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Custom MX records are used to specify the routing of email messages, and are of particular use to those who have their website hosted by one provider, but their email by another. They also provide a redundant and efficient mail filtering system that helps improve message retention and reduce spam by processing thousands of messages at once across multiple servers.

Custom MX records allow a website owner to receive email at a mail server other than the one tied to their web hosting.

MX (Mail Exchanger) records are a DNS resource record that specify what mail server should be used for email messages sent to a particular domain. They can also specify multiple domains and preferences.

By default, MX records send email to the same server that hosts the domain's website. But this is not required.

Custom MX records are used to specify the routing of email messages, and are of particular use to those who have their website hosted by one provider, but their email by another. This would be needed whether you are running your own mail server at a another hosting provider (or on your own machines), or if you are using a third-party mail system such a Google Apps (Gmail) with your own custom domain.

What do MX records do?

Have you ever thought about what happens when you send an email? How does it get to its intended recipient?

When an email is sent, the sending mail server, or Mail Tranfer Agent (MTA), queries the Domain Name System (DNS) for the MX records of each domain, and uses that information to control the path your message takes.

MX records specify both the mail servers to be used, as well as their relative priority.

Assigning multiple servers with different priorities is similar to setting up multiple phone numbers. If someone can't reach you on your cell, they might try you at home, and then the office, and so on.

MX records work in much the same way.

The primary reasons for specifying multiple MX servers, and assigning different priorities to each, are load balancing and redundancy.

Load Balancing with MX Records

If you specify multiple mail servers in your MX records, and assign them the same priority, mail agents sending mail to you will select one of them at random. This random selection automatically distributes incoming mail across your several mail servers, decreasing the likelihood that any one of them will be overloaded and fail.

Backup Mail Reception

If you specify one or more servers as being a lower priority (note: higher "preference numbers" denote lower actual priority), they will only be tried in the event that the higher priority server fails.

This allows you to specify one server as your primary mail server and another as a backup.

Don't plan for failover

If your multiple mail servers are equally capable of delivering mail to you, and there is no real reason to prefer one over the other, it's generally a bad idea to then specify one as primary and the other as secondary. This is poor resource management, as you are setting yourself up for a fail-over situation in the case of high volume.

Assuming both servers can and will get mail to your inbox, it is a much better strategy to assign them the same priority and allow for automatic load balancing. Your user experience will be the same, and your fail-over potential will be much lower.

Using one of the servers as a backup system only makes sense if there is some reason that it is less capable of getting mail to you directly — for example, if you would need to manually release mail from it to your primary server in order to see messages in your inbox.

Who needs Custom MX Records

If you are like most web hosting customers, chances are good that your website hosting provider is also your email provider.

However, many businesses, either because of their size or their business model, rely on high-volume messaging. Others may require greater redundancy (that is, multiple servers) to reduce latency and improve the chances a message will be delivered.

In both of these cases, a separate email server (sometimes at a second hosting company) is often a business requirement.

If this is the case with your site, or you simply want to improve mail performance, then you will need to have the ability to customize your Mail Exchange (MX) records.

How to Customize Your MX Records

Customizing your MX Records is usually very easy. They are typically available for editing in the domain manager portion of your control panel. If you have your hosting account and your domain registration with two different companies, you'll edit your MX records with the company that handles your domain name registration and routing, not your web host.

The MX Records are a part of your domain's DNS record, so if you can't find how to edit your MX records, try looking for your DNS records. They are usually all in the same place.

Hosting for Custom MX Records

Most users will never have to reconfigure their MX records, but if you do, it's generally supported as a standard service with your host, and shouldn't affect your plan pricing. Because the number of available servers and priority schemes vary, however, always check with your host for full details.

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