So you’re looking for a hosting provider?

You may have noticed me flailing about on Identi.ca/Twitter/Facebook about trying to find a mail hosting provider. My mail hosting story is very long and drama-filled:

  • A long time ago I relied on Gmail. Then, a not-very-nice person broke into my account and took it over. This was a problem since all my university mail, credit cards, etc. sent notifications to that account. Google refused to help, and I can’t blame them – I got what I paid for. You can imagine how painful dealing with that situation was.
  • So then I tried hosting my own domain. That worked out for a while, but then I got hacked by some kind of bot and decided I was not cut out for sys-admining.
  • Next some cool dudes took pity on me and hosted my mail for a few years. This was awesome, and very helpful, but was not meant to last forever and I eventually had to find a new solution.
  • I moved to Yahoo! Mail. I didn’t want the fuss of rolling my own, didn’t want to pay $$, Yahoo! was at least FOSS-ish (Zimbra-based, which is more FOSS than Gmail at least), and even though they are free their customer support is surprisingly great. After a few months of headaches with the web UI clunkiness, ridiculous mail filter limits (only 5? for real?), embarrassing quoting (forced to top-post!), and lack of IMAP support (not even available in the paid-for edition) I decided I had enough. I was wasting too much time and productivity manually filtering mail.

So today I decided I had enough and I was going to fix this once and for all. I decided to go with Dreamhost (both because of an absurdly low price and because the cool dudes who helped me out before had used them). More on that later. Here’s all the suggestions folks gave me while I flailed about (the 20 or so Google Apps suggestions omitted for reasons above 🙂 ):

Mail / Web / Domain Hosting

  • Dreamhost $9/year for special promotion (normally $120/year). Debian-based (sigh) but all the apps offered are open source and they seem unix-centric.
  • Razor Sites (via lavabit.com/credits.html) – Unfortunately these guys are a Windows shop so I didn’t look at them seriously
  • Pair Networks – $360/year, 3GB storage, carbon-neutral which is quite cool, they may actually support procmail


  • Fastmail – many free options but very small quotes (~MBs) until you get to paid plans. $40/year for 6 GB, custom domain, IMAP, unclear if server0side filtering is supported and/or any good. FOSS alignment unknown.
  • Pobox – IMAP plan is $50/year, 10GB storage, custom domain, says it has server-side filtering but does not look like procmail support 🙂 FOSS alignment unknown.
  • GMX – I couldn’t get any details from the site without signing up, but it is free. They appear to openly support Firefox…
  • Tuffmail – ~$200/year for 4 GB storage… ~$52/yr for 2 GB… ~$40/yr for 1 GB… on storage alone seems quite pricey. Offers IMAP. Server-side SIEVE => very nice. FOSS alignment unknown. Seems good but pricey 😦
  • Yahoo! Mail Plus – sort of FOSS-friendly (Zimbra-based), but no IMAP. Limited to 200 filters. $20/year.

They Give You a Box and You Roll-Your-Own Services

  • Slicehost – cheapest option is $240/year, 10 GB storage, uses Xen…
  • Linode – cheapest option is ~$240/year, 16 GB storage, uses Xen…
  • RimuHosting – cheapest option is $240/year, 4GB storage. Linux-based and offer Fedora (which they call ‘Fedora Core’) and CentOS.

Dreamhost is pretty much the cheapest paid-for option so I decided to go with it. Some issues that cropped up:

  • Dreamhost promises procmail but it’s a lie, they don’t support it. They did offer to give me a full refund in 97 days if I decided I couldn’t live with it.
  • I used the workaround posted to the Dreamhost support wiki to get procmail to work. It is messy. Basically, I set my real email address as a forward to my Dreamhost shell account, which can use procmail. I write a procmail rule to filter out a particular type of mail, then I forward it to secondaryaccount+filtername@mydomain.com. Then, I have to fill out a seperate webform entry for each secondaryaccount+filtername entry I have in my procmail to move the mail to that ‘subemail address’ to the proper folder. It’s nuts. It’s painful to set up and not quite working yet.
  • Dreamhost doesn’t tell you that they only support SMTPS. A lot of painful attempts to send mail through them ensued until I portscanned my own domain to see only SMTPS open…

Anyway I’m glad so many people tried to help out, and I hope this summary is useful for someone in the same pickle I was in.

