Blog / Technology

Comcast, You’re My Hero

Suddenly the first week of January my abil­i­ty to send e-mail stopped. At first it was ap­par­ent­ly just some of my ac­counts (I have sev­er­al e-mail ad­dress­es, at least one for each of the pub­li­ca­tions and do­mains I pro­duce), then, all of them. According to my Outlook Sent Items fold­er, the last mes­sage I suc­cess­ful­ly sent out was on the af­ter­noon of Wednesday, 7 January 2009. Thereafter my Outbox be­gan pil­ing up.

I didn’t no­tice for a cou­ple more days, when re­spons­es I’d been ex­pect­ing to time-sensitive e-mail didn’t arrive.

Late in 2008 I had is­sues with EXIM and POP, the serv­er soft­ware that takes care of send­ing and re­ceiv­ing e-mail, re­spec­tive­ly. Some messages–both in­bound and outbound–were ap­par­ent­ly lost. After up­grad­ing cPanel/WHM, which in­clud­ed up­dates to both the EXIM and POP dae­mons, every­thing seemed to set­tle down.

Until ear­ly January when no e-mail client on Windows or Mac could reach my SMTP serv­er; nei­ther Windows nor Mac could find the SMTP ports via Telnet, either.

To re­solve the prob­lem I tried every­thing I could think of:

  • Checking for cPanel/WHM up­dates (there were none)
  • Recompiling EXIM and POP
  • Rebooting the serv­er nu­mer­ous times
  • Disabling all anti-virus and fire­wall sys­tems on my computers
  • Rebuilding Outlook 2007 profiles
  • Re-installing and try­ing Outlook 2003
  • Trying out Thunderbird on Windows and Entourage and Mail.app on the Mac
  • Changing SMTP ports in Outlook, Entourage, Mail.app, and Thunderbird

My broad­band provider, Comcast, swore it didn’t block ports 25, 26, and 587 ei­ther for all users or me. Despite that, the host­ing provider at whose net­work ops cen­ter my ded­i­cat­ed serv­er re­sides, swears every­thing works for them, that it must be my ISP. Of course, that doesn’t take in­to ac­count the fact that I had the same in­abil­i­ty to reach my server’s SMTP ports from WiFi gate­ways out­side the Comcast net­work. It al­so didn’t mat­ter that I could reach stan­dard SMTP ports on, and send mail through, oth­er servers (a friend was kind enough to set me up a tem­po­rary e-mail ac­count on his serv­er). Still, the host­ing com­pa­ny, whom I won’t name be­cause I fear reprisal, threw up its hands and said “not our problem”.

Bear in mind that while all this was go­ing on, the serv­er was suf­fer­ing oth­er ma­jor is­sues. Another bug in cPanel/WHM caused MySQL to go hay­wire, fre­quent­ly crash­ing the serv­er and in­stant­ly max­i­miz­ing CPU cy­cles the mo­ment the serv­er came back on­line. At the same time the bug, which was with InnoDB, gen­er­at­ed 122 Gigabytes of er­ror logs in on­ly a few hours. It would fill the hard­drives on the serv­er, pre­vent­ing the serv­er from even ac­cept­ing in­bound e-mail. It took sev­er­al days to di­ag­nose and nul­li­fy that par­tic­u­lar bug. Despite all these oth­er things go­ing wrong with the serv­er, the host­ing provider still in­sist­ed that the SMTP is­sue couldn’t pos­si­bly be on its end.

It was Comcast who rode to my rescue.

Frustrated and now more than a week with­out the abil­i­ty to send e-mail, I again called Comcast tech­ni­cal sup­port. At my re­quest, the tele­phone agent once again ver­i­fied that nei­ther the net­work nor my spe­cif­ic Comcast ac­count were flagged to block ports 25, 26, and 587. Then the agent asked me what the full is­sue was, why I was so con­cerned about the SMTP ports. I ex­plained that I’d been un­able to con­nect to the SMTP ports on my re­mote do­mains, all host­ed on the same ded­i­cat­ed serv­er re­sid­ing near Las Vegas, and that I was at my wit’s end. The agent, who had an im­pres­sive lev­el of tech­ni­cal knowl­edge for a Tier 1 tele­phone sup­port agent, in­stant­ly switched from the ba­sic jar­gon re­quired to deal with I-forgot-my-password and the-Internet-don’t-work calls in­to my lev­el of geek speak. We ran through the list of fix­es I’d tried be­fore the agent ar­rived at the same con­clu­sion I had had: something’s up on the serv­er or with the host­ing provider’s gate­way to the server.

Though I felt vin­di­cat­ed, the val­i­da­tion of the sec­ond opin­ion didn’t fix my in­abil­i­ty to send e-mail. So, the agent told me to use Comcast’s SMTP port. He walked me through the quick process of con­fig­ur­ing one Outlook mail ac­count to use Comcast’s SMTP servers, and then I sent a test mes­sage. Though I’d been afraid the sender would list­ed as from my @comcast.net ad­dress, I was elat­ed to see my test mes­sage ar­rive from my do­mained ad­dress (@iampariah.com) in­stead. When you’re the pub­lish­er of sev­er­al high­ly re­spect­ed, well-known pub­li­ca­tions and sites it looks re­al­ly bad to send all your cor­re­spon­dance from an ISP e-mail ad­dress in­stead of one of your own do­mains. Besides, my do­mains are con­stant while ISPs are not; I’ve changed ISPs nu­mer­ous times since 1991 when I first went on­line. Comcast’s SMTP serv­er didn’t re­place the val­ue of the Sender field as set in Outlook. In the past, ISPs did that; Comcast ap­par­ent­ly no longer does.

Within min­utes the pile of mail that had ac­crued un­de­liv­er­able in my Outbox be­gan to trans­mit. Hastily I changed the out­go­ing mail set­tings on my oth­er ac­counts (for QuarkVSInDesign​.com, Designorati​.com, GurusUnleashed​.com, and so on) and watched their un­sent mail go, too.

Hallelujah! I can send e-mail again. Thank you, Comcast!

If you’ve been ex­pect­ing mail from me, well, ex­pect it soon. If it nev­er arrives–some mail from the week of the 7th might have been sent by Outlook but lost be­fore reach­ing the serv­er SMTP port or be­fore re­lay­ing out to ex­ter­nal mail servers–please let me know so I can resend.

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1 Response

  1. Ben says:

    Dude, your site is awe­some. Just 1 prob­lem. I am us­ing Firefox 3 on OS X Leopard and I can­not see any of the ar­ti­cle text. I could read the ar­ti­cle by view­ing the page source (the HTML), but it does not show up in Firefox 3 for novice users that don’t know how to view source or parse through pro­gram­ming code like us hard­core h4x0r nerds. Anyway, sweet article.

    Until next time,
    Ben

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