Replacing GandiMail with a new email service

Although I have not yet resumed the CogitActive Saga, this article belongs to this series. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable gap between the last episode and this post (for reasons outlined elsewhere) and the sequence of events might not be respected; this is the price for this timely episode!

… starting from the point where the story stopped.

We informed you in an email sent on June 13, 2023 of a change in Gandi’s product offering. To date, you have not migrated to our new Mail offer which will allow you to ensure the continuity of the email service at Gandi. We would therefore like to remind you that without action on your part, these boxes will be deactivated on November 30.GANDI

As explained in gandi.net – disappointing and untrustworthy! – concl’d, I had a few options. I could have upgraded to their new email service, but at a rate of €4.79 per month per mailbox, this was simply not an option. Naïvely, I thought that they would come to their senses (as other companies did under their customers’ pressure); they did not. Another option was to use my hosting provider’s email service, but this, despite being the easiest option, would have been a bad idea. Given the recent hike in gandi.net prices – not to mention their new “Bullshit” commercial practice – I have also tried to find another good registrar that would offer a free email account (with a custom domain address and aliases), but to no avail! Last, I could have looked for a third-party email service, cheaper than the gandi.net offer…

Fortunately, I didn’t have to because I found an even better solution: a free email hosting provider. In fact, there were a few, but only two – Zoho Mail and Skiff Mail – came with the two mandatory features I was looking for, namely custom domain address and (unlimited) aliases, for free. Before it is too late, I have to move my two GandiMail accounts to …

… drum roll …

Zoho Mail vs. Skiff Mail

As alluded to above, both Zoho’s Forever Free Plan and Skiff’s Free offer the possibility to set up addresses with your domain name. Similarly, both free plans come with email aliases: up to 30 aliases, for the former (maybe), and an unlimited number for the latter (if you use your domain name; 4 otherwise). In Short, both fulfill my minimum requirement for moving my GandiMail accounts.

I even thought of using them both; remember I have two mailboxes to migrate. However, it seems that you cannot use two different email providers with the same domain name.

“So, which one of them did I decide to migrate my GandiMail account to?”

… drum roll …

Six of one and half a dozen of the other

Security

Both claim unparalleled security and privacy or Private, End-to-End Encrypted Mail, respectively, but there are a few differences (that were not critical for my choosing). In particular, Zoho Mail offers security using TLS and S/MIME1 encryption protocols; while a decent setup, according to Skiff, it is vulnerable to attacks as the decryption keys are stored on [Zoho] servers. On the other hand, Skiff Mail offer[s] robust security features, according to Tutanota (another secure communication platform that focuses on encrypted email services).

Zoho Mail’s data centers have top-notch security and surveillance, with a reliable 99.9% uptime. Benefit from secure email hosting that supports encryption both at rest and in transit, along with S/MIME message encryption.Zoho
Skiff Mail supports email security features such as two factor authentication, end-to-end encryption, priority customer support, client-side search, and spam and phishing detection software. Skiff also proxies remote content, such as all images, which could be used to track users and invade privacy.Skiff

“Advantage Skiff”

Storage and other limits

Skiff email comes with 10 GB of storage. On the one hand, Zoho’s offer is limited to 5 GB / User, but their free offer allows up to 5 users. Given that I have to migrate two 3 GB mailboxes, the Zoho free plan might take a slight advantage. That being said, I do not need to keep my two accounts; on the contrary, having just one would make my life easier.

“Advantage Zoho, maybe?”

Both services (free plan) come with a 25 MB attachment limit; yet, it was suggested to Skiff that When attachments exceed the limit automatically create a drive share link and include it in the email. An idea andrew-skiff – or Andrew Milich the CEO and co-cofounder of Skiff – loved on Reddit 5 months ago.

“Advantage Skiff, maybe?”

Other features and scalability

I do most of my email while offline. Although this feature was not supported a year ago by Skiff, it is now available. Similarly, it seems that You can use the offline mode for reading and replying to emails even on the free plan from Zoho (according to Skiff).

1-click migration

Migrate in 1-click from Gmail, Outlook, ProtonMail, and more. Making the switch is quick, easy, and completely private.

How can I migrate from my existing email provider?

It’s easy to migrate your data from your existing email provider to Zoho Mail even if you’re an enterprise with a huge amount of data. Zoho Mail offers intuitive migration tools, along with 24/7 dedicated migration support to ensure smooth, lossless migration of all of your emails from all of your important folders.
Zoho Mail also supports different migrations such as Calendar and Contacts sync, migration of PST files, and more.

