Email. It's become one of the most important personal and business communication tools. When my customers email stops working, for whatever reason, they very quickly move from concern, to worry, to distress, to panic. As with most computer problems, a lack of knowledge about the system only increases the intensity of the panic - not only are they unable to access their email, they have no idea how it works. Hopefully after reading this article, you'll have a better understanding of the multitude of systems that have to coordinate for your email to make it to you.

If you're using someone else's domain, such as,,,, or, this article isn't for you. You are tied to the fate of that particular host. I could write an entire article on why it's important for you to own and use your own domain for email, but I'll let an anecdote suffice. In 2001, the ISP I used at the time, Primenet, was purchased by Earthlink. I was informed that my email address, [email protected], was going to be terminated and that I had 30 days to pick a new email address It didn't matter that I had years of contacts who would try to email me at the old address or that I had hundreds of dollars of printed promotional material, both on a shelf and in circulation, featuring the address. If you're using email hosted at a domain that you don't control, I urge you to make the switch to your own domain on your own terms, not on terms set by big corporations. The costs are small ($40 a year or less) and your own terms will be better for you.

1. Registrar

The registrar is the company from whom you purchased your domain name. Companies like Network Solutions and Go Daddy are popular registrars. They perform a function similar to the trademark office — they enforce domain name uniqueness. There can be only one and only one

It's important for you to verify that you know which registrar your domain name is registered with, that your name is listed as the owner of the domain and not some third party or consultant, and what username and password you can use if you need to make changes to your domain configuration.

Registrars establish ownership of domains, but they don't route email. The DNS (Domain Name Server) is the first step in the email routing chain.

  • With which registrar is my domain registered?

  • Is my domain registered to me?

  • What username and password can I use to make changes to my domain?

2. Authoritative Domain Name Server

The DNS system is the white pages of the internet. Much like a telephone number, each computer on the internet has a distinct IP address. Names are easier to remember than numbers — I get much more traffic when I direct people to than when I direct them to  This is an important task. When DNS stops working, the internet effectively stops working.

In most cases, DNS is handled either by the Registrar (above) or the Email Host (below), but this is not necessarily true. Since your email is important to you, dear reader, it's your responsibility to know the state of your DNS. Additionally, you should be comfortable with the redundancies they have in place and guarantees they make about their DNS service.

  • Who is my DNS host?

  • Do I have a username and password which gives me access to make DNS changes?

3. Email Host

Your email host is the big kahuna of this article and your email systems. This is the server to which your DNS directs other email servers seeking to deliver email addressed to your domain. Email is vitally important to communication throughout your organization and all of the organizations with which you interact. We're all familiar with the idiom, "You get what you pay for." What do most people pay for email hosting? Zero.

Most individuals and many organizations trust their email either to a free host or to their web host as a free bonus for their hosting account. Dreamhost, a huge web hosting company, reports that just over half of its customer service inquiries concern email. Can you imagine if you had to devote half of your staff and resources to servicing a product that industry habits force you to give away for free? Dreamhost writes about how much they hate hosting email here.

What's better than free email? Business email. Companies like Mailtrust and AppRiver specialize in hosting email for businesses. They are email specialists, not hosting generalists. They have redundancies in place, automatic backups, fantastic webmail and management consoles. They understand how important email is to you and to everyone, and they want to host yours.

  • Who is my email host?

  • Am I comfortable with their service, redundancies, and backups?

  • What username and password do I need to make changes to the email addresses at my domain?

  • What is the username and password for my own email account?

4. Internet Connection

To retrieve your email from your email host, you've got to traverse the internet. Whether you're using webmail, a mobile device, or a desktop email client, you've got to somehow be online. When the internet at your office goes down, email access goes with it. This is not as catastrophic as a downed DNS or Email Host — your email will be waiting for you when you're able to get back online. Still, you need to know how to get back online.

  • Who is my ISP?

  • How can I reach them for service?

5. Your Computer

New emails are important, but old emails can be too. Once your email is downloaded from the server, it becomes your responsibility to ensure its safety and longevity. You've got to keep backups of your data, on separate physical media. This is a good idea in general, for reasons that reach far beyond email health.

  • Do I backup my computer regularly?

  • Is my old email included in this backup?

  • If someone stole my computer, would I still have a copy of all of my old email?

Full Disclosure

Yes, we are a reseller for Mailtrust, but only because that enables Feedwire to offer Mailtrust email hosting to our clients at lower prices than Mailtrust offers directly, in smaller units, and better, faster management of the email hosting.