Life with qmail

Dave Sill
4 April 2003

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

1.1. Audience

Life with qmail is aimed at everyone interested in running qmail, from the rank amateur (newbie) who just installed Linux on a spare PC all the way up to the experienced system administrator or mail administrator. If you find it lacking or unclear, please let me know. Send comments to

There's a wealth of information available on qmail from a variety of sources. Some is targeted to newbies, some assumes that the reader is more experienced. Life with qmail is an attempt to "glue" this information into a single source, filling in some of the cracks and assuming only that the reader has basic skills such as:

1.2. What is qmail?

qmail is an Internet Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) for UNIX-like operating systems. It's a drop-in replacement for the Sendmail system provided with UNIX operating systems. qmail uses the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) to exchange messages with MTA's on other systems.

Note: The name is "qmail", not "Qmail".

1.3. Why use qmail?

Your operating system included an MTA, probably Sendmail, so if you're reading this document you're probably looking for something better. Some of the advantages of qmail over vendor-provided MTA's include:

1.3.1. Security

qmail was designed for high security. Sendmail has a long history of serious security problems. When Sendmail was written, the Net was a much friendlier place. Everyone knew everyone else, and there was little need to design and code for high security. Today's Internet is a much more hostile environment for network servers. Sendmail's author, Eric Allman, has done a good job of tightening up the program, but nothing short of a redesign can achieve true security.

1.3.2. Performance

qmail parallelizes mail delivery, performing up to 20 deliveries simultaneously, by default.

1.3.3. Reliability

Once qmail accepts a message, it guarantees that it won't be lost. qmail also supports a new mailbox format that works reliably even over NFS without locking.

1.3.4. Simplicity

qmail is smaller than any other equivalently-featured MTA.

Note: The official qmail web page, covers the advantages of qmail more extensively.

1.4. History

qmail was written by Dan Bernstein (DJB),, a math professor now at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Dr. Bernstein is also well known for his work in the field of cryptography and for his lawsuit against the U.S. government regarding the publishing of encryption source code. See,4,36217,00.html?owv or for information regarding the lawsuit.

The first public release of qmail, beta version 0.70, occurred on January, 24, 1996. The first gamma release, 0.90, was on August, 1, 1996.

Version 1.0, the first general release, was announced on February, 20, 1997. The current version, 1.03, was released on June, 15, 1998.

The next release is expected to be an evaluation version of 2.0. Some of things that might appear in version 2 are covered at

1.5. Features

The qmail web page,, has a comprehensive list of qmail's features. This section is based heavily on that list.

1.5.1. Setup

1.5.2. Security

1.5.3. Message construction

1.5.4. SMTP service

1.5.5. Queue management

1.5.6. Bounces

1.5.7. Routing by domain

1.5.8. SMTP delivery

1.5.9. Forwarding and mailing lists

1.5.10. Local delivery

1.5.11. POP3 service

1.6. Related packages

qmail follows the classic UNIX philosophy that each tool should perform a single, well-defined function, and complex functions should be built by connecting a series of simple tools into a "pipeline". The alternative is to build more and more complex tools that re-invent much of the functionality of the simpler tools.

It's not surprising, then, that qmail itself doesn't do everything everyone might want it to do. Here, then, are some of the most popular add-ons written for qmail. Of course, many standard UNIX utilities can also be plugged into qmail.

1.7. Architecture

Appendix D covers qmail's functional and physical structure. In a nutshell, qmail consists of a series of programs (modules) that perform different tasks.

1.8. License

qmail is copyrighted by the author, Dan Bernstein, and is not distributed with a statement of user's rights. In, he outlines what he thinks your rights are under U.S. copyright law. In he grants the right to distribute qmail source code. Binary distributions are allowed under the terms described there and in

The bottom line is that you can use qmail for any purpose, you can redistribute unmodified qmail source distributions and qualifying var-qmail binary distributions, and you can distribute patches to qmail. You can't distribute modified qmail source code or non-var-qmail binary distributions.

1.9. Comparison with other MTA's

A book could be written about this topic, but it would be tedious reading. Here's a quick comparison of qmail with some of the most common UNIX MTA's.

MTA Maturity Security Features Performance Sendmailish Modular
qmail medium high high high addons yes
Sendmail high low high low x no
Postfix medium high medium high yes yes
exim medium low high medium yes no
Courier low medium high medium optional yes

Sendmailish means the MTA behaves like Sendmail in some ways that would make a switch from Sendmail to the alternative MTA more user-transparent, such as the use of .forward files, /etc/aliases, and delivery to /var/spool/mail.

Jonathan de Boyne Pollard has reviews of many Unix MTAs at Another detailed comparison is available at

1.10. Documentation

1.10.1. man pages

The qmail distribution comes with a complete set of man pages. After installation, they're in /var/qmail/man. You'll probably need to add that directory to your MANPATH environment variable.

Shell Command
Bourne (/bin/sh) MANPATH=$MANPATH:/var/qmail/man; export MANPATH
bash, Korn export MANPATH=$MANPATH:/var/qmail/man
C Shell setenv MANPATH $MANPATH:/var/qmail/man

At this point, commands in the format "man name-of-qmail-man-page" should display the appropriate man page.

The man pages are also available on-line in HTML format from:

Note: The qmail man pages are loaded with information, but they require careful reading because they're written in a very dense, technical style. You might want to print off a set and read them through once to familiarize yourself with what's there and where it is. Very little information is repeated on multiple pages, so if you don't know where something is covered, it can be hard to find it.

1.10.2. Docs

The qmail distribution includes a series of documents that are installed under /var/qmail/doc. They include:

These docs are also available on-line from:

1.10.3. FAQs

There are two official FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions, with answers) documents:

The web FAQ is more complete.

1.10.4. Books The qmail Handbook

Dave Sill, the author of Life with qmail, has written a qmail book for Apress ( This book, The qmail Handbook, covers everything in this guide, but goes into much more detail and also covers a lot of new ground.

For more information, see To order this book from my bookstore, in association with, see qmail

John Levine is reportedly writing a qmail book for O'Reilly & Associates ( Running qmail

Richard Blum has written Running qmail, which is published by Sams. This book has received mixed reviews on the qmail mailing list.

For more information or to order this book, see

1.10.5. List archives

The qmail e-mail mailing list, maintained by Dan Bernstein, is a valuable source of information. A web archive of the lists messages is kept at:

A search engine for the archive is at:

Other web archives are available at:

Most questions about qmail can be answered by searching the list archives first.

1.10.6. Other Web Sites

1.11. Support

1.11.1. Mailing lists

The following lists reside on In order to prevent harvesting of e-mail addresses by spammers, I'm avoiding the use of complete, valid addresses and "mailto" URL's.

The lists are managed by ezmlm, which uses different addresses to perform different functions:

To specify a subscription/unsubscription address, say, send the message to: qmail

The main qmail mailing list. For discussion and questions/answers on most things related to qmail, except those with their own lists. Read Charles Cazabon's "12 Steps to qmail List Bliss" at before posting. Also read the FAQs and search the list archives before posting a question. When you ask questions, please try to include sufficient details to make it possible for people to respond:

Note: The qmail list uses a utility called qsecretary to verify that messages posted to the list are not spam. Each message posted to the list will result in an e-mail confirmation request from qsecretary. Read the message and follow the directions to confirm your message--usually just replying to the qsecretary message will do the trick. Regular list posters often automate this process using autoresponders like Charles Cazabon's pymsgauth, available from pymsgauth verifies that message sent to the qmail list really came from you, so it won't automatically confirm forged messages sent to the list in your name. qmailannounce

The qmail announcement mailing list. New releases are announced here. There's no submission address: it's a read-only list. serialmail

For discussion of the serialmail package. ezmlm

For discussion of the ezmlm mailing list manager.

1.11.2. Consultants

See for a list of commercial support providers.

1.11.3. FAQTS Knowledgebase

A database of qmail-related questions and answers is available at If you have a question that the FAQ doesn't answer, try searching this knowledgebase. It's especially good at answering "how to" questions.

2. Installation

This section covers installing qmail. If you're an experienced system administrator, you can install qmail following the directions in INSTALL in the source distribution. The INSTALL directions are the official installation directions. They're more complex than the Life with qmail directions, and they assume that the reader is an experienced system and mail administrator. They're also outdated and don't reflect Bernstein's current recommended practices.

Note: If you choose to install using the following directions, you should read through the entire section to familiarize yourself with the overall process.

2.1. Installation Issues

2.1.1. Binary vs. source code

Due to qmail's restrictive licensing regarding the distribution of prebuilt packages, qmail is usually installed from a source code distribution.

If you're not familiar with the distinction between source code and binaries, imagine ordering a pizza delivered to your house. The "binary" version of the pizza arrives ready-to-eat. The "source code" pizza comes as a kit containing flour, yeast, cheese, sauce, toppings, and directions for cooking the pizza yourself. Source code installations are a little more work for you, but if you follow the directions carefully, the result is the same--or even better. The self-baked pizza will be fresher, you can adjust the toppings to your preferences, and you'll know a lot more about your pizza and how it "works".

Safely running an Internet-accesible network service is not easy. An improperly configured service can put the host system at risk of attack or can be used to attack other sites--potentially exposing the administrator to legal liability. The more you know about how your network services work, the more likely they are to be properly configured and secure.

2.1.2. Tarball vs. OS-specific package

Some operating systems provide a mechanism for automating source code installations. Returning to the pizza analogy, they make it possible to package the ingredients and directions in such a way that you can just push a button and have the pizza bake itself.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

In practice, it might not be such a good idea. Assembling these packages is pretty difficult, and they might not do things the way they're supposed to. They're software, and like any software, they can have bugs. But even if they're bug free, the convenience they provide comes at a cost. You lose most of the advantages of the self-baked pizza: the ability to adjust the toppings to your personal preferences, and the knowledge of how the pizza was made and how it works.

If qmail was a pizza, the self-building approach might still be the way to go. But it's not: it's a fairly complicated system that the installer/maintainer needs to understand pretty well in order to be able to keep it working smoothly. The self-installing qmail is easier to install than the user-installed version, but the user-installed version is easier to configure and troubleshoot. You install qmail once on a system, but you will probably have several opportunities to reconfigure it or try to figure out why mail isn't flowing the way you think it should.

For this reason, I suggest installing qmail from scratch using the source code tarball, not a Red Hat RPM or other self-installing bundle.

2.2. Preparation

Before installing qmail on a system, especially if this is your first qmail installation, there are a few things you need to think about.

2.3. System requirements

qmail will install and run on most UNIX and UNIX-like systems, but there are few requirements:

2.4. Download the source

OK, so you've got a system meeting the requirements ready for installing qmail. The first step is to download the source code for qmail and any other add-ons. You'll need qmail, of course, and you should probably also get ucspi-tcp and daemontools:

Retrieve these files using your web browser, web client (e.g., wget), or FTP client.

Note: If any of the links fail, it's probably because the package has been updated. In that case, you should go to and follow the links to download the current version. It's possible that upgraded versions aren't compatible with the following instructions, so be sure to read the release notes in the "Upgrading from previous versions..." sections.

2.5. Build the source

2.5.1. Verify build environment

The first thing you need to do is make sure that you have the necessary tools to compile a program. How you determine this depends on what flavor of UNIX you're using. The easiest way to tell, although it's not guaranteed, is to try it.

Note: If any one of these tests passes, you can stop and go on to the next section.

    $ cc
    cc: No input files specified

In this section we'll go through the actual steps of compiling qmail. A way to cut-n-paste will come in handy here, but isn't really necessary.

2.5.2. Unpack the distribution

If you made it this far, you have a working C compiler and copies of the tarballs. Next, copy or move the tarballs to the directory you want to do the work in. /usr/local/src is a good choice for qmail and ucspi-tcp. daemontools should be built under /package.