“Tied”

If for one reason or another, I would want to move to their next tier, I would have to pay €0.90/user/month with Zoho (for their Mail Lite plan) or $3/month for Skiff’s Essential plan.

“Advantage Zoho”

The differentiator: IMAP, POP, and SMTP support

In keeping with my habit of checking (and working on) my emails offline (see above), I use an email client and therefore need to have access to IMAP / SMTP protocols. Zoho’s free plan is only available for Web access and free mobile apps; IMAP and/or POP3 are not included in the free plan. Similarly, Skiff does not offer POP3 or IMAP support.

“So, how come can this be a differentiator then?”

Because the IMAP/POP3 feature was removed five years ago from Zoho’s free plan (apparently without any notice), whereas this feature might be added sometime this year to Skiff Email. While the source of this claim could be questioned, POP3 & IMAP for external client is a top request, as acknowledged by Andrew himself two months ago. In other words, one company is removing features, while the other is adding more and more at a very quick pace!

Skiff is on the rise!

By Logically Answered

The migration

My migration checklist

Moving email from one host to another is a pain. If you have to take it on yourself, take each step carefully and when in doubt, get in touch with your email hosting provider for advice.Piper Haywood

Migrating to a new email account is no easy feat. Migrating two accounts to a single one is …? Is it even possible? Should I merge them before or can I migrate my two GandiMail accounts in one single Skiff mailbox?

“Where is Skiff’s documentation?”

What should I do first? Should I replace Gandi.net DNS records – namely MX and TXT records – with the one from Skiff before the migration? By the way, where can I find Skiff Email DNS records? Or should I migrate my existing account(s) first?

“Really, where is Skiff’s documentation?”

Skiff has a blog post How to migrate to a new email account by Jason Ginsberg, but to be honest, it is not a good tutorial2. In their migration checklist, they first mention Email forwarding. They explain Email forwarding is perhaps the oldest and simplest way to begin your migration process. […] Email forwarding will automatically send all incoming mail from your old account to a new email address of your specification. However, I don’t think that you need this step when you keep the same email address. Second on their list is Email import, which provides greater simplicity, confidence, and peace of mind when switching accounts by transferring your entire old email inbox to your new email provider. Great, but wouldn’t creating the new email/account be the first step? Ironically, this step comes later in the post – At this point in your migration process, you’ll want […] to make a final choice on email service provider. A little too late, isn’t it? Then, according to Skiff’s checklist, you should take care of the domain name and replace existing DNS records – namely MX and TXT records – with DNS records for your new email provider. Still according to Skiff, Switching to a new domain name is perhaps the most straightforward part of the email migration process. Really? Thankfully, I’ve been there already! The last item on the list is about Mobile, desktop, and IMAP access. Let’s hope the latter will be soon available, and what is more in the free plan!

Fortunately, I found a better article in which the following steps are described (in detail):

  • 1. Sign up with the new provider / host. Configure your domain name there.
  • 2. Create the exact same email address on the new server.
  • 3. Redirect your domain name – point it at the new server.
  • 4. Configure your email tool to receive/send emails using the new server.
  • 5. Clean up the old server.

“Better! But when should I import my old emails?”
You don’t technically have to migrate your emails from your old email host to your new email host.
“Really? That would make my life a lot easier… But if I decided to do this anyway, when should I do it?”
Once the above steps are completed, you can start migrating your emails.
“So after I have switched my MX records, correct?”
If you want to transfer your emails, you will need to update your MX records to point to the new mail server once the migration is complete.
“So, before. Are you sure?”
Once the email migration has finished, you can transfer your domain to your new provider.
“Help!!!”

Should I go or should I stay?

Some mail providers, such as Skiff for Outlook inboxes, allow you to log in and import email with one click. This process takes only a single step to transfer your entire inbox; after signing in and granting permissions to the new service, it will automatically transfer them to your new provider.Jason Ginsberg

First, a backup

Okay, I am not doing anything (risky or not) without creating a backup first. If something goes wrong, I can rest assured I will still have a local copy of my emails. In any case, making a backup of your emails is always a good practice.

In gandi.net documentation, there is a How to Back Up or Export Your Email page. The first approach listed there consists of using the export feature of our SOGo interface to export all existing email in your account. Great, except that there is a note: It is not possible to upload emails through SOGo, so to restore downloaded emails you will need to use an email client. Pointless!

