The pursuit of email deliverability has multiple stages. Verifying and authenticating your domain is Stage One, which enables you to send messages from your domain-based accounts. But will you be able to receive emails after domain verification? Nope. Getting emails in your Inbox is possible only after setting up your MX records.
There are testing tools that will address different aspects of email deliverability. However, having a working knowledge of MX entries is like sliding into the first base. Before you run email delivery tests on your email campaigns, try to understand all components of a working email system. We’ll explain why you need to configure MX records and elaborate on each step of the setup process.
What’s an MX record?
With MX standing for “mail exchanger,” the term is part of the basics of the Domain Name System (DNS). A domain name has a number of mail servers that receive email messages on their behalf. An MX record contains a DNS record about which a specific IP address will receive each specific mail.
First, let’s quickly recap the role of DNS. Among other things, DNS translates domain names into IP addresses using A-records. If someone is searching for our domain name folderly.com, DNS determines the IP address of the email servers to help ESPs communicate with each other.
Now, what happens when a domain name is used in messaging? A prospect hits reply on your email with the @folderly.com address. This time, DNS provides the MX record for the sending mail server. The server gets an email, and before forwarding it to a recipient, it (1) checks out the authoritative name servers for folderly.com; (2) then the server asks the folderly.com name servers for the MX records; (3) finally, the server does the MX records lookup in DNS and finds out their IP addresses based on the MX records lookup.
It’s worth mentioning that IP addresses are kept in the address-record (A-record) of the hostname of the computer that sends and receives the domain’s mail. It is the A-record that does the translation of domain names to IP addresses.
Here’s how an A-record looks like:
The MX record for the mail server called mail.folderly.com will look as follows:
Mail exchanger: mail.folderly.com
Now, the mail server mail.folderly.com with the IP address 184.108.40.206 will receive all messages sent to recipient@ folderly.com.
What do preferences and priorities mean for MX entries?
Having the configuration of several MX records will balance the load between mail servers. Normally, DNS lookup for a domain shows not only a mail exchanger name but also MX preference. By assigning different preference values to multiple MX records, the priority of each MX record is set. The higher the number is, the lower priority is.
What’s good about assigning different preference values?
- If preference values are the same, a load of incoming mail is evenly distributed over multiple servers.
- If the primary preference value is unavailable, the next-in-line MX records can be used.
- Using multiple servers allows you to pick up the slack in email delivery in case the main server has downtime and regular software updates.
Normally, the A-record of the mail exchanger points out for the DNS server the specific order of IP addresses to use if the primary preference is unavailable. It doesn’t mean, however, that additional MX servers forward mail to multiple mail servers at once. An additional server is used only if the lowest priority is unavailable.
How to configure MX records?
It is not necessary to set up an MX record for your domain if you send only internal messages. However, most professionals use email services and set up their user accounts, and create their email addresses. In this case, it is ok to have a catch-all email address to make sure all messages addressed to you are delivered. However, after the accounts are set up, you can change your domain’s MX records. Here’s how.
Recommended MX setup
The easiest way to set up your MX entries is to follow MX setup instructions for your domain registrar. Look for the DNS settings. Some domain registrars, GoDaddy and 1&1, offer a quick setup process for your domain’s MX records. If you don’t know how to identify your domain host, do the following:
- Check out who you pay for your domain name. If you registered your domain or transferred your domain name, you must find your domain hostname listed on billing records.
- Look for your domain hostname at lookup.icann.org.
- Request information about your domain name from a third-party DNS hosting service if that’s what you use for your domain.
Generic MX setup in the manual mode
The terminology and steps can vary from host to host. But overall, by following these steps, you can set up your domain’s MX records.
- Log into your domain registrar’s account at your domain’s website.
- Find the section where all your domains are listed. It might be called something like DNS Manager/ DNS management/ Domain Management Page/ Advanced (Mail) Settings / DNS Control Panel.
- Find the MX Records/ Email Servers/ Email Settings option.
- Remove any existing MX records. If removing is unavailable, change the priority value of MX records to 20 or higher.
- Add new MX records by selecting Add Record.
- Specify the value in the Name/ Host field as either @ or leave it blank.
- Specify Destination/Value/Answer as (for example) mail.folderly.com for the first record and so on.
- Choose the priority 10 or lower.
- Save your changes.
- Check the propagation of MX records. You can use any of the testing tools like MX Toolbox, Zoho Mail, etc.
- Test if the MX records have propagated properly by sending a test email from your other domain’s account. If the propagation is successful, the test email will come through.
How to check my MX records?
If you change an Email Service Provider (ESP), you need to make sure there’s no trouble in receiving emails to your domain. There are two ways to check your DNS MX records.
- Use an online testing tool or an email spam checker.
- Use nslookup command-line tool to check your DNS MX records.
What to do if I keep having trouble with my email delivery?
If specific emails, or messages from on-site webforms, or any emails, in general, keep bouncing back, here’s what you can do.
- Check how many MX records you have and what their priority is. For example, if your new ESP has higher priority (10, 20, and higher), emails will be delivered to the domains with lower priority (5 or 0).
- Make sure the MX records of the previous ESP have been removed.
- Make sure the 'Local email delivery' option is not active in the website DNS configuration settings.
- Update the Incoming and Outgoing Email server settings for email clients, such as Outlook/ Thunderbird/ iPhone/ Android mobile devices.
- Opt for Remote Email Server instead of Local Email Delivery in the website hosting settings because sometimes, ESPs send the messages locally if the website domain name and the email address are the same (as often happens with website contact forms).
- Follow the instructions for your domain provider as the terminology and requirements may differ. Otherwise, you punch in incorrect values, and your configuration of the MX records isn’t working.
- Don’t make Time To Live (TTL) values too big. Normally, the TTL doesn’t go over 24h (86400s). An hour (3600s) is an average TTL. If there’s no effect after 24h, check out the TTL and reconfigure the MX records again.
- Make sure that you add the MX records to the provider where the Nameservers are pointed to avoid DNS Provider-Registrar conflict. First, find your domain’s ‘NameServer’ and see where it’s pointed. Then use that information when setting up the MX records.
We hope that now you have a working understanding of how the MX records operate. Suppose you have more specific questions about the configuration of your mail exchanger records or other reasons why you may have email delivery problems. In that case, Folderly experts can give you insights on email delivery troubleshooting.