Setting up a private email server—pros, cons, and alternatives

Is setting up a private email server a good idea? Find out the specifics in our in-depth guide, and learn about alternatives to a private email setup.
Email server version text.
Despite being the oldest form of online communication, email is still the go-to option for any serious digital correspondence—especially in business. While most people automatically defer to email services from the biggest mainstream providers like Microsoft and Google, that’s not the best idea if you take email privacy seriously.Many large email service providers (ESPs) access the contents of your emails and use the information they find to create targeted advertising campaigns—and that’s not the only way your privacy may be compromised with a typical email setup. One of the methods of addressing such privacy and security concerns is a private email setup.In this article, you’ll learn about setting up a private email server as a way of taking your email privacy protection to the next level. We’ll discuss:
  • What a private email server is
  • What the advantages and disadvantages of a private email setup are
  • Why end-to-end email encryption services are a viable alternative

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What is a private email server?

Email servers are specialized computers whose primary purpose is to facilitate your email correspondence. They receive and send emails and store them before they’re transferred to another server or downloaded to your device.A private email server is one that you set up and own—a computer that handles your incoming and outgoing email messages. You control who has access to it and manage its storage, which ensures a higher degree of privacy than what you’d get with any major ESP.Here’s the basic process of sending an email with Gmail, Outlook, or any other email client:
  1. Email is uploaded to your ESP’s server
  2. Server looks at the address of the recipient’s email server
  3. Message is sent to the recipient’s server
  4. Recipient’s email client downloads the message from their email server
When you use an ESP’s server, you effectively hand over control over your data to the ESP, as they own and operate the servers the info goes through.The process is the same if the sender and the recipient use private email servers. Still, there are no intermediaries except the cell towers and data cables that carry the information across the Internet, and the messages remain private between the two parties.

How to set up a private email server

The first step in setting up a private email server is investing in the required hardware and software. Besides this initial investment, running an email server comes with ongoing monthly costs. The exact expenses can vary depending on your location and particular hardware setup.If you want to set up the hardware yourself, you’ll need a computer with sufficient storage space for your server software and messages. Otherwise, you can look for a cloud hosting solution and rent hardware from a hosting provider.Regardless of the option you choose, the email server will also need a custom email domain name—the part that comes after @ in your email address, like or You can buy these domain names online.The next thing you need is a high-speed, stable internet connection to ensure maximum uptime on your private email server. Finally, you’ll also require server software, including:
  • An operating system (OS) like Windows or Linux
  • Software for routing and sorting email
  • A spam filter
  • Virus protection
The exact tech stack will vary depending on the OS you choose. Once you’ve bought everything, you’ll have to learn the hardware and software configurations and start the process.Cloud-based servers are an option, but you’ll still need to set up and maintain the software. If the hosting provider offers to do that instead, you’ll have to pay an additional fee. Coupled with other costs of setting up and running an email server, it’s an expensive way to ensure email privacy.Before making a decision, check out the benefits and drawbacks of setting up your own private email server.

Advantages of a private email server

The main advantage of setting up a private email server instead of relying on an ESP server is more privacy. A private email server increases your online security by:
  • Ensuring no ESP employees can ever access your emails
  • Preventing any automatic scanning of your emails for targeted ads, training of machine learning algorithms, or similar activities
  • Eliminating the possibility of a law enforcement or government agency requesting email data from your provider
A private server lets you control every aspect of your email correspondence, from the email client you use to the robustness of your email spam filters.

Disadvantages of a private email server

There are a lot more drawbacks to setting up a private email server than there are benefits. The most notable are:
  1. Time and effort required—Setting up a private server is difficult and requires advanced technical knowledge. Many people also don’t have the time to manage an email server actively because it demands constant patches and updates. If you don’t know the intricacies of web technologies and aren’t tech-savvy, you’ll need time to learn the particulars first
  2. Various software and hardware equipment necessary—You must invest in a complex hardware setup, a variety of software, or a cloud hosting solution
  3. An ongoing responsibility—Running a server comes with constant maintenance work and security updates. Managing a private email server is a massive responsibility in the long run because higher privacy and security aren’t a given. You’re accountable for every aspect, so your emails are as secure as you make them
  4. Low reliability—Unlike Google or Microsoft, you don’t have a globe-spanning server infrastructure worth millions of dollars, and your private email setup will be less reliable. A mainstream ESP guarantees decent accessibility at all times—if a Gmail server fails, Google always has alternate routes and backup solutions that ensure constant uptime. If your private server fails, you can’t send an email until you fix the problem
Professional email services for businesses also have extensive backup infrastructures, often cloud-based. Hosting emails yourself means you keep everything on your hardware or a small part of a rented server, bearing responsibility for the backups.Even with a functional backup, you may not have the advanced tech skills necessary to restore the system after an incident. Renting pre-configured servers from a hosting provider is an alternative but not a perfect one.
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Why hosting providers aren’t an ideal solution

