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Deliver the Mail with Amazon SES and Rails

By Sarmad Sabih

Screenshot 2016-06-21 13.10.44

Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES) is a cost-effective email service built on the reliable and scalable infrastructure that Amazon.com developed to serve its own customer base. With Amazon SES, you can send transactional email, marketing messages, or any other type of high-quality content to your customers. You can also use Amazon SES to receive messages and deliver them to an Amazon S3 bucket, call your custom code via an AWS Lambda function, or publish notifications to Amazon SNS. With Amazon SES, you have no required minimum commitments – you pay as you go and only pay for what you use.

Outline

This post will walk you through quickly setting up a Rails app to send 62,000 free emails per month if you are sending from an Amazon EC2 instance (App deployed on Amazon EC2). Additionally, you can also receive 1,000 emails per month for free on Amazon SES. Even if you’re not on Amazon EC2 you can still get the cheapest ($0.10 per 1,000 emails) pricing available when hosted elsewhere (Heroku, DigitalOcean etc.). We’ll be sending emails from the Amazon SES Sandbox for this article, as moving out of the sandbox requires requesting AWS support for extended access. Sending emails from the sandbox has some limitations, like we have to verify both the sending and receiving email addresses. But we can test our setup by doing so and ensure that everything is setup properly with the right code is in place to send emails with extended access in production.

Why Amazon SES?

It’s the cheapest. Although there are some limitations, like you can’t use dedicated IP addresses and the analytics are not as good as some of the other alternatives out there. But this is great option if you need to send a lot of email within a budget.

Price Comparison

Here is a quick comparison of SES pricing to some of the other well-known email providers.

Cost at 40,000 emails per month:

Service Price
AmazonSES $4
Mailgun $15
MailJet $17
Postmark $30
SendinBlue $7.5
SendGrid $10

Getting Started

Let’s jump straight into coding to quickly set things up to send emails with our Rails app through Amazon SES. We’re not going to worry about a lot of the vanilla Rails setup, focusing on the intended feature which is to create a bare bone Rails application to send emails through Amazon SES.

I’m running Ruby 2.3.0 and Rails 4.2.6.

rails new my_ses_app

This will create a new Rails app. Change your directory to the newly created app:

cd my_ses_app

Create a welcome controller with index action:

rails generate controller welcome index

Go to the config/routes.rb file and remove all the commented out examples so that you get a clean routes file to work with. Define a get route, a post route and application root by adding these three lines:

get 'welcome/index'
post '/send_email', to: 'welcome#send_email', as: 'send_email'
root 'welcome#index'

The routes file should look something like this after adding the above three lines:

Rails.application.routes.draw do
  get 'welcome/index'
  post '/send_email', to: 'welcome#send_email', as: 'send_email'
  root 'welcome#index'
end

Add the send_email action to welcome_controller (app/controllers/welcome_controller.rb)

def send_email
  MyMailer.send_email(name: params[:name], phone: params[:phone], email: params[:email], message: params[:message]).deliver
  redirect_to root_url, notice: "Email sent!"
end

 

Let’s make a form on our application root for sending the emails. Before adding the form to the view file, add Twitter Bootstrap to have an shiny elegant email form. Add the bootstrap-sass Gem to your Gemfile:

gem 'bootstrap-sass'

 

Run the bundle command to make sure the Gem is installed and picked up by our Rails app. You need to remove all contents from your app/assets/stylesheets/application.css file, rename it to application.scss, and add these two lines:

@import "bootstrap-sprockets";
@import "bootstrap";

You’re good to go with Twitter Bootstrap, now paste this HTML in app/views/welcome/index.html.erb:

<% flash.each do |name, msg| %>
  <div class="alert alert-<%= name == 'notice' ? "info" : "danger" %> fade in">
    <button class="close" data-dismiss="alert">
      ×
    </button>
    <i class="fa-fw fa fa-info"></i>
    <strong><Info><%= name %>!</strong> <%= raw(msg) %>
  </div>
<% end %>
<h1 class="text-center">AWS SES Email Example</h1>
<div class="container">
  <div class="row">
      <div class="col-md-6 col-md-offset-3">
        <div class="well well-sm">
          <%= form_tag(send_email_path, method: "post", :class=>"form-horizontal") do %>
          <fieldset>
            <legend class="text-center">Contact us</legend>

            <!-- Name input-->
            <div class="form-group">
              <label class="col-md-3 control-label" for="name">Name</label>
              <div class="col-md-9">
                <input id="name" name="name" type="text" placeholder="Your name" class="form-control">
              </div>
            </div>

            <!-- Email input-->
            <div class="form-group">
              <label class="col-md-3 control-label" for="email">Your E-mail</label>
              <div class="col-md-9">
                <input id="email" name="email" type="text" placeholder="Your email" class="form-control">
              </div>
            </div>

            <!-- Message body -->
            <div class="form-group">
              <label class="col-md-3 control-label" for="message">Your message</label>
              <div class="col-md-9">
                <textarea class="form-control" id="message" name="message" placeholder="Please enter your message here..." rows="5"></textarea>
              </div>
            </div>

            <!-- Form actions -->
            <div class="form-group">
              <div class="col-md-12 text-right">
                <button type="submit" class="btn btn-primary btn-lg">Submit</button>
              </div>
            </div>
          </fieldset>
          <% end %>
        </div>
      </div>
  </div>
</div>

 
We won’t go into the details of this HTML, as it clearly is out of scope of our intended feature. But this is a super easy HTML form with some Twitter Bootstrap magic which gives us a nice email form.

