Tutorial For Lpi Exam 202: Part 2

Topic 206: Mail and News

David Mertz, Ph.D.
Professional Neophyte
October, 2005

Welcome to "Mail and News", the second of seven tutorials covering intermediate network administration on Linux. In this tutorial, we discuss how to use Linux as a mail server and a news server. Email is probably the main use of the Internet, overall; and Linux perhaps the best platform for running email services on. This tutorial addresses mail transport, local mail filtering , and mailing list maintenance software. Server software for the NNTP protocol is discussed briefly.

Before You Start

About this series

The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) certifies Linux system administrators at junior and intermediate levels. There are two exams at each certification level. This series of seven tutorials helps you prepare for the second of the two LPI intermediate level system administrator exams--LPI exam 202. A companion series of tutorials is available for the other intermediate level exam--LPI exam 201. Both exam 201 and exam 202 are required for intermediate level certification. Intermediate level certification is also known as certification level 2.

Each exam covers several or topics and each topic has a weight. The weight indicate the relative importance of each topic. Very roughly, expect more questions on the exam for topics with higher weight. The topics and their weights for LPI exam 202 are:

Topic 205: Network Configuration (8) Topic 206: Mail and News (9) Topic 207: Domain Name System (DNS) (8) Topic 208: Web Services (6) Topic 210: Network Client Management (6) Topic 212: System Security (10) * Topic 214: Network Troubleshooting (1)

About this tutorial

Welcome to "Mail and News", the second of seven tutorials covering intermediate network administration on Linux. In this tutorial, we discuss how to use Linux as a mail server and a news server. Email is probably the main use of the Internet, overall; and Linux perhaps the best platform for running email services on. This tutorial addresses mail transport, local mail filtering , and mailing list maintenance software. Server software for the NNTP protocol is discussed briefly.


To get the most from this tutorial, you should already have a basic knowledge of Linux and a working Linux system on which you can practice the commands covered in this tutorial.

About Mail and News

The breadth of use of Linux for mail and news servers has led to the development of improved tools over time. When the LPI certification exams were developed, the most popular tools were sendmail for mail transport, procmail for local mail handling, majordomo for mailing lists, and innd (InterNetNews daemon) for NNTP. The last of these is still probably the default choice; however, despite its technical strengths, the NNTP protocol has been somewhat eclipsed by either email mailing list or web-based discussion forums.

Of other tools, sendmail and procmail are still widely used, although not as ubiquitous as they might have been in 2001. However, the most popular upgrade/replacement for sendmail is postfix which contains facilities for backwards compatibility with sendmail. The field for local mail handling is well populated, but procmail is largely used. On the other hand, majordomo is a minor anachronism nowadays. Just as majordomo largely replaced the ealier listserv software, more recently mailman has mostly eclipsed majordomo. However, to match current LPI topic areas, this tutorial will still discuss majordomo.

Other resources

As with most Linux tools, it is always useful to examine the manpages for any utilities discussed. Versions and switches might change between utility or kernel version, or with different Linux distributions. For more in depth information, the Linux Documentation Project has a variety of useful documents, especially its HOWTOs. See http://www.tldp.org/. A variety of books on Linux networking have been published; I have found O'Reilly's TCP/IP Network Administration, by Craig Hunt to be quite helpful (find whatever edition is most current when you read this).

Configuring Mailing Lists

What does Majordomo do?

A mailing list manager program is basically a local extension for a mail transport program (MTA) such as sendmail. Basically, the MTA running on a system passes off a set of address to the control of the mailing list manager, and the mailing list manager modifies, processes and perhaps remails the messages it receives. Some messages received by a mailing list manager are messages meant for distribution to the mailing list itself (perhaps needing to be verified for permission to distribute to the list(s); other messages are control messages that change the status of the mailing list, such as the subscription options of a particular subscriber. A mailing list manager does not perform mail deliver itself, but passes that function to its supporting MTA.

As the introduction to this tutorial stated, Majordomo is not currently the state-of-the-art choice for mailing lists. Rather, the best choice for a new installation of a mailing list is probably Mailman (http://www.list.org/). Majordomo, however, is still perfectly functional, and is installed on many older systems that continue to operate without problem (sometimes supporting lists that have been operational for many years).

There is a wrinkle with Majordomo versions, however. Some years ago, a rewrite of the Majordomo 1.x series was started, called Majordomo2. Unfortunately, that rewrite fizzled out without ever reaching release status. While Majordomo2 (in a beta version) may be used in a very small number of systems, Majordomo 1.9.5 is the most recent stable version, and the version that will be discussed in this tutorial.

