Email addresses at Oxford

IT Services provides an email service which is accessible world-wide to members of the University. This is part of the Oxford Nexus service which also provides calendar, address book and other functions.

This document doesn't contain information about how to access a mailbox; see the Nexus web pages for this. Instead it describes how IAM Registration allocates email addresses and manages units of the University.

1. Email address creation

As described in account types, a personal mailbox is created when a new Oxford Single-signon account is created. At the same time one or more email addresses are created, and one of these becomes the mailbox's sender address.

Personal Oxford email addresses are always in the form first.last@unit.ox.ac.uk. This format was chosen because it reduces the chances of duplicate addresses being generated (see below).

The first.last part is taken from name data on the University Card record. If a record has multiple personal names, only the first one is chosen (this often causes problems for Chinese users because they have a two-part first name separated by a space). If a record has multiple family names, these are concatenated together to form the last part of the address (this often causes problems for Spanish users).

The unit part of the address is derived from the affiliation(s) on the card record. In most cases each college and department in the University has its own email domain, but some are shared by several units.

The email precedence rule which is used is as follows: if card status is one of college staff, student, undergraduate or postgraduate the college email address is set as the sender address on the mailbox.  Otherwise, the departmental address is used (if one exists). It is possible to change the default Nexus sender address at register.it.ox.ac.uk/self/nexus

If two email addresses are created for a user, a mailbox is not created for each; both email addresses will deliver incoming mail to the same mailbox.

Email address names can be changed on application to Registration (as long as the new name bears some resemblance to the old one), but the mailbox name can't be changed as it is tied to the Oxford SSO account.

The routing of a personal email address can be changed by local IT support staff.

1.1 Duplicates

In the event that the system detects that an email address it wants to create already exists, the name part of the email address has a '2' appended to it.  If a further duplicate was detected, '3' would be appended, and so on.

1.2 Reuse of email addresses

Although personal account names are not re-issued, it is possible for an email address to be allocated to a different person. This would only be done where the original owner of the address left more than 6 months ago.

1.3 Multiple email addresses

A user may only have one active email address per affiliation. A maximum of five affiliations are allowed.

It is the convention that a user has the same name part of their address for each affiliation (eg you can't be fred.bloggs@college.ox.ac.uk and frederick.bloggs@department.ox.ac.uk). There is some flexibility here; if there is a good reason for having different names, this can be accommodated.

1.4 Contact search

Personal email addresses can be looked up in the University's Contact Search facility. All active personal email addresses are exported to this system once a day.

A user can request that their data doesn't appear in Contact Search by contacting their college bursar or departmental administrator. Opting out must be approved by the Head of College or Department.

1.5 Non-personal email addresses

Non-personal addresses and project mailboxes should be used where email needs to be accessible after the current post holder leaves. If a role-based address is routed to a personal mailbox, getting access to the emails in it after the person leaves may not be possible.

Each non-personal (project) mailbox which is created needs to have an email address assigned to it. These addresses are attached to the unit, not to the owner of the mailbox., and they keep working indefinitely until the mailbox is deleted (or the mail domain is wound down).

Non-personal email addresses can be requested, modified or deleted by local IT support staff.

1.6 Alternative email addresses

Users are encouraged to register an alternative (ie non-Oxford) email address with IT Services. This provides a means of communicating with you if access your Nexus mailbox is unavailable (eg  if you need a rescue code).

Alternative email addresses for new students and staff are obtained automatically, from Student Records and HRIS respectively.

An alternative email address can be added, updated or removed at any time.

1.7 When no Oxford address is available

There are certain situations when there is no first.last@unit.ox.ac.uk address available to set on a Nexus mailbox. This usually occurs when a mailbox is created for a user in an own-mail unit. In this case the address username@nexus.ox.ac.uk will be used instead.

2. Email address management

An email address will keep working as long as the user has a current University card which entitles them to have a mailbox. Once this is no longer the case (usually at card expiry), their mailbox is disabled (except for students who get an additional month's access). Mail continues to be delivered for two months, but if a forwarding address hasn't been set up, this mail will never be seen by the intended recipient. At the end of the two-month period, the mailbox is detached and the email addresses are deleted. If the user subsequently returns, their original mailbox may be recoverable, but this is not guaranteed.

Email addresses can be changed in other ways, as described below.

2.1 Change of name

In the event of name change (eg on marriage), the user's new name will be used to construct new email addresses, and old addresses will be put into the wind-down state for eventual deletion.

