June 26th, 2013

Help My Email is Down – Common Causes of Email Appearing Broken

Email server down” … “My email is no longer working” … “Everything is broken, please fix it“.

These and related exclamations are very common support requests from customers who just want their email to work, but it no longer does.  Often,  the assumption is that the problem is a failure of their email server or some service outage.  While that can happen, the vast majority of the issues are much simpler…

“101” Reasons for Email Down Appearance

Well, I didn’t come up with 101 reasons, but there are many possibilities … maybe one of these is affecting your email?

1. Domain Registration Expired

Email domain names are “leased” and will expire if not renewed periodically.  Notifications that it is time to renew are usually sent to the email address “on file” at the registrar.  If you never get these notices (because you no longer use that address, it gets deleted or files as spam, etc.) you may forget to renew and the domain can expire.  When it does, you web sites go offline, you stop getting email, and may have trouble sending email and doing other things.

Check if this is the case: Use EasyWhois to look up your domain’s current registration status.  You should be able to tell from the results if your domain has expired or when it does, and what company  manages the registration.

If  it has expired, you will need to contact the company at which it is registered and pay them to renew it (you can’t transfer an expired registration to a new registrar at this stage).  Once you renew, you should be fully back online within 24-48 hours, or sooner.

2. Domain’s DNS MX Records Changed

Your domain’s DNS settings tell the world what servers handle different services for your domain.  If these settings are changed, then email will no longer flow to your proper email servers and it will look like you cannot get email anymore.

This can happen, for example, if you change web hosting providers or hire a new company to manage your web site.   They may update or change your DNS settings and also alter the information regarding email flow in the process.   This happens all the time.

Check with your email provider to see what your DNS MX records should be and if they have been changed on you. If they have, then you need to update this information with the proper settings to restore email flow.  Once you have made that change, it could take a few minutes to a day for email flow to be back to normal (depending on other DNS settings that you have).

If you are a LuxSci customer, you can see if your DNS settings are correct by going to your Domain Status page for your domain in your LuxSci domain administration interface.  That page will also provide your domain’s registration status and details.

3. Name servers or DNS changes propagating

If you have recently changed your DNS name servers or DNS settings, it can take some time for those settings to propagate across the Internet (up to 24 hours in some cases).  During this time, some places will have your old records and some will have your new records.  If these do not match, than some email will go one place and some to another place …. resulting in “missing email”.

The solution in this case is to be patient and wait until everything finishes propagating.

With foresight, you can setup your DNS ahead of time so that DNS changes propagate in minutes rather than hours.

4. You can receive email but not send

If you suddenly cannot send email, but checking email works OK, then:

  • Blocked: Your ISP or network could be blocking your outbound email connections.  This happens all the time without warning.  Solution: send through an alternate SMTP port.
  • Spam: Your account may be temporarily throttled for sending “too many” email messages.  This could happen if you sent a newsletter to more recipients than your provider allows, if your computer has been compromised and is unwittingly sending spam through your account, or if someone has stolen your password and is using your account for spamming.  Contact your email service provider to see if this may be the case.
  • Connection Failure: See “Cannot connect to server,” below.

5. You are not getting/seeing any new email messages

Your domain registration and DNS are OK, but you are no longer getting any email messages.  What could be wrong?

  • Only some messages: Maybe you are not really missing all new email messages, but just messages from some people or domains?  Sometimes this is mistaken for “all email is broken”.  There are many reasons why selected messages or messages from selected senders may be going missing (e.g. email filtering, bad addresses, etc.)See: Where’s the Email? The Case of Missing or Disappearing Messages
  • POP! If someone has set up an email program or device to connect to your email account using POP, then it is likely that that program/device is connecting frequently, downloading any new email, and deleting that email from the server.  Happens all the time.  Usually when this happens, all email in your INBOX is suddenly gone, you rarely see new messages, and new messages that you do see disappear soon.  The solution is to re-configure the offending email program/device to use IMAP, MobileSync, or to keep messages on the server.
  • Forwarding: If you have enabled email forwarding, such that all of your inbound email is being forwarded to another address, then you may not see any new email messages at this address.
  • Search On: If you are using an email program, device, or WebMail and have performed a search (e.g. for email with some subject) and that search is still on … then you might not see any new email messages until your turn that search off.

6. Cannot connect to server

Errors relating to connecting to your email server could be a “Networking or Routing Issue” (see below) or an ISP Block issue described above.  It could also be:

  • Mobile Devices and Towers: Cellular cross-talk.  You have moved away from the cell towers that your device was using, but it has not properly switched to new towers … and as a result some services, like email, are no longer working. Try rebooting your device to force it to reset.  Also, try switching from cellular to Wifi, if you have Wifi available.
  • Mobile Devices and Wifi: If you are using Wifi, try turning it off and using your cellular connection.  Sometimes there is an issue with your Wifi network that is affecting connections and switching to cellular resolves it.
  • Corrupt Outlook Profile:  Microsoft Outlook is notorious for  random corruption of your “profile” that saves information about accounts and servers.  If you are using Outlook and everything seems OK except for your Outlook connection, you may need to delete your Outlook account and re-create it.
  • Incorrect settings: If you just set up your program or device … you may have entered the incorrect server name for your services (e.g. maybe there is a typo).  Please contact your email service provider for the exact host name to use.

7. Networking or Routing issue

Occasionally, problems crop up on the Internet that impede connections between certain people and certain locations.  E.g. you can access most web sites but not some specific ones … but other people CAN access those web sites.  These are “Internet routing issues” that usually resolve themselves in minutes or hours, and there is nothing that your email provider can do to alleviate it (as the issue is outside of their control).

You can check and see if a web site is actually down for everyone, or just you using the tool: Down for everyone or just me?   If you are more technical, you can check the route between you and your email service provider using tools like “ping” and “traceroute” to see if there is a blockage.

If you have access to a different Internet connection or proxy, you might be able to get to your provider by connecting through that … e.g. by going via a “route” that does not hit the “roadblock”.

8. Your email server is actually down

It is of course possible that your email server is actually down, or that there is some other issue at your email provider that is affecting your ability to access your services.  Things to check:

  • WebMail Ok? If your email service has a WebMail interface and that is working OK, then maybe your email server is also OK (that would be the case at LuxSci .. where WebMail is merely an IMAP-based interface on your email).
  • Provider Status: Check your email provider’s “status” page to see if there are any currently known and published issues.  (LuxSci’s status)
  • Contact your email service provider if you are otherwise unsure what the issue is.

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