At this time you probably want to become root, if you're not already.

    umask 022
    mkdir -p /usr/local/src
    mv qmail-1.03.tar.gz ucspi-tcp-0.88.tar.gz /usr/local/src
    mkdir -p /package
    mv daemontools-0.76.tar.gz /package
    chmod 1755 /package

Now you can unpack the packages.

    cd /usr/local/src
    gunzip qmail-1.03.tar.gz
    tar xpf qmail-1.03.tar
    gunzip ucspi-tcp-0.88.tar.gz
    tar xpf ucspi-tcp-0.88.tar
    rm *.tar    # optional, unless space is very tight
    cd /package
    gunzip daemontools-0.76.tar.gz
    tar xpf daemontools-0.76.tar
    rm *.tar    # optional, again

There should now be directories called /usr/local/src/qmail-1.03, /usr/local/src/ucspi-tcp-0.88, and /package/admin/daemontools-0.76.

2.5.3. Create directories

Since qmail's installation program creates the subdirectories as they're needed, you only need to create the qmail "home" directory:

    mkdir /var/qmail

And on to the next section.

Note: If you want some or all of the qmail files to reside elsewhere than /var, this can be accomplished by creating symbolic links under /var/qmail pointing to the other locations.

For example, the qmail configuration files can be stored in /etc/qmail by doing:

    mkdir /etc/qmail
    ln -s /etc/qmail /var/qmail/control

2.5.4. Create users and groups

The easiest way to create the necessary users and groups is to create a little script file to do it for you. In the source directory you'll find a file called INSTALL.ids. It contains the command lines for many platforms, so copying the file to another name and editing that is quick and easy.

    cd /usr/local/src/qmail-1.03
    cp INSTALL.ids IDS

Then, using your favorite editor, remove all of the file except the lines you want. For example, here's what IDS would look like for FreeBSD after editing:

    pw groupadd nofiles
    pw useradd qmaild -g nofiles -d /var/qmail -s /nonexistent
    pw useradd alias -g nofiles -d /var/qmail/alias -s /nonexistent
    pw useradd qmaill -g nofiles -d /var/qmail -s /nonexistent
    pw useradd qmailp -g nofiles -d /var/qmail -s /nonexistent
    pw groupadd qmail
    pw useradd qmailq -g qmail -d /var/qmail -s /nonexistent
    pw useradd qmailr -g qmail -d /var/qmail -s /nonexistent
    pw useradd qmails -g qmail -d /var/qmail -s /nonexistent

Then to run it, either use chmod to make it executable or run it with sh:

First method:

    chmod 700 IDS

Second method:

    /bin/sh IDS

When the script finishes, all of your users and groups will be created and you can go on to the next section.

But what do you do if your system isn't listed in INSTALL.ids? You'll have to create them manually. Start by using your favorite editor and editing /etc/group. You need to add the following two lines to the end of the file:


Note: Make sure that 2107 and 2108 aren't already used. If they are used, select two numbers that aren't already in use.

Next, using vipw (most systems have it, if not you'll need to use your editor again but this time on /etc/passwd) add these lines to the end of the file:


Note: Make sure 7790-7796 aren't already in use and that 2107 and 2108 are the same group ids you used above. If any of these UID's are already being used, select numbers that aren't already in use.

You don't specifically need to add any of these lines to the end of the file, that's just the easiest way to explain it here.

You're now ready to continue on to the next section.

2.5.5. Do the build

Now you can start building qmail. Change to the /usr/local/src/qmail-1.03 directory and let's get started:

    cd /usr/local/src/qmail-1.03

In the Verify Build Environment section, you located your C compiler. If it's not called cc or the directory it resides in isn't in your PATH environment variable, you'll need to edit conf-cc and conf-ld. Say your compiler is gcc, and it's in your PATH. Simply edit conf-cc and conf-ld and replace "cc" with "gcc".

Now type the following:

    make setup check

Note: If the build fails with an error about "errno" being undefined, you're probably using a system with glibc 2.3.1 or later (e.g., Red Hat 9). See the Patches section for information about patches for qmail, daemontools, and ucspi-tcp that fix this error.

After the build is complete, you'll need to do your post installation configuration. A couple of scripts are provided to make this job a lot easier.

If your DNS is configured properly, this script should be all you need at this point:


If, for some reason, config can't find your hostname in DNS, you'll have to run the config-fast script:

    ./config-fast the.full.hostname

For example, if your domain is and the hostname of your computer is dolphin, your config-fast line would look like this:


Note: On a small local LAN you might want to use a pseudo domain such as ".local". E.g., if your hostname is "mash", you could do ./config-fast mash.local. If you do this, be sure to configure qmail to use a valid Internet domain name in return addresses. (See section 3, Configuration.)

qmail is now installed on your system and is ready to be run! The next section will guide you through the steps of starting and testing qmail.

2.6. Install ucspi-tcp

Earlier, you unpacked the qmail, ucspi-tcp, and daemontools tarballs. Now change to the ucspi-tcp directory:

    cd /usr/local/src/ucspi-tcp-0.88

In the Do the build section, if you modified conf-cc and conf-ld, you'll need to make the same changes in this directory.

Then do:

    make setup check

That's it. ucspi-tcp is installed.

2.7. Install daemontools

Change to the daemontools build directory:

    cd /package/admin/daemontools-0.76

Once again, if you modified conf-cc and conf-ld during the qmail and ucspi-tcp builds, you'll need to make the same changes in the src directory.

Then do:


On BSD systems (no /etc/inittab), you'll need to reboot at this point to start svscan, the master service control daemon.

Use "ps -ef | grep svscan" or "ps waux | grep svscan" to verify that svscan is running.

Note: Under Solaris, you'll have to modify the /etc/inittab entry that starts svscan from:



  SV:123456:respawn:/command/svscanboot </dev/null >/var/log/svscan 2>&1


  SV:123456:respawn:/command/svscanboot </dev/null >/dev/msglog 2>&1

Depending upon whether you want error messages resutling from starting svscan to be sent to a log file or the system console. For an explanation of why this is necessary, see:

Note: A Slackware user reports that the SV /etc/inittab entry has to be moved before the x1 entry or svscan won't be started at boot-up.

2.8. Start qmail

2.8.1. /var/qmail/rc

The /var/qmail/boot directory contains example qmail boot scripts for different configurations: /var/spool/mail vs. $HOME/Mailbox, using procmail or dot-forward, and various combinations of these. Feel free to examine these, but for our installation, we'll use the following script:


# Using stdout for logging
# Using control/defaultdelivery from qmail-local to deliver messages by default

exec env - PATH="/var/qmail/bin:$PATH" \
qmail-start "`cat /var/qmail/control/defaultdelivery`"

Note: This script uses backquotes (`), not single quotes ('). For best results, copy and paste the scripts in this guide instead of retyping them.

Use your editor to create the above /var/qmail/rc, then execute these commands:

    chmod 755 /var/qmail/rc
    mkdir /var/log/qmail

At this point you need to decide the default delivery mode for messages that aren't delivered by a .qmail file. The following table outlines some common choices.

Mailbox format Name Location defaultdelivery Comments
mbox Mailbox $HOME ./Mailbox most common, works with most MUA's
maildir Maildir $HOME ./Maildir/ more reliable, less MUA support
mbox  username /var/spool/mail See INSTALL.vsm traditional UNIX mailbox

See INSTALL.mbox, INSTALL.maildir, and INSTALL.vsm for more information.

To select your default mailbox type, just enter the defaultdelivery value from the table into /var/qmail/control/defaultdelivery. E.g., to select the standard qmail Mailbox delivery, do:

    echo ./Mailbox >/var/qmail/control/defaultdelivery

Note: defaultdelivery isn't a standard qmail control file. It's a feature of the above /var/qmail/rc file. The defaultdelivery argument to qmail-start is the contents of a .qmail file that specifies delivery instructions to be followed when no actual .qmail is found. Putting these instructions in a separate control file eliminates the need to quote shell metacharacters in the delivery instructions and avoids messy multi-line command arguments.

2.8.2. System start-up files The qmailctl script

If you were to manually execute the /var/qmail/rc script, qmail would be partially started. But we want qmail started up automatically every time the system is booted and we want it shut down cleanly when the system is halted.

This is accomplished by creating a startup/shutdown script like the following in /var/qmail/bin/qmailctl:


# For Red Hat chkconfig
# chkconfig: - 80 30
# description: the qmail MTA

export PATH

QMAILDUID=`id -u qmaild`
NOFILESGID=`id -g qmaild`

case "$1" in
    echo "Starting qmail"
    if svok /service/qmail-send ; then
      svc -u /service/qmail-send /service/qmail-send/log
      echo "qmail-send supervise not running"
    if svok /service/qmail-smtpd ; then
      svc -u /service/qmail-smtpd /service/qmail-smtpd/log
      echo "qmail-smtpd supervise not running"
    if [ -d /var/lock/subsys ]; then
      touch /var/lock/subsys/qmail
    echo "Stopping qmail..."
    echo "  qmail-smtpd"
    svc -d /service/qmail-smtpd /service/qmail-smtpd/log
    echo "  qmail-send"
    svc -d /service/qmail-send /service/qmail-send/log
    if [ -f /var/lock/subsys/qmail ]; then
      rm /var/lock/subsys/qmail
    svstat /service/qmail-send
    svstat /service/qmail-send/log
    svstat /service/qmail-smtpd
    svstat /service/qmail-smtpd/log
    echo "Flushing timeout table and sending ALRM signal to qmail-send."
    svc -a /service/qmail-send
    echo "Sending HUP signal to qmail-send."
    svc -h /service/qmail-send
    echo "Pausing qmail-send"
    svc -p /service/qmail-send
    echo "Pausing qmail-smtpd"
    svc -p /service/qmail-smtpd
    echo "Continuing qmail-send"
    svc -c /service/qmail-send
    echo "Continuing qmail-smtpd"
    svc -c /service/qmail-smtpd
    echo "Restarting qmail:"
    echo "* Stopping qmail-smtpd."
    svc -d /service/qmail-smtpd /service/qmail-smtpd/log
    echo "* Sending qmail-send SIGTERM and restarting."
    svc -t /service/qmail-send /service/qmail-send/log
    echo "* Restarting qmail-smtpd."
    svc -u /service/qmail-smtpd /service/qmail-smtpd/log
    tcprules /etc/tcp.smtp.cdb /etc/tcp.smtp.tmp < /etc/tcp.smtp
    chmod 644 /etc/tcp.smtp.cdb
    echo "Reloaded /etc/tcp.smtp."
    cat <<HELP
   stop -- stops mail service (smtp connections refused, nothing goes out)
  start -- starts mail service (smtp connection accepted, mail can go out)
  pause -- temporarily stops mail service (connections accepted, nothing leaves)
   cont -- continues paused mail service
   stat -- displays status of mail service
    cdb -- rebuild the tcpserver cdb file for smtp
restart -- stops and restarts smtp, sends qmail-send a TERM & restarts it
doqueue -- schedules queued messages for immediate delivery
 reload -- sends qmail-send HUP, rereading locals and virtualdomains
  queue -- shows status of queue
   alrm -- same as doqueue
  flush -- same as doqueue
    hup -- same as reload
    echo "Usage: $0 {start|stop|restart|doqueue|flush|reload|stat|pause|cont|cdb|queue|help}"
    exit 1

exit 0

This script is available via

Create the script using your editor or by downloading it with your web browser (recommended).