About Máirín Duffy

Máirín is a principal interaction designer at Red Hat. She is passionate about software freedom and free & open source tools, particularly in the creative domain: her favorite application is Inkscape. You can read more from Máirín on her blog at blog.linuxgrrl.com.


34 thoughts on “So you’re looking for a hosting provider?

  1. Thanks for the nice accumulation. It was highly helpful. I was looking for something like this.

    Posted by Sankar | June 17, 2009, 5:12 am
  2. I’m happy with Linode, it took me about a week to get my setup right, but now I’m quite happy.

    Posted by Diego Escalante Urrelo | June 17, 2009, 5:20 am
  3. Well if you’re not affraid of ping, you also have OVH in France :
    For 20 euros a month you get your own box, 250G of disk, 2,6Ghz and 1G of RAM. The bandwidth is 100mbps (not guaranteed of course at this price) and traffic is illimited. I searched in America but couldn’t find such an offer there… And the service is really great (super reactive, helpful). And no, I don’t work for OVH :p

    Posted by Adrien BUSTANY | June 17, 2009, 5:31 am
  4. I’ve had good experiences with RimuHosting (they are Linux people), so if dreamhost doesn’t work out, give them a try.

    Posted by James | June 17, 2009, 6:09 am
  5. I’ve had lots of different ISPs over the years (wanting webspace and email), but none has been nearly as good as DreamHost. The guys there are, in one word: AWESOME.

    I love they control panel, the options/possibilities you have, everything they over and particularly their newsletter (a must-read, even if no topic of the newsletter concerns you)!

    Nevertheless, I decided to go for Google Apps for my emails (which can be easily done on DreamHost) but understand you wouldn’t do so. I primarily did so because I have a HTC Dream and wanted to make use of all the Google-tied applications there (which I love). Otherwise, I’d never have changed my email away from DH since their service is so great.

    Posted by red | June 17, 2009, 6:13 am
    • red: I use Dreamhost too and I am happy with it (just renewed the service for 2 more years) but I have a simple email setup (mostly client-side filtering) and static content on the webiste. For this cheapest plan, it suck if you plan to use some complex dynamic stuff: we tried it for fedoraproject.ro and it was a pain with only a Dupal and a SMF forum.

      Posted by Nicu | June 17, 2009, 6:40 am
  6. Went through the same experiences as you two years ago. FuseMail is what I settled on (http://www.fusemail.com/). Very happy with them.

    Posted by Jeremy Jongsma | June 17, 2009, 6:17 am
  7. I use webserve.ca for setting webstite for clients. Not sure if they provide service outside Canada, they grant virtually unlimited space.

    Posted by Luya | June 17, 2009, 6:51 am
  8. eHeuristic Solutions is an established player in the IT market, is a leading provider of comprehensive Web Products, Solutions and Internet Services, offering Custom Web Design, Web Script and Application, Web Programming, Search Engine Optimization(SEO), Internet Marketing, ready made Website Packages, Internet Advertising,Web directory Solutions, Portal Development, Software Development, Small Business Websites, Link Exchange Services, and customer Online Solutions. By providing all these services in a “one-stop shop” environment, eHeuristic Solutions makes it possible for it’s clients to outsource all of their Internet needs and still have a single point of contact to manage their services.

    Posted by eHeuristic Hosting | June 17, 2009, 7:09 am
  9. The other option for server side filtering that I\’ve been looking at as an alternative to procmail is a protocol called sieve. Its a rfc standard and is supported by quite a few mail servers so it might be they support that instead of procmail.


    Posted by Peter | June 17, 2009, 9:36 am
  10. I have been a happy user of Tuffmail for something like a year now. They provide server-side filtering, polling other boxes, redirecting login-foo@tmbox.com to foo/ folder and lots of other stuff. They did not create their own webmail client (contrary to fastmail) but let you choose which client you want to use at login time. Currently you can choose between squirrelmail, and 5 versions of imp, including a mobile one.

    Posted by Aurélien Gâteau | June 17, 2009, 10:03 am
  11. You can take a look at OVH. They are hosted at France, and give you excellent services at great cost. I\’ve being using it for years, and have dedicated servers and web/email host there.

