Troubleshooting email connections

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We look at some common problem areas with email account connections and how to trace the fault.

When you’re setting up a new email account in your email program there’s lots of little things that can go wrong.  One little typo or misunderstanding can break the connection.  While the troubleshooting messages have improved, all too often the only thing that you know is that the connection doesn’t work but you don’t know why.


Get your ducks in a row

Before you begin get all the information you need for POP (aka POP3) and SMTP.  If you have a new Internet connection provider this info should be provided with your new account setup documents.



  • POP is used to get incoming email

  • SMTP is used to send your outgoing messages.

You need both POP and SMTP to get a fully working email connection.

Your ISP or other email host should tell you, Login name, Password, POP server name and SMTP server name.

There’s various things you need to know about each of these.


Login name

The email login name can be either the account name only or both the name and domain.  Eg  bruceb  or [email protected]

Often the instructions are unclear on this point.  If you have an authentication problem try the other option.


Password

This may be allocated by your ISP for a new connection and is often the same as the connection dial-up password (at least for the first mailbox as part of your connection). 

If it was created by your ISP then you should change it as a security precaution.

The password may be case-sensitive or not – there’s no hard rule.  It’s best to enter the password EXACTLY as you made it or receive from your ISP.


POP Server name

This will be a domain name – the most common ones start with  pop , pop3 or mail (eg pop.freddagg.com  or mail.freddagg.com ).

POP – Post Office Protocol


SMTP Server name

Similar to the POP server, it is  domain name – the most common ones start with  smtp ,  mail (eg pop.freddagg.com  or mail.freddagg.com ). 

The POP and SMTP server names can be the same, but not necessarily.

There can be an option to authenticate SMTP connections.  In the early days of the internet you could send email through any SMTP connection but spammers took advantage of that.  ISP’s have to control who sends out email through their computers.  Most use IP filtering – in other words it only allows SMTP connections from computers using their internet access services. 

As an option, they can also enable password authentication – so you can login (usually with the same details as POP) and send your email from wherever you are.  This is very useful because it lets customers keep their same email setup when they are travelling.  Not all ISP’s allow SMTP authentication but, in our opinion, they should.  If it’s available we always enable SMTP authentication, especially when on a laptop (which could roam to other connections).

SMTP = Simple Mail Transfer Protocol



Like Magic

Because POP and SMTP server names have common prefixes some email programs and services take your email address and try to guess the server names.   It’s not magic and it doesn’t always work but often does.

For example if you enter [email protected] then the account setup on mail2web.com and Outlook 2007 will try to connect to mail.freddagg.com  pop.freddagg.com etc.


Check your typing

A friend once spent a frustrating day trying to get his email setup working, he finally gave up and asked Peter to come around.  Imagine his frustration when Peter sat down, stared at the screen for a moment then changed the server name from smpt.  to  smtp.  – that’s all it took!

Another mistake is to type a comma instead of a fullstop/period.

The lesson is to carefully check what you’ve typed – make sure you see what’s on the screen not what you know should be there.


Troubleshooting server connection

If your email program can’t connect  to the email server, you need to know if you can reach the POP and SMTP servers.

If your email program doesn’t tell you, you can check the connection yourself using the PING command. PING is an internet utility which checks if the domain name can be resolved to an IP address (ie is the DNS system working) and then checks if a connection can be made to the IP address.

To start PING go to the command prompt (aka ‘DOS Box’) in Windows.  There are Ping utilities out there but the one in Windows is sufficient.

From the Start menu choose ‘Run’ then type ‘cmd’ to open up a window that will be familiar to those of us above a certain age.

Type in ping followed by the name of the POP or SMTP server.  If all goes well you’ll see a result like this:

>  Ping mail.freddagg.com

Pinging mail.freddagg.com [264.202.265.92] with 32 bytes of data:

Reply from 264.202.265.92: bytes=32 time=409ms TTL=107

Reply from 264.202.265.92: bytes=32 time=357ms TTL=107

Reply from 264.202.265.92: bytes=32 time=282ms TTL=107

Reply from 264.202.265.92: bytes=32 time=251ms TTL=107

Ping statistics for 264.202.265.92:

    Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss),

Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds:

    Minimum = 251ms, Maximum = 409ms, Average = 324ms

The server name mail.freddagg.com translates to an IP address ( by the way, ‘264.202.265.92’ is a fake IP address).   The next lines indicate four results from connecting that server.  The time for the response, in milliseconds, doesn’t matter for our purposes.

If the server name isn’t correct (or your internet connection isn’t working) then you’ll see something like:

> Ping mail.freddagg.com

Ping request could not find host mail.freddagg.com. Please check the name and try again.

If the server name is correct but a connection can’t be made then you’ll see an IP address but no connection result.

In the next issue of Email Essentials we’ll look at testing and troubleshooting your login plus getting email transactions logs for Outlook or Outlook Express to work out more complicated problems.

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