This section gives an overview of several aspects of the Cyrus IMAP server, as they relate to deployment. In an effort to reduce duplication of information, we will often direct you to documentation in other areas. Please do follow such referrals.

Access Control Lists

Access to each mailbox is controlled by access control lists. Access Control Lists (ACLs) provide a powerful mechanism for specifying the users, or groups of users, who have permission to access the mailboxes, and the degree of that access.

An ACL is a list of zero or more entries. Each entry contains a mailbox, an Access Control Identifier (ACI) and a set of rights. The ACI specifies the user or group of users for which the entry applies. The set of rights is one or more letters or digits, each letter or digit conferring a particular privilege.

Working with ACLs

ACLs are manipulated via these subcommands within the cyradm(8) program:

Sample ACL

A typical ACL is expressed like this:

setaclmailbox mailbox id rights [id rights ...]

where mailbox is the name of the mailbox to which the ACL is applied, id is the ACI for the user or group for which the ACL applies, and rights is a concatenated list of Access Rights from the list below.

A real world example may look like this:

setaclmailbox user/bovik/public bovik all group:users lrsp anyone lrs

Here are samples illustrated via output from the listaclmailbox command in cyradm(8):

localhost> listaclmailbox tech/%
  group:tech lrswipkxtea
  anyone lrs
  group:tech lrswipkxtecda
  anyone lrsp
  anyone lrsp
  group:tech lrswipkxtecda
  group:tech lrswipkxtecda
  anyone lrsp

localhost> listaclmailbox user/bovik/%
  bovik lrswipkxtecda
  bovik lrswipkxtecda
user/bovik/Sent Items:
  bovik lrswipkxtecda
  anyone p
  bovik lrswipkxtecda
  bovik lrswipkxtecda

Access Rights

The following lists Access Rights that can be used in an Access Control List entry.


The user may see that the mailbox exists (lookup).


The user may read the mailbox (read).


Keep per-user seen state (i.e. modify the "Seen" flag) (setseen).


The user may modify flags and keywords other than "Seen" and "Deleted". (write)


The user may insert (append) new messages into the mailbox (insert).


The user may send email to the submission address for the mailbox (post).


[deprecated: see k right, below.]


The user may create new mailboxes in this mailbox, delete the current mailbox, or rename the mailbox (create).


The user may delete the mailbox itself. (deletembox)


The user may store the "Deleted" flag. In other words, delete messages.


The user may Expunge messages which have the "Deleted" flag already set (expunge).


This "legacy" right is treated by the software as a macro for te (deletemsg && expunge).


The user may store annotations for a message (annotatemsg)


The user may change the Access Control Information (ACI) on the mailbox (administer).

For a complete reference to Access Rights, please see Access Control Lists Rights Reference

Rights are combined through concatenation. Please see Combining Access Rights

Access Control Defaults


Regardless of the ACL on a mailbox, users who are listed in the admins configuration option in imapd.conf(5) implicitly have the l and a rights on all mailboxes.

Administrators can also see across domains which normal users cannot.


An admin user should not be a normal email account.

Mailbox owners

The user who owns a mailbox folder has additional rights which are set regardless of any additional ACLs. These are:

These are set in implicit_owner_rights of imapd.conf(5).


For all other mailboxes not owned by a user, any user accessing these mailboxes have the following default privileges:

These are set in defaultacl of imapd.conf(5).

Initial ACLs for Newly Created Mailboxes

When a mailbox is created, its ACL starts off with a copy of the ACL of its closest parent mailbox. When a user is created, the ACL on the user's INBOX starts off with a single entry granting all rights to the user. When a non-user mailbox is created and does not have a parent, its ACL is initialized to the value of the defaultacl option in imapd.conf(5).

Other Implicit Rights

Note that some rights are available implicitly, for example 'anonymous' always has 'p' on user INBOXes, and users always have la rights on mailboxes within their INBOX hierarchy.

Access Control Identifier (ACI)

The Access Control Identifier (ACI) part of an ACL entry specifies the user or group for which the entry applies. Group identifiers are distinguished be the prefix "group:". For example, "group:accounting".

There are two special identifiers, "anonymous", and "anyone", which are explained below. The meaning of other identifiers usually depends on the authorization mechanism being used (selected by --with-auth at compile time, defaulting to Unix).

anonymous and anyone

With any authorization mechanism, two special identifiers are defined. The identifier anonymous refers to the anonymous, or unauthenticated user. The identifier anyone refers to all users, including the anonymous user.

Both anonymous and anyone may commonly be used with the post right p to allow message insertion to mailboxes.

