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by Tom Uijldert
<tom.uijldert /at/ linuxfocus.org>
About the author:
Tom is a member of the Dutch linuxfocus team and has been using email since the invention of domain addressing.
Book review: Linux Email
Set up and Run a Small Office Email Server
"Linux Email" is published by PACKT
publishing ISBN: 1-904811-37-X. Authors: Magnus Back, Patrick Ben
Koetter, Ralf Hildebrandt, Alistair McDonald, David Rusenko and Carl
Nothing remarkable about sending messages to and fro, relying on some distribution system that gets those letters to their destinations.
So unremarkable that you don't even notice how it sneaks up on you and suddenly (usually when the email service is down), you realise how dependent you've become on this technology - like electricity, like a telephone - and what an important part of your life it has become.
A good part of the day in the office now includes handling emails. And though there may be the odd “recreational” mail from the local fun-list in between, most of this handling is serious and productive work. It is considered normal to have your email client continuously active during office hours.
And even in private life, if you haven't opened your private mailbox for more than a week, people start asking questions like “didn't you get my email?“.
Also, when this realisation dawns on a small business or office, more questions
follow, like: “Should we really be leaving the handling of such
company-sensitive data up to our provider?”.
And - following that - a local sysadmin comes into the picture and gets instructed to set up a local email-handling system.
A scenario along these lines must've crossed the minds of the authors when
thinking up the concept of this book.
Because that's what this book is all about: What open source software do I need to pull this off and how should it be installed, configured and put together.
Not unlike a big Howto on a complete email-handling system.
Well, if you're that local sysadmin, you may want to read this.
The setup of the book is simple:
Take a set of available open source packages that - put together - can be used to create an email-handling system:
So what does it give the sysadmin?
A real timesaver therefore.
There is a big question-mark on who this book is written for. According the back-cover: “...'unofficial' sysadmins in small businesses...”. Because you immediately get on the narrow path of what these 'unofficial' sysadmins might actually be capable of doing. For me, such persons may well be able to follow a recipe on how to install a package, but building from source? Yet, here and there, the reader is expected to do this.
The book is undoubtedly very practical. Like in chapter 1 they immediately sum up a list of reasons why one might want to set up their own email-handling system in the first place. I particularly liked the paragraph on Sizing, stating that the old 'back-of-the-envelope' method would be more than precise enough to estimate your needs. “ hear”. The description of DNS though, is a but thin. Where stuff like SMTP is at least still handled at a rudimentary level ('what's it for?'), the paragraph on DNS merely states that the reader is supposed to be familiar with DNS and just dives into the details. That is inconsistent and a problem. Does the 'unofficial' sysadmin not know his SMTP but is he fluent in DNS? Doubtful.
It is the one issue I have with this book but I admit that it is a tricky one. How much does this unofficial sysadmin know? For that reason, I think that the authors might've given chapter 1 a bit more attention and possibly elaborate a bit more on the inner workings of such a system.
Apart from this, the subsequent chapters just march along, setting up the
system piece-by-piece in a very experienced manner. This is proven by having
gems like entire paragraphs devoted to Configuration debugging and
remarks like “...when you do this, don't forget that or you'll spend
days finding what the problem is...“.
If anything, on my wishlist would be more of these tips and examples because usually, setting up such systems is not too difficult. Debugging them - however - is.
It's fairly complete too. The last chapter, dealing with backups, is another gem. You may not want to deploy the scheme presented here but at least a complete overview is given on what needs to be backed up. And that is always useful (the stuff on version controlling your configuration files is a bit too much for my taste, but hey, better safe than sorry).
Following this book, you'll get a pretty decent and complete email handling
system, including something like webmail - a must in corporate life
and very elaborate filtering possibilities, including spam-detection and
I would advice the authors to publish small editions of the book and update them frequently because as I am writing this review, Squirrelmail already released their version 1.4.7 while the book is still dealing with version 1.4.4.
In the meantime, if you need to set up an email system and are looking for the quickest way to go, this book must be it.
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2006-07-17, generated by lfparser version 2.54