Emulating a POP/IMAP/Activesync mail box for a single domain with Mailgun and Outlook

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With the termination of Zoho free tier access to POP/IMAP/Activesync services, choices for simple, free inboxes and an outgoing SMTP server for your domain have become virtually non-existent.

A common scenario when hosting a small-scale web service under a domain is to handle registrations by sending out automated mails via the free outgoing SMTP server, and utilizing a free POP/IMAP server to handle incoming mail to addresses such as “contact@foobar.xyz” and “support@foobar.xyz”. Zoho’s free tier access allowed this. They allowed up to five inboxes and a small, but sufficient daily outgoing e-mail limit. The idea was that if you wanted higher limits as your business grew, you could upgrade your free tier to a paid tier.

With no more free tier, your business has to start paying right out of the gate. Given no guarantee that your business might succeed, the initial cost just adds salt to the wound if your business does in fact fail.

Luckily, there is a way to leverage existing free POP/IMAP services and coupling it with a free SMTP service. There is no shortage of free personal mailboxes such as GMail, Live Mail, Yahoo! Mail, etc.

The key is to emulating separate inboxes for your domain, and to continue to have access to an SMTP server for sending mails (automated or otherwise), is to use Mailgun. They currently allow 10,000 incoming and outgoing mails per month for free. Once your business grows and you require sending out more automated e-mails (registration mails, promotional e-mail campaigns, etc.) you will be happy to fork out some cash as reciprocation for the initial free access.

Steps

  1. Open a new Mailgun account or login to your existing one.
  2. Add your domain to your Mailgun domains, following their procedures to setup your DNS settings so that Mailgun handles incoming mail to the domain via MX records.
  3. Add Mailgun routes to separate your incoming mail. For example, you can have all mail arriving at “myname@foobar.xyz” forwarded to “mypersonalemail@live.com”, and “hisname@foobar.xyz” forwarded to “hispersonalemail@gmail.com”. Mails to the domain foobar.xyz now go to separate inboxes.
  4. If you read your personal e-mail in a mail client such as Outlook, you can set it up to use the Mailgun SMTP server for outgoing mail. Using foobar.xyz as the example domain:
    • Setup an account for “myname@foobar.xyz” with a “fake” POP server and the SMTP server set to smtp.mailgun.com. Follow steps 8 and onward from this guide: How to configure a Send-Only account in Outlook. Make sure to use the SMTP username and password provided in the Mailgun domain section “Domain Information“.
    • Change the SMTP port to 587 and use TLS in Advanced Settings, particularly if Outlook times out trying to send any e-mail under “myname@foobar.xyz”.
    • Setup an Outlook rule so that incoming mail sent to “myname@foobar.xyz” is automatically moved to the folder myname@foobar.xyz/Inbox

That’s it. Now you can send and receive mail at your domain name via Outlook (or another e-mail client, following similar steps), and have as many virtual inboxes as you like provided that you use a free personal e-mail service to receive the forwarded mail from Mailgun, and use an e-mail client to sort the forwarded mail into their respective inboxes. On top of that, you can send automated mails via Mailgun’s API or SMTP server, just as you would have with Zoho’s former free tier service.

Using this method instead of Zoho is still free, until you need to send/receive more than 10,000 a month. In such a case, your business is probably taking off and you’ll be more than happy to pay for increased usage limits.

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