CardDAV – your contacts, everywhere you need them

After much work and testing – and then some more work and testing – we’re delighted to announce the release of CardDAV support in FastMail. With CardDAV, you can access your FastMail contacts on your mobile phone, tablet or smart watch, with any changes you make on any device kept in sync – just like IMAP works with your email.

This is available now for all Full, Enhanced or Premier personal/family users, and all Standard, Professional or Enterprise business users. Setup instructions for iOS, Android, and more can be found in our help. If you have a Lite or Basic account, or legacy Guest/Member account, why not upgrade today to get access to CardDAV and so much more?!

For the technical minded amongst you, here’s a brief history of how CardDAV came to be at FastMail.

CardDav – a development history

In mid-2014, not long before we released our calendar, we started seriously working on building CardDAV into our contacts system. We knew we could use a lot of the technology already developed for our calendar, as the CalDAV protocol has a lot of similarities to CardDAV.

With Carnegie Mellon University (the original developer of Cyrus IMAP) adding support for CardDAV to Cyrus, it looked like it would be fairly straightforward to change to this for our contacts storage. We knew it had to be done carefully – contacts are an important part of our mail delivery processes as well as the user interface (they’re used as part of spam recognition and filtering rules). But knowing our own systems well it didn’t seem like it would be too difficult.

We started by making the contacts code support other storage mechanisms, instead of being tied to our MySQL database. With that in place, we wrote a CardDAV connector and hooked it up, and voila! Our contacts were stored alongside mail and calendar data in Cyrus. There was some tweaking to make sure that the quirks of different CardDAV clients could be represented properly, but the core code seemed pretty solid in testing.

To help us understand where things could go wrong, we needed to gather feedback from real users, so in December last year we made this available to customers in a beta release. That’s when we started getting reports of certain contacts operations being extremely slow with large address books. Clearly we weren’t quite production ready.

After a lot of testing and analysis, we discovered that performance was significantly affected by constantly converting between the CardDAV format and our own internal formats. We needed to step back and reevaluate.

As it turned out, we already knew what we needed: JMAP. We realised that if Cyrus supported JMAP for contacts access, then our client could use it directly and we’d never need to cache or manipulate any data in between. This turned out to be an enormous amount of work, as a lot of the data conversion code that we’d already built in our middleware had to be re-implemented in Cyrus itself. But, it was worth the effort, resulting in a much simpler and faster architecture.

With the performance problem fixed, we were able to look at the second stage of the beta: making CardDAV available to our business and family account users. These have a second address book of contacts, shared between all users in the account. We wanted both shared and personal contacts to be available via CardDAV, which meant separate address book collections. However, both types of contacts still had to be visible in the web client, which presents a single unified view of shared and personal contacts.

To do all of this properly, we first had to build a new layer between the web client and Cyrus to transparently handle manipulating contacts in two address books at the same time, including moving them between those address books. Then it was time for more testing with our brave beta users, and finally, when we were happy, migrating all users over to the new CardDAV backend.

While it’s taken a considerable amount of time to get right, we’re very satisfied with the end result. We think it’s been worth the wait, and we hope you do too! As ever, we’d love to hear what you think via our support team or on Twitter.

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Push email now available in iOS Mail

While our own app has had push notifications for some time, with the built-in Mail app you would have to wait until it next decided to check the server for your new messages. But no more! From today, new mail will be pushed straight to your inbox. Never again will you only learn of that important new cat GIF from your Dad fifteen minutes after everyone else.

Amazed cat

We’ve enabled Push IMAP for all accounts and it will activate automatically; you don’t need to do anything. If you haven’t set up your mail on your iPhone yet, follow these step-by-step instructions to get started.

Many thanks to our friends on the Apple mail teams for helping make this possible.

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IMAP Notes beta service is here

We are pleased to announce that our IMAP Notes service is being released into public beta test today.

IMAP Notes joins our recently released CalDAV offering, which along with traditional IMAP and our mobile apps help to bring FastMail to your mobile device.

