SPF Problems

The Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is an important part of preventing email forgery on the Internet, preventing spammers from forging mail which pretends to be from you.

SPF records

It is common in modern mail systems for the email for an organisation to be delivered by some specialist third party, rather than the organisation itself. The SPF (Sender Policy Framework) record is a way of declaring to the world who you trust to be sending mail on your behalf.

Getting this right is important, as it is rather similar to a Power of Attorney, you are telling the world that they should trust the systems listed as if they were you when they receive an email. It is essentially an anti-forgery system.

If your SPF record is incorrect you are likely to encounter mail delivery problems. The impact will vary depending on the recipient, but the best way to fix them is to make sure your SPF record is correct using an online SPF checker.

SPF checkers

Several companies provide a web page which allow you to enter your domain name and they will tell you if there are problems with your SPF record – and offer to sell you as solution if a problem is detected. They all tend to tell you roughly the same if your SPF record is correct, but differ in how informative the message is if your SPF is invalid.

A search for ‘spf checker’ will turn up more. You can check any domain with them, not just your own, so you can see if a mail problem from some domain is SPF related.

SPF problem – too many DNS lookups

As the DNS is so important to the whole internet, RFC 7208 (one of the ‘rules of the road’ of the Internet) states that an SPF record MUST not require than 10 DNS lookups. Without this there would be a way for a bad person to attack people on the internet in a way which is difficult to trace – an example of this is explained at SPF Too Many DNS Lookups, in the section ‘Why is There an SPF Lookup Limit?’. That link also contains some general suggestions as to how to tidy the SPF record.

SPF and Surveymonkey

SurveyMonkey, a popular survey management company, can sometimes have its SPF record incorrectly added to that of customers, but they themselves state, in their help page, that ‘You do not need to add SPF or DKIM records to your domain when using SurveyMonkey.

SPF and bulk mail sending companies

You might have a contract with a bulk mail sending company, for example to send out a newsletter. Depending on the company you may be asked to add their SPF list to yours, and their SPF list may be quite large. Not all mailers require this, so it is worth checking.

Another possibility to consider is setting up a subdomain, such as, or a more generic, and asking the bulk mailing company to use that. That subdomain will then have its own SPF list, which will not normally need to include your own email provider.

SPF and changing email providers

It is quite natural, if you change email providers, to add the new one to your SPF list, but sometimes the step of removing the previous one to your SPF list can be forgotten.

But mail still goes to Gmail !

Just as the laws which most people follow do not apply to everyone, for example if they have diplomatic immunity, Google can choose which rules they follow. As in the case of Harry Dunn, just because they can does not make it correct.

If a wicked person was to divert a major road’s worth of traffic down your residential street it would cause chaos, but Google effectively owns multiple motorways, so they are immune to the problems which affect others.


DNS and Identity

This is a work in progress –

Many organisations are very concerned about their identity, hiring expensive consultants to redesign their logo, with the result being reviewed at the most senior level. Their identity on the Internet tends to receive much less attention, being delegated, without much thought to some ‘techie’ people, either inside or outside the organisation, without much guidance as to what the online identity should be.

At the highest level identities, or Names on the Internet are divided into a number of Domains in a structure a bit like a tree, although conventionally pictured with the root at the top! From the root come a number of major branches, the .com, .edu, .org, (etc) naming areas, originally for Commercial, Educational (American), other Organistations, and .uk, .de, .fr for United Kingdom, German (Deutschland), France and so on. Each of these branches is controlled by some naming authority, and some of those authorities sell, through brokers, names in that space on the open market. Others names are not for sale, for example you can not buy a name which ends, which is reserved for the British National Health Service.

Most individuals, and some small organisations will not even start down this road and will exist purely as an identity within one of the Internet giants, for example Gmail, Facebook, Twitter etc – in which case their identity is whatever works within the rules of that system.

This article is for people and organisations who have, or are planning to have their own identity on the Internet. In examples I will assume you are using as your name.

The Domain Name System (DNS)


The mail system depends on the DNS, so if the DNS is set up incorrectly then there will be mail delivery problems.

MX records

(These are essential to mail delivery, and I will update this article to cover them)

SPF records

It is common in modern mail systems for the email for an organisation to be delivered by some specialist third party, rather than the organisation itself. The SPF (Sender Policy Framework) record is a way of declaring to the world who you trust to be sending mail on your behalf.

Problems with your SPF record will cause problems delivering your email, and have their own article on SPF Problems.