eBay and PayPal emails now with Truedomain

Emails from eBay and PayPal are now being protected by Truedomain, which means you’ll see the green Truedomain protection bar when you view these emails in the web interface.


This is currently a trial, but we hope this becomes permanent for all eBay and PayPal emails since these are common targets for phishing attacks, which is exactly what Truedomain is designed to help protect against.

Let us know if you appreciate this protection so we can help make this a permanent feature for eBay and PayPal emails, by emailing truedomain@fastmail.fm with your thoughts.

Posted in News. Comments Off on eBay and PayPal emails now with Truedomain

HTML emails – from bad to worse

This is a technical post. Regular Fastmail users subscribed to receive email updates from the Fastmail blog can just ignore this post.

Originally email was designed as a text only medium (1982). Over time, various extensions were added to allow transporting attachments (1993), and for different content formats, such as HTML (1997).

HTML has become a very popular way of delivering richer email content. HTML has many tools and a large infrastructure, and is easy to display in web browsers, because that’s what they’re actually designed to do.

The problem is that HTML is a markup language, but users generally use WYSIWYG type tools to edit the content of their messages, and those tools then output HTML. Unfortunately the HTML they output is of variable quality. To make things even worse, most email reading software has limited HTML & CSS display capabilities, so senders can’t actually rely on the full range of HTML or CSS to be available. The result is that most HTML email still uses the same type of HTML we were using in 1999, with deeply nested tables and explicit attributes on each tag to layout the email content.

As a web mail provider, we have to deal with all the variable HTML content, and try and display it correctly. I’ve seen numerous odd examples over the years, from emails that use absolute positioning and fixed width and height on every single element to layout everything in a neat grid (and is horribly broken if you change the font size at all), to the messy conditional comment HTML that Microsoft Word generates.

However recently I’ve had a few extreme examples of of badly generated HTML arrive, and in each case it’s been from Mac Mail (specific header “X-Mailer: Apple Mail (2.936)”). I’ve removed the content, added some newlines between tags, and put an example here. That looks pretty ordinary, nothing funny. Now looking at the HTML that generated it (I’ve put the HTML as text with appropriate indenting here to make it easier to follow). That’s 330k in size, and 5407 lines of almost entirely HTML tags. To get the initial piece of text content, it’s 741 nested tags! Worse a lot of that is nested inline and block tags alternating one after another, which is technically invalid HTML, and really annoys our HTML tidy code that tries to fix it up.

I’ll be working to try and fix this, but at the moment, really bad emails like this can cause extremely slow display on some browsers when viewed via the webmail interface.

Posted in Technical. Comments Off on HTML emails – from bad to worse

New extra quota pricing

We’ve recently changed the way users pay for additional mailbox and file storage quota.

Previously, we had a one-time payment scheme for extra storage, where you only had to make a single payment, but the prices were very high:

  • $3.95 – 10M
  • $6.95 – 20M
  • $12.95 – 50M
  • $24.95 – 100M
  • $44.95 – 200M
  • $64.95 – 300M
  • $84.95 – 400M
  • $99.95 – 500M
  • $149.95 – 1000M
  • $199.95 – 2000M

Under the new scheme you pay an annual fee, which is added on to your subscription. The fee is charged on a pro-rata basis to the end of your current subscription when you increase your storage. The amount of extra storage you get depends upon your service level.

  • AdFree: $4.95 = 100M for 1 year
  • Full: $4.95 = 500M for 1 year
  • Enhanced: $4.95 = 1000M for 1 year

Like subscriptions, you also get an appropriate pro-rata refund towards your new service level if you upgrade.

Anyone who has already purchased extra storage under the old scheme may keep it indefinitely. If you want to buy more extra storage now though, you will have to switch to the new scheme. In the process, you will receive a full refund for any old extra storage you purchased (so it’s like you’ll have had it for free for the entire time!), and you will then be required to pay the new annual quota rates on all your extra storage.

Note 1: Currently this is only available for Personal accounts. We’re looking at extra quota options for Family/Business in the future.

Note 2: This new scheme doesn’t apply to legacy Member accounts. Unfortunately legacy Member accounts can no longer purchase extra storage. For Member accounts, we recommend you consider upgrading to Ad Free. You’ll get a full refund of your $14.95 Member account towards your Ad-Free account (so it’s like your Member account was free for all the time you used it), so you’ll be able to immediately get 3 years of Ad Free level service which includes 100M of storage, much more than the 16M of Member.

Posted in News. Comments Off on New extra quota pricing

Security alert: Phishing attempt on Fastmail users

Over the weekend, we detected a phishing attempt against Fastmail users. Phishing is where someone sends you an email claiming to be from a Fastmail administrator, and asking you to reply with your username and password.

We will never send you an unsolicited email asking you for these details, and you should never respond to these emails, you should just delete them.

