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Legacy mail on pip

This information applies only to users of the “legacy” or “advanced” SRCF mail server. It might apply to you if you had a SRCF account before October 2018, or you deliberately chose to handle your mail this way.

To see which email system you are currently using, see the control panel.

Reading mail

Legacy forwarding

You can forward incoming mail to some other address. For old accounts, when your account was first set up it was configured to forward mail to the address you gave us when you applied. See Mail forwarding below.

Local client

Read your mail using an email client running on the server, for example mutt or alpine.

For apps: IMAP

To configure any standards-compliant mail app to read your email, you will need the following details:

  • Server type: IMAP
  • IMAP server: pip.srcf.net
  • Port: 993
  • Security: SSL
  • Username: your SRCF username, e.g. spqr2 (not your email address)
  • Password: your SRCF password (not your Raven password)

Note that we do not run a POP3 server, as it is an older protocol and provides no additional functionality over IMAP.

Webmail

Use our pip webmail service: webmail.pip.srcf.net

Hades offers a significantly superior webmail and IMAP experience for most users. You can switch to Hades on the control panel.

Sending mail

You cannot use pip itself as a SMTP server, except from applications running on pip itself.

You can send email from your personal SRCF email account over SMTP. This service is part of Hades, but is available whether your email is hosted on Hades or not.

Mail forwarding

Create a file called .forward (note the leading full-stop) in your home directory containing the email address to which you would like your mail to be forwarded.

The SRCF offers a simple interactive tool to create this file for you. Run srcf-MailForward over SSH, which will prompt you to enter an e-mail address where you would like all your SRCF mail forwarded to.

Auto-forward

We also provide srcf-autoforward, a tool to generate role-like addresses with a simpler syntax. You need to create a file called autoforward in a group account’s directory (or your home directory, for your own roles), where each line consists of a role name, a colon, and a comma-separated list of target addresses:

<role>:<email>,<email>...

For example:

treasurer:spqr2@cam.ac.uk,treasurer@example.com

Once you’ve defined your roles, you need to build the actual .forward file:

$ srcf-autoforward <groupname>

Mail filtering

We have the Exim mail transfer agent installed – see the Exim filtering documentation for how to write filters in your .forward file.

Filters in Exim are more complicated than Hades’ Sieve filters, though there are a few things supported which cannot be done on Hades, such as piping your email into a custom program.

Here are a few examples of basic forwarding for a group account. Note that the # Exim filter line is required.

# Exim filter

# Forward emails for <groupname>-webmaster@srcf.net to spqr2@cam.ac.uk:
if ($local_part_suffix is "-webmaster") then
   deliver spqr2@cam.ac.uk
endif

# Forward <groupname>-treasurer@srcf.net to spqr and an external address:
if ($local_part_suffix is "-treasurer") then
   deliver spqr2@cam.ac.uk
   deliver treasurer@example.com
endif

# Forward anything not yet processed to a lists.cam mailing list:
if not delivered then
   deliver group-example-committee@lists.cam.ac.uk
endif

Known quirks

pip’s mail service dates from a time long ago when most UNIX systems stored email in Mbox format. Mbox is a primitive file format which concatenates all emails in a mailbox into one long file. It is slow and inefficient to use, and does not support concurrent access (you can’t read your inbox whilst a message is arriving, for example). Our IMAP server tries its best by using caches and indices but it is fundamentally not an efficient data storage system.

Furthermore, if you create folders (besides INBOX) in which to file your emails, those are placed in your home directory along with your other files. This leads to confusion, and also can lead to your entire home directory being served over IMAP, which has been known to upset email software (unsurprisingly).

And for added confusion, Mbox is incapable of storing any email containg a line of text starting with the word “From”. Yes, really. (Mail software has to rewrite it as >From as a workaround.)

We cannot easily convert pip to a more modern email storage format, though, as we have some people with extensively curated mbox hierarchies and we don’t want to break email for those people.

So (in September 2018) we created a brand new email service called Hades which runs alongside the “legacy” email service on pip. Hades was implemented with the benefit of another 20+ years of advancements in email technology.

We encourage you to take a look at Hades. If you’re used to the setup on pip, you may find it quite different (better, we hope!), but if you have a complex Exim filter it may be time consuming to redefine your email filtering requirements in Sieve on Hades.

We have no immediate plans to discontinue pip’s mail service, although eventually we hope to be able to shut down the IMAP server on pip as our IMAP users migrate to Hades. We know that there are some things that advanced users might want to do which are only possible on a traditional UNIX mail system, and we intend to keep running the mail service on pip for these advanced use cases.