Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Gmail can be used to handle email for just about any email address, even non-Gmail addresses. I'll show you how, and why it's worth considering.

You've mentioned that you use Gmail as your spam filter even though your email address is not a Gmail address. Can you describe how you do that?

Gmail's a great spam filter. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that as I write this they are perhaps the best - a small amount of spam makes it through, and very few false positives are thrown. It's not perfect, but no solution is.

The trick, as you say, is to "hook it up" to a non-Gmail mail address. I'll show you how to do that and use it like any other POP3 email address, just as I do.

Along the way, you'll see how you can use Gmail as your email client for your own personal email address should you purchase your own internet domain.

A couple of definitions and explanations:

I'm going to use "somerandomservice.com" as an example of a domain that you have purchased and own. Purchasing a domain is the best way to get an email address that you can keep pretty much forever. (I happen to own "somerandomservice.com" so I know I'm not abusing someone else's domain for example purposes.)

"The email downloaded from Gmail has been spam-filtered."

I'll also use you@somerandomservice.com as an example of an email address you would have. It's any email address on the domain that you own that you can keep for as long as you continue to own the domain.

Finally, at times you'll see me use "<at>" as a replacement for "@" in some email addresses. I do that to prevent my email address from being harvested by spammers' harvesting bots scanning this article.

First: Set Up Gmail

Create a Gmail account if you don't already have one.

There are a couple of configuration changes you'll want to make in order to have this work seamlessly for you.

Enable POP Access in Gmail

If you plan to use a desktop email program (and I'll suggest you do so, for reasons I'll explain below), you'll need to tell Gmail to allow POP3 access to your mail.

In Gmail, click on the Settings link in the upper right, and then the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab.

Gmail's POP and IMAP configuration

Enable POP, either for all mail (your first download should include all email that's in your Gmail account), or for all mail from now on (your first download should include only mail that arrives after you make this change).

Choose what you'd like to do with email on Gmail after you've downloaded it. I prefer "archive Gmail's copy", as it allows me to use the Gmail interface to review all my email even if I'm not at my computer - that happens to be handy when I'm using a mobile device like my phone.

Go ahead and enable IMAP as well. It's an alternate way of accessing email from a desktop client.

Configure "Send Mail As" in Gmail

If you already know the email address that you'll be using - perhaps you@somerandomservice.com - then it's helpful to configure Gmail to allow you to send email "from" that address.

Once again in Gmail Settings, this time on the Accounts and Import tab, look at the "Send mail as:" section:

Gmail's Send Mail As options

Click on Send mail from another address to add the email address you want to be able to send as - for example you@somerandomservice.com. In my case, this allows me to use my Gmail account to send email that is "From:" leo<at>pugetsoundsoftware.com instead of my Gmail address.

Make sure the correct address is the default - this is the address your email will appear to come "From:" when you compose a new mail in Gmail.

Forward Your Email

I can't tell you how to do this, because it varies dramatically based on what email address you're forwarding.

Let's say you've purchased a domain - I'll use somerandomservice.com as an example. One of the services that may be offered by your domain registrar is email forwarding - meaning at your registrar you can specify that you@somerandomservice.com is to be automatically forwarded to a different email address. Configure it to forward to your Gmail email address.

The only service you need from your domain or email provider is the ability to create an email address on that domain, and have it automatically forwarded to another email address. You don't need mailboxes or anything like that to use this technique.

In my case, email that is sent to leo<at>pugetsoundsoftware.com arrives on the server that processes email for my domain, pugetsoundsoftware.com, at which point I have it configured to automatically get forwarded to my Gmail address.

Email on the Web Only: You Could Stop Here

At this point, after setting up Gmail, and setting up forwarding, you might be done - right here, right now.

Email sent to you@somerandomservice.com automatically shows up in your Gmail account, and you've configured Gmail to send "From:" you@somerandomservice.com.

Sounds like you've got email working for you@somerandomservice.com! Gmail is your "web interface" to your you@somerandomservice.com email. Try it out. You can send and receive email here, now, using your own email address.

In fact, if you're at all confused about what we've accomplished so far, I suggest you pause here and try out your email. Have someone send email to your private email address (your equivalent of you@somerandomservice.com) and it should arrive in your Gmail inbox. Send email from Gmail and it should appear to be "From:" whichever address you chose to be the default "send from" address earlier.

As I said, you now have a working web-only scenario.