Make the qmailctl script executable and link it to a directory in your path:

    chmod 755 /var/qmail/bin/qmailctl
    ln -s /var/qmail/bin/qmailctl /usr/bin The supervise scripts

Now create the supervise directories for the qmail services:

    mkdir -p /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-send/log
    mkdir -p /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-smtpd/log

Create the /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-send/run file:

exec /var/qmail/rc

Create the /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-send/log/run file:

exec /usr/local/bin/setuidgid qmaill /usr/local/bin/multilog t /var/log/qmail

Create the /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-smtpd/run file:

QMAILDUID=`id -u qmaild`
NOFILESGID=`id -g qmaild`
MAXSMTPD=`cat /var/qmail/control/concurrencyincoming`
LOCAL=`head -1 /var/qmail/control/me`
if [ -z "$QMAILDUID" -o -z "$NOFILESGID" -o -z "$MAXSMTPD" -o -z "$LOCAL" ]; then
    echo /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-smtpd/run
    exit 1
if [ ! -f /var/qmail/control/rcpthosts ]; then
    echo "No /var/qmail/control/rcpthosts!"
    echo "Refusing to start SMTP listener because it'll create an open relay"
    exit 1
exec /usr/local/bin/softlimit -m 2000000 \
    /usr/local/bin/tcpserver -v -R -l "$LOCAL" -x /etc/tcp.smtp.cdb -c "$MAXSMTPD" \
        -u "$QMAILDUID" -g "$NOFILESGID" 0 smtp /var/qmail/bin/qmail-smtpd 2>&1

Note: concurrencyincoming isn't a standard qmail control file. It's a feature of the above script. Also, that's -1 (dash one) on the LOCAL line and -l (dash ell) on the tcpserver line.

Note: Under Solaris, the normal id program won't work right in this script. Instead of id, use /usr/xpg4/bin/id, e.g.:

    QMAILDUID=`/usr/xpg4/bin/id -u qmaild`
    NOFILESGID=`/usr/xpg4/bin/id -g qmaild`

Note: The memory limit specified in the softlimit command may need to be raised depending upon your operating system and hardware platform. If attempts to connect to port 25 fail or remote systems are unable to send you mail, try raising it to 3000000 or 4000000.

Create the concurrencyincoming control file:

    echo 20 > /var/qmail/control/concurrencyincoming
    chmod 644 /var/qmail/control/concurrencyincoming

Create the /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-smtpd/log/run file:

exec /usr/local/bin/setuidgid qmaill /usr/local/bin/multilog t /var/log/qmail/smtpd

Make the run files executable:

    chmod 755 /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-send/run
    chmod 755 /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-send/log/run
    chmod 755 /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-smtpd/run
    chmod 755 /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-smtpd/log/run

Then set up the log directories:

    mkdir -p /var/log/qmail/smtpd
    chown qmaill /var/log/qmail /var/log/qmail/smtpd

Finally, link the supervise directories into /service:

    ln -s /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-send /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-smtpd /service

The /service directory is created when daemontools is installed.

Note: The qmail system will start automatically shortly after these links are created. If you don't want it running yet, do:

    qmailctl stop SMTP Access Control

Allow the local host to inject mail via SMTP:

    echo '127.:allow,RELAYCLIENT=""' >>/etc/tcp.smtp
    qmailctl cdb

2.8.3. Stop and disable the installed MTA

Although it's possible to run both qmail and your existing MTA, which is probably Sendmail, simultaneously, I don't recommend it unless you know what you're doing. And, frankly, if you're reading this, you probably don't know what you're doing. :-)

If your existing MTA is Sendmail, you should be able to stop it by running the init.d script with the "stop" argument. E.g., one of these should work:

    /etc/init.d/sendmail stop
    /sbin/init.d/sendmail stop
    /etc/rc.d/init.d/sendmail stop

If you can't find an init.d/sendmail script, you can locate sendmail's PID using "ps -ef|grep sendmail" or "ps waux|grep sendmail" and stop it using:

    kill PID-of-sendmail

If your MTA isn't Sendmail, check its documentation for the correct shutdown procedure.

You should also consider removing the old MTA completely from the system. At least disable the init.d script so it doesn't try to start up again when the system is rebooted.

For Red Hat Linux, removing Sendmail can be accomplished by:

    rpm -e --nodeps sendmail

Note: If you're using an RPM-based Linux distribution like Red Hat, removing the MTA package might cause problems down the road. Utilities that update the system might try to reinstall Sendmail, or MUA packages might not install because they can't tell an MTA is installed. Mate Wierdl provides a stub package called "fake_mta" that can be installed to prevent these problems. Simply install the RPM available from

Verify that nothing is listening to the SMTP port (25). Culprits could be the old MTA, inetd, or xinetd. The following command should produce no output (unless the qmail-smtpd service is running):

    netstat -a | grep smtp

If something is running, make sure it's not qmail by doing:

    qmailctl stop

The repeat the netstat check:

    netstat -a | grep smtp

If you still get output from that command you'll have to locate the culprit and fix it before qmail's SMTP service will run.

Lastly, replace any existing /usr/lib/sendmail with the qmail version:

    mv /usr/lib/sendmail /usr/lib/sendmail.old                  # ignore errors
    mv /usr/sbin/sendmail /usr/sbin/sendmail.old                # ignore errors
    chmod 0 /usr/lib/sendmail.old /usr/sbin/sendmail.old        # ignore errors
    ln -s /var/qmail/bin/sendmail /usr/lib
    ln -s /var/qmail/bin/sendmail /usr/sbin

Note: It's important to create the sendmail links, regardless of the previous MTA, if any. The sendmail command is invoked by many applications for sending mail.

The last step is to create a couple of system aliases.

2.8.4. Create System Aliases

There are three system aliases that should be created on all qmail installations:

Alias Purpose
postmaster RFC 2821 required, points to the mail adminstrator (you)
mailer-daemon de facto standard recipient for some bounces
root redirects mail from privileged account to the system administrator

To create these aliases, decide where you want each of them to go (a local user or a remote address) and create and populate the appropriate .qmail files. For example, say local user dave is both the system and mail administrator:

    echo dave > /var/qmail/alias/.qmail-root
    echo dave > /var/qmail/alias/.qmail-postmaster
    ln -s .qmail-postmaster /var/qmail/alias/.qmail-mailer-daemon
    chmod 644 /var/qmail/alias/.qmail-root /var/qmail/alias/.qmail-postmaster

See INSTALL.alias for more details.

2.8.5. Start qmail

If you stopped qmail above after creating the links in /service, you should restart it now:

    qmailctl start

2.9. Test the Installation

qmail should now be running. First run qmailctl stat to verify that the services are up and running:

    # qmailctl stat
    /service/qmail-send: up (pid 30303) 187 seconds
    /service/qmail-send/log: up (pid 30304) 187 seconds
    /service/qmail-smtpd: up (pid 30305) 187 seconds
    /service/qmail-smtpd/log: up (pid 30308) 187 seconds
    messages in queue: 0
    messages in queue but not yet preprocessed: 0

All four services should be "up" for more than a second. If they're not, you've probably got a typo in the associated run script or you skipped one or more steps in creating the necessary files, directories, or links. Go back through the installation step-by-step and double check your work.

The readproctitle program keeps a log of error messages generated by services managed by svscan. To see these messages, use ps or some other process listing command. For example, you might see something like:

    # ps -efl | grep "service errors" | grep -v grep
    000 S root      1006  1001  0  76   0    -   334 pipe_w Mar31 ?        00:00:00
    readproctitle service errors: ...unable to start qmail-smtpd/run: exec format error

In this case, the problem is that there is an error in the first line of the /service/qmail-smtpd/run script--most likely caused by the file being is DOS format (CR-LF line endings instead of Unix's LF-only).

It sometimes helps to run a service manually in order to find configuration problems. For example, if your qmail-smtpd/log service isn't running, do:

    cd /service/qmail-smtpd/log
    svc -d .
    if no errors, enter a line of text and press ENTER
    if still no errors, enter CTRL-D (end of file)

At this point, you should be able to identify the problem and fix it. Once that's done, return to the service's directory, if necessary, and do:

    svc -u .

Once the services are all up with >1 second uptime, follow the instructions in TEST.deliver and TEST.receive to verify that they're working correctly. Note that using these instructions, logging will be accomplished by multilog to /var/log/qmail, not splogger to something like /var/log/maillog.

Note: If you chose maildir mailbox format as the default delivery method, you will need to create a Maildir directory in your home directory and alias's home directory before trying these instructions. See the maildir section to see how to properly create this directory.

3. Configuration

You've got qmail installed, from the recommended source tarball method, one of the self-compiling packages, or a var-qmail package. This section contains information you will need to configure qmail to make it work the way you want it to.

3.1. Configuration Files

All of qmail's system configuration files, with the exception of the .qmail files in ~alias, reside in /var/qmail/control. The qmail-control man page contains a table like the following:

Control Default Used by Purpose
badmailfrom none qmail-smtpd blacklisted From addresses
bouncefrom MAILER-DAEMON qmail-send username of bounce sender
bouncehost me qmail-send hostname of bounce sender
concurrencyincoming none /service/qmail-smtpd/run max simultaneous incoming SMTP connections
concurrencylocal 10 qmail-send max simultaneous local deliveries
concurrencyremote 20 qmail-send max simultaneous remote deliveries
defaultdelivery none /var/qmail/rc default .qmail file
defaultdomain me qmail-inject default domain name
defaulthost me qmail-inject default host name
databytes 0 qmail-smtpd max number of bytes in message (0=no limit)
doublebouncehost me qmail-send host name of double bounce sender
doublebounceto postmaster qmail-send user to receive double bounces
envnoathost me qmail-send default domain for addresses without "@"
helohost me qmail-remote host name used in SMTP HELO command
idhost me qmail-inject host name for Message-ID's
localiphost me qmail-smtpd name substituted for local IP address
locals me qmail-send domains that we deliver locally
me FQDN of system various default for many control files
morercpthosts none qmail-smtpd secondary rcpthosts database
percenthack none qmail-send domains that can use "%"-style relaying
plusdomain me qmail-inject domain substituted for trailing "+"
qmqpservers none qmail-qmqpc IP addresses of QMQP servers
queuelifetime 604800 qmail-send seconds a message can remain in queue
rcpthosts none qmail-smtpd domains that we accept mail for
smtpgreeting me qmail-smtpd SMTP greeting message
smtproutes none qmail-remote artificial SMTP routes
timeoutconnect 60 qmail-remote how long, in seconds, to wait for SMTP connection
timeoutremote 1200 qmail-remote how long, in seconds, to wait for remote server
timeoutsmtpd 1200 qmail-smtpd how long, in seconds, to wait for SMTP client
virtualdomains none qmail-send virtual domains and users

For more information about a particular control file, see the man page for the module listed under "Used by".

3.2. Relaying

3.2.1. Introduction

What is relaying? It's when an MTA accepts a message via SMTP that doesn't appear to be either for a local address or from a local sender.

In the pre-spam days, it was common for MTA's to be configured as open relays: promiscuous servers that would accept mail from anyone, for anyone.

Most MTA's now are configured to either completely disable relaying, or to only a allow certain trusted users or systems to use them as a relay.

Chris Johnson has written a very nice document on the topic for qmail users. I encourage you to visit

3.2.2. Disabling relaying

If you follow the official directions for installing qmail, relaying will be turned off by default. This is accomplished by populating the file /var/qmail/control/rcpthosts with the fully-qualified domain names listed in locals and virtualdomains (the local hosts). The name of the control file, rcpthosts, comes from the SMTP RCPT (recipient) command. In an SMTP session, RCPT is used to specify the addresses of the recipients of a message. rcpthosts, then, lists the valid hostnames that can appear in a RCPT address.

3.2.3. Allowing selective relaying

Most single-user and small workgroup servers can disable relaying completely, but if you have to support a distributed user community, you'll need a way to allow your users, and only your users, to use your system as a relay. This is accomplished by using tcpserver to set the RELAYCLIENT environment variable, which tells qmail-smtpd to override the rcpthosts file.

If you follow the installation instructions in this document, selective relaying will be enabled by default. To give a client relay access, add an entry to /etc/tcp.smtp like:

    IP address of client:allow,RELAYCLIENT=""

Then rebuild the SMTP access database by doing:

    qmailctl cdb


    tcprules /etc/tcp.smtp.cdb /etc/tcp.smtp.tmp < /etc/tcp.smtp
    chmod 644 /etc/tcp.smtp*

If you followed the official installation instructions, Chris Johnson has written another very nice document on how to configure qmail to allow selected hosts to relay. See

3.3. Multiple host names

If your system is known by more than one name, e.g., all addresses of the form can also be written as or, then you need to tell qmail this so it'll know which addresses it should deliver locally and which messages it should accept from remote systems.

