Could I find a free email hosting provider?

… starting from the point where the story stopped.

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GandiMail was coming for free with every domain name purchased from gandi.net. This offer included two mailboxes with 3 GB of disk space each and many advanced features, such as unlimited aliases, 1000 forwarding addresses, anti-spam and anti-virus protection, and advanced server-side management rules (sieve filters) among other tools. And of course, you could use your domain name for your email addresses.

GandiMail service (included with your domain name) will end on November 30, 2023. You can easily convert each of your existing email addresses to our new MailBox offer.The Gandi team

However, earlier this year gandi.net announced the end of their free offer (see gandi.net – disappointing and untrustworthy!) and there is no hope for gandi.net to come to their senses. Their new MailBox offer may be better than GandiMail, at least in terms of storage space (from 3 GB to 10 GB), as claimed by gandi.net, but it is not free anymore and definitively not cheap: €4.79 per month!

I didn’t want to look for a third-party email service. Given that many registrars offer dedicated e-mail hosting and some excel at that, I decided to keep my e-mail account and domain name under the same roof. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to pay for this extra service (or convenience) as many third parties offer it free.CogitActive

This five-year-old statement was one of the reasons1 why I chose gandi.net as my registrar back then. In keeping with this idea and the fact that gandi.net might not be the best registrar anymore (a least in terms of value for money; see gandi.net – disappointing and untrustworthy! – cont’d), I have looked – five years later (i.e., in 2023) – for a similar free email offer from other registrars, but not to avail! Indeed, it turned out that only a very few domain registrars offer this service for free and their offering is very limited anyway.

For the reasons outlined in Self-hosting: a hard egg to crack, I wanted to keep my e-mail account separated from my web hosting and decided not to take advantage of SiteGround’s Email Migrator. Yet, I could have used another (web) hosting provider – some companies do offer standalone email hosting plans indeed – but this is also not a good idea (not to mention that it would cost me as much as paying for the service of a dedicated email hosting company).

Good service providers tend to specialize in one thing and do it really well […] Many general hosting companies do bundle all these services together, but if you want the best service possible, do you go to a generalist or a specialist?Rachel Adnyana

Hosting your email with a third-party host that specializes in email hosting is the recommended way (unless you get a good bundled price with your domain registration). First, and foremost, a dedicated email hosting provider takes responsibility for the reliability of your email and provides you with a high level of security. Vital security features like malware protection, secure two-factor authentication, and data loss prevention are not an option! Not to mention specialized support. You can also rest assured that Email hosts know all about spam – it’s their job to make sure their clients have a premium experience when it comes to email, and that means they invest in some of the most accurate and up-to-date spam filtering technology around. In addition, you will have full control over the email settings, improved flexibility, and better options (for accessing email, for instance) – and most probably comprehensive support documentation. Last, but not least, it can come with some extras, such as (improved) privacy.

Reliability – Security – Privacy

Your e-mail does not have to be handled by either the registrar or the hosting provider; it is a third separate service. As such, you can choose any third-party email service you like […] If you want the best e-mail management solutions, and storage capacity, among other things, it is better to have a separate e-mail server.CogitActive

As opposed to the other five-year-old statement, this one is still valid! But can I find a dedicated email hosting provider with a free email plan that would come with at least these two essential features: custom domain name address and email aliases? Here comes my desperate quest for a free professional email account with (unlimited) aliases.

Proton Mail

Proton Mail is an email provider with a strong focus on privacy based in Switzerland. It was founded by scientists at the CERN with the goal of protecting the privacy of it’s users. The servers are located in Switzerland and the data is encrypted – therefore Proton Mail has no way of accessing your private data!Constantin Graf

And equally important, the service can be used for free. Indeed, on their website, you can read Everyone has the right to privacy, which is why we make Proton Mail available for free. But – because there is always a “but” – this free plan comes with a limited feature set. For instance, it is limited to 150 messages per day vs. unlimited messages in their paid plans.

Anyway, their Proton Free plan includes one free email address with up to 1 GB of total storage and it allows 10 hide-my-email aliases. Unfortunately, this plan does not allow you to have Your own address with your own domain name. To set up addresses with your own domain name for a personalized email address, you have to upgrade to their Mail Plus plan (which comes with Support for 1 custom email domain indeed) and pay 3.99 euros per month!

Is Proton Mail free?

Proton Mail will always offer a free secure email plan that provides all the basic functionality you expect from your inbox with the same level of security as our paid plans. If you upgrade to one of our paid plans, you will receive advanced email features, such as the ability to add more than one email address, extra storage, custom email domains, and unlimited messages. You will also be supporting our mission to build a better internet with privacy as the default.