Finding a hosting partner and renting a server solves issues such as worrying about server hardware. Unfortunately, the approach entails other problems:
  1. Dealing with an intermediary
  2. Hosting providers aren’t always reliable
  3. Migrating difficulties
If you use a hosting provider, you don’t own a secure email server—you’re merely a renter. This brings you back to the initial ownership problem with mainstream ESPs.Another issue is that even the best hosting providers rarely have the guaranteed uptime you get with Gmail or the Outlook email client. If unsatisfied, you can switch to a better hosting provider, but the migration process is complex. Ultimately, they’re a poor replacement for ESPs, despite the privacy concerns with the latter.Here’s a breakdown of your options when it comes to email servers:
Type of email serverProsCons
Major ESP serverReliable uptime, a guaranteed level of security, no technical knowledge required, and zero management or maintenance required from usersLower level of privacy and lack of actual ownership of your email data
Private email serverHighest degree of control and complete data ownershipHighest level of responsibility, substantial technical knowledge required, constant maintenance and management required, and substantial hardware and software requirements
Rented server from hosting providerMore control than with an ESP and zero hardware requirementsA high level of maintenance required, less stable and reliable than major ESPs, dealing with a 3rd party, and migration to another provider is often difficult
Private email servers are difficult to set up and run, rented servers are unreliable, and large ESPs come with privacy issues. Luckily, there’s a fourth option—email clients with end-to-end encryption (E2EE), like Skiff Mail.

Solve your email security issues quickly with Skiff

Every server solution we’ve mentioned above comes with specific issues. Skiff successfully avoids them all by providing:
  1. Zero privacy concerns
  2. No maintenance responsibilities
  3. A modern, easy-to-use productivity suite
  4. Total data ownership

Zero privacy concerns

Skiff’s end-to-end encryption email is the ideal way to ensure your online privacy. The platform uses an encryption algorithm that involves two corresponding keys—one for encrypting and the other for decrypting messages. The encryption is performed at the device level, ensuring your communication remains private and unreadable to anyone but the intended recipient.Most ESPs provide some form of encryption, but their solutions only protect email data while in transit or when resting on a server. E2EE does both by encrypting emails on your device before they’re ever uploaded to a server. As a result, no one has access to your emails and attachments, including perpetrators of email attacks and the email service provider itself.

No maintenance responsibilities

Forget about expensive hardware or complex private email settings—Skiff doesn’t require any setup or maintenance on your part. You create a Skiff account in three easy steps:
  1. Go to the Skiff signup page and choose Sign Up For Free
  2. Pick your username and password
  3. Download your recovery key

A modern productivity suite

Once you complete the three simple steps above, you’ll have access to all of Skiff’s products:Like Skiff Mail, all other Skiff products were built with the same robust E2EE setup. Unlike private email servers and mainstream ESPs, Skiff doesn’t ask you to choose between ease of use and security but provides both. Skiff’s products were carefully designed to be sleek, functional, and intuitive, ensuring users can easily navigate them regardless of their technical knowledge.
Skiff product suite, including Mail, Pages, Drive, and Calendar.

Total data ownership

With Skiff, you can be comfortable sending sensitive information or documents via email.The platform allows web3 integration, providing users of wallets like MetaMask with a private communication platform to facilitate their anonymous online transactions. You can use your MetaMask credentials to seamlessly log into Skiff and start sending messages with complete email anonymity.Unlike the technology used by most ESPs, Skiff’s encryption is 100% open-source and transparent. If you want to learn more about how Skiff protects your email and documents, check out the Skiff whitepaper.Sign up for a free account today and cement your online privacy! If you want to learn more about future updates or talk to the devs directly, you can also join Skiff’s Discord server.

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