Strong opinions, weakly held

The postmaster

One of the most interesting things and trying things about running my own server has been dealing with email issues. It seems like there are more options when it comes to email than there are with anything else. You have to pick a mail transfer agent and a POP/IMAP server, and you have to configure everything. Then there’s spam and viruses.

Postfix was the obvious choice when it came to choosing an MTA. It’s well documented, it’s easy to install, and is known for being secure. The other popular options there are Sendmail, which is monolithic, hard to configure, and used to be very insecure, and qmail, which I don’t know much about. I honestly didn’t give this decision much thought — I installed Postfix and moved on to other things.

The next question was what to do for POP and IMAP. The choice was tougher, mainly because I don’t know much about email administration. I started doing research online, and the big two packages I read about were Cyrus IMAP and Courier. Unfortunately, everything I read about them intimidated me, and most of the howto documents were aimed at people who were running email servers for lots and lots of users. I really didn’t want to have to set up MySQL databases to keep track of email aliases, or store mail, or do anything else. I am running MySQL anyway, but that just seemed excessive. I talked to a friend who suggested UW IMAP and Dovecot, which require you to have shell accounts for every mail user. That’s not a problem for me, because only my wife and I are using the server for email currently. I wound up going with Dovecot. It’s one of those things that just works, and I couldn’t be happier.

All that was left was to configure Postfix properly (this was relatively straightforward), get DNS set up correctly, and then put all of the email aliases I use into /etc/aliases. I got all of that done and I’ve been an email administrator for more than a week with no hiccups. So far so good.

In the nexts email-related post, I’ll discuss dealing with spam and viruses.


  1. If you ever want to do it again on Debian, I’m very happy with my recipe for a mail server, documented by my friend Jeff at:


  2. I chose Cyrus for IMAP because I wanted to use server-side filtering, and Cyrus comes with Sieve, which I’m quite happy with.

    Sieve: http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc3028.txt?number=3028

  3. I’ve been feeling the pain of email server admin… We were using spamassassin, but it was chewing up too much processor because of all the spam to non-existent accounts. (We’ve got more than just a few accounts, and did end up going the MySQL route.)

    I’ve been told that graylisting is the next thing we need to implement, so we’re looking into that now…

  4. Greylisting rocks, we’ve been very happy with it, and easy to setup with Postfix.

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