Kerberos vs. Unix Authorization

The Cyrus IMAP server comes with four authorization mechanisms, one is compatible with Unix-style (/etc/passwd) authorization, one for use with Kerberos 4, one for use with Kerberos 5, and one for use with an external authorization process (ptloader) which can interface with other group databases (e.g. AFS PTS groups, LDAP Groups, etc).


Authentication !== Authorization

Note that authorization is not the same thing as authentication. Authentication is the act of proving who you are. Authorization is the act of determining what rights you have. Authentication is discussed in the Login Authentication part of this document.

Unix Authorization

In the Unix authorization mechanism, ACIs are either a valid userid or the string group: followed by a group listed in /etc/group. Thus:

root                Refers to the user root
group:staff         Refers to the group staff

It is also possible to use unix groups with users authenticated through a non-/etc/passwd backend. Note that using unix groups in this way (without associated /etc/passwd entries) is not recommended.


Cyrus requires the getgrent(3) POSIX sysctl. As such, NSS needs to be configured to have the groups available, one of which includes "files", but could also include "ldap".

NSS augmentations, such as nss_ldap, pam_ldap or sssd may be used to provide Cyrus access to group information via NSS.

Kerberos Authorization

Using the Kerberos authorization mechanism, ACIs are of the form:


If $instance is omitted, it defaults to the null string. If $realm is omitted, it defaults to the local realm.

The file /etc/krb.equiv contains mappings between Kerberos principals. The file contains zero or more lines, each containing two fields. Any identity matching the first field of a line is changed to the second identity during canonicalization. For example, a line in /etc/krb.equiv of:

bovik@REMOTE.COM bovik

will cause the identity bovik@REMOTE.COM to be treated as if it were the local identity bovik.

Alternative Authorization

A site may wish to write their own authorization mechanism, perhaps to implement a local group mechanism. If it does so (by implementing an auth_[whatever] PTS module), it will dictate its own form and meaning of identifiers.

Negative Rights

Any of the above defined identifiers may be prefixed with a - character. The associated rights are then removed from that identifier. These are referred to as negative rights.

Calculating a Users' Rights

To calculate the set of rights granted to a user, the server first calculates the union of all of the rights granted to the user and to all groups the user is a member of. The server then calculates and removes the union of all the negative rights granted to the user and to all groups the user is a member of.

anyone       lrsp
fred         lwi
-anonymous   s

The user fred will be granted the rights lrswip and the anonymous user will be granted the rights lrp.

Login Authentication

This section discusses different types of authentication (ways of logging in) that can be used with Cyrus IMAP.

The Cyrus IMAP server uses the Cyrus SASL library for authentication. This section describes how to configure SASL with use with Cyrus imapd. Please consult the Cyrus SASL System Administrator's Guide for more detailed, up-to-date information.

Anonymous Login

Regardless of the SASL mechanism used by an individual connection, the server may support anonymous login. If the allowanonymouslogin option in imapd.conf(5) is turned on, then the server will permit plaintext password logins using the user anonymous and any password.

Additionally, the server will enable any SASL mechanisms that allow anonymous logins.

Plaintext Authentication

The SASL library has several ways of verifying plaintext passwords. Plaintext passwords are passed either by the IMAP LOGIN command or by the SASL PLAIN mechanism (under a TLS layer).

  • PAM

  • Kerberos v4: Plaintext passwords are verified by obtaining a ticket for the server's Kerberos identity, to protect against Kerberos server spoofing attacks.

  • /etc/passwd

  • /etc/shadow: sasl_auto_transition automatically creates secrets for shared secret authentication when given a password.

The method of plaintext password verification is always through the SASL library, even in the case of the internal LOGIN command. This is to allow the SASL library to be the only source of authentication information. You'll want to look at the sasl_pwcheck_method option in the SASL documentation to understand how to configure a plaintext password verifier for your system.

To disallow the use of plaintext passwords for authentication, you can set allowplaintext: no in imapd.conf. This will still allow PLAIN under TLS, but IMAP LOGIN commands will now fail.

Kerberos Logins

The Kerberos SASL mechanism supports the KERBEROS_V4 authentication mechanism. The mechanism requires that a srvtab file exist in the location given in the srvtab configuration option. The srvtab file must be readable by the Cyrus server and must contain a imap.$host@$realm service key, where $host is the first component of the server's host name and $realm is the server's Kerberos realm.

The server will permit logins by identities in the local realm and identities in the realms listed in the loginrealms option in imapd.conf(5).