To do this, just add all of the names to two control files:

Send qmail-send a HUP (hangup) signal to tell it to reread locals. If you have qmailctl, you can do:

    qmailctl reload

3.4. Virtual domains

Virtual domains are similar to the multiple host names discussed in the previous section, but there are some important differences. First, if hosts the virtual domain, it's generally not true that messages sent to should end up in the same mailbox as messages sent to The namespace for each virtual domain is distinct.

With qmail, virtual domains are configured in the virtualdomains file, which consists of one or more entries of the form:


qmail converts user@domain to prepend-user@domain and treats the result as if domain was local. The user@ part is optional. If it's omitted, the entry matches all @domain addresses.

Returning to the example scenario above, if the mail administrator wanted to create a virtual domain,, under the administrative control of user john, the following entry in virtualdomains would accomplish that:

An incoming message to would be rewritten as and delivered locally. See the .qmail section, and the extension addresses subsection for more information about how john can manage his virtual domain.

As with multiple host names, all virtual domains must be listed in rcpthosts so qmail-smtpd will know to accept messages addressed to them. However, unlike multiple host names, virtual domains must not be added to locals.

After modifying virtualdomains, send qmail-send a HUP (hangup) signal to tell it to reread the file. If you have qmailctl, you can do:

    qmailctl reload

Don't forget to add virtual domains to rcpthosts, too.

Note: Domain name server (DNS) mail exchanger (MX) records must be set up to direct messages for virtual domains to the appropriate mail server. This is a job for the name server administrator and is beyond the scope of this guide.

3.5. Aliases

qmail's standard aliasing mechanism is a natural outgrowth of qmail's local delivery mechanism. qmail-local attempts to deliver a message addressed to localpart@host to a local user named localpart. If no matching user is found, the message is delivered to the alias user, a pseudo-user on all qmail systems whose home directory is usually /var/qmail/alias.

For example, say you want to create an alias that forwards messages to user tom. On, do, as user root:

    echo \&tom > /var/qmail/alias/.qmail-info

The .qmail section and extension addresses subsection describe how to create .qmail files that specify which aliases exist, and what to do with messages sent to them.

The Gotchas appendix covers a couple of tricky cases regarding the usage of alias--aliases containing uppercase characters and dots ('.')--and man dot-qmail contains complete documentation of the usage of .qmail files.

Note that because of the way aliases are implemented in qmail, an alias can never override a valid user's deliveries. E.g., if rachel is a normal user, ~alias/.qmail-rachel will not be used.

The fastforward package provides an alternative aliasing mechanism that puts multiple aliases in a single file compatible with Sendmail's alias database.

The next section, qmail-users, describes another mechanism that can be used to implement aliases.

3.6. qmail-users

qmail-users is a system for assigning addresses to users. A series of configuration files resides under /var/qmail/users. The assign file is a table of assignments. There are two kinds of assignments: simple and wildcard.

Note: assign contains a series of assignments, one per line, followed by a line containing a single dot (.). If you create assign manually, don't forget the dot line.

3.6.1. Simple assignment

A simple assignment looks like:


What this means is that messages received for address will be delivered as user user, with the specified uid and gid, and the file directory/.qmaildashextension will specify how the messages are to be delivered.

3.6.2. Wildcard assignment

A wildcard assignment looks like:


What this means is that messages received for addresses of the form prefixrest will be delivered as user user, with the specified uid and gid, and the file directory/.qmaildashprependrest will specify how the messages are to be delivered.

3.6.3. qmail-user programs

qmail-user has two helper programs: qmail-newu and qmail-pw2u.

qmail-newu processes the assign file and generates a constant database (CDB) file called cdb in /var/qmail/users. CDB is a binary format that can be accessed quickly by qmail-lspawn, even when there are thousands of assignments.

qmail-pw2u converts the system user database, /etc/passwd, into a series of assignments suitable for assign. qmail-pw2u uses a set of files to modify the translation rules.

Note: If you use qmail-pw2u, don't forget to re-run qmail-pw2u and qmail-newu whenever you add users, remove users, or change UID's or GID's. A typical sequence would be:

    qmail-pw2u </etc/passwd >/var/qmail/users/assign

3.7. Spam Control

Chris Hardie has written an excellent qmail Anti-Spam HOWTO. It's available from

3.8. Virus Scanning

Jason Haar has written Qmail-Scanner, a content scanning harness for qmail. See for more information.

Qmail-Scanner includes a simple built-in scanner, but serious scanning requires a separate virus scanner--either one of the supported commercial scanners or Tomasz Kojm's free Clam Antivirus scanner, available from

4. Usage

This section covers the usage of qmail by normal users. If you read or send mail on a qmail system, this is where you'll find information about how to do that with qmail.

4.1. .qmail files

Delivery of a user's mail is usually controlled by one or more ".qmail" (pronounced dot kyoo mail) files--files in the user's home directory with names beginning with .qmail. The dot-qmail man page describes .qmail file usage.

.qmail files contain a list of delivery instructions, one instruction per line. The first character of the line determines what kind of delivery is involved:

Character Delivery Type Value
# none (comment) ignored
| program command to be run by shell
/ or . mbox (if last char isn't a /) pathname of mbox (including the / or .)
/ or . maildir (if last char is a /) pathname of maildir (including the / or .)
& forward address to forward message
letter or number forward address to forward message (including the first char)

4.1.1. program delivery

When a program delivery instruction is encountered, qmail starts a shell (/bin/sh) to execute the command and feeds the command a copy of the incoming message on standard input. The qmail-command man page documents the details of this process.

Program delivery is very powerful, and can be used to implement a wide range of functionality such as message filtering, automatically responding to messages, and delivery via third-party delivery agents such as procmail.


    |preline /usr/ucb/vacation djb

This causes qmail to start preline, pass it /usr/ucb/vacation and djb as arguments, and provide a copy of the message on standard input.

4.1.2. mbox delivery

Mbox is the standard UNIX mailbox format in which multiple messages are stored in a single file and messages are headed with a "From " line. This line looks like a header field, but it isn't one: it's just something the delivery agent adds so mail readers can tell where each message begins.



This causes messages to be appended to $HOME/Mailbox, with a "From " line prepended. A simple mbox mailbox with a single message looks like:

    From Thu May 13 18:34:50 1999
    Received: (qmail 1287205 invoked from network); 13 May 1999 18:34:49 -0000
    Subject: hey

    What's up?

The first line was added at delivery by qmail.

4.1.3. maildir delivery

Maildir is a mailbox format created by Dan Bernstein to address the shortcomings of the mbox format. A maildir mailbox is a directory containing three subdirectories, new, cur, and tmp. Each message in a maildir mailbox is in a separate file in one of the subdirectories, depending upon its status: new is for unread messages, cur is for messages that have been seen, and tmp is for messages in the process of being delivered. The maildir man page describes the format of a maildir in detail.

One of the benefits of the maildir format is that, even though it doesn't use locking to prevent simultaneous updates from different delivery agents, it's reliable. This means maildir mailboxes can safely reside on NFS-mounted filesystems.



This causes messages to be saved in $HOME/Maildir, a maildir-format mailbox.

Note: qmail-local can deliver mail to maildir mailboxes, but it can't create them. Maildir mailboxes should be created with the maildirmake program that comes with qmail. E.g., "maildirmake ~/Maildir". Be sure to run maildirmake as the owner of the maildir, not as root. Your useradd or adduser command might support a "skeleton" directory, e.g. /etc/skel, where you can create a maildir that will be copied for all new users.

4.1.4. forward delivery

Forward deliveries causes the message to be resent to the specified address. Addresses specified in .qmail files can't contain comment fields or extra spaces.

These are wrong:

    &Joe User <>

These are correct:


The first two cause to receive a copy of the message. The last sends a copy to the local user user.

4.1.5. extension addresses

qmail supports user-controlled extension addresses. In addition to the base address, username@hostname.domain, users can receive mail at username-extension@hostname.domain. For the remainder of this section, I'll leave off the "@hostname.domain" part since we're considering actions that take place on the local system.

The delivery instructions for username-extension are in ~username/.qmail-extension.

For example, is controlled by ~dave/.qmail-lwq on host sparge.

Extensions can have multiple fields, e.g., dave-list-qmail, controlled by ~dave/.qmail-list-qmail. In this example, dave-list-qmail is subscribed to the qmail mailing list, and ~dave/.qmail-list-qmail files the list messages in a separate mailbox.

.qmail files can be wildcarded using -default. So dave-list-qmail could also be handled by ~dave/.qmail-list-default. This would allow one catch-all .qmail file to handle all dave-list-whatever addresses. Note that dave-list wouldn't be handled by ~dave/.qmail-list-default because it doesn't match the "-" after "list".

qmail uses the closest match it finds. E.g., when a message comes in addressed to dave-list-qmail, it'll use the first one of the following that it finds:


If no matching .qmail file is found, the delivery fails and the message bounces back to the sender.

4.2. Sending messages

Mail users usually don't use the MTA directly to send messages. Typically, messages are composed and sent using a Mail User Agent (MUA) such as pine or mutt, which then calls the MTA to deliver the message. The process of handing a message to the MTA is called injection.

There are two ways to inject messages into most MTA's: via the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, SMTP, or using a program provided by the MTA for that purpose.

4.2.1. SMTP

MUA's can open a TCP connection to port 25, the standard SMTP port, on the local host or a designated mail server. The MUA and the MTA then engage in a dialogue that results in either:

SMTP has no mechanism for authentication, so no username or password is required to send a message. However, many MTA's refuse to accept messages that don't appear to be either from or for a local user. If a properly formatted message is rejected, relaying restrictions are the most likely cause. See the Relaying section for more information about relay configuration.

4.2.2. /var/qmail/bin/sendmail

For many years, Sendmail was the UNIX MTA. It was so ubiquitous, that many programmers just assumed that it was the MTA. As a result, Sendmail's local injection mechanism became the standard Application Programmer's Interface (API) for local mail injection. qmail and other non-Sendmail MTA's provide a sendmail program that works the same way as the real Sendmail's sendmail for local injection.

The qmail sendmail, which is normally in /var/qmail/bin/sendmail, usually replaces the Sendmail sendmail on qmail systems. Typical locations of the sendmail program include:

On a qmail system, "ls -l path-to-sendmail" should show that sendmail is a symbolic link to /var/qmail/bin/sendmail:

  $ ls -l /usr/lib/sendmail
  lrwxrwxrwx   1 root     root           29 Feb 19 11:04 /usr/lib/sendmail -> /var/qmail/bin/sendmail

4.2.3. qmail-inject

In addition to emulating the sendmail API, qmail has its own injection program: qmail-inject. In fact, sendmail is just a wrapper around qmail-inject.

As an API, sendmail is probably better because it's much more widely available. The qmail API provided by qmail-inject will only work on systems with qmail, but the sendmail interface is nearly universal.

For example, to send a blank message to

 echo To: | /var/qmail/bin/qmail-inject

4.3. Environment Variables

Some qmail programs set or use environment variables. The following table lists these variables and describes their use.

