for that or transfer your mails to somebody else's SMTP server before jumping ship.

I'm guessing that all you really need at this point is domain registration and an email provider.

Your current hosting provider does not have a lock on any domain name you've bought through them (unless it's a subdomain of their domain, but why would you pay for that?) so you should have no trouble transferring your name to any other provider that takes your fancy.

I use Dotster for registration and DNS, and FastMail for email, and have been completely happy with both; each of them will help you migrate from any previous providers. And I see that Dotster is now reselling access to Google's business suite (which includes a Gmail facility you can attach to your own domain name) if you like that kind of thing.

For web hosting of low-traffic sites, should you decide to crank one up again in future, it's hard to beat NearlyFreeSpeech.
posted by flabdablet at 5:44 AM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


flabdablet is right. There is a no technical reason to have a website if you have a domain. Your provider is simply bundling it with one of the other things you've purchased from them. If they're suggesting you have to have one, that it's a technical requirement, either the host is outright lying to you or the rep is confused.

Heck, if you want to buy a domain right now you can elect to do _nothing_ with it save stash it. Then you only pay renewal fees.

I also don't understand what "SMTP forwarding" is. Typically a blind forward is like a vacation or out-of-office response and that usually comes with most any email service, even free ones like Gmail. If you're paying for email hosting _and_ an additional fee for out-of-office or vacation response, then that's egregious. On the other hand, I may be misunderstanding the intent here.

Regarding the comment above about "lock," without the domain name in question it's hard to know for certain whether there is a lock on your domain. Some domain registration services will put a transfer prohibited lock on a domain at time of purchase. This usually means nothing more than asking the registrar (where you purchased the domain) to remove the lock because you intend to transfer it to another registrar. I wouldn't do this until you're actually ready to transfer, but this "unlock" process is usually little more than a phone call or email. (Some even let you do it with a checkbox right inside the portal.) Some registrars do put a little bit of red tape in front of you, but be polite and follow the policies and you'll get it done.

And yes, if it's some kind of subdomain (e.g. myname.gougingdomainproviders.com) then you'd not be able to transfer that since gougingdomainproviders.com owns that domain. Based on your description it certainly doesn't sound like that's what you're doing.

If it were me, I'd move elsewhere. flabdablet has great suggestions.

One last thing: If you do move registrars, email services, etc., you may need to manually download the contents of your current mailbox. Whomever you're going to may offer a service to help you move mails, but my experience is that's a premium service that either requires extra payment or a third party service like MigrationWiz. The point here is that you want to be very, VERY sure that when you move you have a plan (or have already started a plan) to move your emails to the new email host. Otherwise, you can lose access to any mails that are currently at your current provider. I am assuming a few technical things here that may or may not be relevant to your situation, but it's hard to touch on those without going down a very deep rabbit hole that may confuse you more.

Feel free to send me private mail here if you want to discuss specifics. I work in IT and help with this a lot. I am not offering services; I don't have time for that. However, I can offer quick guidance.

Good luck.
posted by tcv at 7:35 AM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the answers so far. Re: SMTP forwading, when I was first trying to get all of this to work in 2012 or so I was struggling to get my domain email to forward to Gmail properly, and with getting replies from my domain address sent from Gmail to show as coming from the right address, which I think is what I started paying the SMTP service to do for me (all I know is I started giving them money and it worked, where it hadn't before). I realise this is also a crucial part of my setup that I left out of the original question.

I've had another look and apparently my domain provider is already set up to auto-forward mail from my domain-related address to my Gmail address, so I've cancelled my web hosting and SMTP service payments for now and I'm going to hang on for a bit and see what, if anything, happens.
posted by terretu at 7:51 AM on March 24, 2018


IRT to SMTP forwarding:
Just as web hosting requires a web server, email requires an email server. If you have a domain but don't have an email server you can use a service that will pretend to be your email server but what they really do is forward the email somewhere else, often to a free email provider like gmail.


Additional info: Email servers find their destination by looking up MX records. An MX records is a type of DNS record that points to an email server. So if I send email to example@gmail.com my email server will lookup the MX record for gmail.com, find the list of servers below and send the email to one of them. It doesn't matter which one and if it can't connect to one it will try others.


nslookup -query=mx gmail.com

gmail.com mail exchanger = 5 gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com.
gmail.com mail exchanger = 10 alt1.gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com.
gmail.com mail exchanger = 40 alt4.gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com.
gmail.com mail exchanger = 30 alt3.gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com.
gmail.com mail exchanger = 20 alt2.gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com.


PS. I mentioned DNS without defining it so... DNS is what turns www.google.com, a name that's intended for humans to remember but is useless to your computer, into an IP address like 172.217.8.78 which your computer knows how to use.

You can look at DNS records with the commands nslookup, host, or dig. Nslookup is on most computers while host and dig are generally only on *nix flavored computers and may not be installed by default.
posted by Awfki at 8:07 AM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Most domain registrars (Dotster, Namecheap, and DirectNIC are the ones I've actually used) offer free SMTP forwarding that will forward any mail received on any address on your domain to a specified email address. If not completely free, you shouldn't be paying more than a couple bucks a year.

If whoever you're using doesn't offer it for cheap or free, transfer your domain to someone who does.
posted by wierdo at 8:38 AM on March 24, 2018


I did even more poking and it does indeed turn out that using my domain registrar SMTP server is a lot cheaper than the service I was using before. I've switched over (including updating the SMTP server details in Gmail) and it all still works. Thanks for the help everyone!
posted by terretu at 8:55 AM on March 24, 2018


If they're suggesting you have to have one, that it's a technical requirement, either the host is outright lying to you or the rep is confused.

Obligatory technician joke:

Q. What's the difference between an IT salesman and a used car salesman?
A. The used car salesman knows when he's lying.
posted by flabdablet at 9:51 AM on March 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


Regarding the comment above about "lock," without the domain name in question it's hard to know for certain whether there is a lock on your domain. Some domain registration services will put a transfer prohibited lock on a domain at time of purchase.

Yes, sorry. Shouldn't have used the word "lock" since that has a specific technical meaning. What I meant was that your current registrar must give you some way for shifting your domains to another, since the domain names are yours, not theirs.

Whomever you're going to may offer a service to help you move mails, but my experience is that's a premium service that either requires extra payment or a third party service like MigrationWiz.

I used FastMail's inbuilt migration facilities to slurp out and de-dupe the entire contents of my old Gmail account. Didn't cost extra, worked easily and perfectly.

I still have the Gmail account for the benefit of people I haven't communicated with for five years, but it's set up to forward everything to my FastMail account and then delete Gmail's copy. I use a Gmail filter for this rather than their usual forwarding facility, because their filters run before their spam classifier while their forwarder runs after it, and I'd rather not need to log onto a Google account to check for the occasional false-positive actually-not-spam.
posted by flabdablet at 10:09 AM on March 24, 2018


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