Setting up an honest, fully-certified secure web server (e.g. https) on the cheap can be tricky, mainly due to certificates. Certificates are only issued to folks who can prove they are who they say they are. This verification generally takes time and energy, and therefore money. But the great folks at https://www.startssl.com/ have an automated system that verifies identity and auto-renders associated SSL certificates for free.
Validating an email is easy enough, but validating a domain is trickier -- it requires a receiving mailserver that startssl can mail a verification code to. Inbound port 25 (mail server) is blocked by my ISP, the University of New Mexico (and honestly, I'd rather not run an inbound mail server).
I manage my personal domain through http://freedns.afraid.org/. They provide full DNS management, as well as some great dynamic DNS tools. They're wonderful. But they don't provide any fine-grained email management, just MX records and the like.
The perfect companion of afraid.org is https://www.e4ward.com/. They have mail servers that will conditionally accept mail for specific addresses at personal domain, and forward that mail to an email account. This lets me route specific addresses @mydomain.com, things like firstname.lastname@example.org, to my personal gmail account. E4ward is a real class-act. They manually moderate/approve new accounts, so there's a bit of time lag. To add a domain, they also require proof of control via a TXT record (done through afraid.org).
This whole setup allowed me to prove that I owned my domain to startssl.com without running a mail server or paying for anything other than the domain. The result is my own SSL certificates. I'm running a pylons webapp with apache2 and mod_wsgi. In combination with python's repoze.what, I get secure user authentication over https without any snakeoil.
Hat-tip to this writeup, which introduced me to e4ward.com and their mail servers.
Finally, there are a number of online tools to query domains. dnsstuff.com was one of the better ones I found. It takes longer to load, but gives a detailed report of domain configuration, along with suggestions. A nice tool to verify that everything is working as expected.
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