Name Man page Set or used Purpose
DATABYTES qmail-smtpd used Overrides control/databytes
DEFAULT qmail-command set Portion of address matching "-default" in a .qmail file name.
DTLINE qmail-command set Delivered-To header field
EXT qmail-command set The address extension
EXT2 qmail-command set Portion of EXT following first dash
EXT3 qmail-command set Portion of EXT following second dash
EXT4 qmail-command set Portion of EXT following third dash
HOME qmail-command set The user's home directory
HOST qmail-command set The domain part of the recipient address
HOST2 qmail-command set Portion of HOST preceding last dot.
HOST3 qmail-command set Portion of HOST preceding second-to-last dot
HOST4 qmail-command set Portion of HOST preceding third-to-last dot
LOCAL qmail-command set The local part of the recipient address
LOGNAME qmail-inject used User name in From header field (4)
MAILHOST qmail-inject used Host name in From header field (2)
MAILNAME qmail-inject used Personal name in From header field (2)
MAILUSER qmail-inject used User name in From header field (2)
NAME qmail-inject used Personal name in From header field (3)
NEWSENDER qmail-command set Forwarding sender address (see "man dot-qmail")
QMAILDEFAULTDOMAIN qmail-inject used Overrides control/defaultdomain
QMAILDEFAULTHOST qmail-inject used Overrides control/defaulthost
QMAILHOST qmail-inject used Host name in From header field (1)
QMAILIDHOST qmail-inject used Overrides control/idhost
QMAILINJECT qmail-inject used Specify various options (see next table)
QMAILMFTFILE qmail-inject used File containing list of mailing list addresses for Mail-Followup-To generation
QMAILNAME qmail-inject used Personal name in From header field (1)
QMAILPLUSDOMAIN qmail-inject used Overrides control/plusdomain
QMAILSHOST qmail-inject used Host name in envelope sender address
QMAILSUSER qmail-inject used User name in envelope sender address
QMAILUSER qmail-inject used User name in From header field (1)
RECIPIENT qmail-command set Envelope recipient address
RELAYCLIENT qmail-smtpd used Ignore control/rcpthosts and append value to recipient address
RPLINE qmail-command set Return-Path header field
SENDER qmail-command set Envelope sender address
UFLINE qmail-command set UUCP-style "From " line
USER qmail-command set The current user
USER qmail-inject used User name in From header field (3)
Letter Purpose
c Use address-comment style for the From field
s Do not look at any incoming Return-Path field
f Delete any incoming From field
i Delete any incoming Message-ID field
r Use a per-recipient VERP
m Use a per-message VERP

5. Advanced Topics

5.1. procmail

procmail is a popular Message Delivery Agent (MDA). The function of an MDA is to accept a message from the MTA for a specific user or mailbox, and deliver the message according to the user's desires. procmail can be used to "filter" messages by the content of various header fields or the body of the message. For example, messages from a particular person can be directed to a mailbox for just that person.

There are a couple tricks to running procmail with qmail. First, procmail is usually built to deliver to an mbox mailbox in /var/spool/mail. You can rebuild procmail to default to $HOME or you can instruct users not to rely on procmail to default the location of the mbox. Unless you patch it for $HOME delivery, procmail will still use /var/spool/mail for temporary files.

Another problem is that qmail-command and procmail don't have a common understanding of which exit codes mean what. procmail uses the standard UNIX exit codes: zero means success, nonzero means failure, and the cause of the failure is indicated by /usr/include/sys/errno.h. qmail-command uses certain nonzero codes to indicate permanent errors and the rest are considered temporary. A small shell script wrapper can be used to translate the exit codes for qmail-command. Such a wrapper was posted to the qmail list and is available from the archives at

Also, older versions of procmail (prior to 3.14) don't deliver directly to maildir-format mailboxes. Your best bet is to upgrade to the current version of procmail. Another approach is safecat, a program that writes a message on standard input to a specified maildir. Users can write procmail recipes (delivery instructions) that use safecat to file the message. You can also skip procmail altogether, and use maildrop.

Finally, procmail expects the messages it receives to be in mbox format. Normal qmail program deliveries include only the actual mail message, not including a "From " line. The preline command can be used to format the message as procmail expects. The wrapper linked above includes preline.

For example, let's say user "dave" wants his mail to be processed by procmail. His system administrator has built procmail to deliver to $HOME by default, and has provided the exit code wrapper linked above, called /usr/local/bin/qmail-procmail. His .qmail file should look like:


5.2. POP and IMAP servers

qmail includes a POP server, qmail-pop3d, but it's not configured and installed as part of the qmail installation process. You can also use one of the other POP or IMAP servers available, although most of them were written for Sendmail and will require some work to use with qmail.

5.2.1. qmail-pop3d

qmail-pop3d is the POP server included with qmail. It's a fine POP server, and many qmail sites use it. It's modular, and supports multiple authentication schemes via alternative authentication modules.

Note: qmail-pop3d supports only maildir-format mailboxes, so if you have users logging into the POP server and running MUA's locally, they all have to support maildir. If all of your users read mail via POP, the mailbox format on the server is not an issue. Architecture of qmail-pop3d

A qmail-pop3d server consists of three modules:

Typically, qmail-popup is run via inetd or tcpserver, listening to port 110, the POP3 port. When a connection is made, it prompts for the username and password. Then it invokes checkpassword, which verifies the username/password and invokes qmail-pop3d if they match. Installation of qmail-pop3d

1. Completely install and test qmail. If you want all users to have POPable mailboxes, make sure defaultdelivery is set to ./Maildir/. If you installed the /var/qmail/rc script from the Installation section, this is configured in control/defaultdelivery. If not, it's probably in /var/qmail/rc on the qmail-start command line.

2. Download a checkpassword program from The standard checkpassword,, is a good choice if you don't need anything fancy.

3. Compile and install checkpassword according to the directions. Make sure you install it as /bin/checkpassword.

4. Create a /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-pop3d/run script containing:

    exec /usr/local/bin/softlimit -m 2000000 \
        /usr/local/bin/tcpserver -v -R -H -l 0 0 110 /var/qmail/bin/qmail-popup \
            FQDN /bin/checkpassword /var/qmail/bin/qmail-pop3d Maildir 2>&1

where FQDN is the fully qualified domain name of the POP server you're setting up, e.g.,

Note: The memory limit specified in the softlimit command may need to be raised depending upon your operating system and hardware platform. If attempts to connect to port 110 fail or POP3 connections fail mysteriously, try raising it to 3000000 or 5000000.

5. Create a /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-pop3d/log/run script containing:

    exec /usr/local/bin/setuidgid qmaill /usr/local/bin/multilog t \

6. Set up the log directory and permissions on the run scripts, and link the service into /service:

    chmod +t /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-pop3d   # if daemontools < 0.75
    mkdir /var/log/qmail/pop3d
    chown qmaill /var/log/qmail/pop3d
    chmod 755 /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-pop3d/run
    chmod 755 /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-pop3d/log/run
    ln -s /var/qmail/supervise/qmail-pop3d /service

7. Add the following to qmailctl's "start" section:

    if svok /service/qmail-pop3d ; then
      svc -u /service/qmail-pop3d /service/qmail-pop3d/log
      echo qmail-pop3d supervise not running

8. Add the following to qmailctl's "stop" section:

    echo "  qmail-pop3d"
    svc -d /service/qmail-pop3d /service/qmail-pop3d/log

9. Add the following to qmailctl's "stat" section:

    svstat /service/qmail-pop3d
    svstat /service/qmail-pop3d/log

10. Add the following to qmailctl's "pause" section:

    echo "Pausing qmail-pop3d"
    svc -p /service/qmail-pop3d

11. Add the following to qmailctl's "cont" section:

    echo "Continuing qmail-pop3d"
    svc -c /service/qmail-pop3d

12. Add the following to qmailctl's "restart" section:

    echo "* Restarting qmail-pop3d."
    svc -t /service/qmail-pop3d /service/qmail-pop3d/log

5.2.2. Qpopper

If you need a POP daemon that works with mbox-format mailboxes, you can use Qualcomm's Qpopper. Qpopper is available from

5.2.3. SolidPOP

The SolidPOP POP3 server supports both maildir and mbox mailboxes. It's available from

5.2.4. Binc IMAP

Andreas Hanssen has written the Binc IMAP server, which is currently in beta (development) mode. Binc IMAP is designed to use the same authentication mechanism (checkpassword) that qmail-pop3d uses, so it's a good fit for qmail servers. Like qmail-pop3d, it supports only Maildir mailboxes. See:

5.2.5. imap-maildir

David R. Harris has cleaned up the patch that adds maildir support to the University of Washington IMAP server and documented the installation process. See

5.2.6. Courier-IMAP

Sam Varshavchik has written an IMAP server that supports maildir mailboxes only. It's available from

5.3. POP and IMAP clients

5.3.1. fetchmail

fetchmail is a program that retrieves mail from a POP or IMAP server and re-injects it locally. fetchmail has no trouble retrieving mail from qmail servers, but there are a couple tricks for making it work well on a qmail client.

Here's a sample .fetchmailrc for a user on a qmail system:

poll proto pop3 nodns
    user dsill with password flubgart is dave here
    fetchall forcecr

This instructs fetchmail to connect to via POP3, log in as user dsill, password flubgart, retrieve all messages, and deliver them to dave@localhost. The forcecr causes fetchmail to end each line with a carriage return when injecting the message on the local system via SMTP. qmail requires this.

5.3.2. getmail

getmail is a program that retrieves mail from a POP server and delivers it to a maildir mailbox. It's actually a Python script, so you may need to install the Python interpreter before you can use getmail

getmail was written by Charles Cazabon, who maintains a web page for it at

5.4. Multi-RCPT vs. Single RCPT delivery

Say you're an MTA, and one of your users sends a message to three people on There are several ways you could do this.

  1. You could open an SMTP connection to hostx, send a copy of the message to the first user, send a copy to the second user, send a copy to the third user, then close the connection.
  2. You could start three processes, each of which opens an SMTP connection to hostx, sends a copy of the message to one of the users, then closes the connection.
  3. You could open an SMTP connection to host, send a copy of the message addressed to all three users, then close the connection.

The first method is clearly inferior to the third. Even if the message is tiny, it'll take at least as long. And if the message is large, it'll take a lot longer and use more network bandwidth.

So scratch that one.

The second and third methods are a little more interesting.

The third method only opens one connection to hostx, and only sends one copy of the message. That makes for efficient use of bandwidth.

The second method uses multiple connections and sends multiple copies of the message. That "wastes" bandwidth, but due to the nature of the SMTP protocol, requires fewer round-trip delays, and is faster than the third method. It's also simpler than the third method, so the MTA can be coded in a more straightforward manner. And finally, because each recipient gets their own copy of the message, it's possible for the MTA to implement VERPs (see next section).

qmail always uses the second method (single RCPT). There are no patches to implement the third method (multiple RCPT)--it would require major work.

Although there are pathological cases where it can be slower than multiple RCPT, the simplicity and VERP advantages outweigh that overall.

Single RCPT delivery does use more bandwidth than multiple RCPT delivery, but the difference is often exaggerated. Most messages have, at most, a couple recipients, and they're usually on separate hosts, so multi-RCPT delivery buys them nothing. Even on a list server, where multi-RCPT delivery could help, the potential gains are small because SMTP uses only a fraction of the bandwidth over most links--HTTP usually gets the lion's share.

For example, if 10% of your uplink's bandwidth goes to SMTP, and your SMTP bandwidth could be reduced by, say, 25%, by using multi-RCPT delivery, that would only drop your SMTP bandwidth to 7.5%.

5.5. VERP

When a message is undeliverable, the MTA responsible is supposed to return a bounce message to the envelope return path (ERP). The bounce message should include the address of the recipient, the reason the message is undeliverable, and whether the problem is temporary or permanent. Some MTA's don't do the right thing, though. They might send the bounce to the address in the From header field, or the bounce might not identify the recipient.

For most user-to-user messages, these problems aren't too bad. One can usually figure things out based on the timing of the bounce or the contents. For mailing lists, the problem of bad bounces is more serious. Subscribers move, forwarding mail to their new address. If the new address starts having delivery problems, it can be impossible to tell which subscriber's mail is bouncing if the bounce message only includes the new address.

Dan Bernstein came up with a solution to this problem called VERP (Variable Envelope Return Path). Using VERPs, each message sent to each subscriber to a list has a unique return path. This allows a bounce handler to identify the problem subscriber.

For example, a typical non-VERP'ed mailing list has a return address of the form listname-owner@domain. For a VERP'ed list, the return address would look like listname-owner-subscriber=sdomain@ldomain, where the subscriber's address, subscriber@sdomain, is embedded between the "owner" and the "@". (The "@" in the subscriber's address is replaced with an "=".)

The ezmlm list manager uses VERPs to automatically handle bounces. It even provides subscribers with temporary delivery problems with a list of the messages they missed so they can retrieve them from the archive.