Notes has been a FastMail feature for a while now, and we have also supported adding Notes via Apple iOS and Mac OS devices backed by standard IMAP. We are happy to bring these two services together with the beta release of IMAP Notes.

Notes saved in the FastMail web interface will be available via Apple devices and vice-versa. Android users will require a suitable third-party app.

Of course, being a beta there are a few things you should know before clicking the opt-in button.

Rich media notes created in Apple clients are not fully supported; any note with an attached image will not be editable.
Folders are not supported, only notes in the root Notes folder will be displayed.
The backend is yet to be fully tested under heavy load or with unusual data formats

During the beta period we’re monitoring the system closely and will be fixing things quickly as they come up. You can also help by emailing us with any comments, questions or problems.

So now all the disclaimers are out of the way, you can sign up for the IMAP Notes beta here:
https://www.fastmail.com/go/imapnotesbeta

Instructions for connecting your client are here:
https://www.fastmail.com/help/clients/applist.html

Details of the notes service are here:
https://www.fastmail.com/help/notes/usage.html

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Handle your email faster with our updated Android app

We’ve just released an update to our Android update that has some great new features to help you fly through your email.

First up, we’ve replaced the old “inbox” notification for multiple new messages with a new notification “stack”. Previously if you had multiple new messages, the notification would show a list of senders and subjects, but you couldn’t take any useful action except open the full app. Now the app will show a notification for the latest message, complete with avatar, subject and body preview and you can use the full set of actions on it. Once an action is taken, a new notification appears for the next unread message and so on for the entire stack. In this way you can quickly triage your new mail without leaving your notification tray. Of course, you can still tap on any notification to open it in the app or swipe to remove the entire stack.

Being able to quickly delete, archive or pin a message is great, but sometimes an email will arrive that you can actually deal with with a simple short reply. Notifications now have a “reply” action that will let you write a quick one-line reply without opening the full app. Even better, if you have an Android Wear smartwatch (or a compatible device, such as a Pebble), you can reply directly using the speech recognition feature.

This release also includes a few critical performance improvements, including a fix for the long-standing restart delay.

The updated Android app is now rolling out via Google Play and the Amazon Appstore and should be available on your device within the next day or two.

We’ve had a great time building and testing this update and would love to hear what you think! Please let us know via support or Twitter.

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FastMail supports Roundcube Next development

FastMail have always been a strong supporter of open source and open standards. We retain customers by providing an excellent, reliable service which is great value for money — not by locking them into our platform.

At The Kolab Summit we had an opportunity to meet like-minded developers from the Roundcube project, the most popular open source webmail client in the world.

FastMail is already investing heavily in open source email with our server-side work on Cyrus IMAPd, currently employing three developers, a writer, and a tester for the project.

We have also been preparing the fully open JMAP protocol to replace our current custom web API, with another two developers working on JMAP client and server code.

To safeguard a future where protocols are open, and interoperability doesn’t mean speaking both the protocol of Vendor A and of Vendor B, the world needs freely available, modern email software. We believe the Roundcube team are the right people to build one of those clients. We are helping them by offering code for the data model from our own incredibly fast (video) web interface, assistance with JMAP compatibility, and a contribution of US $10,000 towards the Roundcube Next Indiegogo campaign.

If you care about open email/contacts/calendaring software and protocols, we encourage you to support their campaign as well.

We are also assisting the Thunderbird project and their Summer of Code student Suyash to add JMAP support to Thunderbird, the world’s most popular open source desktop client.

You can follow JMAP progress by reading the discussion group and join in with testing, documentation, or development.

The future of open source email, calendar and contacts has never looked brighter! Here’s to great collaboration this year.

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CardDAV beta for FastMail business and family accounts is here

At the end of last year, we talked about our initial release of CardDAV support into public beta test.

We’re now pleased to announce the next stage of our CardDAV beta release has launched. While previously only available for FastMail personal accounts, we’ve now extended this beta release as an opt-in for FastMail business and family accounts, with a full production release not far off!

Just to quickly recap: CardDAV is an internet protocol for reading, writing and synchronising contact data. It’s already on iOS devices and available as an app for Android. Basically, if you’ve ever wanted to have your FastMail contacts available on your mobile device (and vice-versa), then CardDAV is the answer.