Instead, I went for the Outlook Import/Export solution. You can find a video tutorial below:

By AskITBE

To be sure that I would not lose anything, I also copied the content of my inboxes, sent times, and deleted items (for each account) into local archives using the Copy Folder option.

Merging my two accounts – when and how?

I searched forever for a solution to this problem, with a foolproof method. However, warnings like It’s not possible to combine the inboxes for IMAP accounts, This procedure is only applicable for POP3 accounts, or Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to merge Outlook inboxes if one or more of the email accounts you’re using are IMAP, made me think I would never manage to achieve my simple goal: having all my emails (inbox, outbox, and deleted items) from two accounts in one single account for the sake of this migration. Until…

If you are using outlook desktop software, open both accounts in the profile and either move mail between the accounts or export from one and import to the other. If you only need to move some, you’ll be able to filter the export.Diane Poremsky

Having the .PST files ready from my backup (see above), I would just have to import one of them (e.g., account #2) to the account I wanted to migrate (with the “Do not import duplicates” option checked). Easy, right?

“Why don’t you use Gandi Mail Import instead?”
“First, because it’s still in beta. Second, it is designed to work with an external email; I don’t want it crashing because of this unusual transfer (from Gandi to Gandi).”
“Are you sure your method is foolproof?”
“Nope, but I have a backup!”

Exporting my (merged) account

Assuming that the aforementioned method would work (I have not tried it yet at the time of this writing), what would be the next step?

“Are you sure that the 1-click migration tool from Skiff will work with GandiMail? If not what should you do?”
“I assume I will use the file import/export approach.”

Skiff Mail only allows to import emails from Gmail, Outlook, MBOX, and EML files. But sometimes have different source file extensions and email services and users may want to import emails to Skiff Mail.Rollins Duke

“What about GandiMail?”

Looking at gandi.net documentation was not helping; there was no reference to MBOX or EML files. But I found elsewhere that when you use the export feature of SOGo (see above), You will get a ZIP file when you export your data from Gandi.net. When you unzip the file, you will receive EML file messages. So, this feature might be useless for backing up emails, but just what I needed to import my emails to Skiff!

At that point, to be honest, I was not that confident about the whole process (i.e., when to migrate, how to migrate, and how to merge my two accounts). Then, I found this quote:

A new encrypted email address is a great opportunity to shed your old baggage and start fresh. If that’s not what you want, you can export messages from your old account to an .EML file and import that into Skiff.Neil J. Rubenking

“What do I want? Really!”
“I just want to keep my old emails to check them if needed.”
“That’s called an archive!”
“So, I have already that! And locally in my email client for that matter.”
“Yep.”
“Okay. So, I think I will skip the migration of my old emails and the merging of my two accounts then.”

Time for action

After deciding not to migrate my old emails (from my two GandiMail accounts), I was ready to get started. Was I? Not really… the procedure was still not straightforward. To be honest, given the absence of a tutorial from Skiff, the video from Craylor Made was quite useful.

Creating an account (at Skiff)

Starting from the Skiff page, I clicked on the Start for free button. My first pick for a username was already taken, so I chose another one. I entered a password, downloaded the recovery key, and provided Skiff with a recovery email (in case you lose your recovery phrase).

I skipped the next pages where I was offered to Download Skiff mobile and desktop apps. Instead of the desktop app, I am accessing my emails via https://app.skiff.com/ for now (i.e., until Skiff offers IMAP support). I also skipped Turn on browser notifications. I simply do not trust any browser with my passwords or with anything actually; so thank you, but no thanks. And, of course, I skipped Create addresses for different purposes because I will use my own domain name.

Setting up my domain name (at Skiff)

On the next page, I was offered to Personalize your address with a free custom domain. I opted for the Set up a domain you already own option. I was redirected to a page where I was offered to Get a new domain + 60 days of Skiff Pro. I ignored this upsell and clicked on Configure domain (next to configure existing domain) instead.

I entered my domain name and clicked Next. Skiff then provided me with all the DNS I had to add to my DNS provider: one MX, two CNAME, and two TXT records. If you are unfamiliar with those, check my article below.

This is where I started to be outside of my comfort zone. I thought I should set up my domain in Skiff and update my DNS in SiteGround (my web host, not my registrar), but only after creating my custom email. So, I did try to click Confirm without updating the DNS in SiteGround and it went through; with a PENDING verification notification, though.

