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I'm running my own public DNS server and now working towards creating my own mail server for the domain.

I have added the mx record into DNS as mx1.example.com. However, mx1 obviously doesn't point to anything yet.

The actual mail server is called mailbox1.example.com. I have an A record for it with a static IP.

So would I just create a CNAME for mx1 to point to mailbox1?

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mailbox1.example.com should be your A record and I would use a CNAME of mx1.example.com for your MX Record.

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No. You must use mailbox1.example.com for the MX record or create an A record for mx1.example.com. Aliases are not allowed in MX records.

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