“Next”

Zoho Mail

If you already have a domain name (e.g. for your website), you can use Zoho Mail to set up a matching email address for free. This email service offers a variety of plans, including a Forever Free Plan with access for up to five users, 5GB of data, and a 25MB attachment limit.John Hugues

Indeed, their Forever Free Plan, which you can find on their pricing page (scroll down to Forever Free Plan; i.e., below the paid plans comparison table), is free and allows you to use your domain name, assuming you have one! Amazingly, it allows up to five users with 5 GB / User, which should cover my two GandiMail 3 GB mailboxes. As opposed to the paid versions, it has a 25 MB attachment limit, but this was also the case for GandiMail with Maximum attachment size: 25 MB in POP and IMAP.

Free plan for small businesses

If you are a small business or team with five users or less and limited needs, then you can opt for the free custom email address plan, which includes 5GB for each user and email hosting for a single domain. When your team grows, you can always scale up and switch to a fully-featured plan.

“So far, it looks great, but what about aliases?”

Seemingly, Zoho Mail lets you create up to 30 aliases, so you can pick the right email address for any situation at ease. This info comes from their website, but it is not clear whether it applies to the free plan as well. This question – “In the free mail hosting plan, how many aliases can be created for one mailbox?” – was asked 9 years ago (on their help community), and the answer suggests that this 30-aliases feature applies to the free plan as well. However, much has happened to their free plan since (see below) and what was true nine years ago…

“Too good to be true?”

So what is the catch? We just believe in the Freemium model. We are committed to it. It has helped budding entrepreneurs to get started with their dreams, which in turn helped us gain more visibility. When they grow, they are happy to upgrade to higher plans with a price tag. It lowers our cost of customer acquisition; we would much rather spend our money on product development than on excessive sales and marketing as so many of our competitors do.Hari Murali

There is, however, a limitation that is bothering me. The free plan2 is only available for Web access and free mobile apps. In other words, IMAP/ POP/ Active Sync are not included in the free plan. If I want to Access [my] inbox in email clients of [my] choice using the IMAP/ POP protocols, I would have to upgrade to their Mail Lite plan.

Tutatona

Tutanota is a free and secure email service that let’s you create an email account with with built-in encryption for maximum data protection. We believe that privacy is a basic human right and must be free for everyone. That’s why our basic plan will always be free, including all security features.Tuta

Their Free plan, which is Only for personal use, includes 1 GB of email storage, one calendar, and indeed all their privacy and security-relevant features. However, to use your custom domain email address or aliases (up to 15), I will have to upgrade to their Revolutionary plan and pay 3 euros/month.

“Next”

Mailfence

The Mailfence free version makes email privacy available to everyone. It offers many of our features but with a limited storage capacity. Paid plans are also available.Mailfence

Their Free plan is indeed free and comes with 1 GB of storage (500 MB emails and 500 MB documents). Among the “many features”, however, I could not find the possibility of a custom email domain address, aliases, or even POP/IMAP/SMTP support. For these options, I would have to upgrade to their Entry plan and pay 3.50 euros/month.

“Next”

GMX Email

At GMX, we aim to optimize your email experience without compromising on functionality. So we don’t just make it easy to sign up for an email account, but easy to use as well. Our email offers a premium experience for free, with an intuitive inbox packed with great features designed to make email more convenient and enjoyable.GMX

Granted, GMX Mail is completely free. However, it makes money from advertisements rather than charging customers directly. Anyway, for that price, you can store up to 65 GB worth of emails, with a 50 MB email attachment limit. You can also have Up to 10 alias addresses.

“But what about custom domain addresses?”

How to create an email account with GMX

GMX makes email easy – you can sign up in just a few steps. First, click the ‘Sign Up’ button on the GMX homepage. You will be asked to provide a few details such as your name, address, and date of birth. This personal data remains confidential – GMX will never share it with anyone else. Next, enter your desired email address (email id), consisting of a user name and domain name, and a secure password. Now complete the captcha security question and read and agree to the terms and conditions, then you’ll be ready to start enjoying your new free email account!

Curiously, I could not find their pricing page (from their website) for alternative paid plans (the ones without advertising); probably because they’re explicitly for German users, not English-speaking foreigners.

“Next”

Skiff Mail

Skiff Mail is a privacy focused email provider with a generous free plan that allows you to connect a custom domain. It’s a good fit for anyone who wants to protect their online privacy or who is looking for free email hosting.Rebecca Morris

Unbelievably, their Free plan comes with 10 GB of storage and advanced features such as custom domain3 and (unlimited, if you have your domain name) aliases. Moreover, not only Skiff Mail protects your inbox by keeping your messages end-to-end encrypted, but it also is Transparent and completely open source. All this without ads!

“Great! Is this the gem I was looking for?”
“Skiff does not offer POP3 or IMAP support at this time.”
“Bummer!”
“Not supported yet. Skiff thinks it could be sometime this year but there is no set timetable.”
“Nice…”

To be continued…


1 Beyond being a reputable, reliable, and reasonably priced (at least back then) registrar, gandi.net’s offer was also bundled with security and privacy features such as WHOIS privacy, Transfer lock, Auto-renewal, Grace period, and Two-factor authentication, among others. ^
2 Of note, the IMAP/POP3 feature was removed five years ago from their free plan; apparently without any notice! ^
3 This option was added only a few months ago! ^

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