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Consider when creating an account through an API, they are sending an email confirmation message to access the generated URL and set their password.

There is no means / method of verifying such accounts through the API itself, what is a good approach to managing this setup?

I need to create many accounts, 50-60+ over the life time of the test suite run, how can I easily validate these accounts so they are usable?

-> waiting for gmail messages using the gmail API is much too slow and a very questionable approach. -> drop the emails in some sort of drop folder?

I would prefer a non paid service solution if possible.

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You can run mail server stub and configure the application under test to send the messages using that stub-smtp server you are running for your test. There is the number of solutions available. I prefer to use GreenMail. You can find some examples of how to assert incoming messages (and some other cases) here.

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