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Computers

Using FastMail: A Primer

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:LongLanguages:
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What You'll Be Creating

When you're setting up a new email service with your domain, there's three primary choices: Google Apps, Office 365's Hosted Exchange, and Fastmail  An Australian-based service that's focused on providing private, secure email without ads, Fastmail is a great email service choice that includes many of the benefits of better known alternatives at a cheaper price—and with a stronger privacy guarantee. It has plans for individuals, families and businesses, and offers a free two-month trial for those who want to try it out.

In this tutorial, I'll walk you through setting up a personal Fastmail Premier account, and then show you how to send emails and explore the features available to get the most out of this service.

Getting started

Create a new FastMail account by signing up for the service and choosing a plan suitable to you. You don't need a credit card to register, and you can always switch to different plan if you need more storage space (or less). When entering a user name, you can choose from a range of available hosted domains for your email address including the default fastmail.fm, as well as others like offers a number of alternative hosted domains to use, including sent.com and postpro.net.

fastmail plans
FastMail's plans

Migrating email from an existing email address

Once you've signed up and logged in, your inbox will be pretty much empty. If you already use an email service like Gmail, Yahoo!, Outlook or any other IMAP service, you can import your email from there into your new FastMail account. It's worth noting that this will import your mail only once and won't sync with your old email address thereafter to fetch newer emails that arrive after the import process.

migrating to fastmail
Migrating your email to FastMail

This process could take a few minutes to several hours, depending on how much email you're copying over. To speed things up, access your old email address and delete as much unnecessary mail as possible so that only your important messages are migrated.

  • Open the Advanced settings by clicking Mail in the top left corner and then choosing Advanced.
  • In the Status and Maintenance column, click on Migrate IMAP.
  • Fill out the fields for your email service. You'll find the required settings for Gmail, Yahoo! and Outlook here. If you're using a service that is not listed here, such as your company's corporate email, ask your IT admin for these details and fill them in.
  • Click Migrate to start the process. Your mail should begin to arrive in your inbox shortly.

Using a custom domain for your email address

If you'd like to use your own domain for a more professional email address (like inbox@yourname.com or info@yourcompany.com), FastMail has you covered. You'll need to have purchased a domain name from one of the several domain registrars on the web, and have access to your domain's control panel to set name servers or mail servers to point to FastMail.

  • Open the Advanced settings by clicking Mail in the top left corner and then choosing Advanced.
  • In the Receiving column, click on Virtual Domains.
  • Enter your domain name in the Domain field and click Add.
  • Next, create at least one email alias for that domain. The format is alias@yourdomainname.com, so go ahead and add one for your domain in the Name field next to your domain name and click Add.

You'll now need to configure your domain's servers to point to FastMail, and you can choose to set up either your name servers or mail exchange records for this. Pointing your name servers to FastMail will allow you to manage your DNS settings from within FastMail, and this is ideal if you don't have a website or web host associated with your domain. It usually takes a few hours (and sometimes up to 48 hours) for the DNS changes to take effect, so make sure you can deal with that much email downtime before you get started with this process.

  • Log in to your domain registrar control panel, and find the fields where you can fill out your name servers. Enter these values one by one:
    ns1.messagingengine.com
    ns2.messagingengine.com
  • Alternatively, you can fill out your mail exchange records (also known as MX records) with these values:
    in1-smtp.messagingengine.com (first, priority=10)
    in2-smtp.messagingengine.com (second, priority=20)

Once you've got this configured and the DNS changes take effect, you'll be able to send email from your custom domain email address by selecting it in the From drop-down in the Compose window in FastMail.

Set up FastMail on your mobile device

While FastMail doesn't offer dedicated email apps for mobile platforms, the website has a great mobile version optimized for small screens that you can access on your phone or tablet browser. Alternatively, you can set up your FastMail accounts on any mail apps available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone easily.

fastmail mobile
Fastmail's web app on iOS

iOS
We're using Mail, which ships with iOS for this.

  • Launch Settings from the home screen and tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars.
  • Under Accounts, tap Add Account, and then tap Other.
  • Tap Add Mail Account and then fill out the fields on the next screen, giving your full name, full FastMail email address (including the domain), FastMail password and a description to identify the account (such as FastMail or Personal).
  • Hop back to the home screen, launch Mail and locate your new FastMail inbox by the description you entered in the last step. Your email should start to arrive in this inbox, and you can now send and receive FastMail messages with this as with any other email service.
Setting up Fastmail on iOS
Adding email settings

Android

We're using the default Email app that ships with stock Android KitKat for this.

