Set up a mail server on Amazon EC2

This post will explain how to set up a Postfix mail server on an EC2 instance.

First, a word of warning: Amazon IPs generally aren’t highly considered, spam-wise. Meaning that even if you take all the precautionary steps, your emails might end up in spam folders. If email is business-critical for you, you might want to consider other options: host your mail server somewhere else? Use something like SendGrid?

This said, let’s dive in!

Prerequisites

I assume you have the following:

  • A domain name, with control over the DNS records
  • An EC2 account

Pick an AMI

Let’s start by creating an EC2 instance. I began with the vanilla AWS Linux micro instance, which seem to be somehow Fedora-based, and it was a pain. Now do yourself a favor and pick a Debian-based OS. It will make things much more easier.

Eric Hammond and Canonical themselves provides Debian and Ubuntu AMIs, which are a great first step. You can even bypass the whole Postfix config by using one of these AMIs.

Assign an elastic IP to the instance you launched. We will need it for the DNS setup.

Configure Postfix

Now’s the time to be very lazy and just redirect you to Ivar Abrahamsen‘s excellent howto on setting up Postfix. Actually, most of what I’m writing right now can be found on his howto, but let’s not stop at technicalities.

Configure your DNS

The most important step in having your email properly delivered is in your DNS configuration.

The first step is to define an A record for your Amazon Elastic IP, for example mail.mydomain.com. This will be used to set up a reverse DNS on your web server, so that other SMTP servers know that you’re not a spam relay.

Then add an MX record to the address you just defined, for example mail.mydomain.com. Now each SMTP server sending mail to mydomain.com will contact mail.domain.com, which in turn points to your EC2 instance. Awesome!

The next step is to modify your SPF record. I’ll let you work out the details with the spec and Ivar’s howto, and as an example here is the SPF record for remaildr:

remaildr.com.        1800    IN    TXT    "v=spf1 mx ip4:50.16.218.96 include:mx.ovh.com ~all"

This SPF allows MX servers and the IP address 50.16.218.96 (i.e. the EC2 instance) to send mail for remaildr.com. Only “MX” should be enough, no need for the IP in particular ? Well, I thought so, but it didn’t work so I added the IP address. Now it works. If anyone has an idea why, I’m all ears.

The include:mx.ovh.com is automatically added by OVH themselves and is not a problem in our case.

You can use the dig command to check if your DNS settings are properly set. For example, the SPF field was retrieved with a:

$ dig remaildr.com in txt

As a bonus, you might be interested in setting up DKIM (cryptographic email signing), a half of which takes place in your DNS. I’ll once again refer you to Ivan’s howto because it’s that good.

Tell Amazon you’ll be sending emails

By default, Amazon limits the amount of email you can send from an instance. You can ask them to remove that limitation very easily though, through that page.

This form also allows you to set up the reverse DNS I was telling you about. Go on, do it! Amazon usually answers to this form within 1-2 days.

Done!

That’s it!

Do you end up in spam folders? Try the test at AllAboutSpam, and check if everything’s alright. It covers about any issue your server might have.

10 thoughts on “Set up a mail server on Amazon EC2”

      1. Hi Vipin,
        Can i got stuck with route 53 settings ,can you help me that of
        PTR ,MX,A,SPF record sets.

        -Have used every where Elastic Ip address, but my Exchange Server got installed with given Private IP address.
        -Updated Name servers in Godaddy.

        Not able to get receive emails from outside world.

        Any help will be appricated .
        add me Skype: pradeepchandu

        Thanks,
        Chandu.

  1. I’m a beginner as far as email servers are concerned. If I setup a Postfix on an EC2 instance, then can I setup a Mandrill account that is associated with an email address that I configured on Postfix without any concerns about sending limits?

    Are there any email receiving limits for EC2?

    1. Hi Deniz,
      Can you help with route 53 settings of PTR ,MX,A,SPF record sets.
      ****Not able to get receive emails from outside world.
      add me Skype: pradeepchandu

      Amazon EC2 – Route 53 Settings
      Type Name Value TTL
      A mail.priorityxxxxxxx.com. 52.2xx.x.xxx 1d
      A priorityxxxxxx.com. 52.2xx.x.xxx 1d
      MX priorityxxxxxx.com. 0 mail.priorityxxxxxx.com. 1d
      NS priorityxxxxxx.com. given Name serves by AMAZON 1d
      PTR priorityxxxxxx.com. mail.priorityxxxx.com 1d
      priorityxxxxxx.com. priorityxxxxx.com
      SOA priorityxxxxxx.com. Given SOA record by AMAZON 1d
      SPF priorityxxxxxx.com. v=spf1 a mx ptr ip4:52.2xx.x.xxx ~all 1d
      TXT priorityxxxxxx.com. Test AWS Entry 1d
      v=spf1 a mx ptr ip4:52.2xx.x.xxx ~all

      Exchange server Details
      Elastic Public Ip 52.2xx.x.xxx
      Private IP 172.xx.x.xxx
      Exchange Mail server Host Name aws.priorityxxxxxx.com
      DNS Settings
      Forward Ip address 172.xx.x.xxx
      Reverse Ip Address 172.xx.x.xxx

      Thanks,
      Chandu.

  2. Hi Deniz,

    Please do the needfull ifyou can .
    I got stuck with route 53 settings ,can you help me that of
    PTR ,MX,A,SPF record sets.

    -Have used every where Elastic Ip address, but my Exchange Server got installed with given Private IP address.
    -Updated Name servers in Godaddy.

    ****Not able to get receive emails from outside world.

    Any help will be appreciated .
    add me Skype: pradeepchandu

    Thanks,
    Chandu.

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