The file /etc/krb.equiv contains mappings between Kerberos principals. The file contains zero or more lines, each containing two fields. Any identity matching the first field of a line is permitted to log in as the identity in the second field.

If the loginuseacl configuration option is turned on, than any Kerberos identity that is granted the a right on the user's INBOX is permitted to log in as that user.

Shared Secrets Logins

Some mechanisms require the user and the server to share a secret (generally a password) that can be used for comparison without actually passing the password in the clear across the network. For these mechanism (such as CRAM-MD5 and DIGEST-MD5), you will need to supply a source of passwords, such as the sasldb (which is described more fully in the Cyrus SASL distribution)


Quotas allow server administrators to limit resources used by hierarchies of mailboxes on the server.

Working with Quotas

Quotas are manipulated via these subcommands within the cyradm(8) program:

Monitor and Repair

Quotas may be monitored and repaired via the quota(8) command:

Supported Quota Types

The Cyrus IMAP server supports quotas on Storage (KB), Messages (#), Folders (#) and Annotation Storage (KB). These types each have their own identifier:





Storage Quotas

Storage quotas are defined as the number of kilobytes (KB) of the relevant RFC 822 messages located within a quota root. Each copy of a message is counted independently, even when the server can conserve disk space use by making hard links to message files. The additional disk space overhead used by mailbox index and cache files is not charged against a quota. On servers with delete_mode: delayed and/or expunge_mode:delayed space used by deleted mailboxes or expunged messages are not charged against quota.

Numeric Quotas

Numeric Quotas are quite simply a limit on the number of a particular class of object. Cyrus IMAP currently supports quotas on the number of messages and/or folders below a given quota root.

Quota Roots

Quotas are applied to quota roots, which can be at any level of the mailbox hierarchy. Quota roots need not also be mailboxes.

Quotas on a quota root apply to the sum of the usage of any mailbox at that level and any sub-mailboxes of that level that are not underneath a quota root on a sub-hierarchy. This means that each mailbox is limited by at most one quota root.

For example, if the mailboxes


exist and the quota roots


exist, then the quota root user/bovik applies to the mailboxes user/bovik and user/bovik/todo; the quota root user/bovik/list applies to the mailboxes user/bovik/list/imap and user/bovik/list/info-cyrus; and the quota root user/bovik/saved applies to the mailbox user/bovik/saved.

Quota roots are created automatically when they are mentioned in the setquota command. Quota roots may not be deleted through the protocol, see Removing Quota Roots for instructions on how to delete them.

Controlling Quota Behavior

How restrictive quotas will be may be tailored to the needs of different sites, via the use of several settings in imapd.conf(5).

Please consult the Controlling Quota Behavior section of the Cyrus IMAP Administrator Guide for complete details.

Mail Delivery Behavior

Mailboxes Near Quota

Normally, in order for a message to be appended into a mailbox, the quota root for the mailbox must have enough unused storage that appending the message will not cause the quota to go over limit.

Mail delivery (posting) is a special case. In order for a message to be delivered to a mailbox, the quota root for the mailbox merely need not already be over the limit in the default configuration.

As long as usage is not over the limit, new messages may be delivered regardless of size, unless lmtp_strict_quota: on is set in imapd.conf(5). In that case, delivery of messages will be rejected would such delivery exceed quota.

If a delivery puts the mailbox's usage over the quota, the server will issue an alert notifying the user that usage is close to or over the limit, permitting them to correct it. If delivery were not permitted in this case, the user would have no practical way of knowing that there was mail that could not be delivered.


While the Cyrus IMAP server may from time to time issue alerts, there is great variability in how IMAP clients handle these. Further, such alerts are only visible to users while they are connected.

Therefore, many sites find it preferable to install cron jobs which use the quota(8) command to produce periodic reports of users at or near quota, so administrators may nag them or so that warnings may be issued to users via some other mechanism.

Mailboxes Over Quota

If the usage is over the limit, mail delivery will fail with a temporary error (LMTP error 452), unless lmtp_over_quota_perm_failure: on is set in imapd.conf(5) in which case a permanent error (LMTP error 552) will be returned.

A temporary error will typically cause the delivery system to requeue the message and re-attempt delivery for a few days (permitting the user time to notice and correct the problem) before returning the mail to the sender.


Such requeuing behaviour is controlled by the MTA (i.e. Sendmail, EXIM or Postfix) and as such is outside the purview of this document.

Quota Warnings Upon Select When User Has d Rights

When a user selects a mailbox whose quota root has usage that is close to or over the limit and the user has d rights on the mailbox, the server will issue an alert notifying the user that usage is close to or over the limit. The threshold of usage at which the server will issue quota warnings is set by the quotawarnpercent configuration option.