Go to http://localhost:3000/ in the browser and you should a form like this:

awssesemail_form

Let’s generate a mailer for our Rails app:

rails generate mailer my_mailer

This will add two files application_mailer.rb and my_mailer.rb in app/mailers directory, as well as two files mailer.html.erb and mailer.text.erb in app/views/layouts directory. Now add the send_email action to the empty app/mailers/my_mailer.rb file, which should look something like this:

class MyMailer < ApplicationMailer
  def send_email(options={})
    @name = options[:name]
    @email = options[:email]
    @message = options[:message]
    mail(:to=>"another_email@example.com", :subject=>"Amazon SES Email")
  end
end

After adding the send_email action to our mailer file, change the default from email address in app/mailers/application_mailer.rb file to the address you wish to use. In this tutorial, I’ll call it some_email@example.com.

class ApplicationMailer < ActionMailer::Base
  default from: "some_email@example.com"
  layout 'mailer'
end

We can remove app/views/layouts/mailer.html.erb for now, as we will be sending plain text emails for this tutorial. Create a new file in app/view/mailers/ named send_email.text.erb and add these lines :

Hi Sarmad,
Somebody contacted you through your site.
Details:

Name: <%= @name %>,

Email: <%= @email %>,

Message: <%= @message %>

 

This will be used as text template for our emails.

Open up config/environments/development.rb in order to change the SMTP configuration and test the emails out in the local development environment. Deploying this application to a production environment is out of scope of this post. We’re just going to go through the Amazon SES setup, code and configuration to get our app ready to send 62,000 free email per month from an Amazon EC2 instance. There’s already a great in-depth tutorial on SitePoint which runs through deploying to EC2. In fact, I personally read that tutorial to deploy on Amazon EC2 with Capistrano.

Head over to the config/environments/development.rb and make these changes to get our app ready to send emails. First of all set action_mailer.perform_deliveries to true as it is set to false by default in the development environment:

config.action_mailer.perform_deliveries = true

Next, look for this line:

config.action_mailer.raise_delivery_errors = false

 

and set it’s value to true. This will help debug delivery errors if our email fails to deliver for some reason.

Now paste the SMTP settings info the configuration block:

config.action_mailer.smtp_settings = {
  :address => "...",
  :port => 587,
  :user_name => ENV["SES_SMTP_USERNAME"], #Your SMTP user
  :password => ENV["SES_SMTP_PASSWORD"], #Your SMTP password
  :authentication => :login,
  :enable_starttls_auto => true
}

We have left address out for later, which we will copy from the Amazon SES management console.

There’s a number of things we need to do now on our Amazon SES management console:

  1. Login to AWS management console. Sign up for AWS if you haven’t already. It’s pretty simple.
  2. aws_login

  3. It will take you to the AWS Dashboard, look for SES.
  4. aws_home

  5. Click on “SES” to go to the Amazon SES Dashboard. Click on “Email Addresses”
  6. Verify two email addresses (You must have two email addresses to complete the email sending flow in sandbox mode). I have already added two emails and verified them. Click on Verify a New Email Address button to add your sending and receiving email addresses.
  7. ses_email_adresses
    ses_verify_new_email_address

  8. SES will send you a confirmation email, like the one below.
  9. Create your SMTP credentials to use in your app.
  10. Copy the SMTP server name to use in your app.

Refreshing the SES Email Adresses page, you should see your email address as verified. Add another one repeating the same steps. Put one email address in app/mailers/application_mailer.rb, replace some_email@example.com with yours.

default from: "some_email@example.com"

 
And put the other one in app/mailers/my_mailer.rb, replace another_email@example.com with your other verified email address.

mail(:to=>"another_email@example.com", :subject=>"Amazon SES Email")

Go to the SES SMTP Settings page

ses_smtp_settings

Copy the Server Name from there and put it in the action_mailer.smtp_settings block in config/environments/development.rb. Replace this line

:address => "<ses server name>",

with the Server Name you copied from the SMTP Settings page.

Now the action_mailer.smtp_settings block should look similar to this

config.action_mailer.smtp_settings = {
  :address => "email-smtp.us-east-1.amazonaws.com",
  :port => 587,
  :user_name => ENV["SES_SMTP_USERNAME"], #Your SMTP user
  :password => ENV["SES_SMTP_PASSWORD"], #Your SMTP password
  :authentication => :login,
  :enable_starttls_auto => true
}

 
Click on the “Create My SMTP Credentials” button shown in the picture above.

create_smtp_iam_user

You can change this username if you want, but this default one will do the trick for now.

smtp_username_password

Copy these credentials and paste into your config/environments/development.rb or, better yet, export them in your environment:

ENV["SES_SMTP_USERNAME"] = "*****" # Replace with your SMTP username
ENV["SES_SMTP_PASSWORD"] = "*****" # Replace with your SMTP password

 

We are all set to send emails now.

email_form

Click Submit. You will see an email sent notice.

email_sent_notice

Let’s head over to the inbox to verify if the email was properly sent and received.

email_received
 
This sums up this post about setting up our Rails app to send emails with Amazon SES. With this setup and configuration, you can send 62,000 free emails if the app is deployed on Amazon EC2. However, there are some things you must keep a close eye on

sending_statistics

Your Amazon SES account can be blacklisted and blocked if you have a lot of Bounces, Complaints or Rejects. You can read more about it here.

As we discussed that we’re going to be sending emails from Amazon SES Sandbox for this post. You can request Amazon to move you out of the Sandbox from here

sending_limit_increase_request

You can read more about that here.

Conclusion

Amazon SES is a great option out there to send easy and inexpensive emails. There are other services as well which might be a better fit than Amazon SES, in some cases, which I’ll hopefully cover in the future.

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