    It\’s worth to take a look into it if you need more options 😉


    Posted by David Rando | June 17, 2009, 10:38 am
  12. Maybe I’m missing something, but why not just set up another gmail account?

    Posted by Tim | June 17, 2009, 11:41 am
    • I would never set up another Gmail account. Why would I want to continue a relationship with a service provider who has proved that when I run into trouble they have no interest in helping? Not very reassuring.

      Posted by mairin | June 17, 2009, 1:30 pm
  13. PS: Just out of interest, how did they break into your account?

    Posted by Tim | June 17, 2009, 11:43 am
    • It was an ex-boyfriend and at the time (this was a few years ago) I was still in the process of changing all my passwords. I’m not blaming anyone but myself for getting broken into since I should have been more diligent about locking my stuff down, but I do fault Google for being utterly uncaring and unhelpful in the aftermath.

      Posted by mairin | June 17, 2009, 1:31 pm
  14. I used a free Gmail account for years too but wanted more assurance from account theft or suspension so I purchased a domain from http://www.name.com/ for $9/yr and took advantage of their offer of Google Apps with each domain purchase. I have some peace of mind since I can administer the mail accounts.

    Posted by phantom | June 17, 2009, 11:54 am
  15. Thanks for not mentioning the part where we shutdown our webhost and forgot we were hosting your mail. 😉

    I’m a linode customer now and pretty happy with it, love having that virtual machine out there 24/7, though surely it’s a lot more work if you start getting into mail hosting and such.

    Posted by Devan | June 17, 2009, 1:17 pm
  16. I’m somewhat amazed by your bad luck. I have never had much trouble with accounts. In any case, I’m doing what some of hte other posters are doing and that is in addition to my gmail account I have a google apps account with my domain and I share a linnode server with someone else. Linode is good but you have to figure out backups which is always painful.


    Posted by Sri Ramkrishna | June 17, 2009, 2:58 pm
  17. I use WestHost, which is pretty much overkill for what I host, but their support has been good, and the environment is remarkably similar to a RHEL version (though without RPMs).

    Posted by Matt Domsch | June 17, 2009, 3:20 pm
  18. Huh. I had no idea Yahoo! Mail was restricted like that. Shame, since the Zimbra IMAP implementation is actually very featureful.

    Posted by Matthew Berg | June 17, 2009, 3:29 pm
    • I know! I use enterprise Zimbra IMAP elsewhere and it works well (well for the most part, lack of duplicate suppression sucks) but I’m way dismayed that Yahoo! wont even offer IMAP support for their Plus! paid customers….

      Posted by mairin | June 17, 2009, 5:27 pm
  19. I’ve heard good things about Cotse (http://www.cotse.net) as a mail provider. I haven’t used them myself, but they seem to offer a lot of control over your e-mail.

    Posted by Johan | June 17, 2009, 4:06 pm
  20. I have a Dreamhost account, and am one of the ‘lucky’ ones that still has an old shell account that works with procmail. Recently, however, I decided to move to gmail… or, actually, Google Apps.

    I know you say you’ve had a bad experience with gmail in the past, but my guess is that you’d have less trouble with Google Apps using your own domain. Since you can prove domain ownership (and this is in fact required as you set up the account), if someone were to somehow hijack your account, you’d probably have recourse to get it back. I’d understand if you’re still a bit wary about going back to Google, though.

    Regardless, if you’re storing your email anywhere “in the cloud,” you should be backing it up regularly anyway! Losing mail due to an account break-in is only one of the possible ways you can lose data that you don’t have control over.

    Posted by Brian T | June 17, 2009, 7:53 pm
    • I know, I was totally irresponsible and should have had backups. 😦 My bad.

      Honestly, if I have an option between using 100% open source software vs Google closed stuff, I’d rather do the open source even if it’s less convenient- Google’s lack of sympathy for my previous rough plight aside.

      I understand though that I’m way more dogmatic than most people. (E.g., no iphone. I know tons of FOSS hackers who have one. I just can’t bring myself to do it.)

