Replication: Installation and Administration


A computer chassis, slot or cabinet. A machine.
Server or Service
A program or process which “serves” a particular protocol. Typically a server will listen on a network port or Unix socket for communications from a client (local or remote).
A program or process which talks to a server or servers for a given protocol. The initiator of a client/server session.
A particular instance or iteration of a program, which may be one, or one of many, providing similar services to different consumers.
In this document, Master always means the source of data to be replicated.
The target of data replication is the Replica, which refers both to an instance of sync_server and to the resultant dataset.


One must build Cyrus IMAPd with the --enable-replication configure option. This builds the replication client/server applications and utilities.


Those using their distribution’s packages may need to install a separate package for replication support. For example, on Debian and derived distros, install the cyrus-replication package.


  1. At least one Cyrus IMAP server instance to be the master.
  2. At least one Cyrus IMAP server instance to be the replica.

Replica server configuration

The replica is a standalone server instance which listens for and processes synchronization messages from a single master server. The replica server needs to be configured to accept synchronization messages via the sync_server(8) process.


Within a Cyrus Murder environment, replicas must not be configured to invoke ctl_mboxlist(8) on startup (pushing the local mailbox list to the Mupdate Master). This may only be done on the Master instance.

  1. Configure a standalone server.

  2. Add the following line to the /etc/services file. Note that the port number is arbitrary as long as its not being used by any other services on the network.

    csync     2005/tcp
  3. Add a line similar to the following in the SERVICES section of cyrus.conf(5):

    syncserver       cmd="/usr/cyrus/bin/sync_server" listen="csync"
  4. Start/restart /usr/cyrus/bin/master.

Master server configuration

The master server is a standalone or backend Cyrus IMAP server instance which is actively serving mailboxes to clients. This server needs to be configured to synchronize its mailstore with a replica server via an instance of sync_client(8).

Add the following line to the /etc/services file.

csync     2005/tcp


The port number MUST be the same as that used on the replica server.

Specify the hostname of the replica server and how to authenticate to it in imapd.conf(5) using these options:

  • sync_host
  • sync_port
  • sync_authname
  • sync_realm
  • sync_password


sync_authname MUST be an admin user on the replica.


sync_realm and sync_password may not be necessary depending on the SASL mechanism used for authentication.

Add invocation specifications to cyrus.conf(5) to spawn sync_client(8) as desired (for each channel used) as described below in Rolling Replication or Periodic Replication.


If one runs replication over a WAN link, the trade-off between bandwidth and CPU usage will tilt strongly in favour of enabling compression to save bandwidth at a slight increase in CPU cost. Set the sync_compress value in imapd.conf(5):

sync_compress: On

or pass the -z flag to sync_client(8) in the service spec in cyrus.conf(5):

syncclient       cmd="/usr/cyrus/bin/sync_client -r -z"

Rolling Replication

Rolling Replication means that the master instance continuously synchronizes itself with a replica.

To configure rolling replication, perform the following:

  1. Enable the sync_log option in imapd.conf(5). This allows the imapd, pop3d, nntpd, and lmtpd services to log synchronization actions which will be periodically serviced by sync_client:

    sync_log: On
  2. Optionally, adjust the sync_repeat_interval in imapd.conf(5):

    sync_repeat_interval: 300
  3. Add a line similar to the following in the STARTUP section of cyrus.conf(5):

    syncclient       cmd="/usr/cyrus/bin/sync_client -r"

Start/restart usr/cyrus/bin/master.


In a multi-channel mesh, the channel to be used by a given sync_client must be specified via the “-n <channel>” argument on the command line:

syncclient       cmd="/usr/cyrus/bin/sync_client -r -n channel1"

Terminating Rolling Replication

To be able to stop rolling replication at any time, configure the sync_shutdown_file option in imapd.conf(5) to point to a non-existant file, the appearance of this file will trigger a shutdown of a sync_client(8) instance:

sync_shutdown_file: /var/lib/imap/syncstop

Tweaking Rolling Replication

The default frequency of replication runs is 3 seconds. Lengthening this produces higher efficiency at the cost of slightly more stale data on the replica. Alter this via the sync_repeat_interval in imapd.conf(5) or by using the “-d” argument in the invocation of sync_client(8).

Periodic Replication

In Periodic Replication the sync_client instance must be spawned from time to time, causing replication to start at that time. This may be handled via a cron(8) job, or by adding an entry to the EVENTS section of cyrus.conf(5) like any of these:

    # Peridoically sync ALL user mailboxes every 4 hours
    syncclient       cmd="/usr/cyrus/bin/sync_client -A" period=240

    # Periodically sync changes at specific times
    syncclient       cmd="/usr/cyrus/bin/sync_client -A" at=0800
    syncclient       cmd="/usr/cyrus/bin/sync_client -A" at=1200
    syncclient       cmd="/usr/cyrus/bin/sync_client -A" at=1800


When using the “-A” flag (sync all users) no non-user mailboxes are synced. As the man page imapd.conf(5) notes, ”... this could be considered a bug and maybe it should do those mailboxes independently.”


The Cyrus replication scheme is very flexible, and supports meshes in which masters running on various hosts may replicate to instances on other hosts. This is achieved by use of the Channels feature of the replication system.

To employ channels, prefix any of the following sync_ configuration options in imapd.conf(5) with the channel name and an underscore “_” character as needed:


Then add the setting sync_log_channels with a list of the channels:

sync_log_channels: chan1 chan2 chan3

For example, a site using the same auth credentials for all servers has no need to specify unique per-channel settings for sync_authname, sync_password or sync_realm, but might do the following for the rest of the sync related settings in imapd.conf(5):

sync_log_channels: repl1 repl2 offsite
# The main replica
repl1_sync_repeat_interval: 180
repl1_shutdown_file: /var/lib/imap/sync/repl1_shutdown
# A second replica used to feed the tape backup system
repl2_sync_repeat_interval: 180
repl2_shutdown_file: /var/lib/imap/sync/repl2_shutdown
# An offsite replica which needs a different port and uses a slower
# cycle rate
offsite_sync_port: 19205
offsite_sync_repeat_interval: 360
offsite_shutdown_file: /var/lib/imap/sync/offsite_shutdown

Then these entries in cyrus.conf(5) would complete the exercise:

repl1sync       cmd="/usr/cyrus/bin/sync_client -r -n repl1"
repl2sync       cmd="/usr/cyrus/bin/sync_client -r -n repl2"
offsitesync     cmd="/usr/cyrus/bin/sync_client -r -n offsite"

Again, this is just an example for illustration. The system provides so much flexibility, and one can combine channels with chaining to acheive even more.


Manual replication

To manually synchronize any part of the mailstore, run sync_client(8) with the appropriate command line options. Note that manual synchronization DOES NOT interfere with rolling replication.

For example:

[root@skynet ~]# /usr/lib/cyrus-imapd/sync_client -S -v -u
USER john^

One can run cyr_synclog(8) instead, which will insert the record into the rolling replication log.