An auto-responder sends a reply message in response to incoming emails. They are often used to send out-of-office replies.

The interface

The Auto-responders interface has two sections:

  • At the top of the page you can create an auto-responders.
  • Any existing auto-responders are listed at the bottom of the page.

How to create an auto-responder

Clicking the Add Auto-responder button opens a new page where you can create your auto-responder. The form used to create an auto-responder is quite long and the choices are not always obvious. As an example we will create an auto-responder for foo@example.net.

Character set

By default, auto-responders use the UTF-8 character set. This is a sensible default and it is unlikely that you need to use one  of the other available encoding standards.

Interval

If you have used auto-responders before you may have encountered the email ping pong phenomena. This happens when two auto-responders keep sending emails to each other.

For instance, you will receive an automated response when you send an email to support@catalyst2.com (the message lets you know that your email has been received and gives you the ticket number). If you got an auto-responder in place then our auto-response message will get an immediately reply from your auto-responder. Our auto-responder could in turn send its auto-respond message, and so forth. Without a mechanism to break the loop this would continue until one of the mailboxes reaches its quota and stops working.

This is where the interval comes in. It defines the interval at which your mailbox should reply with the auto-responder. An interval of 24 hours is a good choice.

The interval let's you define the number of hours between respond messages.

Image: the ‘Character Set’ and ‘Interval’ fields.

Email and Domain

The email address and domain fields define the email address for the auto-responder. If you got more than one domain in your cPanel account then you can select any of the domains from a drop-down list.

The email and domain fields define the email address for the auto-responder.

Image: the ‘Email’ and ‘Domain’ fields.

It is worth noting that the email address does not have to exist. For instance, it is possible to have an auto-responder for the non-existing email address foo@example.net. This option is useful if you have closed an email account. You can delete the email account and then create an auto-responder that lets senders know that the mailbox no longer exists (which is more friendly than a generic “No such user” bounce email).

A limitation of cPanel’s auto-responders is that it is not possible to create a single auto-responder for all email addresses under a specific domain. In other words, auto-responders are always linked to a single email address.

From

The From field is typically used to enter your name, which is then displayed to the recipient of the auto-responder. If you don’t want to enter your name then you can simply enter the email address for the auto-responder.

Subject

The Subject field defines the subject of the auto-respond email. It is best practice to use the %subject% place-holder. This option keeps the subject of the original email, which is helpful to the sender. You can use a custom subject instead, but the sender may not notice that the auto-respond message is in reply to a particular email.

The from and subject fields let you enter the name of the sender (i.e. your name) and the email's subject.

Image: the ‘From’ and ‘Subject’ fields. Use the %subject% tag to keep the original subject.

Body

The body is the actual response message. If you want you can use HTML but you need to make sure to tick the This message contains HTML checkbox.

The body field is where you enter the response message.

Image: the ‘Body’ field. Here, our email simply says “I’m out!”. You probably want to enter a more informative message.

Start and Stop

Finally, the Start and Stop fields define from which date the auto-responder should start and when it should stop. By default, auto-responders become effective straight away and never stop.

The start and stop fields let you enter the start and end date for the auto-responder.

Image: the ‘Start’ and ‘Stop fields. By default auto-responders are effective immediately and never end.

To set a custom start and/or end date you can select the custom option. This will display a calendar from which you can select a date and time.

You can enter a date by selecting it from a pop-up calendar.

Image: picking an end date from a calendar. We shall be out of the office until 31 December 2029!

Managing existing auto-responders

After you have saved your auto-responder it will be listed on the main Auto-responders page. The table lists the email address and subject for each auto-responder, as well as links to edit or delete the auto-responder.

The table with existing auto-responders.

Image: our current auto-responders.