Mail Server Migration

The major changes to the server are:

  • Conversion from mbox format to maildir

The mbox format puts all mail in a mail folder into a single file. Over time, these files grow as new mail comes in. When an email is deleted, all the emails after it are shifted up. When we start cleaning out our inboxes, removing years-old emails, the emails deleted are early in the file, and the mail folder is large. Compacting it requires a lot of disk time, during which the mailbox is inaccessible. The larger the file, the more likely it will be corrupted, too.

The maildir format, on the other hand, keeps each email as a file. Yes, this means the mail server has hundreds of thousands of very small files on it, but that's fine. Lots of files is something it is good at managing. More importantly, deleting a mail means deleting a file. The rest of the mail isn't affected.

  • Migration to a server with no shell accounts

The old server had shell accounts for everyone and also hosted the mail. You could use an external client, like Apple Mail or Outlook, to access it via IMAP, or you could use a command line client, like mutt or pine, and access the mail directly.

Without the shell accounts, the only way to access it now is via IMAP. (Both mutt and alpine (the current evolution of pine) support IMAP. Some configuration required.) The webmail at https://webmail.elfie.org/ uses IMAP itself to connect to the mail server.

The upside is the mail server can be updated independently of the other servers in the Elfie cloud, which should make it easier in the future to upgrade in a timely manner.