Email with Postfix, Dovecot and MySQL on CentOS 5

Updated by Elle Krout Written by Linode

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This guide has been deprecated and is no longer being maintained.

The Postfix Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) is a high performance open source e-mail server system. This guide will help you get Postfix running on your CentOS 5 Linode, using Dovecot for IMAP/POP3 service, and MySQL to store information on virtual domains and users.

Prior to using this guide, be sure you have followed the getting started guide and set your hostname.

The steps in this guide require root privileges. Be sure to run the steps below as root, or use su - root to log in as root. Certain commands below cannot be run as sudo and must be run as root.

Install Required Packages

  1. Install any outstanding package updates:

    yum update
  2. The version of Postfix included in the main CentOS repository does not include support for MySQL; therefore, you will need install Postfix from the CentOS Plus repository. Before doing so, add exclusions to the [base] and [updates] repositories for the Postfix package to prevent it from being overwritten with updates that do not have MySQL support:

    name=CentOS-$releasever - Base
    # released updates
    name=CentOS-$releasever - Updates
  3. Install the required packages:

    yum --enablerepo=centosplus install postfix
    yum install dovecot mysql-server

    This installs the Postfix mail server, the MySQL database server, the Dovecot IMAP and POP daemons, and several supporting packages that provide services related to authentication.

Next, set up a MySQL database to handle virtual domains and users.

Set up MySQL for Virtual Domains and Users

  1. Configure MySQL to start on boot, then start MySQL:

    chkconfig mysqld on
    service mysqld start
  2. Run mysql_secure_installation. You will be presented with the opportunity to change the MySQL root password, remove anonymous user accounts, disable root logins outside of localhost, remove test databases, and reload privilege tables. It is recommended that you answer yes to these options:

  3. Start the MySQL shell:

    mysql -u root -p
  4. Create a database for your mail server and switch to it:

    USE mail;
  5. Create a mail administration user called mail_admin and grant it permissions on the mail database. Please be sure to replace mail_admin_password with a strong password:

    GRANT SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE ON mail.* TO 'mail_admin'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED BY 'mail_admin_password';
    GRANT SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE ON mail.* TO 'mail_admin'@'localhost.localdomain' IDENTIFIED BY 'mail_admin_password';
  6. Create the virtual domains table:

    CREATE TABLE domains (domain varchar(50) NOT NULL, PRIMARY KEY (domain) );
  7. Create a table to handle mail forwarding:

    CREATE TABLE forwardings (source varchar(80) NOT NULL, destination TEXT NOT NULL, PRIMARY KEY (source) );
  8. Create the users table:

    CREATE TABLE users (email varchar(80) NOT NULL, password varchar(20) NOT NULL, PRIMARY KEY (email) );
  9. Create a transports table:

    CREATE TABLE transport ( domain varchar(128) NOT NULL default '', transport varchar(128) NOT NULL default '', UNIQUE KEY domain (domain) );
  10. Exit the MySQL shell:

  11. Bind MySQL to localhost ( by editing /etc/my.cnf, and adding the following to the [mysqld] section of the file:


    This is required for Postfix to be able to communicate with the database server. If you have MySQL set up to listen on another IP address (such as an internal IP), you will need to substitute this IP address in place of during the Postfix configuration steps. It is not advisable to run MySQL on a publicly-accessible IP address.

  12. Restart the database server:

    service mysqld restart

Next, perform additional Postfix configuration to set up communication with the database.

Configure Postfix to work with MySQL

For the next four steps, replace mail_admin_password with the mail_admin password input earlier.
  1. Create a virtual domain configuration file for Postfix called /etc/postfix/

    user = mail_admin
    password = mail_admin_password
    dbname = mail
    query = SELECT domain AS virtual FROM domains WHERE domain='%s'
    hosts =
  2. Create a virtual forwarding file for Postfix called /etc/postfix/

    user = mail_admin
    password = mail_admin_password
    dbname = mail
    query = SELECT destination FROM forwardings WHERE source='%s'
    hosts =
  3. Create a virtual mailbox configuration file for Postfix called /etc/postfix/

    user = mail_admin
    password = mail_admin_password
    dbname = mail
    query = SELECT CONCAT(SUBSTRING_INDEX(email,<'@'>,-1),'/',SUBSTRING_INDEX(email,<'@'>,1),'/') FROM users WHERE email='%s'
    hosts =
  4. Create a virtual email mapping file for Postfix called /etc/postfix/

    user = mail_admin
    password = mail_admin_password
    dbname = mail
    query = SELECT email FROM users WHERE email='%s'
    hosts =
  5. Set proper permissions and ownership for these configuration files:

    chmod o= /etc/postfix/mysql-virtual_*.cf
    chgrp postfix /etc/postfix/mysql-virtual_*.cf
  6. Create a user and group for mail handling. All virtual mailboxes will be stored under this user’s home directory:

