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Is there a best way to provide email hosting such that email clients like Outlook and Mac Mail can automatically configure themselves given limited information (email + password)?

I'm guessing it might have to do with DNS entries - using [smtp|pop|imap].example.com, but I'd rather not guess if this is documented somewhere.

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Can you explain this a little more? What exactly do you mean by "automatically configure themselves"? –  squillman Aug 13 '09 at 18:52
    
If I go into Mac Mail and add a new account, there's an option to have the email client automatically set the account up. I only put in my name, email address and password and it tries to figure out all the other settings. I believe Outlook has the same feature. –  William Jens Aug 13 '09 at 18:56
    
Ah. Interesting, never worked with Mac Mail before so didn't realize. Outlook does not have this, unless it's part of Outlook 2007. –  squillman Aug 13 '09 at 19:55
    
Looks like the auto-configure is there for Outlook 2007, but it's specifically related to Exchange 2007 (feature is called Autodiscovery and it's an Exchange feature). msexchange.org/articles_tutorials/exchange-server-2007/… –  squillman Aug 13 '09 at 19:57
    
My hosted provider uses this. It has "issues"...such as ONLY outlook 2007, and IE 8 isn't supported (or wasn't 2 weeks ago) –  Matt Simmons Aug 13 '09 at 20:35

2 Answers 2

The latest versions of Thunderbird support something like this, but it's entirely a client-side trick. There are some semi-accepted ways to auto configure web browser proxies via DHCP, but I know of no way to do this for any common mail clients.

If you find a more satisfactory answer, it will be very email client specific. So you might try searching (or re-asking) for the specific mail client(s) you need to support.

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Mail clients which "discover" these things contain a list of probable values. The list will often contain specific values for certain commonly-used domains, and otherwise guess subdomains like mail, imap, smtp, and pop, and then attempt the standard ports for each service. It basically repeatedly tries various settings until it finds a combination which allow it to connect. It is entirely client-side and there is no way at all to influence this from the server side (except providing sufficiently default services).

That said, thunderbird and possibly some other clients support querying a subdomain (via http) for an XML configuration file. The subdomain is autoconfig. For example, for user@example.int, thunderbird will query http://autoconfig.example.int/mail/config-v1.1.xml. The format of the file is described at the mozilla developer network and a description of exactly how to set it up is available there also.

There was once talk of using TXT and SRV records for this, but it's unclear if this has ever been implemented. Thunderbird in particular also has the ability to query a preinstalled XML config file and a config file at https://live.mozillamessaging.com/autoconfig/<email-address-domain>.

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