Russell Nelson wrote a bounce manager for Majordomo under qmail, but he no longer maintains it. It's available from

5.6. Troubleshooting

5.6.1. Processes

A properly-running, complete, but minimal qmail installation should always have the following four processes:

Depending upon your flavor of UNIX, one of the following two commands should list these processes, and possibly a few more:

    ps -ef | grep qmail
    ps waux | grep qmail

For example:

[dave@sparge dave]$ ps waux|grep qmail
dave      2222  0.0  0.8   836   348  p4 S    10:25   0:00 grep qmail
qmaild     351  0.0  1.0   840   400  ?  S N  12:43   0:00 /usr/local/bin/tcpserver -v -x /etc/tcp.smtp.cdb -u 49491 -g 31314 0 smtp /var/qmail/bin/qmail-smtpd-
qmaild    2220  0.0  1.0   844   420  ?  S N  10:25   0:00 /usr/local/bin/tcpserver -v -x /etc/tcp.smtp.cdb -u 49491 -g 31314 0 smtp /var/qmail/bin/qmail-smtpd-
qmaill     365  0.0  0.8   748   344  ?  S N  12:43   0:00 splogger qmail
qmailq     368  0.0  0.7   736   292  ?  S N  12:43   0:00 qmail-clean
qmailr     367  0.0  0.6   732   272  ?  S N  12:43   0:00 qmail-rspawn
qmails     350  0.0  0.8   776   336  ?  S N  12:43   0:00 qmail-send
root       340  0.0  0.6   724   252  ?  S N  12:43   0:00 /usr/local/sbin/supervise /var/supervise/qmail-send /var/qmail/rc
root       341  0.0  0.6   724   252  ?  S N  12:43   0:00 /usr/local/sbin/supervise /var/supervise/tcpserver-qmail /usr/local/bin/tcpserver -v -x /etc/tcp.smtp
root       366  0.0  0.7   736   276  ?  S N  12:43   0:00 qmail-lspawn ./Mailbox
[dave@sparge dave]$

If you run qmail or qmail-smtpd under supervise, as in the example above, you should see those processes as well. And if run qmail-smtpd under tcpserver, you should see a parent tcpserver process plus an additional tcpserver process for each active incoming SMTP connection.

If you use splogger (or multilog or cyclog) to handle logging, you'll have a splogger (or multilog or cyclog) process or two running as user qmaill.

Also, if qmail is busy delivering messages locally or remotely, you'll see up to concurrencylocal qmail-local processes and up to concurrencyremote qmail-remote processes.

5.6.2. Logs multilog

multilog, which is part of the daemontools package, logs messages to a series of files in a specified directory.

The log directory is specified on the multilog command line, so you can find it by examining your qmail startup scripts.

The number of files in the log directory, and the maximum size of each file, are determined by multilog options. The log file names are the TAI (Temps Atomique International) timestamps of the time at which the file was started. The tai64nlocal command, also from daemontools, converts TAI timestamps into local, human-readable timestamps.

A typical multilog log entry looks like:

@4000000038c3eeb104a6ecf4 delivery 153: success: did_1+0+0/

"@4000000038c3eeb104a6ecf4" is the optional, but recommended, TAI timestamp. "delivery 153: success: did_1+0+0/" is the log message itself. splogger

splogger uses the syslog logging system to timestamp messages and send them to the syslog daemon. Syslog is configured in /etc/syslog.conf. Messages sent to syslog have a facility and priority. Entries in /etc/syslog.conf filter on the facility and priority to direct the messages to the desired log file, remote log host, or the console. splogger logs to the mail facility, by default, so grep'ing the syslog.conf file for "mail" should show the disposition of qmail's log messages.

Typical locations include:

A typical syslog log entry looks like:

Jun  3 11:35:23 sparge qmail: 928424123.963558 delivery 153: success: did_1+0+0/

"Jun 3 11:35:23" is the syslog timestamp.

"sparge" is the name of the system that sent the message.

"qmail:" is the tag splogger places on all qmail log entries.

"928424123.963558" is an optional TAI timestamp (see next section).

"delivery 153: success: did_1+0+0/" is the log message itself. Log messages

Here's a typical log sequence for a message sent to a remote system from the local system:

1 @4000000038c3eeb027f41c7c new msg 93869
2 @4000000038c3eeb027f6b0a4 info msg 93869: bytes 2343 from <> qp 18695 uid 49491
3 @4000000038c3eeb02877ee94 starting delivery 2392: msg 93869 to remote
4 @4000000038c3eeb0287b55ac status: local 0/10 remote 1/20
5 @4000000038c3eeb104a13804 delivery 2392: success:
6 @4000000038c3eeb104a4492c status: local 0/10 remote 0/20
7 @4000000038c3eeb104a6ecf4 end msg 93869

Line 1 indicates that qmail has received a new message, and its queue ID is 93869. The queue ID is the i-node number of the /var/qmail/queue/mess/NN/ file--the queue file that contains the message. The queue ID is guaranteed to be unique as long as the message remains in the queue.

Line 2 says that the message is from and is 2343 bytes.

Line 3 says qmail-remote is starting to deliver the message to, and it's assigning the ID 2392 to the delivery.

Line 4 says 0 local deliveries and 1 remote delivery are pending.

Line 5 says delivery 2392 is complete and successful, and it returns the remote server's response, which often contains information the remote mail administrator would find helpful in tracking a delivery. In this case, the "CAA01516" is the remote system's delivery ID.

Line 6 says 0 local deliveries and 0 remote deliveries are pending, i.e., the delivery is complete.

Line 7 says that the message has been delivered completely and removed from the queue. At this point, the queue ID, 93869, is reusable for another delivery.

5.7. Big Servers

See also qmail-ldap.

5.7.1. Scalable parallelism

Use a fast NFS network file server to store user directories. Set up multiple equal-preference SMTP servers delivering to maildir mailboxes on the file server.

5.8. Migrating from Sendmail to qmail

Check Dan Bernstein's Sendmail->qmail page at

5.9. Mailing List Managers

Mailing list managers (MLM's) are systems that help list owners run mailing lists. Their duties fall into two main divisions: managing the lists of subscribers, and controlling the resending of messages to the subscribers.

Most (all?) UNIX mailing list managers can be made to work with qmail.

5.9.1. ezmlm

ezmlm was written by Dan Bernstein, the author of qmail. It was written for use with qmail, and relies on several features of qmail. Most notably, it uses VERPs to reliably process bounce messages. ezmlm is somewhat unique among MLM's in that it doesn't process commands sent to a central MLM address: it appends the command to the name of the list. E.g., to subscribe to the "" list, one sends a message to "".

For more information about ezmlm, see, the unofficial ezmlm web site, and the official home of ezmlm-idx, a very nice add-on that includes many useful features.

5.9.2. Majordomo

Majordomo is one of the most popular UNIX MLMs. It works fine with qmail provided a few simple changes are made. Russ Allbery has written a FAQ about qmail/Majordomo available from

5.10. Patches

Various source code patches are available for qmail. To install a patch, download it, cd to the qmail source tree, and apply it using the patch command.

    cd /usr/local/src/qmail/qmail-1.03
    patch -p0 </tmp/patchfile

Note: See the patch man page for more information. This is just an example. Also, you might need to use a current version of GNU patch to successfully apply some patches. See

Stop qmail by killing qmail-send or, if you installed the qmailctl script in the Installation section, do:

    qmailctl stop

Then rebuild and install the new binaries:

    make setup check

And restart qmail:

    qmailctl start

Finally, test qmail--especially the part you patched.

Note: Although lists many patches for qmail, none of the them have been approved by the author of qmail. They may introduce security, reliability, efficiency, or functionality problems not present in qmail. Most qmail installations only require the some of the Recommended patches. You should not install any patches that you don't clearly require.

5.10.1. Recommended Patches has a "Recommended Patches" section: These patches address the few known bugs in qmail. errno.h patch

This patch fixes a problem with missing errno.h inclusions. See for a detailed explanation and the patch itself. qmail-local TAB patch

This patch fixes a minor bug in the parsing of .qmail files that start with TAB characters. IP patch

This patch causes the IP address to be recognized as local.

5.10.2. DNS

Historically, DNS responses have been limited to 512 bytes. Some large sites have started returning MX responses longer than that. qmail and many other programs have a problem with Domain Name Server (DNS) queries that return very large results. There are three ways to fix this in qmail. Run dnscache from djbdns

dnscache is, as the name implies, a caching DNS server. It knows how to handle large DNS responses and generally improves DNS lookup performance for all services that use DNS. Because it doesn't require patching qmail, this is by far the best solution. See the djbdns section under Related Packages for more information. Bump the packet buffer size up to 65536

Works with recent BIND resolver libraries, which will automatically do a TCP query within the library code if the reply comes back with the truncation bit set. This is the simplest fix, though it's also potentially the most wasteful of memory, depending on how your system handles paging. To do this, just replace PACKETSZ with 65536 in dns.c and rebuild qmail. Christopher K. Davis' patch,

This is an adaptation of a patch by Chuck Foster's which should work with any resolver library, no matter how old, and uses a guard byte to avoid the "number of bytes placed in the buffer" library bug. It reallocates only once, to 65536, rather than just to the size needed, so it can be less memory-efficient than Chuck's patch (though, like his patch, it only reallocates if the response is larger than PACKETSZ, which defaults to 512 bytes). After reallocating, it forces a TCP query, rather than requiring the resolver library to do so (avoiding an extra round-trip between qmail and the name server, though if they're on the same machine or local network this is not a big worry).

5.10.3. qmail-ldap

This patch, by Andre Oppermann, et al, implements Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) support in qmail. LDAP is like a network phone book. Using qmail-ldap, it should be possible for a POP server to serve many thousands of users. See

5.11. QMTP

QMTP is the Quick Mail Transfer Protocol, an SMTP replacement protocol designed by Dan Bernstein. The protocol is defined at QMTP is similar to SMTP, but is simpler, faster, and incompatible with SMTP. qmail includes a QMTP server, qmail-qmtp, which is run very much like qmail-smtp. QMTP usually uses port 209.

qmail doesn't include a QMTP client, but the serialmail package does. maildirqmtp takes a maildir mailbox and delivers the messages it contains to designated QMTP server via QMTP.

QMTP is not a drop-in replacement for SMTP, and is not yet in widespread use across the Internet.

Russ Nelson has a patch for qmail-remote that supports QMTP. It's available from He also has a tarball that can be extracted in /service to enable a QMTP service. It's available from

A. Acknowledgments

First, thanks to Dan Bernstein for designing and writing such a powerful and elegant system. After five years of use, qmail still impresses me.

I'd also like to thank the members of the qmail mailing list. Russell Nelson deserves special mention as one of the most helpful, patient, knowledgeable, and funny contributors. His contributions to the qmail community are second only to DJB's.

Thanks also to everyone who reviewed or contributed to this document, including:

Special thanks to Henning Brauer for donating the domain and hosting it!

Life with qmail was written using Simple Document Format (SDF), a very cool Perl-based markup language that generates HTML, plain text, PostScript, POD, and other formats. It made the job much easier. See for more information.

B. Related Packages

B.1. dot-forward

Sendmail uses .forward files, pronounced dot forward, to allow users to control the delivery of messages they receive. qmail uses a similar mechanism: .qmail files. The dot-forward package gives qmail the ability to use .forward files. Systems running Sendmail or any other MTA that uses .forward files might want to consider using dot-forward to avoid having to convert existing .forward files to their .qmail equivalents--or simply to make the transition to qmail less visible to their users.

dot-forward is a small package: easy to install and configure. The source is available from

dot-forward was written by Dan Bernstein, who maintains a web page for it at

B.2. fastforward

fastforward is another Sendmail compatibility add-on. Sendmail uses a central alias database kept in a single file, usually /etc/aliases. qmail uses a series of dot-qmail files in /var/qmail/alias, one file per alias. If you're migrating to qmail, and you've got a Sendmail-format aliases file you don't want to convert, fastforward gives qmail the ability to use the aliases file as-is.

