Sendmail Tips

.forward | Delaying Email | Disable ident | enhdnsbl | mailertable | Move messages to slow queue | Spamtrap User | Transport Layer Security (TLS) Tips | Procmail | Related

Some collected tips and tricks for sendmail and related mail utilities. For more documentation, see the cf/README, sendmail/SECURITY, and doc/op/ files under the sendmail source. Example permissions for sendmail 8.12 and up.


The ~/.forward file can be used to customize mail flow. Three different destination types may be used.

The above can be combined as comma separated values on a single line, or on multiple lines to split mail delivery to multiple destinations.

Disabling .forward

Disabling the .forward file makes sense where the mail setup is complicated or users are otherwise prone to mess things up by inserting procmail invocation rules from 1995 that make no sense with procmail as the local delivery agent. Additionally, the mail system will not have to parse the user details out of the system accounts and lookup the .forward, which can speed mail processing.

To disable forward file support, set an empty forward file search path in the file, and rebuild

define(`confFORWARD_PATH', `')

Delaying Email

Outgoing email may be held by default by setting the DeliveryMode option to deferred. The queue will need to be run manually (or periodically from cron, or when a network connection is available from a script) to flush the queued messages. On a laptop that relays mail through a central server without running a local sendmail daemon, set something like following in to hold mail by default.

FEATURE(`msp', `')
define(`confDELIVERY_MODE', `deferred')

Normally definitions do not follow the msp feature, but this is an exception to that rule.

For the main sendmail daemon, update the

define(`confDELIVERY_MODE', `deferred')

Expect to see the following warning when rebuilding the configuration files.

$ sudo make config
WARNING: Antispam rules not available in deferred delivery mode.
WARNING: Antispam rules not available in deferred delivery mode.

Disable ident

The Identification Protocol (see [RFC 1413]) allows the user of a particular Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) connection to be queried. In the context of email, the Mail Transport Agent (MTA) such as Sendmail will send a ident connection back to the client to see which user on the sending system is sending mail. I recommend that ident lookups be disabled, as most systems will either not run an ident daemon or will have the port firewalled or otherwise blocked, thus requiring extra useless work by the mail server.

To disable ident support, set the confTO_IDENT timeout in the file to zero, then rebuild

define(`confTO_IDENT', `0')


Enhanced version of dnsbl. Requires sendmail to be compiled with DNSMAP support. For instance, to support the Spamhaus Block List, use something like the following. Other services may do RBL lookups, such as Mail::SpamAssassin, so review the mail flow to ensure duplicate work is not being done.

FEATURE(`enhdnsbl', `', ?
`Mail from $&{client_addr} rejected see', ?
`t', `')


The mailertable file can be used to direct mail for particular domains to specific hosts. To enable this feature, set the following in your and rebuild


The should result in a that contains a Kmailertable line listing the path to the mailertable file plus some ruleset code.

$ grep ^Kmailertable /etc/mail/
Kmailertable hash /etc/mail/mailertable

Move messages to slow queue

Tip on using and a cron job to move slow messages to a slow queue.

Spamtrap User

To trap all mail sent locally to a non-existent user, create a LUSER_RELAY definition in the file. This could also be done for particular domains using a mailertable entry.

Using a trap-all user may seem like a good method to prevent spammers from determining what user accounts are on a system, but will also trap legitimate mail sent to an incorrect address (e.g. via a typo on the username). I would only user a trap-all on an entire domain dedicated to the purpose.

define(`LUSER_RELAY', ``local:user'')

Transport Layer Security (TLS) Tips

Sendmail can be built for TLS support, often in conjunction with SMTP AUTH to provide remote relaying services. The access map allows control over how or when TLS is negotiated with clients. See also notes on configuring CipherList support in sendmail, to alter what algorithms are used by the server.

Incompatible Clients

Incoming mail servers that accept mail from the Internet may need TLS support disabled, as there could be interoperability problems with poorly implemented TLS services in other MTA.

To disable all advertisement of TLS services, add the following to the access map file.

Srv_Features: S

Older, slower systems may want to disable STARTTLS, as the cryptographic computations may delay mail significantly.

Another option would be to enable TLS on the lowest MX for a domain, and have a higher MX without TLS that uninteroperable systems would presumably fail over to. The same could be done for outgoing systems, where the primary outgoing systems attempt TLS, but not the FallbackMXhost host.

Incompatible Servers

In addition to senders having problems negotiating with your server, your systems may also have problems connecting with certain remote servers. The logfiles should show entries similar to the following for the problematic server.

sm-mta[1234]: ruleset=tls_server, arg1=SOFTWARE,, ?
reject=403 4.7.0 TLS handshake failed.

The solution is to add access map entries that disable TLS with the host (or domain, for multiple remote servers with problems) in question. NO


TLS should be disabled over the localhost interface, as there is almost no need for such mail to be encrypted.

Srv_Features:localhost.localdomain S

SMTP AUTH Interaction

Servers that use STARTTLS to tunnel client connections will likely need to disable client certificate checks, as most clients will not have a certificate to present. Mail User Agents (MUA) such as Netscape Messenger may also prompt the user for a certificate, compounding the problem.

To disable all client certificate checks, set the following in the access map.

Srv_Features: V

On the other hand, a server that allows relaying by certificate will need to have client certificate checks enabled to properly verify the client.


In sendmail, a good way to enable procmail is to configure it as the local mailer, which avoids having to setup any ~/.forward rules to pass mail to procmail.

dnl use this in place of MAILER(`local')

Depending on the system, procmail may need to have the suid root or sgid mode bits set (or removed for security) so that local mail can be written as the user in question.

More procmail tips.