Why does Cyrus set the MAIL FROM address of the sender of vacation responses to ‘<>’?¶

Because many of the Sieve features are autoresponders, Cyrus tries to be a good network citizen by adhering to the appropriate RFCs:

From RFC 2821:

This notification message must be from the SMTP server at the relay host
or the host that first determines that delivery cannot be accomplished.
problems transporting notification messages. One way to prevent loops in
error reporting is to specify a null reverse-path in the MAIL command of
a notification message. When such a message is transmitted the
reverse-path MUST be set to null (see section 1.5.5 for additional
discussion).


A MAIL command with a null reverse-path appears as follows:

MAIL FROM:<>

Also from draft-moore-auto-email-response-02.txt:

The primary purpose of the MAIL FROM address is to serve as the
destination for delivery status messages and other automatic responses.
Since in most cases it is not appropriate to respond to an automatic
response, and the responder is not interested in delivery status
messages, a MAIL FROM address of <> MAY be used for this purpose.


This is of course slightly more applicable to reject than it is to vacation, but there isn’t a very strong argument why they should be treated differently.

Note that draft-moore-auto-email-response-02.txt also states:

A MAIL FROM address which is specifically chosen for the purpose of
sending automatic responses, and which will not automatically respond to
any message sent to it, MAY be used instead of <>.


Therefore, it may be reasonable to have this be a configurable fixed address in the future.