There's one important thing missing, though: you're not backed up.

Hence my recommendation that you continue with the next step.

Configure Your Desktop Email Program

This is where things can get confusing, so I'll try and be as clear about this as I can.

What we're going to do next is configure the email program you use on your desktop - be it Outlook, Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail, Eudora or any of hundreds of other options - to send and receive email using your private email address via the Gmail mail servers.

This can get confusing since the exact steps are different depending on what email program you use.

This is a case where your email address and your email account will be two different things. We're going to configure your email program to send and receive email from your personal email address (i.e. you@somerandomservice.com), but to do so we're going to connect to the servers associated with your Gmail account.

Windows Live Mail New Account configuration: Email address

When you add a new account to your desktop email program, the email address to be used is the email address you want people to see and use. So in the example above (from Windows Live Mail), I've filled in our example email address - you@somerandomservice.com - and a display name to go along with it. I've also selected the "manually configure server" option, since automated approaches used by Windows Live Mail and other will most definitely not do what we want.

Windows Live Mail New Account configuration: Email server

When configuring the server that your email will be received from and sent through, use the information for your Gmail account; the Login ID is your Gmail login ID - your Gmail address. In fact, the server configuration is exactly as if you were setting up the account for a Gmail address: pop.gmail.com and smtp.gmail.com as the server, authentication and SSL required with the port numbers as shown.

Windows Live Mail asking for password on first use

Depending on how your email program saves the necessary passwords, you may be prompted, as above, or you may have a separate location to enter the password. The password to be used to connect to the server is that of your Gmail account - since your desktop email program is now sending and receiving your email via Gmail's servers.

Now, you're sending and receiving email on your own private email address (you@somerandomserver.com) using Gmail's servers.

Important Tips, Tricks and Trip-Ups

In no particular order, some important things to note about what we have set up.

  • The fact that you're sending your email through Gmail is not hidden. Looking at the email headers that you normally don't see it'll be evident that your email was sent via Gmail and what your Gmail account name is. Most email programs don't display this information by default, but it is there. Some email programs used by people who receive your email may display the "From:" address as "xxxx@gmail.com on behalf of you@somerandomservice.com".

  • If you fail to configure Gmail's "Send mail from another address" as described above, the "From:" address on email you send may not be set to your private domain. Be sure that's configured properly.

  • Once you download your email to your PC, make sure it's backed up regularly just like the rest of the important information on your PC.

  • By choosing "archive Gmail's copy" as the action to perform when email has been downloaded to your desktop email program, it remains accessible via the Gmail web interface. I find this very valuable for searching and other quick references when I'm away from my PC.

  • I've used an email address on a domain you've purchased as my example here because it's the best way to get and keep an email address for life - you can change how the email's handled at any time without losing the actual email address. However, the technique I've outlined above works for almost any email address that you can cause to be automatically forwarded to your Gmail account.

  • The email downloaded from Gmail has been spam-filtered. (This is why I use this technique myself.) Since no spam filters are perfect, you'll occasionally want to log in to your Gmail account on the web and check the spam folder for any false-positive errors. You can also help train Gmail's spam filter by checking your "All Mail" folder and marking as spam any email that Gmail failed to detect as spam that it should have.

  • Gmail is your web interface to your email. Even though you're downloading your email, it's great to consider Gmail your web interface, just like many mail service providers have. The difference is that it's Gmail, which most people find fast, powerful and easy to use.

What's the Cost?

Well, Gmail's free. If you've purchased a domain you're paying for that, but hopefully your registrar will allow you to forward an email address for free (some do, some don't). There are plenty of free desktop email programs.

What's the catch?

Well, aside from a little complexity of setting things up I can't really find one. I suppose you could point out that by routing your email through Gmail you're allowing Google to "see" it, but that would be the case if you were using a Gmail email address directly as well, so I'm not particularly concerned about that.

All in all I find it a very powerful and useful way to control spam, as well as an easy way to enable email access to accounts on personal domains without potential additional costs.

Article C4415 - August 27, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

11 Comments
Scott
August 31, 2010 10:05 AM

It seems to me, if you're just going to use a desktop client, you only need to route the incoming (POP3, IMAP) through google's servers. All the email programs I've encountered allow you to specify different incoming/outgoing servers. Thus, you leave the outgoing configured for your registrar but route incoming through gmail. This gives you spam filtering, but no "xxx@gmail.com on behalf of you@somerandomservice.com. The only problems are that your "sent" email is not in gmail, and your registrar may not back up sent mail. However, there are solutions around this, such as using your registrar's web interface to view sent mail, and enabling some type of Archive Sent option on your registrar's configuration page.

