What is an SPF record: Your Shield Against Email Spoofing

Email communication remains a cornerstone of business operations, but it’s also a common target for spammers and cybercriminals. One way to strengthen your domain’s email security is by implementing SPF records. In this article, we delve into what an SPF record is, how it works, and how you can manage it using cPanel. By the end of this read, you’ll have a solid understanding of SPF records and why they are an essential tool in your email authentication arsenal.

What is an SPF Record?

A DNS TXT record called an SPF (Sender Policy Framework) record authorises which mail servers can send email on behalf of your domain. SPF records are an essential tool for preventing email spoofing and phishing attacks. They help ensure that emails sent from your domain pass through spam filters and reach the intended recipients without issues.

The SPF record syntax consists of different mechanisms to specify authorised IP addresses, third-party mail servers, and rules for handling emails that fail SPF checks. For example, an SPF TXT record might look like this:

v=spf1 ip4: a:mail.example.com -all


In this example record, v=spf1 specifies the SPF version, ip4: and a:mail.example.com are the authorised IP addresses and domains, while -all indicates that emails from all other servers should be rejected.

Importance of SPF Records

    1. Preventing Email Spoofing: SPF records validate the sender’s identity by checking the sender’s IP address against the authorised addresses in your domain’s DNS records.
    2. Enhancing Email Deliverability: When you have a valid SPF record, spam filters are less likely to reject emails from your domain.
    3. Improving Domain Reputation: A proper SPF record improves your domain’s reputation by confirming that you are a legit sender.

SPF as Part of Comprehensive Email Authentication

SPF records play a vital role in email security by authorising specific mail servers to send mail on behalf of a domain, but they don’t offer a standalone solution. A comprehensive email authentication strategy should also include other technologies like DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance). Below, we dive deeper into how SPF fits into a larger authentication framework, and why employing multiple layers of security is crucial for optimal email deliverability and domain reputation.

› SPF: The First Line of Defense

SPF records act as the first checkpoint in the email validation system. By checking the sender’s IP address against the SPF record, the recipient mail server can quickly determine if an incoming email is from an authorised source. However, SPF only validates the ‘Return-Path’ domain, not the ‘From’ address displayed to the end user, leaving some loopholes for potential abuse.

› DKIM: Digital Signatures for Email Integrity

DKIM serves as a complementary technology to SPF by adding an encrypted signature to the email header. This signature ensures the email content remains untampered with during transit. Unlike SPF, DKIM verifies the ‘From’ address, which is what the end-user sees, offering another layer of trust and authenticity. Implementing both SPF and DKIM provides dual verification, making it more difficult for attackers to spoof your domain.

› DMARC: The Policy Enforcer

DMARC ties SPF and DKIM together by setting a policy for what should happen if an email fails either of these checks. It allows domain administrators to specify actions such as ‘report,’ ‘quarantine,’ or ‘reject’ for non-compliant emails. DMARC also enables domain owners to receive reports on email activity, providing valuable insights into potential vulnerabilities or attacks.

› Additional Security Measures

    1. Rate Limiting: To counteract brute-force attacks, implement a rate-limiting mechanism on your mail server.
    2. Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Enable 2FA for email accounts to add an extra layer of security.
    3. TLS Encryption: Use Transport Layer Security (TLS) to encrypt the emails during transit between mail servers.

› Regular Monitoring and Updating

Security is an ongoing process. Regularly test your SPF, DKIM, and DMARC configurations to ensure they are working as intended. Use tools like SPF record checkers, DKIM validators, and DMARC reporting services to audit your setup.

› Third-Party Email Services

Ensure you include the servers of your third-party email service providers in your SPF records and confirm that they support DKIM and DMARC. Most reputable email services offer easy ways to implement these technologies.

› A Holistic Approach

A truly secure email environment requires a holistic approach. SPF records are a significant first step, but they should be part of a multi-layered security strategy that includes DKIM, DMARC, and other security best practices. By implementing a comprehensive eail authentication system, you maximise the chances of your emails reaching their intended recipients while minimising the risks of email spoofing and phishing attacks. This not only enhances email deliverability but also contributes to building a robust domain reputation.

Setting Up SPF Records in cPanel

For those using cPanel and WHM, adding a new SPF record is a straightforward process:

  1. Log in to cPanel: Open your domain account and navigate to the “Email” section.
  2. Access SPF Manager: Click on “Email Deliverability”.
  3. Create Your SPF Record: If you don’t have an SPF record yet, cPanel will provide a default one. You can modify it according to your needs.
  4. Edit Existing SPF Record: If you already have an SPF record, you can edit it by updating the list of authorised IP addresses or adding third-party servers.
  5. Save and Test: Once satisfied, save your changes and validate the new SPF record using an SPF record checker.