  • Launch Email, tap Settings and then tap Add Account.
  • Fill out your complete FastMail email address (including the domain) and FastMail password, and tap Next.
  • Tap IMAP to indicate the type of account on the next screen.
  • Fill out the fields on the next screen with these values:
    Server: mail.messagingengine.com
    Port: 993
    Security type: SSL/TLS
    IMAP path prefix: INBOX
    Tap Next when you're done.
  • On the next screen, set the security type as STARTTLS and tap Next.
  • Leave the inbox checking frequency set to every 15 minutes, or change it if you like, and tap Next.
  • Fill out your name on the next screen and tap Next.
FastMail Android settings
Setting up Fastmail on Android

And that's it. You can now access FastMail on your Android device via the Email app.

Windows Phone

We're using Windows Phone 8 for this.

  • Launch Settings, and tap email + accounts.
  • Tap add an account, and then tap other account.
  • Fill out your complete FastMail email address (including the domain) and FastMail password, and tap sign in.
  • Your FastMail account is good to go on your Windows Phone device.

Set up FastMail on your desktop

If you prefer a desktop app to handle your email, Mozilla's Thunderbird is a great choice that's easy to configure and available for free for Mac, Windows and Linux.

  • Launch Thunderbird, and on the Accounts screen under Create a new account, click Email.
  • On the window that pops up, Click the Skip this and use my existing email button, at the bottom.
  • Fill out your name, your complete FastMail email address (including the domain) and FastMail password, and then click Continue.
  • You'll need to enter a few more details in the fields below:
    Incoming
    Server hostname: mail.messagingengine.com
    Port: 992
    SSL: SSL/TLS
    Authentication: Normal password
    Outgoing
    Server hostname: mail.messagingengine.com
    Port: 465
    SSL: SSL/TLS
    Authentication: Normal password
    Username: your complete FastMail email address (including the domain)
Fastmail with Thunderbird
Setting up FastMail on your PC

Click Done when you're finished., and Thunderbird will fetch your mail for you.

Sending and receiving email messages

FastMail works like most other clients, in that it lets you send emails in plain text or with HTML formatting. You can also attach files of any kind from your computer, your Dropbox account, or even your FastMail file storage (included with your account, and counted separately). The composer has nice features that users of modern email apps like Gmail will be used to, such as autosuggestions for email recipients from your address book and send history, and periodic autosave so you never lose your email drafts, even if you have a spotty connection.

fastmail conversation view
Reading emails in Fastmail

To create a custom signature to send with every email:

  • In the inbox, Hit S on your keyboard to launch Settings, or click Mail in the top left corner and then click Settings.
  • Click Accounts, and then type out your email signature.
  • To hyperlink email signature text, such as your company website or Twitter profile, highlight the text and then click the link icon in the Rich Text toolbar, and then enter the URL there.
signature in fastmail
Adding email signatures to FastMail

Your composed emails will now go out with your handsome signature at the end.

There are a few things to note about FastMail's inbox. For one, it has a bunch of tabs above the messages window, which allows you to filter the emails displayed. With just a click, you can switch between All mail, Unread, Personal (addressed specifically to you), Notifications and Mailing lists. These work just like the Primary, Promotions, Social and Updates Tabs in Gmail: FastMail can sort your email into these groups based on the attributes of received messages, such as the sender's address and mode of addressing recipients.

Stay organized with folders and rules

If you'd like your emails organized, it's a good idea to create folders and sort messages into them for easy retrieval.

To create a folder:

  • In the inbox, click the Move to button, and select Create Folder.
  • Give your folder a name and indicate if it should go into a parent folder in the pop-up that appears.

Your new folder will show up in the left sidebar with the name you gave it.

To move messages to folders:

  • Click any message, and drag it to your folder in the left sidebar.

You can also click the checkboxes next to multiple messages and either click and drag them to your folder of choice, or click Move to and then select your folder from the drop-down list.

To set up filters that discard annoying emails:

  • In the inbox, hit S on your keyboard to launch Settings, or click Mail in the top left corner and then click Settings.
  • Click Rules on the left, and under Discard, create a rule based on a condition, such as the sender's name or email, the subject or message text, and then enter your filter term (such as 'free trial') and click Add Rule.
  • To ensure that you don't accidentally delete emails from your contacts because of this rule, check the box marked Do not discard messages sent by my contacts.
  • Click Save Changes to finish.
Fastmail mail rules
Mail rules in FastMail

To forward messages you receive in FastMail to another email address automatically:

  • In the inbox, hit S on your keyboard to launch Settings, or click Mail in the top left corner and then click Settings.
  • Click Rules on the left, and under Forward, enter the email address you'd like to forward your mail to.
  • Indicate whether you'd like to keep or delete messages in your FastMail inbox using the drop-down options. You can additionally create rules as in the Discard option to forward only specific messages.
  • Click Save Changes to finish.

