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Pawnmail: a free email host for custom domains (pawnmail.com)
211 points by vortico on Nov 2, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments

I don't want to be the party pooper, but without knowing too many details I can tell you that you're in for a bad time. You're essentially asking for abuse, as spammers will use your service to forward their junk, and whoever is hosting your service is going to receive abuse reports and act on them.

There are mean people on the internet :(

100% this.

I've worked at a web hosting company before - not a major operation at a time, but we did enough business to staff one floor of an office building with our support and management people.

Something like 25%-50% of our support volume was spammers and scammers trying to sneak under the radar and get us to restore their service after we'd blacklisted them. A significant portion of these were using stolen credit cards.

Yes, sadly you are correct. I will do my best to monitor outbound SMTP frequency and blatant spam abuse, although so far it has been surprisingly pleasant. Thank you for the announcing this concern.

This is precisely why we don't provide free account at FastMail any more - and even then the free trials are causing us trials and tribulations right now.

Honestly, good luck - but you're going to find that giving away something for free to other people is very different than running it for yourself right about the first time something goes wrong and a few thousand very angry people want to know what's up with their email.

(and as an aside, I really think good email service is worth paying for, and having been woken in the middle of the night to fix things that customers never even noticed - I know that it won't stay surprisingly pleasant forever)

Because of the domain registration costs, using emailing with Pawnmail is not free. This should dramatically reduce the incentive of using Pawnmail to spam. Btw, @vortico I'm using Pawnmail for my new domain name and it looks quite nice so far, thanks!

Fastmail is the only good option outside of running your own email. Glad to be a customer as I'm currently fed up with fighting spam. Also, you can't beat the Fastmail web interface.

Here is a good idea that worked for us: Monitor all outgoing email with spamassasin.

Yeah, but it still seems like a great service. This... versus the $5/mo to pay to DigitalOcean to host essentially nothing other than postfix & cyrus daemons... is quite reasonable. Please don't let the Spectre of Spammers discourage you from this very appealing old-school sort of venture...

> Your email messages are private and are only used in the event of a legal order or search warrant.

Okay; Which jurisdiction?

Tennessee, United States

It is indeed a crucial information. Thanks for pointing that out, I am sure that it will be added, if just to prove goodwill!

Several comments are in regards to the issues surrounding the service, but I have to say, the service itself fills the niche need for anyone out there who is looking for a quick custom email solution.

When Google App stopped providing their free custom email service (which is fair enough), I asked a question here to see if there were any alternatives and basically there wasn't (there were a few similar ones, but not as convenient as what Google offered) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5179478

Of course there are issues I think that pawnmail needs to consider, but it definitely feels like this might be that alternative.

I don't understand the problem. Why is free so important? For $1/month you can get 5 email accounts with 2GB each at 1an1. If you go to $5/month, you can host your domain on Lunarpages and have unlimited email accounts. There are other services that offer similar possibilities at the same price points. With email accounts so cheap, why is free so important? Am I missing an obvious use case?

When you're setting up a website for someone else, it's much easier to deal with no billing than it is even with $1/year.

Email services provided on the side by hosting companies (or worse, registrars) don't measure up to Gmail or Fastmail. And Gmail is what people will be comparing it to.

There is Zoho mail[1] - 1 domain, 10 users, 5Gb per user.

You can also try Yandex mail for domains[2] (1000 users and unlimited storage), but you will have to use Google translate to add domain - unlike mail itself, this pages are in Russian only[3].




Zoho mail is the closest free service you can find. Of course it has its own limitations but works well. I miss a lot of Google App features but it works well.

There's Yandex Mail for domains[1]. The domain panel is in Russian only but webmail is available in other languages including English.

[1] https://pdd.yandex.ru/domains_add/

Certainly, Google Apps and Outlook dropping support for free custom domain email hosting triggered this project a few months ago.

+1, the custom domains for outlook/ms is a loss, I still haven't moved my personal domain off, and am not sure where I'm going to move it to... I just don't wan't to run my own mail server again... took forever to get a combination of filters that were even reasonable without excess false positives or negatives in the mix.

1) "free forever"

2) "we currently have enough funds to support 226 more days of hosting"

I know it's possible for 1 and 2 to not contradict each other, but it certainly gives the appearance of being a potentially unsustainable service, and thus a potentially unreliable service. If I'm going to set up an email hosting account, I'm going to want to expect it to be available for the long haul.

