My Gmail is Better Than Your Gmail

A cou­ple of weeks ago now, issues with Dreamhost not with­stand­ing, I con­vert­ed over to using Gmail for my own domain after sign­ing up for Google Appli­ca­tions for your (my) Domain. While this makes essen­tial­ly no dif­fer­ence at all to any­one else, oth­er than avoid­ing con­fu­sion on which e‑mail account to respond to, it will hope­ful­ly sim­pli­fy my e‑mail woes and spam volume.

There are cer­tain­ly work-arounds to using Gmail with your oth­er e‑mail address­es and those are fine, but I want­ed one that was less trou­ble­some than just for­ward­ing address­es. I want­ed to be able to send, receive, and store e‑mail with what I con­sid­er to be my per­ma­nent address. Last­ly, I want­ed this to inte­grate with my desk­top mail pro­gram, in effect give me off-site access and stor­age of my entire e‑mail. Port­ing e‑mail archives is painful and this will go a long way to eas­ing that in the future.

First is easy: just sign up for Google Apps at your domain (it’s actu­al­ly Gmail, cal­en­dar, docs & spread­sheets, etc. all togeth­er). Next, in order to use the e‑mail address, you’ll have to have DNS reg­istry access to your domain. If you per­son­al­ly reg­is­tered your domain and host your files, or at least know the per­son who does this, chances are you do. Once you’ve acti­vat­ed your Google Apps account, you’ll have to log into your host­ing man­age­ment site and alter your DNS, or MX records, for mail. Google has some instruc­tions for most major host­ing ser­vices as well as gener­ic ones. Dreamhost, where this very file is sit­ting right now, has some spe­cif­ic direc­tions on what to change to in their Wiki. Two points:

  1. The pri­or­i­ty val­ue goes first, exam­ple: 10 ASPMX2.GOOGLEMAIL.COM.
  2. That last peri­od is very impor­tant, so don’t think it’s just mis­placed punc­tu­a­tion in the instructions.

Now, you’ve got your DNS records changed, the next step is to wait. It took well over 24 hours for the DNS records to prop­a­gate after I changed mine, which is much longer than what it seemed to take for plain old http DNS changes. This may have just been a fluke, but there’s a very good chance some e‑mail to you will get bounced back to the sender as “unde­liv­er­able” over the next day or so. You can keep track of the progress by sim­ply enter­ing your domain name here.

The hard­est step for me was set­ting up Mail.app. That’s just because the instruc­tions at Google are real­ly writ­ten for a typ­i­cal Gmail account, where as some of the set­tings are obvi­ous­ly slight­ly dif­fer­ent for your site. Basi­cal­ly, you’ll use all the same set­ting just with your own domain e‑mail in both the e‑mail address (well, duh!) and user­name fields. Also, don’t for­get to check the “Use SSL” box in the Advanced set­tings tab. Okay, I’m not even sure why that took me more than two min­utes to fig­ure out. There are instruc­tions for most com­mon desk­top e‑mail appli­ca­tions, as well.

So far, using G‑mail is great. I had to set up some rules in Mail to stick e‑mails I sent from my Gmail pan­el into the cor­rect “Sent” in mail. As of yet, I don’t know if there’s any way to get Mail and Gmail to sync such that a e‑mail delet­ed in one is removed in the oth­er. Chances are, that’s just ask­ing for too much. How­ev­er, hav­ing some very robust spam fil­ter­ing alone has been worth it (my spam has near­ly elim­i­nat­ed at this point). Fur­ther, I like the idea of not hav­ing to strug­gle to import or copy over e‑mail when switch­ing machines when that comes up again. It’ll always be sit­ting there on my Gmail accoun­t’s server.

I high­ly rec­om­mend using this solu­tion over two sep­a­rate e‑mail accounts or the desk­top-only or g‑mail-only approach. It real­ly is the best of both worlds. The only real hur­dle is hav­ing access to an e‑mail address for which you can change the DNS set­tings for and that’s most every­one I know now, to tell the truth. If not, then con­sid­er buy­ing a domain name on the cheap, will ya?

Update Oct. 24th, 2007 — Google is cur­rent­ly in the process of rolling out IMAP for Gmail. Unlike POP accounts, IMAP does sync var­i­ous changes across plat­forms. This means that read­ing or delet­ing an e‑mail in one place changes it in the oth­er. I can’t see why this solu­tion is now any­thing less than perfect.