Proton to Fastmail

I moved from Proton to Fastmail!

My email history began with an account, created by my dad. It was and probably still is managed by Yahoo, but whether or not I still have access is up in the air. Then, as Android began to take off, I got a Google account, which came with a Gmail account. I used that Gmail account as my primary account for a long time, and I still use it for certain functions to this day. In college, I met my buddy Joseph who had a firstname@lastname.tld email. At the same time, I was learning about how useful it is to have your own domain for email because you can move providers without changing your email. These factors led me to buy

Now that I had a domain, I needed an email provider. I am very much into privacy and had learned about Proton, and that was what I went with, which I used for about five years, that is until last week, when I moved to Fastmail.

Proton is an extremely privacy focused provider. They have encryption for all their services. I liked this aspect because I didn’t want my data to be read by governments or to potentially be leaked via a hack. For a while, this setup worked pretty well.

Then back in May of , I joined Neon to work on PostgreSQL. PostgreSQL is an old project that dates back to the 1980s. It still uses mailing lists for development (which has pros and cons). When email first started out, the primary MIME type for email was text/plain. But since the start of the century, text/html has become the dominant MIME type for email. Nevertheless, mailing lists primarily deal in plaintext email. Plaintext email has a couple of paradigms that people tend to adhere to. Proton’s web client, while being pretty good, is not great for plaintext email. So I searched and tried desktop email clients and eventually landed on aerc, which is a terminal-based email client.

At this point, let’s explore “modern” email protocols: Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). IMAP is used for accessing mailboxes, and SMTP is used for sending emails. Email was created in and very much deals in plaintext, similar to HTTP. This presents an issue for Proton. Because Proton encrypts its data, it can’t use regular email protocols easily. Proton recognizes the value in continuing to support IMAP and SMTP, so they created a Bridge. It creates IMAP and SMTP servers that run on localhost, which you can connect to with any regular desktop email client. The SMTP server works fine. The IMAP server however leaves a lot on the table. This is where we get into some more details about IMAP. It was created in . As you can imagine, a lot of things can change in four decades, so follow-on RFCs have been produced to extend the protocol. Some IMAP servers are pretty basic. Others have many more features. Unfortunately, Proton’s IMAP server is pretty barebones. This leads to my experience in aerc being much less than stellar.

Given these deficiencies, I persevered, continuing to use Proton’s clients for most emails, and aerc when I needed to interact with a mailing list. Neon is also a fairly relaxed company, and I was given the opportunity to use my personal email for PostgreSQL development, but I couldn’t, at least not easily, given the above, so I stuck with my Neon Google Workspace email for development.

After continuing to use aerc, I just fell in love with it. I seriously think it is one of the best email clients in existence, so I wanted to use it for my personal email and not just my work email. 1 year of aerc usage and frustration with the Proton Bridge and their lack of standardized protocols was my breaking point.

Enter Fastmail! Fastmail is a great service. They have people working there that actively work on standardized protocols like IMAP and JMAP1 (JSON Meta Application Protocol). JMAP is a new protocol meant for accessing mailboxes and sending emails. aerc happens to include support for JMAP out of the box because a few of the core developers use it2. Other benefits of Fastmail are access to WebDAV, CardDAV, and CalDAV. These protocols mean support for GNOME Files, GNOME Contacts, and GNOME Calendar. On my phone, I’ve downloaded an app called DAVx5, which allows me to integrate calendars and contacts into Android’s apps. Standardized protocols are amazing because they allow apps and services to interoperate. That has easily been the greatest part of moving to Fastmail.

This blog is not meant to diminish Proton in any way. Proton is a great service and would probably serve most people well, but my workflows just weren’t a priority for them, and that’s ok. It just means that it was my time to leave.

Here’s to the continued success of both Proton and Fastmail, as well as the continued development of aerc and JMAP3!

  1. Eventually JMAP will get support for contacts and calendars too. ↩︎

  2. I must admit these guys had a huge effect on me switching to Fastmail. ↩︎

  3. Also, shoutout to the people that make great apps to consume these standardized protocols. ↩︎

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