Hopefully, you’ll then see a green checkmark next to your domain, indicating that everything was verified successfully. If not, then you’ll want to try again, making sure to copy the values over to your DNS provider exactly as they are listed in Skiff.Rebecca Morris

Creating my custom email address (at Skiff)

Having two mailboxes with the same email address on two different mail servers is absolutely not a problem. The mail server that receives new emails is determined by the DNS/MX settings of the custom domain. As long as these records are not altered, all emails will continue to be received in the old account.MailJerry

Even though the verification was not completed, I moved to the next step (according to my checklist) and, in keeping with the video ‘tutorial’, moved to Settings > Organizations and clicked on my user name. However, the option to add a new email address was not here. In the video, Craylor Made specified After a domain has finished verification, you can create a custom email address using your domain name. So, I waited for the verification to take place; knowing that I did not update my DNS yet!

Updating my DNS (at SiteGround)

It was written Verification may take a few hours, and if this was because of DNS propagation, I could have waited days without any progress; I’ve been there. Therefore, after 30 minutes, I decided to replace the DNS records of gandi.net (see Pointing my domain name to my website) with those provided by Skiff (i.e., what I should have done earlier, when prompted by Skiff).

As you may know, if you follow this blog, the last time I messed up with DNS records, SiteGround was still using cPanel; things have changed since (see Site Tools (vs. cPanel) – part 1: introduction). Fortunately, the DNS Zone Editor in Site Tools was easy to navigate as expected. In the Create new record section, I selected the MX tab and chose Add your own MX records. I let the Name field empty, changed the TTL to 5 hours (the default used to be 4 hours, but is now 24 hours), added the priority (0; as recommended by Skiff), and filled the Destination with the value provided by Skiff before clicking on Create. Following the same procedure, I added the two TXT records and the two CNAM records.

I had one error message, though:

An SPF record already exists for cogitactive.com
To add a new SPF record, first remove the current one located in the “Manage DNS Records” section.

You may also need to delete old records that are not required. For example if you have a TXT record beginning with v=spf1 but your new email host does not support SPF, then you should delete this record.

I thought it would be the one from gandi.net, but it was nowhere to be found. In fact, it had been added to the one from SiteGround. So, I edited the latter, replacing the gandi part (at the end) with the new value from Skiff.

Creating my custom email address (at Skiff) – reloaded

DNS updates take time to propagate. This is because DNS information is cached (stored) in computers around the world to ensure that the connection is as speedy as possible. Expect the update to take a bit of time, potentially up to 24 hours depending on your DNS hosting provider and the time To live (TTL) value of each record.

After an hour, knowing that all my records had propagated, but the verification was still pending, I started to worry! Should I start again from scratch? Patience!

After 2 hours, my domain was confirmed as an Externally managed domain. I went back to Settings > Organizations and clicked on my user name. This time, the option to add a new email address was here. I added my address and then moved to Addresses (not Aliases as shown in the video) to set it as default.

Configuring my email client

Instead, I downloaded and installed the app on my phone. I still don’t know how to use it and I am looking forward to being able to set up my Skiff account in my email client. At the time of his writing, IMAP was still not supported.

Adding aliases

I first thought I should use the Quick Aliases tab under Settings. Nope! If you want to add aliases, you have to go to the Addresses tab instead. There, adding addresses is actually adding aliases. I had a few error messages on the way (e.g., already used when using the same name with capitalized letters), but everything went smoothly.

Of course, I did test if they work; they do!

When you think your DNS updates have taken effect, log in to your email address in the browser. If you aren’t sure which URL to use to do so, search for it in your email host’s documentation or get in touch with your email host. If your DNS updates have taken effect, you should be able to send yourself an email at that address from another account (for example, from a personal email address) and see it in your new inbox.

Cleaning up behind me

The moment you change the name servers of your domain, the DNS change starts propagating across the Internet. Full DNS propagation takes 4 days. During this period, in some networks your domain will point to the new server while in other networks it will point to the old server. Thus while the DNS transition is taking place, some mails will be received in the new server while others will be received in the old server.Rajeev Kumar

For these reasons, I did not delete gandi.net MX records immediately. I waited a couple of days.

To be continued…


1 Only for the MAIL PREMIUM plan (not even their other paid plan) which costs €3.60/month. ^
2 Probably because this post is about migrating to a completely new address, not moving emails from one provider to another while keeping the same email address and the same domain name. ^

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