      Posted by mairin | June 17, 2009, 9:53 pm
  21. Cool, I’ve been very happy at Dreamhost for a few years now.
    Procmail has always worked fine for me there, though admittedly I don’t do squat with it other than filter mailing lists into folders.
    I remember having to massage my .procmailrc a bit when I started there, but as I recall it was only because the previous provider was not using maildir.
    FWIW, I’ve got entries like this:

    * ^TOlinux-libre@fsfla.org

    And that nicely puts stuff from that list in Inbox/gnulists/linux-libre folder.

    Oh, and they’re carbon neutral too.

    Posted by samnoble | June 17, 2009, 9:18 pm
    • Oh wow! That’s awesome that they are carbon neutral – warm fuzzies 🙂

      I guess it’s because you’re grandfathered in – new customers just can’t get procmail access to email accounts. 😦

      Posted by mairin | June 17, 2009, 9:54 pm
  22. I am very interested in what do you need in email client and server, am currently providing 20 GB space (500 email accounts, red hat server) for ~$350 yearly, am willing to write web email client that doesn’t suck (and even open source it) at some point… mail me

    Posted by adel | June 17, 2009, 11:19 pm
  23. I use dreamhost as well. I run two blogs on an account. There was a time when I actually ran my own mail server, but it is too much of a hassle. It is much easier, IMHO, to simply setup Google Apps for your Domain.


    Posted by Sean | June 18, 2009, 6:31 am
  24. Hey, My gmail account got hijacked aswell, though it was a couple of years back. Its unfortunate that google didnt help you because they helped me get my account back. It took a couple of months of back and worth with google. I had to answer a heap of questions in order prove that i was who i said a i was, but i kept my patience and they didnt fail to deliver.

    Posted by Harsh | June 19, 2009, 2:35 pm
  25. Dreamhost (DH) has a server-side filtering option in their webpanel. This actually makes a .procmailrc for you but you don’t have anywhere near the power procmail offers (of course, you don’t have a shell account to use most of the powerful stuff with).

    So DH might work for you depending on what you need your server-side filtering to do for you. I’ve been with DH long enough to have a shell account, and they wanted me to move to their virtual server farm. So I started converting my filters (which merely sort mail into mailboxes) to use this DH-provided panel configuration. I think it would have worked about as well as the hand-made procmailrc I wrote for myself. Something changed in this migration plan and I ended up sticking with a shell account.

    DH’s support is great, from what I can tell. They’ve always been very attentive to my concerns and responsive whenever I file requests via their support request page. The price is low and the bandwidth and storage are more than generous. I don’t have problems hosting large files (like the ISOs of gNewSense GNU/Linux and source code TAR files I distribute from my blog) and I think my users have no problems connecting to my sites hosted with DH.

    I’ve never had problems using SMTPS, as I wouldn’t have wanted to use unencrypted SMTP (or IMAP, for that matter) anyhow. Both encrypted SMTP and IMAP work well with Thunderbird, my preferred MUA. I understand Thunderbird will make IMAP faster and include email indexing in the next major release, so that should make Thunderbird even more attractive.

    I recommend DH to my friends who want commercial web, email, and/or DNS hosting.

    The only issues I have with DH aren’t specific to DH: if your hoster is based in the US then your hosted data is subject to American laws which could allow the service provider to snoop through your data on behalf of the American government or powerful American corporate interests who seem to have inordinate power over American law. GPG might help here but I have yet to see an MUA that makes it easy for non-technical users to use public key encryption compatible with GPG so they can easily send/receive/verify encrypted email. Hosters in other countries may be more attractive if their privacy laws are more to your liking. I need to do more research about such things to learn what my options are.

    Posted by J.B. Nicholson-Owens | June 19, 2009, 6:25 pm
  26. Thanks !! I was looking for a hosting provider for a client of mine. found it.

    Posted by logicmantra | June 19, 2009, 8:55 pm
  27. I used some gmail accounts for years and happy with it. I use different account for different purpose. I set up forwarding rules on all accounts to a catch all account (also Gmail) so that I can easily read all my emails.
    Then I registered my own domain name and took advantage of Google Apps. Next I will set the forwarding rules to Google Apps account.

    Posted by papandut | June 27, 2009, 3:51 pm
  28. I’m kinda late, but, why not http://lavabit.com ?

    Posted by egoorcs | January 15, 2011, 12:12 pm
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