You're right, the wording is a bit humorous and certainly contradictory. I should rephrase the statements to say:

1) "free for as long as the service exists" 2) "we currently have enough funds to support 226 more days of hosting given that no one supports the server costs

Hosting a simple email service such as Pawnmail is cheaper than the cost of hosting many individual mail servers for each domain, so the incentive to donate exists as long as individuals and companies value the service. Being financially open is an attempt to fix the problem met by Google and Microsoft, who have suddenly discontinued their free custom domain email hosting services within the last year.

Well, it will also be free after the service doesn't exist. So I think "free forever" is still technically correct.

> Each email account costs us approximately $0.30 per year, and we currently have enough funds to support 318 more days of hosting.

Curious. What does the $0.30 figure take into account? Is it just server and IT or does it also include customer service and other administrative work?

Good question. To clarify, the $0.30 figure is simply the cost of servers per number of users. The figure may vary according to average space used by accounts and bandwidth.

The figure does not include administration, but donations may be used for human resources. After a reasonable amount is distributed, funds will go into the server budget, thus increasing the "days remaining" meter.

I will soon summarize this on the home page.

I have a pretty good idea of the costs of running an email service, since I do that as well - and I do wonder if you have any redundancy or backups or any of the niceties considered here (and I bet you'll feel less happy about giving your time for free at some point)

Last thing I saw with "free forever" on it was called Evony and it used to advertise all over my Facebook a few years ago.

Incremental encrypted backups are performed hourly and stored off-site.

I completely agree - but I love the fact that they are transparent about exactly how long they can operate without donations.

When investing (time) into something like this I always try to work out how the business is going to be sustained. Like many of us, I've been burnt badly before.

I'd genuinely like more businesses like this to be up front with commercial plans just to give reassurance to its customers.

What does HN use for multiple domain email hosting? I realize I can create an alias/forward to an inbox, but I'm looking for something that lets you send as multiple domains but maintain a single inbox without having the dreaded outlook "Sent from XXX on behalf of YYY".

Is the only option to have multiple accounts?

have you tried http://proxy4.us ?

thx I'll check into it!

I admire the philanthropic intent behind this, but last time I registered a domain with Gandi.net I got domain email included at no extra charge. It was way easier to set up than GA (or live.com before it went away).

Agree. If you have a domain, you presumably have web hosting, and it seems to be usual for this to come with mail. My hosting provider will host email for any domain (presumably works like pawnmail...) and it doesn't cost any extra. Now, if hosting were $50+/mo then I could see the value of a free service, but you can get it for $10/mo, where the tradeoff makes (to my mind) a lot less sense. After all, you want to pay for services like these, if only to ensure they don't suddenly stop in 226 days' time :)

My ex business partner would argue with me about this sometimes. "You always take the piss out of my daily coffee [which cost £2, mostly to pay for coffee shop overheads]", he'd say. "You're so tight. But you make us pay for hosting and email, like it's a good idea. We could use Google for free." I'd just shrug noncommittaly as I supped my tea [total cost about £0.03, mostly to pay for electricity]. How could he not see? Over time these free services always get rolled back, sometimes without any warning.

(Obviously that happened to Google Apps, or whatever. Maybe that was while we were working together... I don't remember. I wasn't really paying attention, because I didn't have to worry about it. That's what you pay for.)

I've been lurking for a while here. In my observation, the previous consensus seemed to be that it is a bad idea to bundle hosting and email from your domain name registrar. Has this changed? If you have your domain name from Gandi, isn't it a bad idea to let Gandi host your website?

Disclaimer: I have nothing against Gandi in particular. Just curious about the prevailing convention as I always seem to be behind times...

> If you have your domain name from Gandi, isn't it a bad idea to let Gandi host your website?

Why? I'm with a small web shop for nearly 10 years for my private site, and happy as can be. You might say I'm putting all eggs into one basket, but for me it's rather a single point of failure, which so far never failed me. I expect if they, god forbid, ever go down or get bought, to be as gentlemanly as humanly and technically possible about that. I know you'll have to take my word for that, but let's just grant those things; so what am I missing that I should be worrying about?

Well, it could be that I am behind the times as well - I bought my hosting from dreamhost (service has proven satisfactory for my needs) and used their free domain registrations. Seems to have worked out. But even if I'm out of date on that, I do stand by my comment about the risks of free - some things come and go, but other things stay the same ;)

(None of this is a comment on the pawnmail service itself, which I'm sure is fine - just whether it, or any equivalent service, represents good value, all things considered, at that price point.)

