Creating a temporary email service

A long time ago I created a temporary email service (Fake Mail Generator) using an open source script. Shortly after, my shared hosting provider shut me down because it was using too many resources.

This weekend I finally got it up and running again, and I’d like to share the basics of how I did it. You’ll still have to figure some parts out on your own, but at least you’ll have a basic idea of what to do.

First, I needed somewhere to host my email service. I know from experience that some hosts aren’t too pleased with this type of service, so I didn’t want to put it on my main dedicated server. Instead, I found a great VPS (virtual private server) at AlienVPS for only $6.75/month. I get shell access, plenty of disk space and bandwidth, and 512MB of RAM.

There is always the risk that they’ll decide to cancel my service without warning, so I store all my code (including config files and database schema) in a git repository. I think it’d take me less than an hour to get completely up and running on a new host if I had to.

Second, I needed a domain name to use for the email service. These need to be changed every now and then, so I couldn’t use the domain. I’ve had problems with domain registrars in the past getting upset over my usage of the domain, too, so I went to a registrar I’ve never used before. I chose because they have a history of standing up for the rights of their users, and I registered

Last, I needed a way to process incoming email. This was the part that took a little effort to figure out because I lost the original instructions to the open source script I was using.

The first step was to install postfix. I’m using CentOS so this was as easy as yum install postfix.

Next, some basic configuration. In /etc/aliases I had to add a mailbox that sends the mail to a PHP script. For me this looks like:

fmg: "| php -q /www/fakemailgenerator/mail-handler.php"

This tells postfix to send all mail addressed to fmg to a PHP script called mail-handler.php. Once I made this change to aliases, I had to run newaliases (no parameters required).

Next I needed to setup a catch-all for my domain. This is done in /etc/postfix/virtual: fmg

This tells postfix to accept mail for, and send it to the fmg account I configured in /etc/aliases.

If your /etc/postfix/ doesn’t already have it set, it needs the following lines:

alias_maps = hash:/etc/aliases
alias_database = hash:/etc/aliases
smtpd_banner = ESMTP $mail_name
myhostname =
virtual_alias_domains =
virtual_alias_maps = hash:/etc/postfix/virtual

Last, run the following to enable your new configuration (assuming postfix is already running):

postmap /etc/postfix/virtual
postfix reload

Yay! We now have mail addressed to any address at going to a PHP script. Lucky for me, I already have a basic handler. Unluckily for you, you don’t.

To point you in the right direction, this is how you get the content of the email into a variable called $email:

$fd = fopen("php://stdin", "r");
$email = "";
while (!feof($fd)&&!(strlen($email)>=5000)) {
 $email .= fread($fd, 1024);

Once you have the email in a variable, you can parse out the to, from, and the body. You can save it to a database or save to a file or do whatever you want. You can check if the to address has been activated, and if not, you can cause a “user not found” message to be sent by doing something like die(‘550 User not found.’). It is entirely up to you.

Anyways, it was fun to get going again, and I have a lot of ideas on how to improve the code I already have.


  1. Thanks for this article! It is exactly what I was looking for to get my own disposable email service started.

  2. I was hoping to find a system using IMAPS because my email host and web host are different providers. (not gmail, not ever).

    I have been temped to use AtMail or squirrel as the front end to a domain catch-all address relying on server side search.

    But that’s too inelegant, and I have zero coding skills.

    Assuming I cannot interact with MTA what should I expect from the web host side?

    Additionally, you might like to know Spam Gourmet is open sourced.

    It would be best for free public DEA to allow others to extend service to their own respective domains through DNS Resource Records … popularized as Zone Salting .. offering their short lived domains ($0.60 USD) to public use for service alone or in trade for private domain use

    Cooperating to crush spamming profiteers!


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