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Email and Changing Servers

12:03 am on Nov 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Hi guys,

We have a website that we want to change to a new host. However we're a business and we don't want to lose potential clients because of our email addresses being inaccessible. Our email addresses are name@domain.com so we need them up and running.

I am unsure of the following questions:
1. Once we change the nameservers of our domain to transfer hosts, how long will it take to get our domain to transfer to the new host?
2. Will our email addresses by down for the same period of time?
3. To get our old emails, do we need to manually save them from the old server?
4. Do I have any options to make sure we do not lose any business emails during the delay in changing nameservers?

Thanks in advance,
6:29 pm on Nov 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Administrator httpwebwitch is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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I did that earlier this year.

First I set up a non-crucial domain on the new host. Setting up an email service was unfamiliar territory, so it took me a while to get it right. But eventually, I had it all figured out and I was able to send and receive email for me@i-dont-care-about-this-domain.com

Once that was working, I configured the "real" domain on the new host... basically mimicking the same configuration I used for the dummy one. I still hadn't switched the DNS.

I could tell it was working by doing a few experiments with telnet on the new host - I relied heavily on www tutorials for that part. Eventually I was pretty confident that I hadn't screwed anything up.

To grab all my mail off the old server, I connected to it with POP instead of IMAP, and waited as all the email showed up in my mail client. That took a while. I did a few test sends & receives to make sure I'd really got everything downloaded locally.

For a larger organization I'm sure that wouldn't be sufficient. But here I was only concerned about me (I have no staff & employees with their own mail)

Eventually - and this was after I'd also configured the web server on the new host too - I took a deep breath and changed the DNS. I will admit it felt like a Hail Mary. Was I lucky, or was I prepared? Either way, everything worked fine... All the web traffic started flowing through the new host, and I was getting email from it too. Phew!~

Did I lose any mail during the DNS transition? Actually I have no idea. I don't think I did. The old host was still "hooked up" and running, but it stopped getting incoming mail. Maybe there were some in-between moments where mail was going to both.

That's my story. I bet an experienced IT Admin would roll their eyes and tell me everything I did wrong. Like you I'm interested in knowing the *right way* to do this.
6:14 pm on Nov 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member rocknbil is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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The easy way: most hosts (unless you're moving to shared, bleah) will migrate it for you, it's just good business, often for free.

Manually: Most of this is really easy with today's CP's. You just log in to the **new** server CP before it's live and create the accounts. Nothing will be collected in these new accounts until the DNS is pointed at it.

The one thing you'll have to do (and is usually the most difficult part!) is collect all the email login passwords from your users so you can do this - hard because, no one remembers where they put that stuff. I just click the button with the letter icon and everything just "works." :-)

If you can't collect the passwords, then when you switch over, you'll have to reconfigure all the users' mail clients with the new passwords - that is, Outlook will not be able to connect to your new mail server until you feed it the right password. Funny how the human element is always the most difficult. OK it's not funny, but anyway . . .

When the DNS re-points to the new server, it takes the mail with it - however - there are some instances where some email goes to the old box, some to the new box, while the WWW name servers populate. For example, if some customer is connecting to "you" from Canada and you're in Australia, their nearest DNS server may not "get" the update until later, so mail they send to you will be sent to the "old" server. This used to be at least a 72 hour period, but it's generally not more than 12-24 these days, sometimes sooner.

So before "switching over," work with your host and learn how to access the "old host" by IP address. That is, if you can reach your mail via the web interface at mail.example.com (or whatever the URL is,) figure out how to reach it by ip, like 123.456.78.68/mail-program-name. (Webmail, Horde, whatever . . . )

That way, as the DNS propagates, you can check the old mailbox for a few days until full propagation. Generally speaking, I've only found a few emails in there when moving clients. It's not a big loss, usually.

edit: I forgot: another way around the mail switch over is to open a gmail (or other third party) account, and on switchover day forward all incoming mail on the old server to the gmail account(s). Then anything coming in goes right to gmail.
4:26 am on Nov 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I personally use a combination of MX record priority and the two site DNS setups others above describe.

I test all new mailboxes (on the new server) for functionality with predefined passwords and both mailboxes opened in their client. I then do the DNS flip for the website's A record. Once I see that working I raise the MX (Mail eXchanger) priority on the old site and drop it on the new site.

After a time the cached DNS attributes scattered around the 'net time out and mail flow to the old site drops to zero. I give it a bit more time and then drop the old site MX record.

Sorry if this seems more complicated - I'm a email guy by day doing web as a sideline.