FreeBSD, Lisp, Emacs, PostgreSQL & co.

I don't run my own mail server anymore

I don't run my own mail server anymore

Since I got my first server on the net, I've always been running my own mail server. I started with an OpenBSD box at home, behind a rather slow DSL line, and spent quite some time configuring sendmail, discovering how one can express his hatred of everything that is good in this world through the simple means of the design of configuration file syntax. I also remember hesitating between sticking with POP3 or making the jump to IMAP, and whether I should go with Courier or Cyrus-IMAP, switch to QMail to benefit from a more secure implementation… The most challenging question remained whether Maildir was better than mbox. As you can see, life was good and simple, and setting up a mail server could be done in one evening of hard work and pizza eating.

Mail today

Today, things have changed. Spam, phishing and other delicacies now represent around 97% of all email traffic and running a spam-filtering MDA like SpamAssassin is not going to cut it. In reaction to that, many standards emerged, trying to filter out domains displaying a bad behaviour, known spam relays, impersonating domains, and so on. Over the course of a few years, we've seen the following make it to our checklist when setting up a mail server:

Once you've learnt about all this, configured it properly, securely, you realise that your email still doesn't make it to GMail. Why? Maybe your public IP used to belong to some known email relay, and this IP is now blacklisted everywhere. Who knows? You certainly don't. At least, you don't if you're not a professional. So this is what happened: we went from a world where anyone could set up their own mail server to one where running such a service is best left to big corporations who can afford spending the time. Even if you can set it up, can you maintain it?

A compromise

Like I say in my contact page, having my mailbox hosted by GMail was only supposed to be a temporary solution to get by with, the time for me to set up a nice, clean email server again after the tear in the very fabric of reality was repaired and I would have my server fully up and running again. But considering the list of monsters I would have to tame this time, I was faced with a conundrum: I didn't want my email stored and used by a company like Google, and I didn't want to go through a nightmare of configuration to end up with a half-working solution. Luckily, while I was still debating those questions in my head, I received an alert from my registrar about the expiry of my domain name. And it clicked: is in many ways a dinosaur, escaped from an era where the internet was still this free space, opened to anyone, and the company was founded by activists who thought that since domain names cost nothing to produce, they should be provided as a public service. is not just a registrar, they also provide email hosting (as well as web hosting and VPSs, now). So, three clicks later, I had solved my issue. Sure, I have a quota (3GB for free, 50GB for just over 2 euros a month), but I can get by with the wonders of Gmane/Gwene to read my lists and news, and I can always backup my whole box with tools like OfflineIMAP and friends. So it seems really manageable, even for someone like me, who loves email and news so much I once spent an entire evening reading through alt.religion.emacs without getting bored or going mad.

The email is dead

As we are reaching the end of 2017, almost 20 years have passed since I set up my first mail server. The naive world where SSL was an advanced security layer and a 20-line recipe in SpamAssassin was the best armor ever designed to protect your box to one where every email is suspect and victim of its own openness. Unless you're a professionnal, there's little chance you can still count email as a service you set up as a hobby. In a way, the email is dead, but my mailbox lives on. Now if you'd excuse me, I have a contact page to update.