I don't let Gandi host my website. Only DNS and email.

Gandi.net is a terrible overpriced registrar. But in fact, the provided IMAP accounts made me use them for one domain.

I don't see any screenshots of the web client. I know I could use a remote client, but I'm curious. Are there any?

Pawnmail uses Roundcube for webmail, which looks a bit like this. http://freecode.com/screenshots/28/66/2866738b9422aeb16180a8...

I use zoho for my custom domain. Free, no spam, great support

Free account doesn't have domain aliases. Does that mean I can't use personal@my-domain.org and work@my-domain.org all pointing to one inbox?

Since they allow 10 users with each 5gb inbox that means I have 10 different inboxes that can be personal@my-domain.org or work@my-domain.org or mailing-list@my-domain.org.

No custom url? Does that mean no custom domain allowed?

AFAIK, grandfathered accounts have custom domain.

It seems they call custom domain as custom URL and don't allow it with free account.

It's very sweet and naive of you to offer this. There's a reason other people don't, and it's not because there aren't other nice people. It's because like another poster said, you're gonna get abuse as soon as more than a few people know about this. A lot of abuse.

I work for a hosting company, and one time we did a promotion where you could get a VPS for about a dollar for a month. This boosted our sales tremendously during the promotion, but all the boosted sales were abuse accounts and none of them renewed.

Free or nearly free == here comes abuse.

What happens once I reach the 2GB limit? Can I pay for more?

Thanks for providing this great service. Pardon me if this sounds ignorant, but won't other email providers like google, yahoo flag an email coming from @pawnmail.com as junk because of the word "pawn" (synonymous with pawn shops etc) in the domain name?

Junk/spam is far more complex than that. That alone will not be an issue almost certainly.

HOWEVER, there are many issues with this site that will cause messages to get marked as spam with a high frequency (including my innocuous test message to a gmail address).

1) There's no recommendation to setup SPF for your domain. This is the big one. SPF is a big deal, and not having any spf will give you a higher spam score.

2) The creator of this service did not setup a reverse dns entry for the ip to the mx domain. There's no reverse dns at all (even though he's hosted with ramnode and ramnode supports rdns).

3) The creator does not allow you to add dkim signing keys; you can't dkim sign your messages.

The above factors ensure that google has a high chance of marking you as spam, as well as any other sufficiently strict spam software. amavisd did not mark it as spam for me, giving it only a spam score of a little over 2, though I have mine configured at a high threshold compared to many people.

Because of the above reasons, I wouldn't consider using this. The lack of a rdns entry is especially unforgivable because it's so easy and helps with your spam rating so much. The other factors are all additional complexity because the owner of the domain (user) would have to do additional work beyond the dns record, but those should also be there.

Perhaps the creator will see this and improve these problems.

This is why I've moved over to Fastmail. They allow up to 100 custom domains and provide SPF. It's only $40 a year.

Only Pawnmail staff have @pawnmail.com email addresses. Domain owners can register email addresses under their own domain (such as @joesmith.com), which may or may not contain filtered words.

However, you have a good point. It would probably not be the ideal name for a service like to GMail, in which all users live under the @gmail.com domain.

Irrespective of whether users use their own domain, email sent through the pawnmail service will be associated with the pawnmail domain via their MX records.

It's for "custom domains", pawnmail is just an example and the name of the project. Check it out at : https://pawnmail.com/register

Regardless that it's for custom domains, the smtp server will call itself "mx.pawnmail.com" during the SMTP protocol negotiation.

The parent comment is not correct in thinking that matters, but they are correct that it will be identified as pawnmail, just not as part of the email address itself.

I suppose the nutgraf is: running your own email server is a better/recommended solution over pawnmail?

This is awesome. Yes, the spam problems and everything but if this can be hosted somewhere more secure, and get a better SSL cert :) then it's a viable option for personal @yourdomain.com email. I would love to see a paid tier for when you outgrow the 2GB.

Also the bigger your service grows, the more time you will have to spend on it. You might want to rethink the cost per mailbox.

Also people that care about their email, (should be/ are) willing to pay for it. Then again, people that care will most likely host their own.

Is there an option to forward all of my mail to my gmail (preferably deleting the copy on pawnmail too)?

This is an interesting idea. I was going to set up an email server on my VPS with just SMTP that auto-forwarded everything to my gmail. But this might be simpler.

Not yet, but this is a planned feature for the near future, along with a more detailed account management interface.