Installing Majordomo

You can obtain an archive of the Majordomo software at <http://www.greatcircle.com/majordomo/>. The most recent, and probably final, stable version is 1.9.5. After unpacking a file named like majordomo-1.94.5.tgz, be sure to read the file INSTALL carefully. You will need to follow all the steps it describes to getting a working Majordomo system. Building the system uses the usual make; make install steps of most source installs, but also needs make install-wrapper. The install can and should verify itself with a command like cd /usr/local/majordomo-1.94.5; ./wrapper config-test (the make install will provide you with details as a message).

Before building, you will need to modify the Makefile, and create and/or modify majordomo.cf. The latter file can be copied from sample.cf in the source distribution as a starting point. In the Makefile, a number of environment variables are set, but the most critical and subtle of these is probably W_GROUP. This is the numeric gid of the group Majordomo will run under, almost always the group daemon. The gid for daemon is 1 on most systems, but be sure to check using:

$ id daemon
uid=1(daemon) gid=1(daemon) groups=1(daemon)

Other variables in Makefile include PERL for the path to the interpreter, and W_HOME for the location where Majordomo will be installed.

Your new majordomo.cf file also needs to be edited before the make isntall. Mostly the Perl variables that need to be modified appear near the top of the file. Definitely adjust $whereami and $homedir, and examine the others to make sure they are sensible.

Telling Sendmail to use Majordomo

The final step in installation is convincing Sendmail to talk with Majordomo. Within the /etc/sendmail.cf file, this will involve a line like:


If you use the M4 processor to generate Sendmail configuration files, you can use a line like:


The sample majordomo.aliases contains some sample values:

majordomo:  "|/usr/test/majordomo-1.94.5/wrapper majordomo"
majordomo-owner: you
owner-majordomo: you
test:           "|/usr/test/majordomo-1.94.5/wrapper resend -l test test-list"
test-list:      :include:/usr/test/majordomo-1.94.5/lists/test
owner-test:     you
test-owner:     you
test-request:   you

These, of course, need to be customized for your particular setup. In particular "you" means the name of the list administrator (who is not necessarily the overall system administrator).

Creating a new Majordomo list

The sample setup given above created a list called test, with addresses for test-owner, test-request, etc. for administering the list. Presumably, in real use you will want lists with other names. To do that, do the following:

* Switch to the directory $listdir, as defined in majordomo.cf.

* Create a files called my-list-name and my-list-name.info (adjust

appropriately); chmod them to 664. The latter file contains an introduction to the list.

* Create several aliases in your majordomo.aliases file, following

the pattern of the "test" examples. E.g. foo-owner, foo, foo-request and so on.

* Send requests to "subscribe", "unsubscribe", "signoff", and so on

member of the list.

* Create an archive directory in the location specified by the

$filedir and $filedir_suffix variables.

* Create a digest subdirectory under $digest_work_dir. Use the same

name as the digest list (example: test-digest).

* Make sure everything is owned by user majordomo, group

majordomo, and writable by both owner and group (i.e., mode 664 for files and mode 775 for directories).

* Issue a config <listname> <listname>.admin command to

Majordomo. This will cause it to create a default configuration file for the list, and send it back to you.

Using Sendmail

What does Sendmail do?

The short answer is that Sendmail is a Mail Transport Agent (MTA); it routes, modifies, and delivers mail message across heterogeneous mail systems. In a history somewhat parallel to that with mailing list software, Sendmail has a "permanent beta" version called Sendmail X that is intended as an upgrade/replacement for the stable Sendmail 8.x series; however, much as Mailman has largely supplanted Majordomo, several MTA have partially eclipsed Sendmail. The chief such new MTA is Postfix (http://www.postfix.org/), but Qmail (http://cr.yp.to/qmail.html) and Exim (http://www.exim.org/) are also relatively widely used. Nonetheless, Sendmail probably still remains, by a narrow margin, the most widely used MTA on Linux systems. As of September 16, 2005, the latest stable release of Sendmail was 8.13.5.

The long answer to what Sendmail is a very long answer indeed. Not just one, but many, books have been written on Sendmail. See http://www.sendmail.org/books.html for a list of available books. The most comprehensive of these is Sendmail, Third Edition by Bryan Costales with Eric Allman, Third Edition December 2002, ISBN: 1-56592-839-3. At 1232 pages, this book covers quite a lot more than this short tutorial can touch on.