With this ‘cross-device syncing’, CardDAV essentially pulls down contacts from the web server, makes any changes from your mobile device and then copies these back up into the server. With CardDAV syncing all your contacts, it’s much easier to access and manage contacts across all the devices you use to access your FastMail accounts.

Start using CardDAV

If you have a FastMail personal, business or family account, then you can start using CardDAV here.

At the moment CardDAV is only available to Full account levels and higher for personal and family accounts, and Standard and higher for business accounts. Member, Guest and Lite accounts will need to upgrade to be able to use the CardDAV feature.

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FastMail at the openSUSE conference and Kolab Summit

I was fortunate enough to recently attend – and speak – at both the 2015 openSUSE Conference and Kolab Summit in The Hague.

IMG_20150504_111406

As one of the team working on the open source Cyrus email technology, this was a great opportunity to meet with fellow developers and email administrators. Initially developed by Carnegie Mellon University, the Cyrus server has always been freely available as open source software.  It has been at the core of FastMail’s service since we started, and is also an important component of Kolab’s groupware.

The Cyrus project is a great collaborative team including staff from Carnegie Mellon University, Kolab, Netmail, OpenIO and of course FastMail plus awesome volunteers from all around the globe. We’re committed to keeping Cyrus entirely open source, and welcome new contributors – both volunteers and companies offering staff time for development and integration. Contact us on our mailing lists (cyrus and jmap) if you want to help!

Even though we are competitors to a certain degree, FastMail shares many values with Kolab – building great software, providing the best experience to our users, and giving back to the community. I was asked during the Advent Calendar blog post series last year if we were giving away too much of our “secret sauce” – my answer was that there’s nothing super-secret about running a good email service, just a ton of hard work. To underline our cooperation, FastMail assisted the Kolab conference as a key sponsor.

IMG_20150501_091803

My first talk focused on the history of Cyrus up until now and our plans for the future, starting with a major new release at OSCON in Portland on July 21st of this year.

My second talk at the openSUSE conference was about the JMAP protocol, and the foundation that we are forming to support the open source development project (video available). While preparing the talk, I snipped out the two video clips from the video at jmap.io. I realised that they are even more powerful in isolation, showing just how fast email can be with a protocol designed from the ground up for speed and efficiency.


Server side pre-calculation plus intelligent use of SSDs.

Instant sync including messages, counts and entire mailbox state in a single update with push technology.

So I included both clips in my talk! By this stage I also knew what the major announcement of the conferences was going to be. Roundcube, the most popular open-source web email client, is starting a project to update their code.  They are running a crowdfunding push to fund development.  I’ve already pitched in personally!  FastMail is also going to assist with both funding and code contribution.

Looking to the future, we want Cyrus to be usable and scalable beyond simple systems. And while open source software is absolutely essential to the future of the software industry, for it to truly succeed it needs great products to be developed. Our ultimate goal is to make Cyrus a great product to install and run, with a protocol which allows brilliant clients to be developed.

Which leads neatly to JMAP. JMAP has been developed as a replacement for existing protocols such as IMAP, SMTP Submission, CalDAV and CardDAV. The JMAP protocol is totally open and unencumbered and leverages existing standards like HTTP, JSON and native push channels, making it easier for developers to work with, so much so that Roundcube are planning to use it as the core of their new client/server protocol. In short, JMAP and Cyrus together are a great combination – a fully open and very efficient server with a fully open and very efficient protocol!

With openSUSE and the Kolab Summit being held together, it was great to meet and share ideas with so many other people working in the same space. I also saw a ton of interesting talks and even snuck upstairs and joined a BodyPump class (the conferences were held in a fitness centre) I also got a chance to travel for a few days after the conference and meet some other companies working in the email space, as well as inspect our new Amsterdam datacentre (we’ll talk more about this in a later blog post).

I’m really excited about the future of email, and looking forward to building it together. Feel free to join the mailing lists for cyrus and jmap and get involved!

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