That does work (and is my personal configuration), but I left that out to keep an already lengthy and potentially confusing article as simple as possible. Recieving from one source but sending to another is another conceptual leap that I didn't want to introduce.
Leo
02-Sep-2010

Alan
August 31, 2010 1:03 PM

The only other minor down side to this is that in my email server the "account" column used to show the separate email accounts that it had retrieved the email from - now it all comes from my gmail account.

Gerrysea
September 3, 2010 3:13 AM

Hi Leo,

You say "Gmail's a great spam filter. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that as I write this they are perhaps the best - a small amount of spam makes it through, and very few false positives are thrown"?

My ISP is Virgin Media, and they have just recently migrated all our email to Google apps. The spam box certainly catches almost all of the spam messages but I'm finding that it also thows up quite a number of false positives and I'm frequently finding 'good' mail dumped in spam?

Virgin Media's answer to this is to be constantly white-listing contacts and setting up filters for individual contacts, which seems way of beam to me?

Is this a common Google issue, or is it perculiar to this Virgin Media version?

JHStone
September 3, 2010 9:56 AM

Hey, Leo! What a great service you provide to the computing masses ... Thank you!

Related to the topic, is your goal to do this free-of-charge? I mean, any commericial security suite today, such as McAfee or Norton, contain built-in spam filters. Are you suggesting that using what you have described related to using GMail as a spam filter is better than using a commercial spam filter?
-jhs

I'm not a big fan of the all-in-one suites in general, so I'd never rely on them for spam filtering. I get lots of reports of lost mail that boil down to those suites interfering in some way. Gmail's spam filter is the best I've seen so far - commercial or otherwise.
Leo
04-Sep-2010

Shirley A Jacobson
October 27, 2011 4:54 AM

I am the association manager for all women bowlers in my area. How do I set up an account to send an e-mail blast of information to my lady bowlers. There are appx 1000 bowlers

Mark J
October 27, 2011 5:31 AM

@Shirley
First of all, the term email blast leaves a bad taste in many people's mouths. You probably want to sent a newsletter or informational email.
http://ask-leo.com/whats_wrong_with_an_email_blast.html

Now that we have the terminology straight, you can refer to these articles for advice:

http://ask-leo.com/how_do_i_send_periodic_email_to_a_large_number_of_people.html

http://ask-leo.com/how_do_i_set_up_an_email_newsletter.html

Another alternative is an email newsletter sending service like MailChimp which is free for non-commercial use and up to 2000 recipients.
mailchimp.com

Joshi
April 23, 2012 1:07 PM

Thanks for this guide.

I actually edited an existing (in Thunderbird) Pop account (with thousands of emails in it) to the gmail settings, and it worked perfectly :)

Thanks!

Joshi
April 23, 2012 3:34 PM

I'm getting 550 550 Loop detected (state 18),

and with State 17 with some emails, but not all.

I have other gmail addresses that forward to this same email address, can that be the cause?

Bill
June 14, 2012 1:17 PM

If I have, say, 4 email addresses outside gmail, can I reroute them all through gmail?

Certainly. Just have them all forward to the same Gmail account.
Leo
18-Jun-2012

Scott
June 22, 2012 6:35 PM

Ugh...
I'm lost, can I hire you? I'm sure you could resolve it in a half hour or less. I'll pay!! Stopped receiving email yesterday and I cannot find or get it. Have my own server and an IT person who just can't get me fixed. I have been using Thunderbird for years now and am tired of it, want to go web based. The issue is, when adding another email address through Google I cannot get my confirmation code for the email address because I am not able to see my email anymore!! How about it, do you work for money? No telling how much business I'm missing. Again, I will pay!

Bob
January 17, 2013 12:41 PM

This is a very nice article and provides insight into some of the Gmail settings that I wasn't aware of. While this technique works well for sending critical emails. It does provide one big caveat. When Gmail sends the message, they include your gmail account email address (you {at} gmail.com) in message headers using the 'sender' item. This has an undesirable affect on many mail clients, such as outlook. The from address will read: you {at} gmail.com on behalf of John Doe . Even with that said, this technique offers some value. Thanks :-)

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