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If you own your own domain you can keep your email address when you change providers. If you don't own it, things get dicey.
I have two email addresses. A friend of mine is my webmaster and I pay him a certain sum of money per year for this service he provides me. Unfortunately I'm dependent on his whims and fancies, so I want to use a free provider. I have several questions:
Can I keep the same e-mail address if i discontinue with this friends services?
Are there any other free e-mail service providers that will allow me to keep the same e-mail addresses that I have now?
Currently I have two e-mail addresses, but my friend and webmaster has fixed it so that I only have to open one of these addresses to access emails sent to both the addresses. If I have another email provider or webmaster will I get this same service?
Is it possible to have my own website at some later time with the same address?
My friend originally offered to get me an e-mail address with my company name, offered to maintain it for me for a small fee per year. Now he wants me to pay more for increasing capacity. He also did some tweaks as he called it and lost some of my mail. I was at his mercy to get things in order so I decided I want to move to another provider. Unfortunately I cannot move on if I cannot keep these e-mail addresses.
This all sounds very, very familiar. You see, I play the role of your friend for a few people as well.
What you're attempting to do could be easy, or it could be next to impossible. It depends a little on your friend's willingness to let go and a lot on just who owns what.
We need to start by reviewing just how email addresses work and how they're related to the domain names they use.
As you probably already realize, an email address is comprised of two parts: the email name and the domain name. If my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, then the domain name is "example.com" and the email name is "leo".
How "email@example.com" comes into existence and becomes a working email address involves several steps and concepts that we're going to look at individually.
Domain Name Registration
Domain names are purchased, or more properly "registered", by individuals or companies. Domain name registrars are the keepers of the ownership records and the companies you pay to register a domain. Technically "leased" might actually be an even better term since they do need to be renewed and paid for on an ongoing basis.
So, for example, I own the domain "ask-leo.com". I registered it through the registrar SimpleURL, though a registrar you're more likely to recognize might be GoDaddy because of their frequent advertising.
Since you don't mention owning your domain, I'm going to assume that your friend probably did this for you and that he, in fact, owns it.
Owning a domain is only a start.
DNS: the Domain Name System
Once you own a domain, you need to be able to tell the world where to go when they need to do something that references that domain. That's what DNS is all about.
There's more, of course, but for our purposes when you own a domain name there are a couple of important bits of information that you specify in DNS:
The IP address of the web server hosting the website for that domain.
The name of the mail server responsible for processing all email sent to that domain.
Both are optional; you can have domain with a website but no email, or email without a website. And the website and email don't need to be handled on the same server.
In most cases when you purchase a domain the registrar will also provide you with DNS services, but it's not required. In fact, aside from your registration information, the only information that your registrar is required to provide is the location of the DNS servers that will contain the reference information about your domain. Those DNS servers could be somewhere else entirely. For example, while I've registered ask-leo.com through SimpleURL, who do provide DNS services, I've elected to have my DNS managed by servers at Rackspace, where the servers are actually located.
Once again, I'm going to assume that your friend is handling all of this for you as well.
Once you own a domain and have configured DNS so that email is sent to a particular mail server, then it's time to configure your mail.
This gets a little more vague because there are so many possible options here.
I'll start at the extreme end: running your own mail server, as I do. Mail sent to the domains I own is processed by my own mail server. In many ways I am my own ISP. That means I'm responsible for creating email accounts and making sure that everything is set up on the server to process the email that gets directed at it. In other words, the mail server has to "know" that it's supposed to process email for "ask-leo.com". It also has to know what email addresses are valid and what to do with the email messages that come in. When I download email to my email program, I do so by downloading directly from my own email server.
I'm guessing that this is exactly what your friend is doing. Running an email server of his own that is configured to receive and process email for the domain on which your email names reside.
The other extreme goes all the way back to your registrar. In addition to providing DNS services, many registrars also provide simple email services. Some provide actual email accounts from which you can directly download your email, while others provide "forwarding" accounts which automatically forward email to some other email address completely.
I'm hoping, in the long run, that you may be able to take advantage of something like that.
What to do?
With all that as background, we can now describe what needs to happen for you to move your email address to another provider.
Ideally, you need to own your domain. By this I mean that if your email address is "firstname.lastname@example.org", you want to own the domain "example.com". This is why you'd never be able to move email addresses that are provided by your ISP or other services. You'll never own "hotmail.com" or "sbcglobal.com" and the like. True email portability is only possible if you own your own internet domain.
If your friend currently owns your domain, then you would want to negotiate with him a transfer of ownership. It can be a little complicated so people can't go stealing domain registrations, but it is possible and it does happen all the time.
Alternately, you need to keep your friend. If he can't or won't transfer ownership of the domain to you, then he'll need to make the changes you'll want. For as long as he owns it and you want to keep using it.
Determine if your registrar provides email forwarding. As I said, many if not most do, though occasionally for an extra charge. If they do not, it might be easiest to change registrars. Much like ownership transfer, changing registrars can be a little painful up-front to prevent theft, but it's also done all the time.
Get yourself an email account on another service. I know you want free, in which case I'd recommend Gmail, but I also tend to recommend against free email services in general, preferring paid email services that offer better support.
Configure that email account to send "from" your domain's email account. For example, let's say you got an address "email@example.com". You would configure Gmail, or your email program, to download from that address, and send using that service, but with your "From:" address filled in as "firstname.lastname@example.org".
Configure email forwarding. At whatever service is providing your email forwarding, hopefully your registrar, you would simply indicate that all email sent to "email@example.com" get forwarded to "firstname.lastname@example.org". Chances are they'll allow you to configure multiple email addresses this way.
The beauty of this setup is that you can change where you really get your email without having to tell everyone you have a new email address. People send you email at "email@example.com", and if you decide you'd rather use Hotmail than Gmail, you simply create a Hotmail account, change the forwarding, and no one need know the difference.
And to answer your final question: yes, if you own your own domain you can absolutely set up a web site on it at any time.
Ultimately everything boils down to your ability to make the necessary changes to your domain's configuration including both DNS and email forwarding. Whether by proxy, perhaps using your friend or someone else to help with the technical details, or directly, it's something that you'll need to be able to do.
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