How to check if an email address exists without sending an email?


Question

I have come across this PHP code to check email address using SMTP without sending an email.

Has anyone tried anything similar or does it work for you? Can you tell if an email customer / user enters is correct & exists?

1
112
1/30/2014 9:57:13 AM

Accepted Answer

There are two methods you can sometimes use to determine if a recipient actually exists:

  1. You can connect to the server, and issue a VRFY command. Very few servers support this command, but it is intended for exactly this. If the server responds with a 2.0.0 DSN, the user exists.

    VRFY user

  2. You can issue a RCPT, and see if the mail is rejected.

    MAIL FROM:<>

    RCPT TO:<user@domain>

If the user doesn't exist, you'll get a 5.1.1 DSN. However, just because the email is not rejected, does not mean the user exists. Some server will silently discard requests like this to prevent enumeration of their users. Other servers cannot verify the user, and have to accept the message regardless.

There is also an antispam technique called greylisting, which will cause the server to reject the address initially, expecting a real SMTP server would attempt a re-delivery some time later. This will mess up attempts to validate the address.

Honestly, if you're attempting to validate an address the best approach is to use a simple regex to block obviously invalid addresses, and then send an actual email with a link back to your system that will validate the email was received. This also ensures that they user entered their actual email, not a slight typo that happens to belong to somebody else.

88
6/7/2016 10:52:01 PM

Other answers here discuss the various problems with trying to do this. I thought I'd show how you might try this in case you wanted to learn by doing it yourself.

You can connect to an mail server via telnet to ask whether an email address exists. Here's an example of testing an email address for stackoverflow.com:

C:\>nslookup -q=mx stackoverflow.com
Non-authoritative answer:
stackoverflow.com       MX preference = 40, mail exchanger = STACKOVERFLOW.COM.S9B2.PSMTP.com
stackoverflow.com       MX preference = 10, mail exchanger = STACKOVERFLOW.COM.S9A1.PSMTP.com
stackoverflow.com       MX preference = 20, mail exchanger = STACKOVERFLOW.COM.S9A2.PSMTP.com
stackoverflow.com       MX preference = 30, mail exchanger = STACKOVERFLOW.COM.S9B1.PSMTP.com

C:\>telnet STACKOVERFLOW.COM.S9A1.PSMTP.com 25
220 Postini ESMTP 213 y6_35_0c4 ready.  CA Business and Professions Code Section 17538.45 forbids use of this system for unsolicited electronic mail advertisements.

helo hi
250 Postini says hello back

mail from: <me@myhost.com>
250 Ok

rcpt to: <fake@stackoverflow.com>
550-5.1.1 The email account that you tried to reach does not exist. Please try
550-5.1.1 double-checking the recipient's email address for typos or
550-5.1.1 unnecessary spaces. Learn more at
550 5.1.1 http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=6596 w41si3198459wfd.71

Lines prefixed with numeric codes are responses from the SMTP server. I added some blank lines to make it more readable.

Many mail servers will not return this information as a means to prevent against email address harvesting by spammers, so you cannot rely on this technique. However you may have some success at cleaning out some obviously bad email addresses by detecting invalid mail servers, or having recipient addresses rejected as above.

Note too that mail servers may blacklist you if you make too many requests of them.


In PHP I believe you can use fsockopen, fwrite and fread to perform the above steps programmatically:

$smtp_server = fsockopen("STACKOVERFLOW.COM.S9A1.PSMTP.com", 25, $errno, $errstr, 30);
fwrite($smtp_server, "helo hi\r\n");
fwrite($smtp_server, "mail from: <me@myhost.com>\r\n");
fwrite($smtp_server, "rcpt to: <fake@stackoverflow.com>\r\n");

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