The server only issues warnings when the user has d rights because only users with d rights are capable of correcting the problem.

Quotas and Partitions

Quota roots are independent of partitions. A single quota root can apply to mailboxes in different partitions.

New Mail Notification

The Cyrus IMAP server comes with a notification daemon which supports multiple mechanisms for notifying users of new mail. Notifications can be configured to be sent upon normal delivery (MAIL class) and/or sent as requested by a Sieve script (SIEVE class).

By default, both types of notifications are disabled. Notifications are enabled by using one or both of the following configuration options:

  • the mailnotifier option selects the notifyd(8) method to use for MAIL class notifications

  • the sievenotifier option selects the notifyd(8) method to use for SIEVE class notifications (when no method is specified by the Sieve action)


Partitions allow administrators to store different mailboxes in different parts of the Unix filesystem. This is intended to be used to allow hierarchies of mailboxes to be spread across multiple disks.

Specifying Partitions with "create"

When an administrator creates a new mailbox, the name of the partition for the mailbox may be specified using an optional second argument to the "create" command. Non-administrators are not permitted to specify the partition of a mailbox. If the partition is not specified, then the mailbox inherits the partition of its most immediate parent mailbox. If the mailbox has no parent, it gets the partition specified in the "defaultpartition" configuration option.

The optional second argument to the "create" command can usually be given only when using a specialized Cyrus-aware administrative client such as cyradm.

Changing Partitions with "rename"

An administrator may change the partition of a mailbox by using the rename command with an optional third argument. When a third argument to rename is given, the first and second arguments can be the same; this changes the partition of a mailbox without changing its name. If a third argument to rename is not given and the first argument is not INBOX, the partition of a mailbox does not change. If a third argument to rename is not given and the first argument is INBOX, the newly created mailbox gets the same partition it would get from the create command.


Cyrus has the ability to export Usenet via IMAP and/or export shared IMAP mailboxes via an NNTP server which is included with Cyrus.

POP3 Server

The Cyrus IMAP server software comes with a compatibility POP3 server. Due to limitations in the POP3 protocol, the server can only access a user's INBOX and only one instance of a POP3 server may exist for any one user at any time. While a POP3 server has a user's INBOX open, expunge operations from any concurrent IMAP session will fail.

When Kerberos login authentication is being used, the POP3 server uses the server identity instead of, where host is the first component of the server's host name and realm is the server's Kerberos realm. When the POP3 server is invoked with the -k switch, the server exports MIT's KPOP protocol instead of generic POP3.

The syslog facility

The Cyrus IMAP server software sends log messages to the local6 syslog facility. The severity levels used are:

  • CRIT - Critical errors which probably require prompt administrator action

  • ERR - I/O errors, including failure to update quota usage. The syslog message includes the specific file and Unix error.

  • WARNING - Protection mechanism failures, client inactivity timeouts

  • NOTICE - Authentications, both successful and unsuccessful

  • INFO - Mailbox openings, duplicate delivery suppression

Mail Directory Recovery

This section describes the various databases used by the Cyrus IMAP server software and what can be done to recover from various inconsistencies in these databases.

Reconstructing Mailbox Directories

The largest database is the mailbox directories. Each mailbox directory contains the following files:

message files

There is one file per message, containing the message in RFC 822 format. Lines in the message are separated by CRLF, not just LF. The file name of each message is the message's UID followed by a dot (.).

In netnews newsgroups, the message files instead follow the format and naming conventions imposed by the netnews software.


This file contains a magic number and variable-length information about the mailbox itself.


This file contains fixed-length information about the mailbox itself and each message in the mailbox.


This file contains variable-length information about each message in the mailbox.


This file contains variable-length state information about each reader of the mailbox who has s permissions.

The reconstruct program can be used to recover from corruption in mailbox directories. If reconstruct can find existing header and index files, it attempts to preserve any data in them that is not derivable from the message files themselves. The state reconstruct attempts to preserve includes the flag names, flag state, and internal date. Reconstruct derives all other information from the message files.

An administrator may recover from a damaged disk by restoring message files from a backup and then running reconstruct to regenerate what it can of the other files.

The reconstruct program does not adjust the quota usage recorded in any quota root files. After running reconstruct, it is advisable to run quota -f (described below) in order to fix the quota root files.

Reconstructing the Mailboxes File



The mailboxes file in the configuration directory is the most critical file in the entire Cyrus IMAP system. It contains a sorted list of each mailbox on the server, along with the mailboxes quota root and ACL.