    groupadd -g 5000 vmail
    useradd -g vmail -u 5000 vmail -d /home/vmail -m
  7. Complete the remaining steps required for Postfix configuration. Please be sure to replace with the Linode’s fully qualified domain name. If you are planning on using your own SSL certificate and key, replace /etc/pki/dovecot/private/dovecot.pem with the appropriate path:

    postconf -e 'myhostname ='
    postconf -e 'mydestination = $myhostname, localhost, localhost.localdomain'
    postconf -e 'mynetworks ='
    postconf -e 'inet_interfaces = all'
    postconf -e 'message_size_limit = 30720000'
    postconf -e 'virtual_alias_domains ='
    postconf -e 'virtual_alias_maps = proxy:mysql:/etc/postfix/, mysql:/etc/postfix/'
    postconf -e 'virtual_mailbox_domains = proxy:mysql:/etc/postfix/'
    postconf -e 'virtual_mailbox_maps = proxy:mysql:/etc/postfix/'
    postconf -e 'virtual_mailbox_base = /home/vmail'
    postconf -e 'virtual_uid_maps = static:5000'
    postconf -e 'virtual_gid_maps = static:5000'
    postconf -e 'smtpd_sasl_type = dovecot'
    postconf -e 'smtpd_sasl_path = private/auth'
    postconf -e 'smtpd_sasl_auth_enable = yes'
    postconf -e 'broken_sasl_auth_clients = yes'
    postconf -e 'smtpd_sasl_authenticated_header = yes'
    postconf -e 'smtpd_recipient_restrictions = permit_mynetworks, permit_sasl_authenticated, reject_unauth_destination'
    postconf -e 'smtpd_use_tls = yes'
    postconf -e 'smtpd_tls_cert_file = /etc/pki/dovecot/certs/dovecot.pem'
    postconf -e 'smtpd_tls_key_file = /etc/pki/dovecot/private/dovecot.pem'
    postconf -e 'virtual_create_maildirsize = yes'
    postconf -e 'virtual_maildir_extended = yes'
    postconf -e 'proxy_read_maps = $local_recipient_maps $mydestination $virtual_alias_maps $virtual_alias_domains $virtual_mailbox_maps $virtual_mailbox_domains $relay_recipient_maps $relay_domains $canonical_maps $sender_canonical_maps $recipient_canonical_maps $relocated_maps $transport_maps $mynetworks $virtual_mailbox_limit_maps'
    postconf -e 'virtual_transport = dovecot'
    postconf -e 'dovecot_destination_recipient_limit = 1'
  8. Edit the file /etc/postfix/ and add the Dovecot service to the bottom of the file:

    dovecot   unix  -       n       n       -       -       pipe
        flags=DRhu user=vmail:vmail argv=/usr/libexec/dovecot/deliver -f ${sender} -d ${recipient}
  9. Shut down Sendmail, then configure Postfix to start on boot and start the service for the first time:

    service sendmail stop
    chkconfig sendmail off
    chkconfig postfix on
    service postfix start

This completes the configuration for Postfix.

Configure Dovecot

  1. Move /etc/dovecot.conf to a backup file:

    mv /etc/dovecot.conf /etc/dovecot.conf-backup
  2. Copy the following into the now-empty dovecot.conf file, substituting your system’s domain name for in line 17:

     1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9101112131415161718192021222324252627282930313233343536373839404142434445464748495051
    protocols = imap imaps pop3 pop3s
    log_timestamp = "%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S "
    mail_location = maildir:/home/vmail/%d/%n/Maildir
    ssl_cert_file = /etc/pki/dovecot/certs/dovecot.pem
    ssl_key_file = /etc/pki/dovecot/private/dovecot.pem
    namespace private {
        separator = .
        prefix = INBOX.
        inbox = yes
    protocol lda {
        log_path = /home/vmail/dovecot-deliver.log
        auth_socket_path = /var/run/dovecot/auth-master
        postmaster_address =
    protocol pop3 {
    pop3_uidl_format = %08Xu%08Xv
    auth default {
        user = root
        passdb sql {
            args = /etc/dovecot-sql.conf
        userdb static {
            args = uid=5000 gid=5000 home=/home/vmail/%d/%n allow_all_users=yes
        socket listen {
            master {
                path = /var/run/dovecot/auth-master
                mode = 0600
                user = vmail
            client {
                path = /var/spool/postfix/private/auth
                mode = 0660
                user = postfix
                group = postfix
  3. MySQL will be used to store password information, so /etc/dovecot-sql.conf must be created. Insert the following contents into the file, making sure to replace mail_admin_password with your mail password:

    driver = mysql
    connect = host= dbname=mail user=mail_admin password=mail_admin_password
    default_pass_scheme = CRYPT
    password_query = SELECT email as user, password FROM users WHERE email='%u';
  4. Restrict access to the file by changing the permissions to allow users in the dovecot group to access it, while denying access to others:

    chgrp dovecot /etc/dovecot-sql.conf
    chmod o= /etc/dovecot-sql.conf
  5. Configure Dovecot to start on boot, and start it for the first time:

    chkconfig dovecot on
    service dovecot start
  6. Now check /var/log/maillog to make sure Dovecot started without errors. Your log should have lines similar to the following:

    Mar 18 10:00:23 li833-84 dovecot: Dovecot v1.0.7 starting up
    Mar 18 10:00:23 li833-84 dovecot: Generating Diffie-Hellman parameters for the first time. This may take a while..
    Mar 18 10:00:23 li833-84 dovecot: auth-worker(default): mysql: Connected to (mail)
    Mar 18 10:00:25 li833-84 dovecot: ssl-build-param: SSL parameters regeneration completed
  7. Test your POP3 server to make sure it’s running properly:

    telnet localhost pop3
  8. The terminal should output results similar to the following:

    Connected to localhost.localdomain.
    Escape character is '^]'.
    +OK Dovecot ready.
  9. Enter the command quit to return to your shell. This completes the Dovecot configuration.

Next, you’ll make sure aliases are configured properly.

Configure Mail Aliases

  1. Edit the file /etc/aliases, making sure the postmaster and root directives are set properly for your organization:

    postmaster: root
  2. Update aliases and restart Postfix:

    service postfix restart

This completes alias configuration. Next, test Postfix to make sure it’s operating properly.

Testing Postfix

  1. Test Postfix for SMTP-AUTH and TLS:

    telnet localhost 25
  2. While still connected, issue the following command:

    ehlo localhost
  3. You should see output similar to the following:
    250-SIZE 30720000
    250-AUTH PLAIN
    250 DSN
  4. Issue the command quit to terminate the telnet connection.

Next, populate the MySQL database with domains and email users.

Set Up and Test Domains and Users

Before continuing, modify the DNS records for any domains that you wish to handle email by adding an MX record that points to your mail server’s fully qualified domain name. If MX records already exist for a domain you would like to handle the email for, either delete them or set them to a higher priority number than your mail server. Smaller priority numbers indicate higher priority for mail delivery, with “0” being the highest priority.

In the following example, the MySQL shell is used to add support for the domain “”, which will have an email account called “sales”.

  1. Log into the MySQL shell:

    mysql -u root -p
  2. Switch to the mail database, add support for your domain, and create an email account. Be sure to replace with your domain name, with your chosen email, and password with a strong password:

    USE mail;
    INSERT INTO domains (domain) VALUES ('');
    INSERT INTO users (email, password) VALUES ('', ENCRYPT('password'));
  3. Prior to accessing any newly-created email accounts, a test message needs to be sent to create that user’s mailbox:


    Press Ctrl+D to complete the message. You can safely leave the field for Cc: blank. This completes the configuration for a new domain and email user.

Given the possibility for virtual hosting a large number of domains on a single mail system, the username portion of an email address (i.e. before the @ sign) is not sufficient for authentication. When email users authenticate to the server, they must supply the entire email address created above as their username.

Check Your Logs

After the test mail is sent, check the mail logs to make sure the mail was delivered.

  1. Check the maillog located in /var/log/maillog. You should see something similar to the following:

    Mar 18 10:19:08 li833-84 postfix/cleanup[4568]: 73A35BE52: message-id=<>
    Mar 18 10:19:08 li833-84 postfix/qmgr[4510]: 73A35BE52: from=<>, size=630, nrcpt=1 (queue active)
    Mar 18 10:19:08 li833-84 sendmail[4561]: t2IEJ7jn004561:, ctladdr=root (0/0), delay=00:00:01, xdelay=00:00:00, mailer=relay$
    Mar 18 10:19:08 li833-84 postfix/smtpd[4562]: disconnect from localhost.localdomain[]
    Mar 18 10:19:08 li833-84 postfix/pipe[4570]: 73A35BE52: to=<>, relay=dovecot, delay=0.07, delays=0.05/0.01/0/0.01, dsn=2.0.0, s$
    Mar 18 10:19:08 li833-84 postfix/qmgr[4510]: 73A35BE52: removed
  2. Check the Dovecot delivery log located in /home/vmail/dovecot-deliver.log. The contents should look similar to the following:

    deliver(<>): 2011-01-21 20:03:19 Info: msgid=<<>>: saved mail to INBOX

Now test to see what the users of your email server would see with their email clients.

Test the Mailbox

  1. To test the mailbox, navigate to the mailbox directory /home/vmail/ and issue the following command:

    cd /home/vmail/
  2. You should see output similar to the following:

  3. Test the maillbox by using a mail client. For this test, using mutt is recommended. If it is not installed by default, install it with yum install mutt, then run:

    mutt -f .

    You may be prompted to create the root mailbox. This is not required.

  4. If there is an email in the inbox, Postfix, Dovecot, and MySQL have been successfully configured! To quit mutt press q.


More Information

You may wish to consult the following resources for additional information on this topic. While these are provided in the hope that they will be useful, please note that we cannot vouch for the accuracy or timeliness of externally hosted materials.

See Also

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