› Additional Considerations

  • If you are using a third-party DNS provider or email service provider, you may need to add or modify your SPF record manually.
  • Regularly test your SPF record to ensure it’s working as expected. Tools like SPF record checker can help you with this.

More Information

› Understanding SPF Record Syntax

Mastering the syntax of an SPF record is crucial for setting up an effective authentication system. The syntax can seem daunting at first, but once you break it down into its individual components, it becomes easier to comprehend. By understanding the syntax, you can specify which servers have authorisation to send email on behalf of your domain, thus enhancing your domain’s reputation and email deliverability.

› Basic Components of an SPF Record

An SPF record is a type of DNS TXT record and typically consists of:

  1. SPF Version: Denoted by v=spf1, this indicates the SPF version being used.
  2. Mechanisms: These define the rules for which IP addresses or domains are authorised to send mail. Common mechanisms include ip4, ip6, a, mx, etc.
  3. Modifiers: These are optional and provide additional information. The most commonly used modifier is redirect.

Here’s an example SPF record for better clarity:
v=spf1 ip4: a:mail.example.com -all

  • v=spf1: Specifies the SPF version.
  • ip4: Authorises the IP address range to
  • a:mail.example.com: Authorises the mail server of mail.example.com.
  • -all: Specifies that no other servers are allowed to send mail.

› Types of Mechanisms

  • IP Mechanisms (ip4 and ip6): Allow you to specify authorised IP addresses or ranges. (Example: ip4: or ip6:2001:db8::/32)
  • Domain Mechanisms (a and mx): Allow authorisation based on domain names and their corresponding MX records. (Example: a:example.com or mx:mail.example.com)
  • Include Mechanism (include): Useful when using third-party servers, like email service providers. (Example: include:spf.thirdparty.com)
  • Exists Mechanism (exists): Used for complex setups and not commonly used. (Example: exists:config.example.com)

› Qualifiers

  1. + for Pass: This is the default qualifier. If you specify +ip4:, it means that the specified IP addresses are allowed to send email.
  2. – for Fail (Hard Fail): Indicates that the mail should be rejected if it fails SPF checks.
  3. ~ for Soft Fail: Emails will still be accepted but marked.
  4. ? for Neutral: This means that the server neither passes nor fails the SPF check.

› Example Records with Multiple Domains

If you manage multiple domains, you can combine SPF records as follows:
v=spf1 include:example1.com include:example2.com -all

This tells spam filters to allow mail servers from both example1.com and example2.com while rejecting all others.

› SPF Version

It’s important to note that as of now, v=spf1 is the only SPF version in use. If new versions come out in the future, this part of the record will show which SPF specification version you’re using.

› Limitations and Best Practices

  • Keep your SPF record concise; exceeding the DNS lookup limit could result in SPF failure.
  • Make sure to update the SPF record when changing mail servers or IP addresses to avoid email deliverability issues.

Understanding the syntax of an SPF record is the first step toward optimising your email validation system. By specifying the authorised senders correctly, you not only prevent spoofing but also improve your domain’s chances of passing through spam filters effectively.

› How SPF Records Work

Sender Policy Framework (SPF) records serve as a crucial component in the authentication process. While they might seem complex at first, understanding how SPF records function can provide you with invaluable insights into securing your domain’s email communication. In this section, we’ll break down the mechanics of SPF records, how they interact with receiving email servers, and why they are integral to preventing spoofing and improving email deliverability.

› SPF Record Lookup: The Initial Step

When an email is sent from your domain to a recipient, the receiving email server performs an SPF record lookup. This process involves querying the DNS (Domain Name System) for the SPF record associated with the domain in the email’s ‘Return-Path’. The server then retrieves the SPF record, which is a TXT record in the DNS, to proceed with the validation.

› Validation Mechanism: Checking the Sender’s IP Address

The core of the SPF mechanism lies in validating the IP address of the sending email server. The receiving server compares this IP address against the authorised IP addresses specified in your SPF record. If the IP address is listed as an authorised sender, the SPF check passes. Otherwise, it fails.

› SPF Qualifiers: Defining Actions

SPF qualifiers like -all, ~all, and ?all indicate what should happen when an SPF check fails, passes, or is inconclusive. For example, -all would suggest that emails from all other servers not listed in the SPF record should be rejected.

