Mailboxes vs. Aliases

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, February 20, 2007 at 07:57 PM with 0 comments

(this is another post in the Domain Names category, where I am collecting thoughts for a larger body of work, one piece at a time. Please check out the entire category and your comments are always welcome!)

Many people complain about how many email addresses they or their friends have, and the difficulty with managing them. If you own your own domain name, you can have all the email addresses you want and only check mail in one place. By adding aliases to a mailbox, this can be easily achieved.

Allow me to make a few definitions. An email mailbox is an email address you configure in an email client program (e.g. Outlook, Thunderbird) to send and receive email. Think of a mailbox in the real world. This is sometimes referred to as your account or address, but for the sake of this discussion I will use mailbox (which is also my personal preference). An alias is a valid email address that simply redirects email to a mailbox – with the same domain name or to another domain (e.g. Gmail or Yahoo!). An email administrator can create either mailboxes or aliases for your domain.

There are many reasons for having aliases to forward email to a mailbox. I consider the main reason is organization, where you can create specialized email addresses for different purposes. For purchases online you could have "shop@" or "ebay@" and for your eCommerce store on your Web site you could have "orders@" or "shipping@." Aliases also help you prepare for growth. An alias can also send mail to more than one mailbox, so "us@" can forward to "craig@" and "lana@." Aliases can be reassigned to other mailboxes, allowing for growth in your organization when mail to "inquiries@" should go to the new customer experience manager.

Aliases allow you to create "throwaway" email addresses. If someone or something asks for your email address, and you are leery in giving it, you can give an alias, and if you start receiving spam, you can delete the alias. I used to have aliases such as "june06@" and "jan07@" which by their names would indicate where and when the source of the spam came from.

But with every good there sometimes comes a bad. Some hosting companies do not allow aliases to forward to certain domain names. I have also experienced a large Internet provider blocking email to their domain from a client’s personal domain name as they considered all of their mail spam. Where that came from I don't know, but one thing we did not get was a notice of the blocking. As we had the aliases in place, once we found the problem we were able to route emails to another mailbox.

Aliases are a useful tool for managing email. Use them as needed, document that you have them, and monitor their effectiveness.

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