For the time being, you may take advantage of Gmail's POP3/IMAP support to download emails hosted on Pawnmail from Gmail. (See Google's article https://support.google.com/mail/answer/21289?hl=en) The emailed is pulled from Pawnmail rather than pushed, but it achieves the same effect.

> I was going to set up an email server on my VPS with just SMTP that auto-forwarded everything to my gmail. But this might be simpler.

Do NOT do this. Unless you're willing to make absolutely sure that no spam gets through to gmail, you will be blacklisted by gmail when it flags spam coming from your host. And not even a lot of it.

Basically, to use gmail this way you have to be almost as good as gmail at the thing that most makes gmail worthwhile. It's not worth it. Much easier to go the other way.

TTBOMK, Google have tooling to help with this -- they're aware that people forward them mail, and if you don't rewrite the mail on the way through (and especially if you've registered the forwarded address in gmail) they say they'll do the right thing.


If you register your domain with Google Domains (their new registrar service), you get email forwarding for free.

If only he/I could get an invite :(

Is the source code available for the web interface (to manage custom domains)?

Fastmail used to provide a service like this, but no longer. This could be really useful.

That's because providing a service like this really sucks the life out of you. The theory was that we could either drive people towards the paying accounts, or monetize the accounts some other way.

The stats said - free accounts very rarely converted to paying accounts. All the monitizing options for people with free accounts are pretty creepy, even text-only ads were bad. We hated that.

So we turned off free accounts. FastMail only provides paid accounts, and in exchange we don't need to look for another business model - we take payment in exchange for providing an awesome service and everybody is happy.

... and per the estimated price of $0.30/yr for 2Gb storage - our costs are much higher than that. On the other hand we have 3 full copies of every email store, two in one datacentre and one in another - and each of them is on RAID1 SSD and RAID6 SATA, all encrypted - with enough CPU and RAM to work fast. Metadata and the current week's email is on SSD, the rest on SATA. There's a reason we're fast, and it's because people pay us enough to be able to invest in full time engineers working on optimising our usage of the hardware resources we have. Feel free to read the source code for our IMAP server at:

https://github.com/brong/cyrus-imapd/ in the fastmail branch.

(or have a look at the git repository at git.cyrusimap.org where we are pushing many of our contributions back into the master branch in preparation for the public 2.5 release soon)

I feel no guilt at not offering free service. We provide value for money to our customers.

This was a weirdly defensive response. I'm actually a paying Fastmail customer (for about six months) and so far the service has been good.

Very nice project. Thank You ^_^

Accept bitcoin and I'd be glad to pay 10X the yearly hosting cost for my account.

I find free email forwarding service more useful than this. Just think about it.

The difficulty is that it is often hard to use your favorite email account (gmail, icloud, exchange), and use your custom domain in the sent field. I have a few accounts that I really try to keep separate, so the hosting really does help.

If you are using roundcube what is so good? Is it the email service?

Thanks for providing this, just set it up with my new domain!

zoho offers free email for a domain with up to 10 users. i tried using pawnmail, i think it's better to use zoho because of the mail forwarding feature.

What API do you use for users to register domain names?

Very cool. Any chances of accepting bitcoin donations?

Bitcoin donations are now accepted.

why is this on the front page? sure, i'll host my email with some random internet person, it's fine, they said they won't read it

I am happy to pay for such a service:

1. if I know it is still there tomorrow. 2. It has a good price 3. It is not hosted in the US.

Someone replied this was hosted in Tennessee, United States. Just curious, where would you prefer this to be hosted? (Germany? Switzerland?) I am sure Andrew would not mind someone in that region duplicate a set up like this as this does not seem to be for-profit to begin with.

That's actually one of my main requirement: No US hosting. Countries I feel sort of safe with is Germany, Switzerland and Norway.

gandi.net came with free webmail.

I used name.com and they charge the price of another .com for webmail access. whois privacy costs extra too. gandi includes all these things at no extra charge. I'm going to be moving to gandi.net permanently pretty much had it with getting hustled by name.com

This. Gandi is a remarkably good 'no bullshit' (their motto) registrar.

Why not use mailgun as an alternative? 10,000 email per month free which should suffice most users

You're comparing apples with tuna

Mailgun is an email sending service, not an email host.

I took a look at their documentation, and it looks like they do support receiving mail as well. You don't get an actual mailbox, but you can have incoming mail forwarded wherever you want, which would be enough if you just want everything to go to your gmail.

Am I missing something? Is there a reason that this would be a bad idea?

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