How to Create Your Own Email Aliases On The Fly

Simon recently wrote about tempalias, one of a growing number of services that lets users create temporary email addresses. If you want to be able to create your own temporary email addresses (also known as aliases) without having to use such a service, here’s an old trick that I use. It takes a little setting up, but once operational, it’s even easier than adding + signs to email addresses to create aliases.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A domain name that you don’t use for anything else. If, for example, your main domain name is my_domain.com, you could purchase or activate something like my_domain.net.
  • Any email server that allows you to create “catch-all” accounts. For this example, I’ll use Google Apps Standard Edition because it’s free, but there are lots of other services that will also work.

Setup is reasonably simple, and takes around 10 minutes:

  1. Select a domain name. If you’re like me, you probably own several domain names that you aren’t using for anything. Otherwise, you can buy a domain from Google in the next step.
  2. Sign up for Google Apps Standard Edition. During the signup process, you’ll be asked if you want to use an existing domain, or if you want to buy one for $10 per year.
  3. If you’re using an existing domain, you’ll need to point its DNS records to Google; follow the directions in the Google signup screens.
  4. Once the Google signup is completed, you’ll be taken to the Google Apps Dashboard. Click on “Users and Groups,” then “Create a New User,” and enter the desired username. In this example, we’ll create the username “catchall”.
  5. Now go to the main menu and select Service Settings, Email. Under “Catch-all address” select “Forward the mail to:” and type in the username you just created in step 4 (“catchall” in this example). Save the changes.

Now any email sent to any address on that domain will be forwarded to “catchall@my_domain.net”. Whenever you need to provide an email address to sign up for a service, you can use the name of the service you’re signing up for as the the first part of the email address. For instance, if you want to sign up at Website X, you could provide it with the email address “websitex@my_domain.net,” which will automatically be forwarded to “catchall@my_domain.net.” You’ll be able to check email sent to “catchall@my_domain.net” using the Google Apps web interface, and if Website X turns out to be a spammer, you can simply use Google Apps’ filter function to delete all the email that’s addressed to “websitex@my_domain.net.”

If you don’t wish to go to the trouble of checking the catch-all email account through the Google Apps web interface, you could use an add-on like Gmail Manager for Firefox (part of the WebWorkerDaily Firefox Add-Ons Collection), which can automatically keep an eye on one or more accounts for you.

How do you avoid spam?

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Email: The Reports of My Death are Greatly Exaggerated

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