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 mes­sagesboth inbound and out­boundwere 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 arrivessome 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 serversplease 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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