Transferring Email from One Host to Another
Tuesday, 22 May 2007 09:58
When you change hosting providers, a primary concern is how to transfer your email services or website hosting without glitches. Since different parts of the Internet will recognize the server switch at different times, the possibility exists that some messages can get stranded at your old server, unless a special effort is made to recover them.

Why isn't this easy?
It can be easy…, Allora will make it easy for you, if you give us your email account credentials and authorize the labor necessary to handle the transition. On the other hand, this article is a public service for those customers that wish to undertake this effort without billable assistance.

The reason it is not simple is that email depends heavily on the domain name system, which is regulated by DNS servers distributed throughout the world. These servers tell everyone's computers what IP address is associated with what domain name. So when you send an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , a DNS server on your ISP's network will direct that message to our mail server. When you change hosting providers, you alter the records on the root DNS servers to point your domain name to the new IP addresses. But the local DNS servers that people use to connect to the internet do not find out about the new records until they are explicitly updated.

Most ISP's update their DNS server records every 24 hours, but some take longer. If one of your customers or vendors is using an ISP with a slow DNS update process, then their mails to you will go to the old server, even though you are switched to the new server. That could result in lost sales opportunities or missing information. The messages aren't gone, but unless they get moved to the new server, they might as well be.

And finally, not withstanding the many billions of dollars that Microsoft and Apple have spent trying to convince you otherwise, handling Information Technology is seldom easy! But if you read through the rest of this article, you will see that this isn't too tough. Be aware, however, that this process must be completed for each mailbox in a domain, and if there are many it might be simpler to just let us handle the process.
Back it all up!
Before you proceed, the first step is to backup your current email client, using whatever method the instructions recommend (if it is Outlook, export a .pst file). If you are using a web-based mail client, consider configuring Outlook Express to download a copy of the messages, so that you have a hard-copy backup in your possession rather than relying on the old hosting provider. Make sure that you also backup the contacts, calendar, notes, etc.

If you need to move a few IMAP mailboxes you might be interested in using this PHP based IMAP migration tool (you'd need Apache+PHP to run it, XAMPP will do the job). The tool needed a few simple repairs / adjustements as it wouldn't work out of the box. Nevertheless once operational it did a great job migrating Linux based IMAP mailboxes into Exchange Server's IMAP. Sadly, Microsoft's native IMAP import utility fails doing its job if there are IMAP Subfolders involved.

Switching to IP addresses

Once you've backed up the data, the next step is to reconfigure your mail account settings to use the IP address of the old mail server. Please note that this step applies to either POP3 or IMAP mail servers, but not to Exchange servers (Domino, Groupwise, etc.), which need special care. There are many different email programs on many different operating systems, so we cannot give detailed instructions for everyone. But the important thing is to switch the incoming mail server from the current hostname to the IP address associated with that name.

So find the setting for your incoming mail server, copy the server's name into the clipboard, and then paste it into a website that does DNS lookups (here is one). That will tell you your IP address, which you should then copy and paste back into the incoming server setting. For example, I would switch from an incoming server of "alloraconsulting.com" to "208.53.24.20", if I had any plans to change hosts (not likely). Due to this change your mail client will continue to go to the old server to look for mail after the changes are made to the DNS server, until you disable this feature.

Note: be sure to write down the name of the outgoing mail server while you are looking at this account.

Adding the new account

Now you need to add an email account that connects to the new host, which we hope is Allora! We strongly recommend that you consider using IMAP for this account, although we also support POP3. The big advantage of IMAP is that all the messages (old and new) are retained on the server so that you can access them from any other computer. I mention this not because it is a convenience, but rather because it is a form of backup that protects your email from being lost if something should happen to your primary workstation. POP3 downloads the messages from the server, and so if your workstation is somehow disabled, you will lose those messages (unless you had another form of backup). On the other hand, POP3 mail clients are definitely faster, and certain programs like Outlook seem to have a nicer interface for POP3 compared to IMAP. Also, if you have a huge mailbox, you may be forced to keep it local (POP3) due to quota restrictions on the mail server.

Whichever method you choose to use, the incoming server should be the new IP address that Allora assigns to you. The outgoing server is usually dictated by your ISP, and should be the same as for the old account. If you have a laptop that frequently hops from one source of bandwidth to another, then we can provide you with credentials for our SMTP server, which should work from anywhere. Contact your Allora consultant for more information.

Receiving and sorting mail

Now you will receive mail from both accounts. If you set up IMAP for the new account, then you should use your mail client software to copy the messages from the old account into the appropriate folders on the new account. If you are using POP3, then all of the messages are stored locally anyway, so it doesn't really matter.

You may wish to create subfolders in your IMAP directory (or your main inbox folder if you are using POP3). The process is usually straight forward (consult help for your mail application, if necessary). Subfolders allow you to sort your mail into more manageable piles, which is especially useful if you travel a lot, and you intend to frequently use our webmail interface.

Deleting the old account

A week or two after the DNS switch, pretty much all of the worlds DNS servers should have become aware of the new IP address. At some point you should go ahead and remove the old account from your mail application, and cancel your contract with the old host. If your old account was IMAP based, make sure that you have transferred any and all messages to the new account (since you will lose access to the information when the old host closes your account).

At this point, you can also change the incoming mail server address to the proper domain name, if you wish. Allora usually uses the raw domain name for your primary mail server if we host it ('yourcompany.com'). Now the transfer is complete.

 
Hover for comments:
Igor Romashko (Thu, 12 Apr 2012 13:17:48 -0400): This was very informative! Thanks!
Gangeticus Murali (Mon, 21 May 2012 00:38:35 -0400): I figured that a roundabout way to transfer emails from another hosting is to create an email in the new server, and use Horde to "Fetch Mail" from the old server. Would that be easier or not?
Allora Consulting (Mon, 21 May 2012 11:17:33 -0400): Sure, if there's Horde installed and there's just a few mailboxes to deal with (if not one) it's a great one-step solution.
Xan Chin Xao Ju (Wed, 22 Aug 2012 09:05:54 -0400): merci mbadi!
Michael Drummond (Thu, 09 Oct 2014 08:27:23 -0400): Ahh. I get it. 2 accounts on your client for a little while. Thanks!