Ensure Your Emails Aren’t Lost in Transmission

With the volume of email we send and receive daily, it’s easy to take the process for granted — especially if your website hosting service includes email. Hosting companies, like Bluehost and GoDaddy, offer email hosting as an add-on service. They are popular because they’re easy to use, low cost, and allow you to create branded domain-specific addresses like yourname@yourbusiness.com. 

However, most people still use third-party email service providers, such as Gmail and G-Suite, Yahoo, and Hotmail. That’s because it’s proven that they can handle large volumes of email, offer extensive storage, and practical functionality.

Whether you choose your website host or a third-party email provider, it’s important that your email messages never get lost in transmission. 

Understanding mail exchange (MX) records will help you stay on top of your email operations. 

Here you’ll learn: 

  • What is an MX record
  • How MX records work
  • How to edit an MX record
  • How to verify the accuracy of your MX record

What Is an MX Record?

A mail exchange record, or MX record, works like a phone book. It provided names, addresses, and phone numbers for people actively using the telephone’s wired network. 

Similarly, your MX record includes a name, the related IP address, and a record of settings associated with the Domain Name System (DNS) where the email server resides. It tells the sending server, or SMTP-server where to send email messages. In this way communication between active users on the network is enabled. 

What Type of Information Is Contained in a DNS MX Record?

Most DNS MX records contain information that includes the MX record priority setting, the host record, the domain the MX record points to, and the TTL (time to live). 

Let’s break each of these columns down. We will use the Bluehost mail exchanger record example below, but the information you’ll find in most MX records is similar.

Most DNS MX records contain information that includes the MX record priority setting, the host record, the domain the MX record points to, and the TTL (time to live). 

Let’s break each of these columns down. We will use the Bluehost mail exchanger record example below, but the information you’ll find in most MX records is similar.

From left to right, the first column is your MX record priority setting, which designates which mail server will receive an email first. In the example above, there is only one mail server listed. A smaller routing priority number, like one, gives the highest routing priority. 

The next column is the host record, or hostname. Generally, you will find the letter “a” or an @ symbol here. This field refers to the host section of the DNS server, listed in the points to column. 

The points to column should always be a domain name — mail1.yourbusiness.com — not the IP address. 

The next column is TTL. Your TTL setting establishes how long DNS settings are cached before they are automatically refreshed. 

It can take time for DNS server changes to be recognized across the Internet. So, when you create a new MX Record or modify an existing MX record, it won’t be active immediately. 

TTL used to be listed in seconds. In the above example, 14400 seconds is equal to four hours. Most website hosting solutions, Bluehost included, now use the hour designation for TTL rather than seconds.

How to Create an MX Record in DNS

Now you know what an MX record is, we’ll go over how you create an MX record. 

Your MX records reside with the company where your DNS Nameservers are pointed. If your website is hosted by Bluehost, then your MX Records will be found in the domain management section of your control panel

Creating an MX record may vary by internet provider, but for this guide, we’ll continue to use Bluehost as a reference. We’ll follow the order and content of the completed MX Record we explained in the previous section.

1. Log on to your domain hosting solution and select domains

2. Within the domains section, select the domain named in your email address — @yourbusiness.com — and choose the manage DNS prompt. Within this field you will find the heading MX (Mail Exchanger) or something similar.

3. Enter the desired routing priority in the Priority box. Remember, higher priority entries are smaller numbers.

4. In the Host Record field, enter the @ symbol. 

5. Key-in your domain name in the Points To box.

6. The TTL defaults to four hours (or 14400 seconds). You should use the default TTL unless otherwise prompted. 

7. Click Save. The information will now appear in the MX table or record.

In preparing your MX entries, you have three choices for how mail delivery will be handled: 

  • Automatically Detect Configuration: Directs mail to the MX entry with the highest priority (lowest numerical priority setting).
  • Local Mail Exchange: Delivers email to the mailbox provided by your hosting service. Mail delivered via this server configuration is never forwarded to a third party or remote email exchange.
  • Remote Mail Exchange: Delivers email to external domains and rejects any deliveries from an external source. Mail sent through this server will never be delivered to a local mail inbox.

You can find these options by clicking on the Advanced Settings drop-down menu. We recommend that you select Automatic Detection Configuration.

If the highest priority (lowest number) mail exchanger resolves to your Bluehost or other hosting company’s server, the mail server will deliver all mail locally. 

However, if you plan on using a third-party or remote email server, there are a few additional steps and considerations to follow.

Assign the lowest number (highest priority) to the remote domain. Make certain your MX entries point to a domain name and not the actual IP address. Mail will not be delivered if the Point To field contains a numerical IP address. 

Once your remote email server gets the highest priority, the mail server on your hosting website will refuse incoming mail and redirect messages to the highest priority MX record.

You must spell the domain name correctly and ensure it is not expired or inactive. Automatic recognition of your MX configuration won’t happen if your entries do not resolve to accepted, active domains.

The mail exchanger record in the image above provides a complete view of an instance where a remote G Suite email server is being used. The top entry with a Priority setting of one is the primary server. The others serve as back-ups if there is a server outage or to provide load balancing when excessive traffic may cause connection problems. 

If your MX configuration is set to Automatically Detect Configuration and add or amend an MX record that does not successfully resolve, you will receive a notification. And, the MX configuration will default to the last known setting. 

Once again, it is essential your MX entries always point to a domain and never directly to an IP address.

How to Edit an MX Record

Now you know what an MX record is and how to create an MX record. It is also useful to know how to edit an MX record

You can edit in the same DNS Zone Editor you used to create an MX record. 

1. Select the domain you want to modify by clicking on the three dots at the far right of the entry, and choose Edit.

2. Update the information as if you were creating a new record. 

3. Click Save

Remember, the change may take a while to update — but it rarely takes the full four-hour TTL. At times it happens within 10 to 15 minutes.

Verify the Accuracy of Your MX Record

Selecting a hosting provider and creating a website is crucial to establishing your online presence. If you are like most, you gave little consideration to what an MX record is, let alone how to configure them or make sure they function correctly.

But asking, “What is an MX record?” is the first step in the critical process of understanding MX records and how they work. 

Possessing information about MX records is especially crucial if you are operating a small business without full-time IT support or administrators. You’ll be grateful for the knowledge if you experience issues with the delivery of email messages at a future date. 

Get familiar with your hosting company’s DNS zone or c-panel and locate your MX record. Knowing where and how to access your MX entries will come in handy if you experience problems receiving email. 

And while you’re poking around in the DNS, double-check all of your MX entries to make sure they are accurate. 

Perhaps the best way of doing an MX record lookup is to use a free web application, like mxtool.com or mxtoolbox.com. Enter your domain, click the search button, and the program will quickly return results showing all of your MX entries along with assigned priority levels. 

The MX lookup tool checks against the domain’s authoritative name server, so you should instantly see any changes to your MX records. It even includes Solve Email Delivery Problems functionality on the homepage.

Once your records are on screen, you can click the Diagnostics feature, which connects to the associated mail server and verifies reverse DNS records. The tool also checks response time performance and lets you check each MX record (IP Address) against 105 DNS based blacklists.

Email is an indispensable and critical element of life in the digital age for both personal and business users. Take the time to understand what an MX record is, how it works, and how you can access it. Learn how to create, add, edit, or delete MX entries so that you have the power to manage the process and ensure your emails are never lost in transmission.

If you want to consolidate your website’s technology, consider a hosting service that includes email. For low-cost options, check out Bluehost today.

Machielle Thomas
Machielle Thomas | Content Manager
Machielle Thomas writes and curates web and email content for marketing professionals, small business owners, bloggers, and more.

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