This document will teach you how to set up a basic Postfix mail server with IMAP and POP3 services. It does not included advanced topics such as integrating virus-checking and spam-filtering, which are dealt with in PostfixVirtualMailBoxClamSmtpHowto and PostfixCompleteVirtualMailSystemHowto.

Setup Overview

In our setup, Postfix sends and receives mail from Internet and stores them in the user mailboxes while clients on the Internet can retrieve their mails via Courier IMAP or POP3. The user authentication is done by Courier Authdaemon. The following diagram shows this process.


Anatomy of Postfix


The following figure shows the main Postfix system components, and the main information flows between them.


  • Yellow ellipsoids are mail programs.
  • Yellow boxes are mail queues or files.
  • Blue boxes are lookup tables.
  • Programs in the large box run under control by the Postfix resident master daemon.
  • Data in the large box is property of the Postfix mail system.

Receiving Mail

When a message enters the Postfix mail system, the first stop is the incoming queue. The figure below shows the main components that are involved with new mail.


  • Mail is posted locally. The Postfix sendmail program invokes the privileged postdrop program which deposits the message into the maildrop directory, where the message is picked up by the pickup daemon. This daemon does some sanity checks, in order to protect the rest of the Postfix system.

  • Mail comes in via the network. The Postfix SMTP server receives the message and does some sanity checks, in order to protect the rest of the Postfix system.

  • Mail is generated internally by the Postfix system itself, in order to return undeliverable mail to the sender. The bounce or defer daemon brings the bad news.

  • Mail is forwarded by the local delivery agent, either via an entry in the system-wide alias database, or via an entry in a per-user .forward file. This is indicated with the unlabeled arrow.

  • Mail is generated internally by the Postfix system itself, in order to notify the postmaster of a problem (this path is also indicated with the unlabeled arrow).The Postfix system can be configured to notify the postmaster of SMTP protocol problems, UCE policy violations, and so on.

  • The cleanup daemon implements the final processing stage for new mail. It adds missing From: and other message headers, arranges for address rewriting to the standard user@fully.qualified.domain form, and optionally extracts recipient addresses from message headers. The cleanup daemon inserts the result as a single queue file into the incoming queue, and notifies the queue manager of the arrival of new mail. The cleanup daemon can be configured to transform addresses on the basis of canonical and virtua table lookups.

  • On request by the cleanup daemon, the trivial-rewrite daemon rewrites addresses to the standard user@fully.qualified.domain form.

Install Postfix

In this setup I assume that your domain is and it has a valid MX record setup as Remember to replace with your actual domain in the example codes in this howto. Also I assume that you know what an MX record is. To find out MX your type in a terminal:

dig mx

To install postfix

sudo apt-get install postfix

Install mailx package for use as command mail utility program. Mail command is installed with this package.

sudo apt-get install mailutils

Test your default setup

Add a user before you start this.

sudo useradd -m -s /bin/bash fmaster
sudo passwd fmaster

Test your default installation using the following code segment.

telnet localhost 25

(if that doesn't work, check to see if postfix is running)

sudo postfix status

If it is not running, start it

sudo postfix start

Postfix will prompt like following in the terminal so that you can use to type SMTP commands.

Connected to
Escape character is '^]'.
220 localhost.localdomain ESMTP Postfix (Ubuntu)

Type the following code segment in Postfix's prompt.

ehlo localhost
mail from: root@localhost
rcpt to: fmaster@localhost
Subject: My first mail on Postfix

Are you there?
. (Type the .[dot] in a new Line and press Enter )

Check the mailbox of fmaster

su - fmaster

When you type mail command an output like follows display in your terminal.

Mail version 8.1.2 01/15/2001.  Type ? for help.
"/var/mail/fmaster": 2 messages 2 new
>N  1 root@localhost     Mon Mar  6 12:49   13/479   Just a test
 N  2 root@localhost     Mon Mar  6 12:51   15/487   My first mail

You will observe that mails are indexed by numbers and you can type the number of which the mail that you want to read. For example type no "2" to read the 2nd mail. The type "q" to quit. The mail will be written to a file called mbox in user's home directory. According to our example it will be /home/fmaster/mbox.

All messages in an mbox type of mailbox are concatenated and stored in a single file. The beginning of each message is indicated by a line whose first five characters are "From " and a blank line is appended to the end of each message

Setting Postfix Support for Maildir-style Mailboxes

Maildir is a format for an e-mail spool that does not require file locking to maintain message integrity because the messages are kept in separate files with unique names. A Maildir is a directory (often named Maildir) with three subdirectories named tmp, new, and cur. The subdirectories should all reside on the same filesystem.

Another reason to use Maildir format is that Courier IMAP/POP3 servers only work with Maildir format of mailboxes.