While Sendmail in principle supports a number of mail transport protocols such as UUCP, by far the most widely used one is Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP), which here includes Extended SMTP (ESMTP) for enhanced MIME encoded message bodies. At heart, mail which is not forward to other SMTP hosts is delivered to the local system, by putting messages in local files. Local Mail User Agents (MUAs) read messages that Sendmail (or another MTA) puts in local files (and often also fetch mail using POP3 or IMAP), but generally call on Sendmail to deliver outgoing messages. Some MUAs, however, themselves directly communicate with SMTP servers (such as Sendmail instances, local or remote) rather than placing messages in in the Sendmail queue for later processing. Usually the Sendmail queue is in /var/spool/mqueue/

Installing Sendmail

First thing, obtain a copy of the current Sendmail software from <http://www.sendmail.org/>, e.g. sendmail.8.13.5.tar.gz. Unpack it as usual. Unlike many applications that use the make;make install pattern, building Sendmail is peformed with sh Build. After the initial build, cd to the cf/cf/ subdirectory; copy a suitable *.mc file sendmail.mc; customize sendmail.mc; and run the following to generate a sendmail.cf file:

$ m4 ../m4/cf.m4 sendmail.mc > sendmail.cf

You may also use the shortcut sh Build sendmail.cf. This may seem mysterious, but what either of these commands do is generate an actual Sendmail configuration from a more readable format using the M4 macro processor. Actual sendmail.cf files, though editable ASCII, are quite cryptic, and should only be modified by hand minimally.

Finally, copy the sendmail binary from a location like obj.Linux.2.6.10-5-386.i686/sendmail/sendmail to its final location (backup an old one if it exists), typically /usr/sbin/; and copy your sendmail.cf file to /etc/mail/sendmail.cf. The latter can also be peformed in the cf/cf/ subdirectory with sh Build install-cf. You will probably need to su or sudo to obtain file permissions for the relevant directories.

A number of utilities come with Sendmail: makemap, mailstats, etc. Each corresponding directory has a README, and can be installed with sh Build install run from the subdirectory.

The sendmail.cf file

The main complexity, and the main function, of Sendmail is in its sendmail.cf file. This configuration file contains some settings for the Sendmail environment, but principally it contains patterns for addresses to rewrite and/or deliver by certain mechanisms.

Two rewrite mechanism that may be configured are the genericstable and virtusertable which let you map local users to and from external addresses. For either mapping, you first create an aliases file as plain text, e.g.:

File: outbound

david                     david.mertz@gmail.com
root                      root@gnosis.cx
dqm@gnosis.lan            david.mertz@gmail.com

Or for incoming mail mapped to local accounts, e.g.:

File: inbound

david@mail.gnosis.cx      david
david@smtp.gnosis.cx      david
david@otherdomain.net     david
@mail.gnosis.cx           %1@external-host.com
owner@list.gnosis.cx      owner%3
jax@bar.com	            error:5.7.0:550 Address invalid

To compile these aliases, use the makemap utility:

$ makemap dbm /etc/mail/virtusertable < inbound
$ makemap hash /etc/mail/genericstable < outbound

Enabling use of these maps can be configured using M4 macros in sendmail.cf (of in whatever configuration file you use).

FEATURE(`virtusertable', `dbm /etc/mail/virtusertable')dnl
FEATURE(`genericstable', `hash /etc/mail/genericstable')dnl

A number of things are going on here. The DOMAIN macro indicates that a file like cf/domain/gnosis.cx.m4 is used for additional macros. The FEATURE macros enable use of the virtusertable and genericstable. The GENERICS_DOMAIN_FILE macro defines the domains that qualify for remapping for names in genericstable.

Rewriting will follow all the rules indicated. In test mode (sendmail -bt) you can examine the rewriting that is performed for specific addresses. For example, using genericstable, mail to the local user david will be delivered to david.mertz@gmail.com externally. Assuming localhost is defined in /etc/mail/generics-domains, mail to david@localhost will go to the same place.

In the other direction, mail coming in for david@mail.gnosis.cx will be rewritten and delivered to local user david. Multiple domains can be manipulated by Sendmail at the same time, so david@otherdomain.net will also be delivered locally. The full power comes in some of the wildcard symbols. Any mail send to mail.gnosis.cx that is not specifically directed to a local user will be forwarded to the same username at external-host.com. But that's a simple pattern. More interestingly, the %3 can be used to expand multiple extra name information, so owner-foo@list.gnosis.cx and owner-bar@list.gnosis.cx will be delivered to local users owner-foo and owner-bar, respectively (unless they undergo further rewriting). Presumably, these local users might be mailing list processing systems or other automated message handlers. As a special case, you can raise an error for a given address rather than rewrite it further.

