Migrating to Google Apps (and getting everything working)

For the last few years I’ve been using Gmail exclusively and have been forwarding emails to @victortrac.com to my Gmail account. Google’s spam filters are the best I’ve ever seen, and the interface is elegant and fast, and combined with loads of storage and IMAP access, Gmail is nearly the perfect email application. The XMPP integration is just icing on the cake.

Because of these features, I voluntarily gave up having a customized email address on my personal domain to take advantage of Google’s infrastructure and technology. The decision was fairly easy - I was deluged in spam and GMail’s web client was better than any other thin or thick client available. By forwarding my domain’s email to my Gmail account, I was letting Google’s wonderful anti-spam technology work its magic. This allowed me to retain some use of my previous email address, but as I started to use XMPP (aka Jabber or as Google calls it - Google Talk) I became more and more dependent on my Gmail identity. Sure, I had other Jabber IDs, but it was just too convenient having a unified email address and Jabber ID provided by Gmail.

However, let’s say that in five years Google shuts down or, more likely, another company comes along and provides a better service or product. By this time your Gmail identity has evolved into a unified presence, communications, and identification address where anyone can reach you at any time and is also your OpenID login to the majority of sites on the internet. If you’ve spent 10 years building this identity around a Gmail address, you’re not in a great position to easily transition. By using Google Apps on a domain that you own and control, you’ve at least separated the address from the services and would be able to move around as you want. It’s like being able to live all over the world, moving to where the grass is always greener, yet still always having a constant mailing address.

Getting it all to work

So today I registered and migrated victortrac.com to Google Apps, allowing me to use all of Google’s great software on my personalized address. The registration process is really quick and simple, and the actual migration part is just a handful of DNS changes depending on what services you want to switch over to Google. For me it is just email and chat, and Google’s documentation made it clear which MX servers I need to point my domain to.

For XMPP, however, the documentation isn’t very complete. According to this page, you need to add the following SRV records to your DNS server (replace gmail.com with your own domain):

_xmpp-server._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 5 0 5269 xmpp-server.l.google.com.
_xmpp-server._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 20 0 5269 xmpp-server1.l.google.com.
_xmpp-server._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 20 0 5269 xmpp-server2.l.google.com.
_xmpp-server._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 20 0 5269 xmpp-server3.l.google.com.
_xmpp-server._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 20 0 5269 xmpp-server4.l.google.com.
_jabber._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 5 0 5269 xmpp-server.l.google.com.
_jabber._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 20 0 5269 xmpp-server1.l.google.com.
_jabber._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 20 0 5269 xmpp-server2.l.google.com.
_jabber._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 20 0 5269 xmpp-server3.l.google.com.
_jabber._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 20 0 5269 xmpp-server4.l.google.com.
The _xmpp-server._tcp and _jabber._tcp SRV records tell the requesting server to look at Google’s XMPP servers when there’s an XMPP request. There are two minor problems here:
  • Both _xmpp-server._tcp and _jabber._tcp records serve the same purpose (_jabber._tcp was even deprecated earlier this year)
  • There’s no _xmpp-client._tcp record
This means that Google’s example only really adds s2s functionality to the thin client built into Gmail or Google’s GTalk thick client, which contradicts this help page for configuring Pidgin to work with your Google Apps domain (there’s a whole thread on Google groups about people following Google’s directions exactly but not being able to connect properly with Pidgin).

In order to get a third party client to connect to Google’s XMPP servers, you’ll have to manually configure a “Connect to server” to go directly to talk.google.com. The better solution, however, is to add another set of SRV records (again, replace gmail.com with your own domain):

_xmpp-client._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 5 0 5222 xmpp-server.l.google.com.
_xmpp-client._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 20 0 5222 xmpp-server1.l.google.com.
_xmpp-client._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 20 0 5222 xmpp-server2.l.google.com.
_xmpp-client._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 20 0 5222 xmpp-server3.l.google.com.
_xmpp-client._tcp.gmail.com. IN SRV 20 0 5222 xmpp-server4.l.google.com.
With these additional records, when XMPP clients try to log into your domain.com, your DNS server responds down the list and tells it to check on port 5222 on one of Google’s servers.

OpenID next?

I’m only a few hours into my migration over to Google Apps, but I think it’ll be a good fit for me. Now if only Google would roll out OpenID…. :)


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