To set up filters that sort your messages into folders automatically:

  • In the inbox, hit S on your keyboard to launch Settings, or click Mail in the top left corner and then click Settings.
  • Click Rules on the left, and then scroll down to Organize.
  • Select which folder you'd like to sort mails into, choose if you'd like to pin a message to spot it easily, and then create a condition and click Add Rule.
    For example, if you want all messages from a certain contact to be sorted into a folder, add a rule where the sender's name or email is your contact's name or email address. You can create other conditions, based on the the message subject, a term or phrase in the body of the message and more.
  • Click Save Changes to complete the setup.

To send automatic responses when you're traveling, away on vacation or otherwise unavailable:

  • In the inbox, hit S on your keyboard to launch Settings, or click Mail in the top left corner and then click Settings.
  • Click Rules on the left, and then scroll down to Autoreply.
  • Check the box marked Send an automated response, and then customize your autoresponse message. For example, 'Thanks for getting in touch. I'm away on vacation until 25 May and will be able to respond when I return.'
  • Click Save Changes.
  • To turn off auto-responses, uncheck the box marked Send an automated response.

Using the Address Book

FastMail can save contact information from all your incoming and outcoming messages, and also lets you import contacts from other services. You can then access these contacts in the Address Book section and email them from there, or simply begin typing their names or email addresses in the To field while composing an email and FastMail will suggest addresses to help you. Let's take a look at how we can grab our contacts from Gmail for this.

contacts in Fastmail
FastMail's address book

To export contacts from Gmail:

  • In Gmail, click the button below the Google logo on the left labeled Gmail and then click Contacts.
  • In the toolbar above your contacts, click bMore and then click Export...
  • Choose Outlook CSV format and then click Export. Save the file to a location on your computer you can find later.
  • You can follow the same principle to export your contacts from other email services too.
export contacts from gmail
Exporting contacts from Gmail

To import contacts into FastMail:

  • Pop back into your FastMail inbox, hit S on your keyboard to launch Settings, or click Mail in the top left corner and then click Settings.
  • Click Contacts on the left, and under Import/Export, click Upload Address Book File, and then locate the address book export file you downloaded earlier.
  • Click Save Changes to complete the import process.
import contacts into fastmail
Importing contacts into FastMail

Your contacts are now available in your Address Book, which you can access at any time by clicking Mail in the top left corner of your FastMail inbox, and then clicking Address Book. View, edit or delete a contact here by clicking on any contact, and then clicking Edit or Delete. You can also create groups to easily email multiple contacts at the same time.

To create a group and add contacts to your group:

  • In your inbox, hit S on your keyboard to launch Settings, or click Mail in the top left corner and then click Settings.
  • Click Contacts, and under Groups, give your group a name and click Create Group.
  • Open the Address Book by clicking Mail in the top left corner of your FastMail inbox, and then clicking Address Book.
  • Click on any contact you'd like to add to your group, and above the contact's name on the right, click Groups and select the group you created.

Your selected contact is now part of the group you set up. Repeat with as many contacts as necessary.

To email a group of contacts at once, open your inbox and click Compose or hit C in the inbox. In the To field, type the name of your group and click it in the autosuggestion menu that pops up. Your email message will reach all the contacts in your group.

Using Notes

FastMail also allows you to save your thoughts and ideas with rich text formatting and images, in a space separate from your inbox. Whether you're jotting down points for an article, or need a quick to-do list that you can access anywhere with an internet connection, FastMail Notes is at the ready.

notes in fastmail
FastMail's notes tool.

To create a new note:

  • In your inbox, hit N on your keyboard to launch Notes, or click Mail in the top left corner and then click Notes.
  • Click New Note, give your note a title and jot down your thoughts in the space below.
  • To enable formatting options, click Make Rich Text at the top of the note and use the buttons above your note to format your text and add images.
  • When you're finished with your note, click Save. You can always return to Notes to view and edit your notes later.

Storing Files in FastMail

Every FastMail plan comes with storage space for your files, counted separately from your email and attachment space. You can use this to keep important files available to you securely wherever you can access your email.

Fastmail files
FastMail file storage

To upload files into FastMail Files:

  • In your inbox, hit F on your keyboard to launch Files, or click Mail in the top left corner and then click Files.
  • Under Upload, click Choose File to select a file on your computer to upload, or paste the URL of a file you want to save here into the URL field.
  • Give your file a name in the Rename field and click Upload below.
  • Your uploaded file will appear in the file browser above. Click on the file name to download it.
  • You can also attach files that you upload here with your email messages, by clicking Attach File in the Compose window and then clicking Attach From File Storage.

Conclusion

That covers the basics of setting up and using FastMail for personal use. The service is just as easy to set up for families and small businesses, and includes all the features we've covered here.

Have a question or tip for working with FastMail? Let us know in the comments!

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