Not so long ago I suggested I may change my mail server software. I have recently done so, moving from a highly customised qmail installation to postfix. I have done so for a number of reasons, but that is not to say I dislike qmail.

What did I get out of qmail?

  • Easy to configure, all the configuration was done using flat files, named for their purpose, there was no monolithic and confusing config file to search through
  • Highly customisable, I had applied many patches, and made alterations to my specific installation that served my needs
  • multi process mail system, this one mattered to me, and is why when I switched I switched to postfix, there is no single binary running as root, that does everything, each process runs with the privileges it needs.

So why did I want to change?

Well qmail, and specifically my installation, had become unwieldy to add new functionality to, I wanted to add greylisting, and there were many ways to do this, but they all required adding yet another patch, and out of laziness I had not committed all my changes to any sort of source control. I couldn't stomach manually going through another patch and seeing where it didn't apply cleanly and why, and fix it again. So I had a choice stomach the pain of another round of patching, rebuilding, and testing, and make things worse for myself, set up source control for my qmail set up, or move to something better supported in the community, and with more features.

Postfix suited my needs reasonably well, it is a multi-process mail system, using the idea of least privilege, it has a modular design allowing the addition of extra features much more quickly and easily. It is also better supported, and even has pakages within debian, my operating system of choice. Greylisting was added easily by simply installing another package (postgrey) and altering the config of postfix to use it. By setting up postfix to allow access over ssl on port 465 (as I had previously on qmail) it has also enabled opportunistic encryption for any mail servers sending email to me (something I had considered adding to qmail, but had decided wasn't worth the effort) and I have also been able to easily enable opportunistic encryption for when my server sends email out to other servers that support it.

So do I regret using qmail in the past? Not at all I learnt a great deal from using qmail, and I still prefer it as a basic mail system to postfix, it was just becoming too much hassle to support new features.

What mail server would I advise others to use? For the most part I would suggest google apps or office365 if you want your own domain, or any of a number of other paid for mail hosting solutions, very few poeple have the time and skills and patience to run their own mail server. It started as a learning exercise for me, and I like the control I have over my set up. If someone genuinely wanted to run their own mail server my advise would be to find out what suits their needs best, qmail is great if your needs are simple, and is relatively easy to learn if you have some basic knowledge of how networks and specifically email work, but everyone has different needs, and those needs can change over time, my certainly have.

posted at 04:31:34 PM on 31 Dec 2016 by Craig Stewart

Tags:email sysadmin opinion