  • Pass: The email is accepted as it originates from an IP address or domain listed in the SPF record.
  • Fail (Hard Fail): The email is outright rejected.
  • Soft Fail: The email is marked but still delivered, indicating it failed SPF but is not necessarily malicious.
  • Neutral: The SPF check neither passes nor fails, usually resulting in the email being accepted but marked.

› Multiple Mechanisms: Adding Complexity

SPF records can have multiple mechanisms to authorise several IP ranges or specific third-party mail servers. For example, if you’re using an external email marketing service, you can include their servers in your SPF record using an include mechanism.

› SPF and Email Forwarding

It’s essential to note that SPF can sometimes break email forwarding setups. When a server forwards an email, the receiving server sees the original ‘Return-Path’ but detects the IP address of the forwarding server, which can cause an SPF failure. To resolve this issue, you may need to use specialised SPF mechanisms or settings on the forwarding server.

› SPF and Rate Limiting

SPF alone doesn’t regulate the email sending rate from your domain. However, using SPF can boost your domain’s reputation, reducing the likelihood that receiving servers will rate-limit your outgoing emails.

› Limitations and SPF Failure

  • DNS Lookup Limit: An SPF record should not exceed a DNS lookup limit of 10, as this can lead to SPF failure.
  • Inheritance Issues: Using too many include statements can complicate the SPF record and lead to inheritance issues, where the included domains have their own SPF records.

› SPF in Conjunction with Other Protocols

SPF works best when used alongside other authentication protocols like DKIM and DMARC. While SPF validates the ‘Return-Path,’ DKIM ensures the integrity of the message, and DMARC provides a policy framework for handling authentication failures.

Understanding how SPF records work is fundamental to leveraging their full potential. They act as the first line of defense in authenticating your domain’s email, playing a crucial role in preventing spoofing and helping your emails avoid spam filters. By configuring your SPF record thoughtfully and monitoring its performance regularly, you can substantially enhance the security and deliverability of your domain’s email communications.


SPF records are not only easy to set up but also crucial in protecting your domain from spoofing and ensuring that your messages pass through spam filters effectively. By adding an SPF record to your domain’s DNS records and regularly testing it, you can enhance email deliverability and protect your business communications. In the context of cPanel and WHM, this task becomes even more manageable, making it a must-do for all domain administrators.

Remember, an SPF record is just one layer of the authentication system. For comprehensive protection, consider implementing additional techniques like DKIM and DMARC. Stay vigilant, keep your records updated, and your domain will be well-protected against unwanted email activities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on SPF Records

Q. Why is an SPF Record Important?

Answer: SPF records serve multiple purposes. They help in verifying the sender’s identity, thereby reducing the chances of spoofing. They also improve your domain’s reputation and email deliverability by ensuring that emails sent from your domain are more likely to pass through spam filters.

Q. How Do I Create an SPF Record?

Answer: Creating an SPF record involves adding a new DNS TXT record to your domain’s DNS settings. The record will contain specific mechanisms that define which IP addresses or mail servers are authorised to send emails on behalf of your domain. Many hosting providers, including those that offer cPanel, provide easy options to set up SPF records.

Q. Can I Have Multiple SPF Records?

Answer: No, you should only have one SPF record for a domain. Having multiple SPF records can lead to verification errors and might affect your email deliverability. If you need to authorise multiple servers or IP addresses, you can do so within a single SPF record.

Q. What Are SPF Qualifiers Like -all and ~all?

Answer: SPF qualifiers dictate the action to take during an SPF check. The “-all” qualifier rejects emails from all servers not listed in the SPF record. The “~all” qualifier, also known as “Soft Fail,” recommends marking but still accepting emails from non-authorised servers.

Q. How Does SPF Work with Other Email Authentication Techniques?

Answer: People often use SPF alongside other email authentication techniques like DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) to create a comprehensive email security solution. While SPF validates the ‘Return-Path’ of an email, DKIM ensures message integrity, and DMARC sets the policy for handling failed authentication checks.

Q. How Often Should I Test My SPF Record?

Answer: Regular testing of your SPF record is advisable, especially when you make changes to your mail servers or authorised IP addresses. Tools like SPF record checkers can help you validate the setup and ensure it’s functioning as intended.

Q. What Happens If My SPF Record Fails Validation?

Answer: An SPF failure usually means that an unauthorised server is trying to send emails on behalf of your domain. Depending on your SPF policy and the receiving server’s configuration, such emails could be rejected, quarantined, or marked as suspicious. This could lead to reduced email deliverability and could harm your domain’s reputation.