Ubuntu E-mail Redux

A new criterion has arisen for my e-mail world, and that is the need to run a second e-mail server domain. The all-in-one Web mail solutions I’ve tried – like Axigen and Surgemail – have limits on the number of domains or users you can have with a free version. So I am starting to look again at Postfix as an option for my e-mail.

There are some interesting options.  If you’re a relative newbie to Ubuntu like me, you may be interested in some of this.  This was all done on 10.04 LTS “Lucid Lynx”.

The Server

First, Postfix.  This is the default mail transfer agent (MTA) for Ubuntu.  Which is like saying murflegag blurglebag to me.  In the past, when I installed an “e-mail server”, it was an all in one piece.  Once installed, mail would be received and sent and I’d have a way to access it through a Web-based agent.

This is a different concept.  Postfix is the nuts and bolts.  In conjunction with other programs – like SpamAssassin and Clam AV – it handles the sending and receiving.  But if you use Postfix, you’ll need to get a Web mail client to sit on top and access the messages that are coming and going.

I installed Postfix last night following this guide and it was letter perfect.  Once I followed all the steps, I could send messages and see them arrive at the file level of my server.

The instructions include installing Courier IMAP and POP3, but you can also install Dovecot (sudo apt-get install dovecot-common) for that.  After going through the install (and backing out again, for reasons I’ll explain below) I first installed Courier and then tried Dovecot.  This Postfix How To has less detail than the guide linked above but does get more into Courier testing.

The Web Mail Client

Once I had it running (and sent an external message in as well as was able to see the Spamassassin blocking), I was ready to look at Web mail.  You don’t really need Web mail.  If you’ve got your IMAP set up, you can use any IMAP-capable client to access your e-mail:  Mozilla Thunderbird, Postbox, Gnome Evolution, Microsoft Outlook, etc.  But I do not always have access to an IMAP client when I am out of the house, so I would like to have some Web interface to access my mail.

The Web mail options I came across included

  • Squirrelmail.  I don’t like the way this looks, based on screenshots.  It seems to be the preferred client for Ubuntu and is available in your Ubuntu Software Center.
  • Horde Groupware and IMP Web mail client.  IMP looks good but I wasn’t really interested in installing Horde, which appears to be a prerequisite to getting IMP in place.
  • Neomail.  I had trouble accessing this (may have been an old domain) although I have seen it implemented by some ISPs and it looks nice.  I might take another look before finally deciding.
  • Roundcube.  I installed this and it looks both like a nice interface and a pretty well-developed product.  I could not login and – based on the “test” scope of my investigation – I didn’t want to spend a lot of time working out the details.  But it’s probably my first choice when I get around to doing this properly.
  • Citadel Suite.  This can be installed at the command line but it is the most complicated of the Web mail products I actually played with and it would only be suitable if I needed something that detailed.  It runs its own Web server – the others rely on your current Apache installation – and I found the support documentation to be less helpful than it might have been.  I completed the install and configuration but could never find it on the port that I thought I’d given it.
  • ATMail free Web client.  I was able to get this to install but got PHP errors during the installation process.  There was no documentation to help figure out what had happened and so it was a dead-end.  It looks promising too – visually, it would be my second choice after Roundcube – but I have yet to successfully install and access it.

Because Postfix disables my current e-mail server – Axigen’s free one domain version – I was mostly on a fishing expedition.  I uninstalled Postfix and Dovecot and Roundcube and reinstalled Axigen at the end of the evening.  But my experimentation makes me confident that – given a long weekend – I can pretty quickly put Postfix and Roundcube in place with either Dovecot or Courier IMAP and have a good replacement.  Then I will be able to extend my e-mail servers to virtual domains and more users.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.