When a phishing attempt like this occurs, we quickly take steps to try and block any more of the emails entering our system, and also block any attempts to reply to the emails. We also check our logs to see if any users did reply to the email, and contact those users to let them know that the email was a fraud, and if they sent their password, they should immediately change it.

Fastmail’s outgoing servers have a good sending reputation, and spammers and scammers would like to take advantage of that. We have many processes in place that block spammers and scammers from signing up, so sometimes they’ll try and steal account details from existing users, which is what these phishing emails are trying to do.

Posted in News. Comments Off on Security alert: Phishing attempt on Fastmail users

SCSI HBAs, RAID controllers and timeouts

This is a technical post. Regular Fastmail users subscribed to receive email updates from the Fastmail blog can just ignore this post.

For the last few years, most of the IMAP servers we’ve bought have followed the same hardware format. A 1U server with an LSI SCSI or SAS controller, connected to two external RAID storage units. The RAID storage units use an ARECA controller and present the internal SATA/SAS disks as SCSI/SAS volumes. This setup has worked really well and generally been very solid.

However after recently upgrading the hard drives in one of our RAID storage boxes, we started experiencing some annoying kernel errors. Under high IO load as we synced new data to them, we’d end up seeing something like this in the kernel log.

[ 1378.310010] mptscsih: ioc1: attempting task abort! (sc=ffff88083cfa6000)
[ 1378.310091] sd 2:0:0:0: [sdj] CDB: Read(10): 28 00 0d 18 ad 2d 00 00 02 00
[ 1378.682660] mptscsih: ioc1: task abort: SUCCESS (sc=ffff88083cfa6000)

These would usually be repeated many times, and sometimes we’d see things like this after the above messages.

[ 1400.805969] Errataon LSI53C1030 occurred.sc->req_bufflen=0x1000,xfer_cnt=0x400
[ 1400.827927] mptbase: ioc1: LogInfo(0x11070000): F/W: DMA Error
[ 1401.090516] mptbase: ioc1: LogInfo(0x11070000): F/W: DMA Error

Simultaneously, the RAID controller would report in it’s log:

2010-08-16 08:24:50 Host Channel 0 SCSI Bus Reset

And there would often be some corruption of any data that was being written at the time.

We’d seen a problem like this before when we’d bought new hard drives, but after upgrading the firmware in the hard drives, they’d gone away. Unfortunately in this case, the new hard drives we had already had the latest firmware, so that wasn’t something that would help.

We tried a number of things. Downgrading the SCSI bus speed to 80 MB/s. Using the latest version of the LSI driver from their website (4.22) rather than the version that comes in the vanilla Linux kernel (3.04.14). Reducing the SCSI queue depth on the LSI card from 64 to 16. Upgrade the RAID controller firmware to the very latest version. None of these things helped. In each case, with high IO load, within 10 minutes we could cause the error to occur.

My final thought was that maybe it’s timeout related. With SCSI, the HBA can queue a lot of requests to be completed out of order. So if you shove a lot of IOPs to the RAID unit (so many that the write back cache fills up) maybe the internal scheduler in the RAID controller is interacting with the TCQ in the hard drives in some way badly, and some of the requests end up taking a long time to complete. Then the HBA has some timeout amount, and if a request takes longer than that, it assumes something has gone wrong and then tries to cancel everything that’s outstanding and reset the bus.

In Linux, you can control the timeout for each SCSI target device (eg a RAID volumeset in our case) via a tunable in /sys/.


The default value for the timeout on these LSI cards is 30 seconds. I increased it to 300 seconds on all targets, and we started the IO storm again.

Normally we’d see problems within 10 minutes. We let this run for 24 hours and not a problem!

Not 100% conclusive proof, but it’s looking pretty likely that that’s culprit. So my assumption is that the LSI card has a 30 second default timeout, and the RAID unit under heavy IO load can take longer than 30 seconds to respond to some queued requests. It would explain why the problem only occurs under heavy load and when the write back cache gets filled up.

Hopefully this helps someone else if they encounter this problem one day.

Additional: So even with these changes, one of the things we noticed was that a high IO load to one RAID volume (eg. in our case, moving users around) can severely affect the performance of other RAID volumes. The issue is related to the way each SCSI HBA has a queue depth it can manage, but in the kernel, each mounted volume has it’s own outstanding request queue. When the number of volumes is large, the sum of request in the volume queues can be much larger than the HBA queue, causing poor response times as lots of processes block on IO. On our systems with a large number of volumes, reducing the per-volume queue depth (/sys/block/sd*/device/queue_depth) from the default of 64 to 16 resulted in much more even performance. Other reading.

Posted in Technical. Comments Off on SCSI HBAs, RAID controllers and timeouts

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,293 other followers

%d bloggers like this: