Running a basic server

Now you have compiled and installed Cyrus, it’s time to get real.

At the end of this guide, you will be up and running with a local instance of Cyrus. It will have with basic incoming and outgoing mail flow, with caldav and carddav support.


These instructions are for Ubuntu, specifically Ubuntu 15.04. For other operating systems, dependency names in package managers may differ, but the main concepts remain the same.

Please note that this guide is meant to get you a working environment quickly, not to allow you to customize everything from the get go.

This guide will set up Cyrus to work with the Sendmail SMTP server - and there will be no instructions for using Postfix. Once you have a working environment, you are encouraged to experiment further and set up Postfix instead of Sendmail, use different kinds of authentication schemes, etc.

1. Update your system

First things first, let’s update our existing system to ensure everything is current. This may take some time; you can check Hacker News in the meantime :-)

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade -y

2. Install Cyrus 3rd party dependencies

Now, let’s install libraries and tools used by Cyrus IMAP. This includes a C compiler, some Perl libraries (used for Cyrus’s command line utilities such as cyradm) or C clients for various databases (ie Mysql, Postgresql, etc). Just like the previous command, this one may take a few minutes to complete. But it’s worth it!

sudo apt-get install -y autoconf automake autotools-dev bash-completion bison build-essential comerr-dev \
debhelper flex g++ git gperf groff heimdal-dev libbsd-resource-perl libclone-perl libconfig-inifiles-perl \
libcunit1-dev libdatetime-perl libdb-dev libdigest-sha-perl libencode-imaputf7-perl libfile-chdir-perl \
libglib2.0-dev libical-dev libio-socket-inet6-perl libio-stringy-perl libjansson-dev libldap2-dev \
libmysqlclient-dev libnet-server-perl libnews-nntpclient-perl libpam0g-dev libpcre3-dev libsasl2-dev \
libsnmp-dev libsqlite3-dev libssl-dev libtest-unit-perl libtool libunix-syslog-perl liburi-perl \
libxapian-dev libxml-generator-perl libxml-xpath-perl libxml2-dev libwrap0-dev libzephyr-dev lsb-base \
net-tools perl php5-cli php5-curl pkg-config po-debconf tcl-dev \
transfig uuid-dev vim wamerican wget xutils-dev zlib1g-dev sasl2-bin rsyslog sudo acl telnet

3. The cyrus:mail user

Now let’s create a special user account just for the Cyrus server to sandbox Cyrus: called cyrus. We’ll also create a mail group as well. This allows Cyrus to give other programs some permissions if they are run under the mail group, again, without causing a Cyrus bug to delete all of your cat pictures. Disaster!

groupadd -r mail
useradd -c "Cyrus IMAP Server" -d /var/lib/imap -g mail -s /bin/bash -r cyrus

4. Setting up authentication with SASL

Now, let’s set up SASL. This will allow you to connect to your local IMAP server and login, just like any IMAP user would before checking for new emails.

Create a saslauth group and add the cyrus user to the group, so Cyrus can access SASL.

groupadd -r saslauth
usermod -aG saslauth cyrus
Change the default SASL configuration in /etc/default/saslauthd.
  1. Make sure that the START option is set to yes (START=yes) and

  2. Set the``MECHANISMS`` option to sasldb (MECHANISMS="sasldb").

Start the SASL auth daemon:

/etc/init.d/saslauthd start

Great! Now, we’ll create the IMAP user inside SASL. This is the user you’ll use to login to the IMAP server later on.

echo 'secret' | saslpasswd2 -p -c imapuser

You can replace secret with a more suitable password you want and imapuser with the username you want. Once this is done, check that the user exists and is set up correctly:

testsaslauthd -u imapuser -p secret

You should get an 0: OK "Success." message.


For some reason I don’t understand yet, setting up a user like this doesn’t seem to be persistent on my machine. This means I have to create the user with saslpasswd2 every time I restart my PC. This may or may not apply to you too.

5. Enabling mail delivery with LMTP

Your Cyrus IMAP server will want to receive the emails accepted by your SMTP server (ie Sendmail, Postfix, etc). In Cyrus, this happens via a protocol called LMTP, which is usually supported by your SMTP server.

Install Sendmail

We’ll set up LMTP with the Sendmail SMTP server.

sudo apt-get install -y sendmail

We need to make Sendmail aware of the fact we are using the Cyrus IMAP server: modify the /etc/mail/ file. Add this line before the MAILER_DEFINITIONS section:

define(`confLOCAL_MAILER', `cyrusv2')dnl

And right below MAILER_DEFINITIONS, add this:


This enables the cyrusv2 mailer for local mail delivery. In case you’re wondering, cyrusv2 stands for Cyrus v2.x, which means this is meant to work with versions 2.x of Cyrus IMAP. It may or may not work with Cyrus 3.x too.

Next, we run a script that takes the /etc/mail/ file and and prepares it for use by Sendmail. This may take some time. In the meantime, you are encouraged to read the IMAP spec one more time, because, you know, it’s a fun read :-)

sudo sendmailconfig

Sendmail communication

One last thing we need to do for LMTP to work with Sendmail is to create a folder that will contain the UNIX socket used by Sendmail and Cyrus to deliver/receive emails:

sudo mkdir -p /var/run/cyrus/socket
sudo chown cyrus:mail /var/run/cyrus/socket
sudo chmod 750 /var/run/cyrus/socket


For some reason, the /var/run/cyrus/socket folder disappears when I reboot my PC. I need to recreate it when I reboot. You may or may not have to do that too.

6. Protocol ports

Cyrus uses assorted protocols, which need to have their ports defined in /etc/services. Make sure that these lines are present and add them if they are missing:

pop3      110/tcp
nntp      119/tcp
imap      143/tcp
imsp      406/tcp
nntps     563/tcp
acap      674/tcp
imaps     993/tcp
pop3s     995/tcp
kpop      1109/tcp
lmtp      2003/tcp
sieve     4190/tcp
fud       4201/udp

7. Configuring Cyrus

(Nearly there)

Set up a simple directory structure for Cyrus to store emails, owned by the cyrus:mail account:

sudo mkdir -p /var/imap /var/spool/imap
sudo chown cyrus:mail /var/imap /var/spool/imap
sudo chmod 750 /var/imap /var/spool/imap

Let’s add some basic configuration for the Cyrus IMAP server. Two files have to be added: /etc/imapd.conf and /etc/cyrus.conf.

For imapd.conf(5), start with this:

configdirectory: /var/imap
partition-default: /var/spool/imap
admins: imapuser
sasl_pwcheck_method: saslauthd
allowplaintext: yes
virtdomains: yes
defaultdomain: localhost

Note that configdirectory and partition-default are set to the folders we just created.

The admin user is the imapuser created in step 4, for authentication against sasl. Change this value if you named your user something different.

For cyrus.conf(5), start with this:

  # do not delete this entry!
  recover    cmd="ctl_cyrusdb -r"

# UNIX sockets start with a slash and are put into /var/imap/sockets
  # add or remove based on preferences
  imap        cmd="imapd" listen="imap" prefork=0
  pop3        cmd="pop3d" listen="pop3" prefork=0

  # LMTP is required for delivery (socket is set for Sendmail MTA)
  lmtpunix    cmd="lmtpd" listen="/var/run/cyrus/socket/lmtp" prefork=0

  # this is required
  checkpoint    cmd="ctl_cyrusdb -c" period=30

  # this is only necessary if using duplicate delivery suppression
  delprune    cmd="ctl_deliver -E 3" at=0400

  # expire data older than 28 days
  deleteprune cmd="cyr_expire -E 4 -D 28" at=0430
  expungeprune cmd="cyr_expire -E 4 -X 28" at=0445

  # this is only necessary if caching TLS sessions
  tlsprune    cmd="tls_prune" at=0400

Before you launch Cyrus for the first time, create the Cyrus directory structure: use mkimap(8).

sudo -u cyrus ./tools/mkimap

8. Launch Cyrus

sudo ./master/master -d

Check /var/log/syslog for errors so you can quickly understand potential problems.

Time to cheer!

Optional: Setting up SSL certificates

Let’s set up encryption with TLS. Create a TLS certificate using OpenSSL. Generate the certificate and store it in the /var/imap/server.pem file:

sudo openssl req -new -x509 -nodes -out /var/imap/server.pem \
-keyout /var/imap/server.pem -days 365 \
-subj "/C=US/ST=Denial/L=Springfield/O=Dis/CN=localhost"

This creates a TLS certificate (-out) and private key (-keyout) in the X.509 format (-x509). The certificate is set to expire in 365 days (-days) and has default information set up (-subj …). The contents of the -subj is non-trivial and defined in RFC 5280, a brief summary is available on stackoverflow which is enough to decode our sample above.

Great! You should now have a file at /var/imap/server.pem. Give Cyrus access to this file:

sudo chown cyrus:mail /var/imap/server.pem

Awesome! Almost done. We will now configure the Cyrus IMAP server to actually use this TLS certificate. Open your Cyrus configuration file /etc/imapd.conf and add the following to lines at the end of it:

tls_server_cert: /var/imap/server.pem
tls_server_key: /var/imap/server.pem

This tells the server where to find the TLS certificate and the key. It may seem weird to specify the same file twice, but since the file has the x509 format, the server will know what to do. Cyrus is there for you, always (unless your hard drive burns down) ! :-)

The other configuration file we have to edit is /etc/cyrus.conf. Open it up with your favorite text editor and in the SERVICES section, add this line:

imaps        cmd="imapd" listen="imaps" prefork=0

Notice the s at the end of imaps. This says we are using TLS.

If you now restart (or start) your Cyrus server, you should have Cyrus listening on port 993 (the IMAPS port) with the STARTTLS IMAP extension enabled. You can check that TLS works as expected with the following command:

imtest -t "" -u imapuser -a imapuser -w secret localhost

Make sure to replace imapuser with whatever user you set up with saslpasswd2 before, and to replace secret with the actual password you set for that user.

Sending a test email

We will now send a test email to our local development environment to see if everything works as expected:

  • Sendmail should accept the incoming email,

  • LMTP should transmit the email to Cyrus IMAP,

  • You should be able to see the email stored on your filesystem.

But first, let’s create a mailbox that we will send the test email to. We’ll call this test mailbox example@localhost.

echo 'createmailbox user.example@localhost' | cyradm -u imapuser -w secret localhost

Notice how we seem to be creating a mailbox named user.example@localhost. In fact, Cyrus understands this to be example@localhost, so we’re fine. As usual, adjust the password via the -w option to the password you set above.

If you have explicitly enabled unixhierarchysep in /etc/imapd.conf, you should replace user.example@localhost with user/example@localhost. You can read more about unixhierarchysep in imapd.conf(5).

Also, note that the command above might produce some weird looking output, such as:

localhost> localhost>

This happens because cyradm is normally used interactively, with a prompt. We aren’t using a prompt, so this output is fine and expected.

Now that the mailbox exists, we’ll send it an email. We won’t be using Fastmail or Yahoo Mail or Google Mail. No, no. We will use the good old telnet with raw SMTP commands. Let’s do this!

First, connect to the Sendmail SMTP server:

telnet localhost smtp

You should see a prompt appear:

Trying ::1...
Connected to localhost.
Escape character is '^]'.
220 ... ESMTP Sendmail ...

Now, we’ll send the SMTP commands to the server. These are responsible for ordering Sendmail to store an email:

EHLO localhost
MAIL FROM:<hello@localhost>
RCPT TO:<example@localhost>
Hello world!

If you are using Sendmail as your SMTP server, you should be able to safely copy and paste this bit into the terminal before hitting your ENTER key. If not, you may want to paste these commands one by one (or make sure you enable PIPELINING in the SMTP config).

If you see a message like 250 2.0.0 … Message accepted for delivery, you did it! You should now have a file called 1. in the /var/spool/imap/user/example directory, with the content of the email you sent just before.

If not, you may want to check syslog to see if any error messages show up and go through the previous steps again.

You should also be able to hook up a regular mail client to your shiny new mailserver and access the mailbox for example@localhost via IMAP and see the message.

Checking carddav

To be written.

Checking caldav

To be written.


Some common issues are explained below.

I have all kinds of weird Perl errors when running cyradm

The solution is to set the Perl library path right. To be honest, I was too lazy to figure out exactly which path was right, so I added this snippet to my ~/.bashrc file:

export PERL5LIB="$PERL5LIB:$(find path/to/cyrus/perl -type d | tr "\\n" ":")"

Just make sure to change path/to/cyrus to the actual path to the Cyrus source code directory. This should be something like /home/jack/cyrus-src/perl.

I can’t connect to the IMAP server

Make sure that the SASL auth daemon is running. You can start it with this command:

/etc/init.d/saslauthd start

You can safely run this command even if you don’t know whether the SASL auth daemon is already running or not.

Emails are not being delivered to Cyrus

Make sure that you have started Sendmail, which you can do like this:

/etc/init.d/sendmail start

Something is not working but I can’t figure out why

More information is almost always logged to syslog. Make sure you start syslog with this command before starting the Cyrus server:

/etc/init.d/rsyslog start

My question isn’t answered here

Join us on the mailing lists if you need help or just want to chat about Cyrus, IMAP, donuts, etc.