Electronic mail transport has been one of the most prominent uses of networking since the first networks were devised. Email started as a simple service that copied a file from one machine to another and appended it to the recipient's mailbox file. The concept remains the same, although an ever-growing net, with its complex routing requirements and its ever increasing load of messages, has made a more elaborate scheme necessary.
Various standards of mail exchange have been devised. Sites on the Internet adhere to one laid out in RFC-822, augmented by some RFCs that describe a machine-independent way of transferring just about anything, including graphics, sound files, and special characters sets, by email. CCITT has defined another standard, X.400. It is still used in some large corporate and government environments, but is progressively being retired.
Quite a number of mail transport programs have been implemented for Unix systems. One of the best known is sendmail, which was developed by Eric Allman at the University of California at Berkeley. Eric Allman now offers sendmail through a commercial venture, but the program remains free software. sendmail is supplied as the standard mail agent in some Linux distributions. We describe sendmail configuration in Chapter 18.
Linux also uses Exim, written by Philip Hazel of the University of Cambridge. We describe Exim configuration in Chapter 19.
Compared to sendmail, Exim is rather young. For the vast bulk of sites with email requirements, their capabilities are pretty close.
Both Exim and sendmail support a set of configuration files that have to be customized for your system. Apart from the information that is required to make the mail subsystem run (such as the local hostname), there are many parameters that may be tuned. sendmail 's main configuration file is very hard to understand at first. It looks as if your cat has taken a nap on your keyboard with the shift key pressed. Exim configuration files are more structured and easier to understand than sendmail 's. Exim, however, does not provide direct support for UUCP and handles only domain addresses. Today that isn't as big a limitation as it once might have been; most sites stay within Exim's limitations. However, for most sites, the work required in setting up either of them is roughly the same.
In this chapter, we deal with what email is and what issues administrators have to deal with. Chapter 18 and Chapter 19 provide instructions on setting up sendmail and Exim and for the first time. The included information should help smaller sites become operational, but there are several more options and you can spend many happy hours in front of your computer configuring the fanciest features.
Toward the end of this chapter we briefly cover setting up elm, a very common mail user agent on many Unix-like systems, including Linux.
For more information about issues specific to electronic mail on Linux, please refer to the Electronic Mail HOWTO by Guylhem Aznar, which is posted to comp.os.linux.answers regularly. The source distributions of elm, Exim, and sendmail also contain extensive documentation that should answer most questions on setting them up, and we provide references to this documentation in their respective chapters. If you need general information on email, a number of RFCs deal with this topic. They are listed in the bibliography at the end of the book.
Read RFC-1437 if you don't believe this statement!
Guylhem can be reached at [email protected].