Email Server in 5 Simple Steps
Email was, is, and most probably will remain one of most efficient and versatile communication tool. Despite many of issues that follow using it (everyone knows what ‘spam’ is, correct?), there’s simply no substitute for email.
There are many turnkey solutions for email, from free services, to not so free. Personally, I have tested dozens of email hosting solutions and came to a conclusion, that building reliable, secure and convenient email solution for one’s own needs does not involve high magic or knowing nuclear physics by heart.
This is not “do exactly as I say to get happy” kind of recipe. Instead, I list basic components, all of them freeware (most open source), that would allow you to build small, reliable, portable email service for one’s own.
In case you need exact configuration, time-tested tips that can be used successfully to build and maintain corporate scale email service, just search the Net for typical configuration of mentioned tools (starting with corresponding software sites). You’ll find recipes for many typical cases, and all that for free.
So, let’s begin.
Step 1. Prepare Your Email Server
Whereas I think that FreeBSD is most reliable and secure type of operating system, it has certain disadvantages, especially if you have little knowledge of system administration at the moment. My choice for email service would be CentOS or Ubuntu (server distribution). Both types are stable, well supported and contain a number of useful software pieces in free to use repositories.
Please do not forget about security and install/tune all related pieces of software (to name a few: firewall – iptables and ipset-based; intrusion detection software – such as rkhunter, Aide and Snort; antivirus software – such as ClamAV.
Step 2. Choose Mail Services Components
Personally, I am fond of using Exim as mail transport agent (MTA) – SMTP server, responsible, as name suggests, for email delivery (to and form you).
Dovecot is IMAP/POP3 mail server, allowing you to access and manage your mailboxes.
Both are powerful enough to support literally all known email-related features. Both are well-tested pieces of software with good reputation.
Of course, you should use secure channels while working with email. Don’t forget to use only SSL/STARTTLS-based protocols. Keep being safe!
Step 3. Wear Your Anti-Junk Armour
It’s not enough to install all the software pieces, In this world full of threats, Internet is no exception. You would need assistance of your DNS service to configure such security features as SPF (sender policy framework) and DKIM (DomainKeys identified mail).
These two techniques would donate to your good reputation. They will allow to be more confident that message sent by you is indeed sent by you.
And, of course, you would use some good tool to fight back spam that will inevitably leak into your mailboxes. I have very positive experience with Dspam software and recommend you to make use of it. It will allow to optimize sorting your precious mailbox, saving your precious time.
Step 4. Carry Your Existing Mail With You
I assume you could have mailbox somewhere else. That’s normal; many people start with using free mail service, and choose something more personal and reliable afterwards. But what to do with mail still remaining in the previous mailbox?
Lazy and inconvenient solution is to use your mail client to transfer it. If you don’t mind learning a thing or two, try something like imapsync. It will help you to keep several mail servers in sync. It can be done on regular basis, in fully automated manner.
Step 5. Backup, Backup, and Backup Again!
Yes, only if you do backup copies of everything, you can feel more or less safe. Apart from your software components, in most cases it’s enough to make backup copies of your mail/ directory (or whatever you name it, when setting up IMAP/PO3 service). Install BackupPC software and make at least two copies of the mentioned data on separate servers. Believe me, you won’t regret this.
My another pieces of advice is… to set up a copy of your email services server and keep it in full sync with your primary one. In that case, you will have to perform few actions to re-enable your email services, if your primary servers suddenly goes down.
If you are not technically fluent kind of human being, you could think the above is a rude joke. Software titles can intimidate by themselves; and the truth of how much should be done to make things safe and smooth can easily discourage you.
However, don’t be afraid of learning new things. Order a VPS (guess where you can do that?), and start experimenting. Share your experience, that will help you to understand what makes email work.
Safe, quick and reliable email to you!