2.2 Change of college or department

If the user's college or departmental affiliations change, a new email address is created for each new affiliation, and these are set to deliver to the user's existing mailbox. A new mailbox is not created, but the sender address is changed as appropriate.

Existing email addresses for which the user no longer has a matching unit affiliation do not disappear immediately, but are put into a wind-down state for two months. In this state they will still receive incoming mail, but can't be set as the Nexus sender address. After two months they are deleted.

2.3 Change of status

If a user's status changes from one which entitled them to a mailbox to one which doesn't (ie cardholder or virtual access), their mailbox and all email addresses are deleted one month after the status change takes effect.

Conversely, if a user's status changes to a qualifying one, a mailbox and email address(es) will be created.

2.4 Card cancellation

If a user's University Card is cancelled, email addresses are set to continue to work for a further month by default. At the end of this period the mailbox will be disabled as described above.

If a mailbox needs to be disabled immediately on card cancellation, please contact Registration.

2.5 Notifications

An email message is sent to the user at least two months before an email address is scheduled to be deleted. This happens the day after the email address is put into a wind-down state.

3. Email domain management

In order to be able to allocate email addresses, IAM Registration needs to know about colleges and departments. The majority of these are defined in the University organisational chart. Other units which are not on the organisational chart (eg inter-departmental ones) can be created.

When a new unit is created an email domain is set up (by agreement between IT Services and the new unit) and any user which appears in that unit will get an email address in this domain.

For email domains which are registered at Oxford but are not in the .ox.ac.uk domain, a small number of incoming email addresses may be permitted.

3.1 Unit merge

From time to time new University units are created by merging existing ones, or by splitting existing ones. In this case members of the existing units will be allocated an email address in the new unit. Email addresses in the old unit domains will be set to wind down over a period of not less than six months, and usually not more than two years. During this wind-down period they continue to work for mail delivery but can't be used as sending addresses.

3.1.1 Email domains in wind-down

Email domains which are in a wind-down state (November 2015):

  • exams.ox.ac.uk
  • futureenergy.ox.ac.uk
  • geratol.ox.ac.uk
  • odit.ox.ac.uk
  • oued.ox.ac.uk
  • pru.ox.ac.uk
  • vet.ox.ac.uk

3.2 Unit own mail

IAM Registration only manages email addresses for units who have mail delivered to Nexus. However, Nexus accounts are created for all users. This can cause problems with split routing (see below)

The following departments manage their own email addresses and mail servers:

  •  CCMP
  •  Computer Science
  •  Cancer Epidemiology
  •  Cyber Security Centre
  •  Clinical Trial Service
  •  Wellcome Genetics
  •  Molecular Biophysics
  •  Maths Institute
  •  OSEM
  •  PTCRi
  •  Statistics
  •  Structural Biology

3.2.1 Nexus and split routing

Because MS Exchange servers deliver mail internally without going via an SMTP server, it is possible for mail sent from within Nexus to be delivered to a different place to mail sent to the same address from outside Nexus. In order to try to stop (or at least reduce) this problem, a process runs on Nexus after each mail routing update. This does the following:

  • If a sending address on a Nexus account is for a domain that IT Services doesn't manage (and therefore is not in the routing tables), the process will set an automatic forwarding address to match the routing address that is known by the Registration database. This is in the form account@unit.forward.nexus.ox.ac.uk. When this is sent to the Oxmails, a script removes the 'forward.nexus' bit and the mail is delivered normally. This mechanism ensures that email ends up in the right place regardless of its origin.
  • If the address is one that IT Services manages, but is routed to a non-Nexus destination, Nexus will set a normal forward to that destination. It is recommended that forwarding should be set on the Nexus account directly and not in the mailer tables.

If a user's mail needs to be on Nexus even though they are in a unit which does its own mail, ask registration@it.ox.ac.uk to remove the automatic forward from the Nexus account.  A forward will need to be set up from the own-mail server back to Nexus.

4. Mail routing updates

Mail routing at Oxford is handled by a number of dedicated SMTP servers usually known as the Oxmails. These systems download routing data from the Registration database at the following times each day (from snapshots taken 10 minutes earlier):

  • 01:00
  • 07:00
  • 10:00
  • 13:00
  • 16:00
  • 19:00

These updates are timed to coincide with Nexus mailbox creation.

Written by IT Services. Latest revision 9 December 2015