To reconstruct a corrupted mailboxes file, run the reconstruct -m command. The reconstruct program, when invoked with the -m switch, scavenges and corrects whatever data it can find in the existing mailboxes file. It then scans all partitions listed in the imapd.conf file for additional mailbox directories to put in the mailboxes file.

The cyrus.header file in each mailbox directory stores a redundant copy of the mailbox ACL, to be used as a backup when rebuilding the mailboxes file.

Reconstructing Quota Roots


The following instructions are valid where quota_db: quotalegacy is set in imapd.conf(5). If your site uses a different quota DB type, then these steps do not apply.

The subdirectory quota of the configuration directory (specified in the configdirectory configuration option) contains one file per quota root, with the file name being the name of the quota root. These files store the quota usage and limits of each of the quota roots.

The quota program, when invoked with the -f switch, recalculates the quota root of each mailbox and the quota usage of each quota root.

Removing Quota Roots

To remove a quota root, remove the quota root's file. Then run quota -f to make the quota files consistent again.


The subdirectory user of the configuration directory contains user subscriptions. There is one file per user, with a filename of the userid followed by .sub. Each file contains a sorted list of subscribed mailboxes.

There is no program to recover from damaged subscription files. A site may recover from lost subscription files by restoring from backups.

Configuration Directory

Many objects in the configuration directory are discussed in the Database Recovery section. This section documents two other directories that reside in the configuration directory.

Log Directory

The subdirectory log under the configuration directory permits administrators to keep protocol telemetry logs on a per-user basis.

If a subdirectory of log exists with the same name as a user, the IMAP and POP3 servers will keep a telemetry log of protocol sessions authenticating as that user. The telemetry log is stored in the subdirectory with a filename of the server process-id and starts with the first command following authentication.

Proc Directory

The subdirectory proc under the configuration directory contains one file per active server process. The file name is the ASCII representation of the process id and the file contains the following tab-separated fields:

  • hostname of the client

  • login name of the user, if logged in

  • selected mailbox, if a mailbox is selected

The file may contain arbitrary characters after the first newline character.

The proc subdirectory is normally be cleaned out on server reboot.

Message Delivery

Mail transport agents such as Sendmail, Postfix, or Exim communicate with the Cyrus server via LMTP (the Local Mail Transport Protocol) implemented by the LMTP daemon. This can be done either directly by the MTA (prefered, for performance reasons) or via the deliver LMTP client.

Local Mail Transfer Protocol (lmtp)

LMTP, the Local Mail Transfer Protocol, is a variant of SMTP design for transferring mail to the final message store. LMTP allows MTAs to deliver "local" mail over a network. This is an easy optimization so that the IMAP server doesn't need to maintain a queue of messages or run an MTA.

The Cyrus server implements LMTP via the lmtpd daemon. LMTP can either be used over a network via TCP or local via a UNIX domain socket. There are security differences between these two alternatives; read more below.

For final delivery via LMTP over a TCP socket, it is necessary to use LMTP AUTH. This is accomplished using SASL to authenticate the delivering user. If your mail server is performing delivery via LMTP AUTH (that is, using a SASL mechanism), you will want their authentication id to be an LMTP admins (either via the admins imapd.conf option or via the <service>_admins option, typically lmtp_admins).

Alternatively you may deliver via LMTP to a unix domain socket, and the connection will be preauthenticated as an administrative user (and access control is accomplished by controlling access to the socket).

Note that if a user has a sieve script, the sieve script runs authorized as that user, and the rights of the posting user are ignored for the purposes of determining the outcome of the sieve script.

Single Instance Store

If a delivery attempt mentions several recipients (only possible if the MTA is speaking LMTP to lmtpd), the server attempts to store as few copies of a message as possible. It will store one copy of the message per partition, and create hard links for all other recipients of the message.

Single instance store can be turned off by using the "singleinstancestore" flag in the configuration file.

Duplicate Delivery Suppression

A message is considered a duplicate if two copies of a message with the same message-id and the same envelope recipient are received. Cyrus uses the duplicate delivery database to hold this information, and it looks approximately 3 days back in the default install.

Duplicate delivery suppression can be turned off by using the "duplicatesuppression" flag in the configuration file.

Sieve, a Mail Filtering Language

Sieve is a mail filtering language that can filter mail into an appropriate IMAP mailbox as it is delivered via lmtp.

Cyrus Murder, the IMAP Aggregator

Cyrus now supports the distribution of mailboxes across a number of IMAP servers to allow for horizontal scalability.