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Mail aliases

Mail aliases are required in Sympa for to receive mail commands and list messages. Management of these aliases will depend on the MTA (sendmail, qmail, postfix, exim) you are using, where you store aliases and whether you are managing virtual domains or not.


If using sendmail, maybe it is configured to use the secured shell smrsh.

# grep smrsh /etc/mail/
FEATURE(`smrsh', `/usr/sbin/smrsh')dnl

Smrsh obliges you to copy all the programs that are called from the mail aliases into the dedicated /etc/smrsh directory. Therefore you will have to tell Sympa that binaries should be installed in the /etc/smrsh directory. This can be performed via the –with-smrshdir option of sympa’s configure:

./configure --with-smrshdir=/etc/smrsh

Robot aliases

An electronic list manager such as Sympa is built around two processing steps.

  • A message sent to a list or to Sympa itself (commands such as subscribe or unsubscribe) is received by the SMTP server. When receiving the message, the SMTP server runs the queue program (supplied in this package) to store the message in a spool.
  • The daemon, set in motion at system startup, scans this spool. As soon as it detects a new message, it processes it and performs the requested action (distribution or processing of a command).

To separate the processing of commands (subscription, unsubscription, help requests, etc.) from the processing of messages destined to mailing lists, a special mail alias is reserved for administrative requests, so that Sympa can be permanently accessible to users. The following lines must therefore be added to the sendmail alias file (often /etc/aliases).

  sympa: "| /home/sympa/bin/queue"
  listmaster: "| /home/sympa/bin/queue"
  bounce+*: "| /home/sympa/bin/bouncequeue"
  abuse-feedback-report: "| /home/sympa/bin/bouncequeue"
  sympa-request: postmaster
  sympa-owner: postmaster

If you run Sympa virtual hosts, you will need one sympa alias entry per virtual host (see Virtual host).

sympa-request should be the address of the robot administrator, i.e. a person who manages Sympa (here postmaster(@)

sympa-owner is the return address for Sympa error messages.

The alias bounce+* is dedicated to collect bounces where VERP (variable envelope return path) was active. It is useful if welcome_return_path unique or remind_return_path unique or the verp_rate parameter is not null for at least one list.

The alias abuse-feedback-report is used for processing automatically feedback that respect ARF format (Abuse Report Feedback), which is a draft to specify how end users can complain about spam. It is mainly used by AOL.

Don not forget to run newaliases after any change to the /etc/aliases file!

Note: Aliases based on listserv (in addition to those based on sympa) can be added for the benefit of users accustomed to the listserv and majordomo names. For example:

listserv:          sympa
listserv-request:  sympa-request
majordomo:         sympa
listserv-owner:    sympa-owner

List aliases

For each new list, it is necessary to create up to six mail aliases (at least three). If you managed to setup the alias manager (see Alias manager), then Sympa will install automatically the following aliases for you.

For example, to create the mylist list, the following aliases must be added:

  mylist:               |/home/sympa/bin/queue
  mylist-request:       |/home/sympa/bin/queue
  mylist-editor:        |/home/sympa/bin/queue
  mylist-owner:         |/home/sympa/bin/bouncequeue
  mylist-subscribe:     |/home/sympa/bin/queue
  mylist-unsubscribe:   |/home/sympa/bin/queue

The address mylist-request should correspond to the person responsible for managing mylist (the owner). Sympa will forward messages sent to mylist-request to the owner of mylist, as defined in the /home/sympa/list_data/mylist/config file. Using this feature means you will not need to modify the alias file if the list owner were to change.

Similarly, the address mylist-editor can be used to contact the list editors, if defined in /home/sympa/list_data/mylist/config. This address definition is not compulsory.

The address mylist-owner is the address receiving non-delivery reports (note that the -owner suffix can be customized, see return path suffix. The bouncequeue program stores these messages in the queuebounce directory. WWSympa may then analyze them and provide a web access to them.

The address mylist-subscribe is an address enabling users to subscribe in a manner which can easily be explained to them. Beware: subscribing this way is so straightforward that you may find spammers subscribing to your list by accident.

The address mylist-unsubscribe is the equivalent for unsubscribing. By the way, the easier it is for users to unsubscribe, the easier it will be for you to manage your list!

Alias manager

The script does aliases management. It is run by WWSympa and will install aliases for a new list and delete aliases for closed lists. To use a different alias management tool ( for example), you should edit the alias_manager sympa.conf parameter (see alias_manager).

The script expects the following arguments :

  • add | del
  • <list name>
  • <list domain>


  /home/sympa/bin/ add mylist

/home/sympa/bin/ works on the alias file as defined in sympa.conf with the sendmail_aliases variable (default is /etc/mail/sympa_aliases, inherited from

You must refer to this aliases file in your (if using sendmail):

  define(`ALIAS_FILE', `/etc/aliases,/etc/mail/sympa_aliases')dnl

If using postfix: edit /etc/postfix/

alias_maps = hash:/etc/aliases,hash:/etc/mail/sympa_aliases
alias_database = hash:/etc/aliases,hash:/etc/mail/sympa_aliases

and chown the files /etc/mail/sympa_aliases and /etc/mail/sympa_aliases.db as the sympa user.

Note that sendmail has requirements regarding the ownership and rights on both sympa_aliases and sympa_aliases.db files (the later being created by sendmail via the newaliases command). Anyhow, these two files should be located in a directory, every path component of which being owned by and writable only by the root user.

/home/sympa/bin/ runs a command newaliases (via sympa_newaliases-wrapper), after any changes to aliases file. With Postfix, newaliases will create the alias file databases given with alias_database and uses all the aliases given with alias_maps – this is why above we add two lines into

If you manage virtual domains with your mail server, then you might want to change the form of aliases used by the alias manager. You can customize the list_aliases template that is parsed to generate list aliases (see list_aliases.tt2).

Note that you do not need alias management if you use MTA functionalities such as Postfix' virtual_transport. Then you can disable alias management in Sympa by positioning the sendmail_aliases parameter to none.

Ludovic Marcotte has written a version of that is LDAP enabled. This script is distributed with Sympa distribution. The script has later been extended by Philippe Baumgart, British Telecom. You can customize the LDAP parameteres via the ldap_alias_manager.conf file.

Virtual domains

When using virtual domains with sendmail or postfix, you can not refer to on the right-hand side of a /etc/aliases entry. You need to define an additional entry in a virtual table. You can also add a unique entry, with a regular expression, for your domain.

With Postfix, you should edit the /etc/postfix/virtual.regexp file as follows:


Entries in the 'aliases' file will look like this:                                /home/sympa/bin/queue  .....    /home/sympa/bin/queue

With Sendmail, add the following entry to /etc/mail/virtusertable file:

Internal mail routing

If your Sympa server does virtual hosting, then it needs to perform mail routing internally. Here is how mail routing is handled :

  1. incoming messages are spooled with a file name (and a X-Sympa-To SMTP header) that corresponds to the queue program parameter defined in the mail aliases ;
  2. when processed by the process, Sympa determines the current virtual host by comparing the domain part of the file name with the domain parameter defined in the sympa.conf or in the robot.conf files of each virtual host.

Therefore you should ensure that the domain used as a parameter to the queue program in mail aliases corresponds to the domain configuration parameter of the virtual host.

manual_6.1/mail-aliases.txt · Last modified: 2017/12/19 07:29 (external edit)

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