Really what we have looked at just scratches the surface of the rewriting rules you can add to Sendmail, but they give you an initial feel. Buy one of the large books on the topic to learn more details.

Running Sendmail

Sendmail can run in a number of modes. The most common mode is as a daemon that stays in the background and periodically. For example, running:

$ /usr/sbin/sendmail -bd -q10m

Tells Sendmail to run as a daemon, and check its queue every ten minutes. You can also run Sendmail a single time to process the queue at once, but not daemonize:

$ /usr/sbin/sendmail -q

As we mentioned above, Sendmail has a test mode to examine address rewriting rules, e.g. (from the Linux Network Administrators Guide, http://www.faqs.org/docs/linux_network/x15583.html):

$ /usr/sbin/sendmail -bt
ADDRESS TEST MODE (ruleset 3 NOT automatically invoked)
Enter <ruleset> <address>
> 3,0 isaac@vstout.vbrew.com
rewrite: ruleset   3   input: isaac @ vstout . vbrew . com
rewrite: ruleset  96   input: isaac < @ vstout . vbrew . com >
rewrite: ruleset  96 returns: isaac < @ vstout . vbrew . com . >
rewrite: ruleset   3 returns: isaac < @ vstout . vbrew . com . >
rewrite: ruleset   0   input: isaac < @ vstout . vbrew . com . >
rewrite: ruleset 199   input: isaac < @ vstout . vbrew . com . >
rewrite: ruleset 199 returns: isaac < @ vstout . vbrew . com . >
rewrite: ruleset  98   input: isaac < @ vstout . vbrew . com . >
rewrite: ruleset  98 returns: isaac < @ vstout . vbrew . com . >
rewrite: ruleset 198   input: isaac < @ vstout . vbrew . com . >
rewrite: ruleset 198 returns: $# local $: isaac
rewrite: ruleset   0 returns: $# local $: isaac

Managing Mail Traffic

What does Procmail do?

Procmail is a mail processor. That term probably means nothing at all to the unitiated, so we need some explanation. Basically, once Sendmail or another MTA has delivered mail to a local mailbox, you might use a MUA to process the mail in your inbox. You save some messages to various folders; you delete others; you forward other messages to various interested parties; you repl to others; and so on. Doing these tasks in an MUA is a manual and interactive process, and is potentially time consuming.

Procmail is a program that can automatically do these tasks for you whenever the required processing can be stated in a rule-driven way. Obviously, when you write back to your mother about her personal email, some personal attention is required; but for a large class of other messages, it is useful to specify in advance exactly what you would like to happen when a given message is received. The rules that can drive automated message handling might involve specific pattern-based header field, certain contents in a message body, or even calls out to more specific and specialized external programs such as statistical spam filters.

Enabling Procmail

Procmail probably came installed with your Linux distribution. If not you can obtain the source archive at <http://www.procmail.org/>. As of this writing, the latest version is 3.22. You can also probably install Procmail as a binary using the install system of your Linux distribution (e.g. on Debian: apt-get install procmail). Building from source is a straightforward make install. All Procmail needs to operate is the procmail binary and a ~/.procmailrc configuration file (or possibly a global /etc/procmailrc).

Beyond installing Procmail in the first place, you need to get your local mail system to utilize Procmail. An older mechanism to process mail through Procmail is to use a .forward file; this will still often work on a per-user basis. Usually a user will create a file ~/.forward that contains something like:


This will pipe each incoming message to Procmail. However, a better and more common way to utilize Procmail is to tell your MTA to talk directly to Procmail in the first place. In Sendmail, this involved enabling the local_procmail feature, e.g. put the following in your sendmail.mc file:

FEATURE(`local_procmail', `/usr/bin/procmail', `procmail -Y -a $h -d $u')

Once Procmail is enabled at all, it needs a file ~/.procmailrc that contains the set of rules it processes in handling a given message. Procmail is not a daemon, but rather a text processing tool that accepts exactly one email message at a time via STDIN.

Rules in ~/.procmailrc

At heart, Procmail is just a set of regular expression recipes. You may also define environment variables in the same fashion as in a shell script. Recipes are executed in order, but flags may be used to execute a particular condition only if the prior condition is satisfied (A), or is not satisfied (E). Some Procmail recipes are delivery recipes, and others are non-delivery recipes; the former terminates processing of a given message, unless the c flag is given to explicitly continue processing. The most common action of a recipe is probably to store a message in a named mailbox, but you may also pipe a message to another program or forward the message to a list of addresses.

