2013-04-13

Installing an Email Server on Ubuntu Part 2

My last post on this subject wasn’t overly informative, so here’s some more information about my attempt to install an email server on Linux. Note that this post will be of no use to you if you are trying to do this yourself as I entirely failed to get it working.

First of all, you’ll want to install the email server. There are a few of these out there, but if all you want to do is be able to receive email from a few different domains you’ll probably end up opting for Postfix. Postfix isn’t really a full email server. It can receive email but can’t send it, doesn’t offer any kind of client, doesn’t support POP3 or IMAP access or anything else. To get any of this you’ll need to install mailutils and sendmail and Dovecot and half a dozen other programs. I don’t want any of this.

Some command-line wizardy later and you’ll have Postfix installed. Tweak some config files, and…

It doesn’t work.

You need to change your MX records to point at your server. Tweak the DNS, check that the changes have propagated, and…

It doesn’t work.

Perhaps the firewall is blocking the ports? You need to look at the documentation for iptables. iptables seems to be a hideous mess of a program, so you look for something else and find UFW. UFW is very easy to use. Some simple configuration, and…

It doesn’t work.

I had a server that would send email to itself quite happily, but failed the MX test from mxtoolbox.com. Email from anywhere else failed to reach the server. There’s no obvious way to diagnose this because Postfix doesn’t complain about any configuration errors and doesn’t log anything. The DNS settings appear to be correct. Disabling the firewall doesn’t help. As usual when dealing with anything Linux-related, most of the available documentation is either woefully out of date or specific to a completely different distro. (Imagine a Linux in which all of the effort went into creating a handful of tools that worked properly, instead of a hundred crappy, semi-functional alternatives.)

I have no interest in server maintenance. None. I don’t want to run my own email server. It’s simply the downside of migrating to a VPS so that I can run some Go web apps. I’ve wasted an afternoon on something I actively dislike doing.

At this point I decided to look around for an alternative solution. I got nullmailer set up. It’s supposed to automatically redirect incoming messages to another email server, which would enable me to forward messages straight to my GMail account. Clever! Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it working. SSMTP does the same thing (though it’s no longer maintained) and this one did work, but Google detected its attempt at logging in and blocked it.

Now I need an alternative to my alternative. Is there some way I can point the MX records at a dedicated email service and have someone else handle all of this tedium?

I eventually settled on creating a Google Apps account. It took some setting up - account creation, MX records, domain verification, counter-intuitive web UI - but it was considerably less annoying than running my own server. On the downside, Google Apps accounts used to be free but now cost $5/month. On the upside, all of the email to my woopsi.org and simianzombie.com email addresses now appear in GMail.

In other news, woopsi.org is now hosted on my Digital Ocean VPS. I had to convert it from a PHP website back to static HTML pages, but as it wasn’t using PHP for much more than some simple templating this wasn’t a big problem.