Please find out more about Maildir here

Instruct Postfix to use Maildirs instead of Mboxes:

 sudo postconf -e "home_mailbox = Maildir/"

Ensure Procmail isn't used: (if the step was taken during dpkg-reconfigure, by mistake)

sudo postconf -e "mailbox_command = "

Restart Postfix to make changes effect.

sudo  /etc/init.d/postfix restart

Test your setup again

Check the mailbox of fmaster

su - fmaster

Installing courier IMAP and POP3

sudo apt-get install courier-pop
sudo apt-get install courier-imap

Adding your local domains to postfix

Add your domains to mydestination: (my destination is a value in the postfix configuration file. to view your existing setting, type sudo postconf mydestination)

sudo postconf -e "mydestination =, localhost.localdomain, localhost,"

(note that command above will overwrite your previous settings of mydestination, so make note of your previous entries)

Add your local networks, too:

Postfix comes with the localhost ( entry; you may have others, here we assume your LAN is on Make changes to suit your situation.

sudo postconf -e "mynetworks =,"

Make Postfix to receive mail from the Internet

Instruct Postfix to receive on all interfaces:

sudo postconf -e "inet_interfaces = all"

(optional) Make Postfix accept IPv4, IPv6 protocols

If you're not using IPv6 yet, and you're paranoid, use "ipv4" instead of "all". Again, this is to suit your own network sensibilities.

sudo postconf -e "inet_protocols = all"

Start courier-authdaemon

The courier-authdaemon isn't started after installation. Without it, imap authentication will fail:

sudo service courier-authdaemon start

Configure courier-authdaemon to start on boot:

sudo systemctl enable courier-authdaemon

Finally, restart Postfix;

sudo  /etc/init.d/postfix restart

Test your setup again using following code:

netcat 25
mail from:
rcpt to:
Subject: My first mail for my domain

Are you there?
. (and Enter In a new Line)

Check the mailbox of fmaster

su - fmaster
cd Maildir/new

Now you will see mail has a separate file.

Testing Courier POP3

Type in a terminal:

netcat 110

Use the following example code segment for your test. Be intelligent to tweak the changes appropriately to your environment. An output like follows will display in your terminal.

Connected to (
Escape character is '^]'.
+OK Hello there.

Type the following code segment in the prompt provided by the Courier POP3 server. I assume that you are intelligent enough not to type the lines which starts from +OK

user fmaster
+OK Password required.
pass password
+OK logged in.

Testing Courier IMAP

Type in a terminal:

netcat 143

Use the following example code segment for your test. Be intelligent and tweak the changes appropriately to your environment. An output like follows will display in your terminal.


Type the following code segment in the prompt provided by the Courier IMAP server.

a login fmaster password
a logout

Local Alias database

When mail is to be delivered locally, the local delivery agent runs each local recipient name through the aliases database. The mapping does not affect addresses in message headers. Local aliases are typically used to implement distribution lists, or to direct mail for standard aliases such as postmaster to real people. The table can also be used to map Firstname.Lastname addresses to login names.

Alias lookups are enabled by default and you will see following code segment in file.

alias_maps = hash:/etc/aliases

Creating an alias for an account

The following codes illustrate how you can setup an alias. This step is optional since we are going to configure virtual mail domains later in this howto. I have added this step to make sure you understand how you can do this in case it is required.

Create a user

sudo useradd -m -s /bin/bash sysadmin
sudo passwd sysadmin

Edit the alias table

Open the alias file with:

sudo vi /etc/aliases

Add the following code:

fmaster: sysadmin

To make your changes take effect type:

sudo newaliases

To test your changes send a mail to fmaster and check the mail in /home/sysadmin/Maildir/new folder.

Per User .forward Files

Users can control their own mail delivery by specifying destinations in a file called .forward in their home directories. The syntax of these files is the same as system aliases, except that the lookup key and colon are not present.

I will illustrate an example here:

Assume that you need to forward all the mails which come to the sysadmin account to an another account. Enter the following commands:

su - sysadmin
touch .forward

Then open the .forward file

vi .forward

Add the following code:

Remember to use email address which exists in this exercise.

Now send a mail to sysadmin and mail should come to

Postfix virtual Aliases for separate domains and Linux system accounts

With this approach, every hosted domain can have its own info etc. email address. However, it still uses Linux system accounts for local mailbox deliveries.

With virtual alias domains, each hosted address is aliased to a local UNIX system account or to a remote address. The example below shows how to use this mechanism for the and domains.

Inside the file, we tell it how to handle these virtual domains:

sudo postconf -e "virtual_alias_domains ="
sudo postconf -e "virtual_alias_maps = hash:/etc/postfix/virtual"

Edit the /etc/postfix/virtual file:

Add two Linux system accounts

sudo useradd -m -s /bin/bash sigiri
sudo useradd -m -s /bin/bash kala

Set passwords for the above users.

sudo passwd sigiri
sudo passwd kala

sudo vi /etc/postfix/virtual

Add the following code segment:       sigiri    kala

To create a Map Database type :

sudo postmap /etc/postfix/virtual

postmap is utility program that will convert /etc/postfix/virtual to /etc/postfix/virtual.db in Berkley DB format, so that Postfix can access the data faster.

Restart Postfix to make changes take effect:

sudo /etc/init.d/postfix restart

Send mails to both and and those mails should come to mailboxes of sigiri and kala respectively.

PostfixBasicSetupHowto (last edited 2017-04-17 02:02:38 by 173-162-198-126-NewEngland)