The source is available from

fastforward was written by Dan Bernstein, who maintains a web page for it at

B.3. ucspi-tcp

qmail's SMTP server doesn't run as a stand alone daemon. A helper program such as inetd, xinetd, or tcpserver runs as a daemon. When it receives a TCP connection to port 25, the SMTP port, it executes a copy of qmail-smtpd.

Inetd is the standard network server "super-server". It can be configured through /etc/inetd.conf to run qmail-smtpd, but the recommended tool is tcpserver, which is part of the ucspi-tcp package. ucspi-tcp is an acronym for UNIX Client-Server Program Interface for TCP, and it's pronounced ooks-pie tee see pee.

tcpserver is preferred over inetd because:

The source is available from

Gerrit Pape distributes the documentation for ucspi-tcp as man pages from

ucspi-tcp was written by Dan Bernstein, who maintains a web page for it at

B.4. daemontools

The daemontools package contains a set of utilities for controlling and monitoring services. It's not mandatory, but it's highly recommended, especially for busy systems. It includes:

The source for daemontools is available from:

Gerrit Pape distributes the documentation for daemontools as man pages from

daemontools was written by Dan Bernstein, who maintains a web page for it at

B.5. qmailanalog

qmailanalog processes qmail's log file and produces a series of reports that tell one how much and what kind of work the system is doing. If you need statistics about how many messages are being sent or received, how big they are, and how quickly they're being processed, qmailanalog is what you need.

As a bonus, the matchup program combines qmail's multiple log lines per delivery into one--not unlike the familiar Sendmail logs.

The source for qmailanalog is available from

qmailanalog was written by Dan Bernstein, who maintains a web page for it at

Note: qmailanalog relies on log entry timestamps in the fractional second format used by accustamp. In order to use it with logs generated by multilog, which are in TAI64N format, you'll need to translate them into the old format. One program to do that is available from

B.6. rblsmtpd

If you've never been spammed, consider yourself very lucky. Most e-mail users are all too familiar with Unsolicited Bulk E-mail (UBE), aka "spam". Most of it is advertisements for sex sites, chain letters, and other scams. Back in the days of old, up until around 1998 or so, most MTA's on the Internet were open relays, i.e., they would accept mail from anyone for anyone, even if neither sender nor recipient was local. Spammers use open relays, if they can find any, to deliver their spam. It covers their tracks, redirects the backlash toward the "innocent" relay site, and saves them lots of CPU time and network bandwidth.

Such open relays are considered very bad form these days, and several anti-spam vigilante groups have created a mechanism for identifying open relays and other common sources of spam so they can avoid accepting SMTP connections from them.

rblsmtpd is an RBL SMTP Daemon. It sits between tcpserver and qmail-smtpd and rejects connections from systems identified on one of these lists.

For example, to run rblsmtpd under tcpserver, try something like:

    QMAILDUID=`id -u qmaild`
    NOFILESGID=`id -g qmaild`
    MAXSMTPD=`cat /var/qmail/control/concurrencyincoming`
    exec /usr/local/bin/softlimit -m 2000000 \
    /usr/local/bin/tcpserver -v -R -H -l 0 -x /etc/tcp.smtp.cdb -c "$MAXSMTPD" \
        -u "$QMAILDUID" -g "$NOFILESGID" 0 smtp /usr/local/bin/rblsmtpd\
        -r /var/qmail/bin/qmail-smtpd 2>&1

rblsmtpd was previously available as a separate utility, but is now bundled with ucspi-tcp.

rblsmtpd was written by Dan Bernstein, who maintains a web page for it at

B.7. serialmail

qmail was designed for systems with full time, high speed connectivity. serialmail is a set of tools that make qmail better suited to intermittent, low speed connectivity. With serialmail on such a system, qmail is configured to deliver all remote mail to a single maildir. The serialmail maildirsmtp command is used to upload the maildir to the ISP's mail hub when the connection is brought up. If the ISP supports QMTP (see QMTP under Advanced Topics), maildirqmtp can also be used.

serialmail can be used on the ISP side of the connection to implement AutoTURN: an SMTP connection by a client causes the server to initiate a connection back to the client for sending messages queued on the server for the client. This is similar to the ETRN SMTP function.

The source for serialmail is available from

serialmail was written by Dan Bernstein, who maintains a web page for it at

B.8. mess822

mess822 is a library and set of applications for parsing RFC 822 compliant mail messages. The applications include:

The source for mess822 is available from

mess822 was written by Dan Bernstein, who maintains a web page for it at

B.9. ezmlm

ezmlm is a high performance, easy-to-use mailing list manager (MLM) for qmail. If you're familiar with LISTSERV or Majordomo, you know what a mailing list manager does. For more information about mailing lists under qmail see Mailing List Managers under Advanced Topics.

The source for ezmlm is available from

ezmlm was written by Dan Bernstein, who maintains a web page for it at

Fred Lindberg and Fred B. Ringel have developed an extension to ezmlm called ezmlm-idx. It adds lots of useful features and is highly recommended. It's available from

B.10. safecat

safecat reliably writes a file into a maildir mailbox. It is particularly useful for filing messages in procmail recipes. For example, the following recipe files all messages in Maildir:

|safecat Maildir/tmp Maildir/new

safecat was written by Len Budney, who maintains a web page for it at

B.11. djbdns

djbdns is a DNS server written by the author of qmail. It includes tinydns, a DNS content server, and dnscache, a caching DNS server.

The official web page for djbdns is

B.12. maildrop

maildrop is a mail filter similar to procmail.

maildrop was written by Sam Varshavchik, who maintains a web page for it at

B.13. syncdir

syncdir is small library that makes the link() system call synchronous. This is necessary when using qmail with the queue on a filesystem that doesn't perform link() synchronously, such as Linus's ext2fs, Reiserfs, SGI's XFS, and BSD FFS with softupdates.

syncdir was written br Bruce Guenter and is available from Installation instructions are available from

C. How Internet Mail Works

C.1. How a message gets from point A to point B

When a user on one host sends a message to a user on a another host, many things happen behind the scenes that you may not be aware of.

Let's say Alice,, wants to send a message to Bob, Here's what happens:

1. Alice composes the message with her mail user agent (MUA), something like mutt or pine. She specifies the recipient in a To field, the subject of the message in a Subject field, and the text of the message itself. It looks something like:

    To: bob@beta
    Subject: lunch

    How about pizza?

2. When she's satisfied with the message, she tells the MUA to send it.

3. At this point, the MUA can add additional header fields like Date and Message-Id and modify the values Alice entered (e.g., replace bob@beta with "Bob <>". Next, the MUA injects the message into the mail system. There are two ways to this: it can run a program provided by the mail system for the purpose of injecting messages, or it can open a connection to the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) port on either the local system or a remote mail server. For this example, we'll assume the MUA uses a local injection program to pass messages to the MTA. The details of the injection process vary by MTA, but on UNIX systems the sendmail method is a de facto standard. With this method, the MUA can put the header and body in a file, separated by a blank line, and pass the file to the sendmail program.

4. If the injection succeeds--the message was syntactically correct and sendmail was invoked properly--the message is now the MTA's responsibility. Details vary greatly by MTA, but generally the MTA on alpha examines the header to determine where to send the message, opens an SMTP connection to beta, and forwards the message to the MTA on the beta system. The SMTP dialogue requires messages to be sent in two parts: the envelope, which specifies the recipient's address ( and the return address (, and the message itself, which consists of the header and body.

5. If the beta MTA rejects the message, perhaps because there's no user bob on the system, the MTA on alpha sends a bounce message to the return address, alice@alpha, to notify her of the problem.

6. If the beta MTA accepts the message, it looks at the recipient's address, determines whether it's local to beta or on a remote system. In this case, it's local, so the MTA either delivers the message itself or passes it to a mail delivery agent (MDA) like /bin/mail or procmail.

7. If the delivery fails, perhaps because Bob has exceeded his mail quota, the beta MTA sends a bounce message to the envelope return address, alice@alpha.

8. If the delivery succeeds, the message waits in Bob's mailbox until his MUA reads it and displays it.

C.2. More information

For information about how Internet mail works, see one or more of the following:

C.2.1. Internet RFC's

Internet Requests for Comment (RFC's) are the official documentation of the Internet. Most of these are well beyond the commentary stage, and define Internet protocols such as TCP, FTP, Telnet, and the various mail standards and protocols.

A comprehensive list of mail-related RFC's is available from the Internet Mail Consortium at

D. Architecture

D.1. Modular system architecture

Internet MTA's perform a variety of tasks. Earlier designs like Sendmail and smail are monolithic. In other words, they have one large, complex program that "switches hats": it puts on one hat to be an SMTP server, another to be an SMTP client, another to inject messages locally, another to manage the queue, etc.

qmail is modular. Each of these functions is performed by a separate program. As a result, the programs are much smaller, simpler, and less likely to contain functional or security bugs. To further enhance security, qmail's modules run with different privileges, and they don't "trust" each other: they don't assume the other modules always do only what they're supposed to do.

The core modules are:

Modules Function
qmail-smtpd accepts/rejects messages via SMTP
qmail-inject injects messages locally
qmail-rspawn/qmail-remote handles remote deliveries
qmail-lspawn/qmail-local handles local deliveries
qmail-send processes the queue
qmail-clean cleans the queue

There's also a down side to the modular approach. Unlike a monolithic MTA, the interactions between modules are well-defined, and modules only exchange the minimum necessary information with each other. This is generally A Good Thing, but sometimes it makes it hard to do things. For example, the sendmail "-v" flag causes Sendmail to print a trace of its actions to standard output for debugging purposes. Since the one sendmail binary handles injection, queueing, alias processing, .forward file processing, and remote forwarding via SMTP, it is able to easily trace the entire delivery until the message is delivered. The equivalent capability in qmail doesn't exist, and would require substantial code changes and additional complexity to implement the passing of the "debug" flag from module to module.

D.2. File structure

/var/qmail is the root of the qmail file structure. This can be changed when qmail is being built, but it's a good idea to leave it unchanged so other administrators know where to find things. If you really want to relocate some or all of the qmail tree, it's better to do that using symbolic links. See the Create directories subsection of the Installation section for details.

The top-level subdirectories are:

Directory Contents
alias .qmail files for system-wide aliases
bin program binaries and scripts
boot startup scripts
control configuration files
doc documentation (except man pages)
man man pages
queue the queue of unsent messages
users the qmail-users database files

D.3. Queue structure

The file INTERNALS in the build directory discusses the details of queueing more thoroughly. This is a broader overview of structure of the queue.

Subdirectory Contents
bounce permanent delivery errors
info* envelope sender addresses
intd envelopes under construction by qmail-queue
local* local envelope recipient addresses
lock lock files
mess* message files
pid used by qmail-queue to acquire an i-node number
remote* remote envelope recipient addresses
todo complete envelopes

Note: Directories marked with an "*" contain a series of split subdirectories named "0", "1", ..., up to (conf-split-1), where conf-split is a compile-time configuration setting contained in the file conf-split in the build directory. It defaults to 23. The purpose of splitting these directories is to reduce the number of files in a single directory on very busy servers. conf-split must be a prime number.

Files under the mess subdirectory are named after their i-node number. What this means is that you can't manually move them using standard UNIX utilities like mv, dump/restore, and tar. There are a couple user-contributed utilities on that will rename queue files correctly.

Note: It is not safe to modify queue files while qmail is running. If you want to modify the queue, stop qmail first, play with the queue carefully, then restart qmail.

D.4. Pictures

There is a series of files in /var/qmail/doc with names starting with PIC. These are textual "pictures" of various situations that qmail handles. They show the flow of control through the various modules, and are very helpful for debugging and creating complex configurations.