A recipe usually starts with a lock (optionally with a specific lock file, otherwise it is done automatically) and some flags, followed by some rules, and then by exactly one action. I.e.:

:0 [flags] [ : [locallockfile] ]
<zero or more conditions (one per line)>
<exactly one action line>

Of particular note are the implied flag H to match the header, and B to match the body. Patterns normally are case-insensitive, but the D flag can force case-sensitive matching.

If a condition begins with *, everything after that character is an egrep expression. Otherwise, if a line starts with < or > it checks the size of a message as smaller or larger than a given number of bytes. The $ prefix allows shell substitutions in

An action that is simply a file name saves a message to that mailbox. Use the special pseudo-file /dev/null to delete a message. A pipe character (|) passes the message to another program, such as the digest-splitting utility formail that is distributed with Procmail. The exclamation prefix (!) forwards a message as an action (but negates a condition in a rule). Some examples:

Sample ~/.procmailrc file

* ^Subject:.*Digest                 # split digests and save parts
* ^From:.*foo-digest
|formail +1 -ds cat >>mailing_lists_mailbox

* !(To|Cc).*mertz@gnosis.cx         # my main account here
* !(To|Cc).*david.mertz@gmail.com   # I get mail from here
* !From.*gnosis\.cx                 # I trust gnosis not to spam
* !From.*list.*@			          # don't trash mailing lists
* !From.*good-buddy		          # sometimes Bcc's me mail

* ^Subject.*[MY-LIST]               # redistribute MY-LIST messages
! member@example.com, member2@example.net, member3@example.edu

* ^Cc.*joe@somewhere.org            # save to both inbox and JOE mbox
      :0 c


Serving Nntp News

What does InterNetNews do?

NNTP is a nice protocol for "pull" distribution of messages to any users who are interested in a given topic. The Usenet is a large collection of "newsgroups", on thousands of different topics, which distribute messages via NNTP. Being a pull protocol, and NNTP server gathers the current message available from a decentralized network of servers, selecting only those newsgroups that the site administrator choooses to include. When a new message is posted to a given newsgroup, it propogates non-hierarchically from the server the user directly connects to all the other servers on the internet interested in subscribing to that particular newsgroup.

From an end user perspective, a mailing list can appear very similar to a newsgroup. In either case, the user composes and posts messages, and reads messages written by other people. In the ancient days of the Usenet and the Internet, mailing lists were not as capable of presenting discussion topics in a "threaded" fashion as newsgroups do automatically. But for a number of years, mail clients have done a good job of inferring the discussion threads within mailing lists. The main difference between newsgroups and mailing lists is in their underlying network protocol. A mailing list still relies on one centralized mail server that accepts all the messages destined for a particular list, and distributes that message via email to all users who have indicated and interest (and have been approved, either by automatic or human moderated subscription mechanisms). In contrast, NNTP connects every node to every other one without relying on a central server; each NNTP server simply talks to the other servers "nearby", and rather rapidly, this reaches the whole world.

InterNetNews (INN) is an NNTP server that was first written in 1992, and has been actively maintained since then. As of this writing, INN is at version 2.4.1. The home page for INN includes releases and documentation and is at <http://www.isc.org/index.pl?/sw/inn/>.

Setting up INN

After obtaining and unpacking the current source release, builing INN is a straightforward ./configure; make; make install sequence. To build INN, you will need to have Perl and yacc (or bison) installed. This will create a number of files, mostly in the /usr/local/news/ directory (which you probably do not have if INN has not been installed previously).

Before running the innd daemon (as user news), you will want to modify a number of configuration files. The full details will not fit in this tutorial section, but a longer tutorial on the full set of files needing attention (albeit being older, it is for SCO Unix, not for Linux; but most details remain the same) can be found at <http://www.kozubik.com/published/inn_tutorial.txt>. Many of the permissions and quota issues will be handled by the make system, but you might want to double check these configurations.

A file to pay particular attention to is the quota setup in /usr/local/news/etc/storage.conf. This controls which newsgroups are subscribed to, and how much history from each newsgroup to maintain. Once the quota is reached, older messages are purged from a given newsgroup (on the local server, not from Usenet as a whole). For example, it might contain:

Sample storage.conf configuration

method cnfs {
      newsgroups: alt.binaries.*
      class: 1
      size: 0,1000000
      options: BINARIES

method cnfs {
      newsgroups: *
      class: 2
      size: 0,100000
      options: NOTBINRY

The "class" value specifies the order in which different rules are evaluated.

Once all the various configuration files are tweaked, just running innd as a daemon (probably launched for an initialization script) monitors the upstream servers configured by /usr/local/news/etc/innfeed.conf, /usr/local/news/etc/incoming.conf and /usr/local/news/etc/newsfeeds.