Solving Your Most Complex Email Issues: A Journey Through SPF, DKIM, and PTR Records


As a designer with a preference for UX design, I’ve had to learn scripting languages when interactive design emerged in the 90’s. Software like Macromind, then Macromedia Director and later Flash used ECMA based Action Script for example. This and JavaScript were and remain big challenges.

Building websites continued to challenge my abilities as I started hosting, then managed hosting and now some fairly complex CDN Virtual Machine setups in Google Cloud Compute. Cloud Domain and Cloud DNS management have become common in my day to day. But email configurations have been challenging to learn.

Today I found myself finally understanding some of the complexities in level 1 email hosting. Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t enjoy email server issues. However, in the ever-evolving world of technology, email remains a vital communication tool for businesses. Ensuring the proper configuration of email systems is not just about deliverability; it’s about security, integrity, and trust. I also like to keep technology disruptions to an absolute minimum.

As someone who has now navigated the intricate landscapes of email configuration, I recently faced a challenge that I’d like to share. If you’re reading this please stop. Go do something fun. If you’re a recruiter, you have better things to do. I leaned on ChatGPT for entire sections of the post below. So you may not even be reading what I wrote.

But if you must, this is the story of how I tackled complex email issues involving SPF, DKIM, and PTR records.

Section 1: Understanding the Challenge

SPF Records: Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is a crucial part of email authentication. It helps receiving servers verify that the email comes from a trusted source. A misconfiguration here can lead to emails being marked as spam or rejected altogether.

DKIM Records: DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) ensures the integrity of the email content by signing it with a cryptographic key. A proper DKIM setup is vital for trust, but it can be tricky to configure, especially with long keys.

PTR Records: Pointer (PTR) records are used in reverse DNS lookups, allowing receiving servers to verify the hostname of the sending server. A valid PTR record enhances email deliverability.

The Complexity: These configurations are intricate and interwoven. A single mistake can lead to delivery failures, bounce-backs, and security vulnerabilities.

Section 2: Navigating the Solution

Analyzing the Error Messages: The journey began with a perplexing error message: “550 5.7.1 Relaying denied.” This was sent to me via screenshot from a client. Through careful analysis and collaboration with OpenAI’s ChatGPT, I dissected the error to pinpoint the underlying issues.

SPF Configuration: The SPF record required alignment with the IP address and included domains. I configured it both in cPanel and Cloud DNS, ensuring consistency.

DKIM Configuration: The DKIM record presented a unique challenge. The long cryptographic key had to be split into smaller parts to be accepted by the DNS provider. If you’ve experienced the help text in Google Cloud DNS you know it can be somewhat helpful.

PTR Verification: Verifying the PTR record required using command-line tools like nslookup for example. The result confirmed a proper configuration, aligning the IP address with the correct hostname.

Section 3: Lessons Learned

Importance of Testing: This experience reinforced the need for thorough testing and validation. Tools like Verisign Labs, MX Toolbox for lookups and Microsoft Terminal helped confirmed discrepancies and resolutions.

Collaboration and Support: Working with experts and leveraging available resources can lead to successful outcomes. OpenAI’s ChatGPT provided invaluable support, demonstrating the power of collaboration.

Adaptability: The ability to adapt and find creative solutions to unexpected challenges was key to success. From splitting the DKIM key to aligning SPF records, adaptability was at the core of this journey. Yes, “journey!” Thanks ChatGPT.


Navigating the complex world of email configuration is no small feat for this designer. This journey through SPF, DKIM, and PTR records was a testament to the importance of attention to detail, collaboration, and adaptability. If you find yourself facing similar challenges, know that you’re not alone. With the right approach and a willingness to seek guidance, even the most complex email issues can be resolved. If you’re not using ChatGPT to elevate your game and expand into new arenas, the time has come. Although I think I’m starting to write like a bot.

Feel free to reach out to me for assistance with your email configuration needs. Together, we can ensure that your emails not only reach their destination but do so with the trust and integrity they deserve.