Filename Scenario
PIC.local2alias locally-injected message delivered to a local alias
PIC.local2ext locally-injected message delivered to an extension address
PIC.local2local locally-injected message delivered to a local user
PIC.local2rem locally-injected message delivered to a remote address
PIC.local2virt locally-injected message delivered to an address on a local virtual domain
PIC.nullclient a message injected on a null client
PIC.relaybad a failed attempt to use the local host as a relay
PIC.relaygood a successful attempt to use the local host as a relay
PIC.rem2local a message received via SMTP for a local user

These files are also available on-line from:

If you want real pictures of qmail, check out Andre Opperman's "big qmail picture" at

E. Infrequently Asked Questions

These are questions that don't qualify as frequently asked, but which are important and not easy to answer.

E.1. How frequently does qmail try to send deferred messages?

Each message has its own retry schedule. The longer a message remains undeliverable, the less frequently qmail tries to send it. The retry schedule is not configurable. The following table shows the retry schedule for a message that's undeliverable to a remote recipient until it bounces. Local messages use a similar, but more frequent, schedule.

Delivery Attempt Seconds D-HH:MM:SS
1 0 0-00:00:00
2 400 0-00:06:40
3 1600 0-00:26:40
4 3600 0-01:00:00
5 6400 0-01:46:40
6 10000 0-02:46:40
7 14400 0-04:00:00
8 19600 0-05:26:40
9 25600 0-07:06:40
10 32400 0-09:00:00
11 40000 0-11:06:40
12 48400 0-13:26:40
13 57600 0-16:00:00
14 67600 0-18:46:40
15 78400 0-21:46:40
16 90000 1-01:00:00
17 102400 1-04:26:40
18 115600 1-08:06:40
19 129600 1-12:00:00
20 144400 1-16:06:40
21 160000 1-20:26:40
22 176400 2-01:00:00
23 193600 2-05:46:40
24 211600 2-10:46:40
25 230400 2-16:00:00
26 250000 2-21:26:40
27 270400 3-03:06:40
28 291600 3-09:00:00
29 313600 3-15:06:40
30 336400 3-21:26:40
31 360000 4-04:00:00
32 384400 4-10:46:40
33 409600 4-17:46:40
34 435600 5-01:00:00
35 462400 5-08:26:40
36 490000 5-16:06:40
37 518400 6-00:00:00
38 547600 6-08:06:40
39 577600 6-16:26:40
40 608400 7-01:00:00

E.2. Why can't I send mail to a large site with lots of MX's?

If you're getting:

deferral: CNAME_lookup_failed_temporarily._(#4.4.3)/

The problem might be that qmail can't handle large name server query responses. The fix is to install djbdns. See Patches under Advanced Topics.

There's also a question as to why some people don't have trouble reaching such systems. Basically, depending on the timing and ordering of queries made to your local nameserver, the size of the response to an ANY query for "" may be larger than the 512 byte limit of a UDP packet, or it may not.

"May not" is likely to happen if the A and MX records time out, but the NS records don't. Since the .COM servers set a 2 day TTL on those, but AOL sets a 1 hour TTL on their records, this will often happen on less busy nameservers. Busier nameservers are more likely to have those records in their cache at any given time, frustrating an unpatched qmail's attempts to check for CNAMEs.

A better test is to send mail to; if it clears your queue and winds up bouncing from, your MTA can send mail to hosts with MX lists that exceed 512 bytes. (By using a single RRset, with a single TTL, that exceeds 512 bytes, the problem can be seen without depending on the timing and ordering of other queries.)

E.3. What is QUEUE_EXTRA?

QUEUE_EXTRA is a compile-time configuration variable that specifies an additional recipient that will be added to every delivery. This is used primarily for logging. E.g., the FAQ describes how to use QUEUE_EXTRA to keep copies of all incoming and outgoing messages.

To use QUEUE_EXTRA, edit extra.h specifying the additional recipient in the format "Trecipient\0", and the length of the QUEUE_EXTRA string in QUEUE_EXTRALEN (the "\0" counts as one character). For example:

    #define QUEUE_EXTRA "Tlog\0"
    #define QUEUE_EXTRALEN 5

Shut down qmail if it's running. If you installed the qmailctl script from the Installation section, that can be done by:

    qmailctl stop

If you don't have the qmailctl script, you should use your startup/shutdown script or send qmail-send a TERM signal.

Then rebuild qmail using:

    make setup check

Populate ~alias/.qmail-log with whatever logging you want. E.g., to log Message-ID's:

    | awk '/^$/ { exit } /^[mM][eE][sS][sS][aA][gG][eE]-/ { print }'

Finally, restart qmail.

F. Error Messages

qmail error messages and what they mean.

See RFC 1893 for an explanation of the error codes in parentheses.

This appendix is incomplete.

G. Gotchas

These "gotchas" frequently cause problems for qmail newbies.

G.1. qmail doesn't deliver mail to superusers.

To prevent the possibility of qmail-local running commands as a privileged user, qmail ignores all users whose UID is 0. This is documented in the qmail-getpw man page.

That doesn't mean qmail won't deliver to root, it just means that such a delivery will have to be handled by a non-privileged user. Typically, one creates an alias for root by populating ~alias/.qmail-root.

G.2. qmail doesn't deliver mail to users who don't own their home directory.

Another security feature, and just good general practice. This is documented in the qmail-getpw man page.

G.3. qmail doesn't deliver mail to users whose usernames contain uppercase letters.

qmail converts the entire "local part"--everything left of the "@" in an address, to lowercase. The man page doesn't come out and say that, but the code does. The fact that it ignores users with uppercase characters is documented in the qmail-getpw man page.

G.4. qmail replaces dots (.) in extension addresses with colons (:).

Another security feature. The purpose is prevent extension addresses from backing up the file tree using "..". By replacing them with colons, qmail ensures that all .qmail files for a user are under their home directory. Documented in the dot-qmail man page.

G.5. qmail converts uppercase characters in extension addresses to lowercase.

This is another result of the fact that qmail lowercases the entire local part of addresses. Documented in the dot-qmail man page.

G.6. qmail doesn't use /etc/hosts.

qmail never uses /etc/hosts to determine the IP address associated with a host name. If you use names in control files, qmail must have access to a name server.

It is possible to run qmail on systems without access to a name server, though. Hosts in control files can be specified by IP address by enclosing them in square brackets ([]), e.g.:


Actually, the square brackets aren't always necessary--but it's a good idea to use them anyway.

G.7. qmail doesn't log SMTP activity.

For a number of reasons, qmail doesn't log SMTP connections, rejections, invalid commands, or valid commands. tcpserver can be used to log connections, and recordio can be used to log the entire SMTP dialogue. recordio is part of the ucspi-tcp package. The procedure is documented in the FAQ at

G.8. qmail doesn't generate deferral notices.

If Sendmail is unable to deliver a message within a few hours, typically four, it sends a deferral notice to the originator. These notices look like bounce messages, but don't indicate that the delivery has failed permanently, yet.

qmail doesn't send such warnings. An undeliverable message will only be returned to the originator after it spends queuelifetime in the queue.

G.9. qmail is slow if /var/qmail/queue/lock/trigger is gone/has the wrong permissions/is a regular file.

qmail-queue and qmail-send communicate via a named pipe called /var/qmail/queue/lock/trigger. If this pipe gets messed up, qmail-send doesn't notice new messages for a half hour or so.

The best way to ensure that it's set up right is to run "make check" from the source directory. If that's not possible, make sure it looks like:

# ls -l /var/qmail/queue/lock/trigger
prw--w--w-   1 qmails   qmail           0 Jul  5 21:25 /var/qmail/queue/lock/trigger

Pay particular attention to the "p" at the beginning of the line (says it's a named pipe), the mode (especially world writable), and the owner/group.

G.10. DNS or IDENT lookups can make SMTP slow

If qmail-smtpd is slow to respond to connections, the problem is probably due to DNS reverse lookups or IDENT lookups. If you're starting qmail-smtpd with tcpserver, remove the "-h", "-p", and "-r" options and add "-H", "-P", "-R", and "-l hostname".

See the tcpserver documentation at for an explanation of these options.

G.11. Carriage Return/Linefeed (CRLF) line breaks don't work

qmail-inject and other local injection mechanisms like sendmail don't work right when messages are injected with DOS-style carriage return/linefeed (CRLF) line breaks. Unlike Sendmail, qmail requires locally-injected messages to use Unix newlines (LF only). This is a common problem with PHP scripts.

G.12. qmail-send or tcpserver stop working if logs back up

If you're logging to a supervised log service, as described in section 2, and the log service fails for any reason: disk full, typo in the run script, log directory configuration error, etc., the pipeline will eventually fill up, causing the service to block, or hang. Fix the problem (see Troubleshooting) and everything will return to normal.

G.13. qmail-smtpd doesn't validate the local part of an address.

If is listed in control/rcpthosts, mail to will be accepted during the SMTP session. If anything isn't a valid user or alias, qmail will send a bounce message to the envelope sender address.

Some simpleminded relaying tests assume that if a message is accepted, it will be delivered. That's wrong. If someone claims that your system is an open relay, demand to see a copy of message relayed through it--including the complete header, especially the Received fields--then compare them with your logs.

G.14. Firewalls can block remote access to your SMTP/POP3/IMAP server.

If you've installed an SMTP, POP3, or IMAP server, and you can connect to it from the local host or a host on the local network, but not from a remote host, a firewall might be the problem.

The first place to look is on the server itself. Red Hat Linux, for example, blocks SMTP in the default configuration using iptables. Other packet filtering mechanisms such as ipchains may also be responsible.

It's also possible that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) blocks certain ports to prevent spamming or enforce their Terms of Service (TOS). Contact your ISP's tech support after ensuring that packet filtering isn't responsible and that running a server doesn't violate your TOS.

G.15. qmail-inject sets From field to anonymous if USER and LOGNAME aren't set.

If a message sent via qmail-inject doesn't contain a From field, qmail-inject looks for environment variables to tell it which user is sending the message. The variables it looks for, in order, are: QMAILUSER, MAILUSER, USER, and LOGNAME,

Normal user login sessions usually set one or both of USER and LOGNAME, but some batch jobs, such as those started by cron might not have either of these set.

To cause your cron jobs to have a valid From field, set one these environment variables before sending any mail messages.

H. Frequently Asked Questions about Life with qmail

H.1. What version is Life with qmail?

This is LWQ version 2003-04-04.

H.2. Who owns Life with qmail?

Life with qmail is Copyright 1999-2003 David E. Sill


H.3. How is Life with qmail licensed?

Life with qmail is covered by the OpenContent License, version 1.0. See for the full license. Basically, you can copy, redistribute, or modify Life with qmail provided that modified versions, if redistributed, are also covered by the OpenContent License.

H.4. How can I be notified when new releases of LWQ are made available?

Join the lwq-announce mailing list by sending a message to

H.5. Where can LWQ contributors and fans talk about it?

Join the lwq mailing list by sending a message to

H.6. Has Life with qmail been translated to language?

Maybe. LWQ has been translated into a few languages. See for more information about LWQ translations.

H.7. Is Life with qmail available in PostScript, PDF, plain text, or any other format beside HTML?

Yes, alternative formats can be found at

H.8. I used Life with qmail and it crashed my system/erased my hard disk/ruined my love life/killed my dog/etc.

I'm sorry. Really sorry. But Life with qmail comes with no warranty. See the OpenContent License mentioned above. I didn't get paid to write it, I just wanted to contribute something useful to the qmail community.

Actually, this isn't a FAQ. In fact, I hope it's a NAQ (Never Asked Question).

H.9. How can I contribute to LWQ?

Please send corrections, suggestions, complaints, etc. to

If you'd like to make a larger contribution, such as a new subsection or appendix, that's great! Just check with me first to make sure the topic is something I want to cover in LWQ and that nobody else is already working on it.

If you'd like to donate cash, that's always welcome, too. :-) Contact me to make arrangements, or use the PayPal e-payment system. Using PayPal, you can "beam" e-money to the e-mail address in amounts as small as $0.01 at no cost to you or me--even using a credit card. I may get a referral bonus if you sign up using this link:

Another way to support LWQ at no cost to yourself is to shop at my bookstore, in association with, using this link:

Take One!