Proxy PasswordDatabase

Dovecot supports proxying IMAP, POP3, Submission Server, LMTP Server, and Pigeonhole ManageSieve Server connections to other hosts. The proxying can be done for all users, or only for some specific users. There are two ways to do the authentication:

  1. Forward the password to the remote server. The proxy may or may not perform authentication itself. This requires that the client uses only plaintext authentication, or alternatively the proxy has access to users’ passwords in plaintext.

  2. Let Dovecot proxy perform the authentication and login to remote server using the proxy’s Master users/passwords. This allows client to use also non-plaintext authentication.

The proxy is configured pretty much the same way as Login referrals, with the addition of proxy field. The common fields to use for both proxying ways are:

  • proxy and proxy_maybe: Enables the proxying. Either one of these fields is required.

  • proxy_maybe can be used to implement automatic proxying. If the proxy destination matches the current connection, the user gets logged in normally instead of being proxied. If the same happens with proxy, the login fails with Proxying loops error.

  • proxy_maybe with LMTP require.

  • proxy_maybe with host=<dns name> requires.

  • auth_proxy_self setting in dovecot.conf can be used to specify extra IPs that are also considered to be the proxy’s own IPs.

  • proxy_always can be used with proxy_maybe to conditionally do proxying to specified remote host (host isn’t self) or to let director assign a backend host (host is self). So basically this setting just always sends the proxy extra field to login process, but not necessarily the host. Useful when dividing users across multiple director clusters.

  • host=s: The destination server’s IP address. This field is required.

  • source_ip=s: The source IP address to use for outgoing connections.

    New in version v2.2.14.

  • port=s: The destination server’s port. The default is 143 with IMAP and 110 with POP3.

  • protocol=s: The protocol to use for the connection to the destination server. This field is currently only relevant for LMTP: it can be used to select either lmtp or smtp.

  • destuser=s: Tell client to use a different username when logging in.

  • proxy_mech=s: Tell client to use this SASL authentication mechanism when logging in.

  • proxy_timeout= <Millisecond Time>: Abort connection after this much time has passed. This overrides the default login_proxy_timeout.

    Changed in version v2.3: Added support for milliseconds.

  • proxy_nopipelining: Don’t pipeline IMAP commands. This is a workaround for broken IMAP servers that hang otherwise.

    New in version v2.2.11.

  • proxy_not_trusted: IMAP/POP3 proxying never sends the ID/XCLIENT command to remote.

    New in version v2.2.27.

You can use SSL/TLS connection to destination server by returning:

  • ssl=yes: Use SSL and require a valid verified remote certificate.


Unless used carefully, this is an insecure setting! Before v2.0.16/v2.1.beta1 the host name isn’t checked in any way against the certificate’s CN. The only way to use this securely is to only use and allow your own private CA’s certs, anything else is exploitable by a man-in-the-middle attack.


ssl_client_ca_dir or ssl_client_ca_file aren’t currently used for verifying the remote certificate, although ideally they will be in a future Dovecot version. For now you need to add the trusted remote certificates to ssl_ca.


LMTP proxying supports SSL/TLS only since v2.3.1 - for older versions any ssl/starttls extra field is ignored.


doveadm proxying doesn’t support SSL/TLS currently - any ssl/starttls extra field is ignored.

  • ssl=any-cert: Use SSL, but don’t require a valid remote certificate.

  • starttls=yes: Use STARTTLS command instead of doing SSL handshake immediately after connected.

  • starttls=any-cert: Combine starttls and ssl=any-cert.

Additionally you can also tell Dovecot to send SSL client certificate to the remote server using ssl_client_cert and ssl_client_key settings in dovecot.conf.

Set login_trusted_networks to point to the proxies in the backends. This way you’ll get the clients’ actual IP addresses logged instead of the proxy’s.

The destination servers don’t need to be running Dovecot, but you should make sure that the Dovecot proxy doesn’t advertise more capabilities than the destination server can handle. For IMAP you can do this by changing imap_capability setting. For POP3 you’ll have to modify Dovecot’s sources for now (src/pop3/capability.h). Dovecot also automatically sends updated untagged CAPABILITY reply if it detects that the remote server has different capabilities than what it already advertised to the client, but some clients simply ignore the updated CAPABILITY reply.

Source IPs

New in version v2.2.14.

If your proxy handles a lot of connections (~64k) to the same destination IP you may run out of TCP ports. The only way to work around this is to use either multiple destination IPs or ports, or multiple source IPs. Multiple source IPs can be easily used by adding them to the login_source_ips setting in dovecot.conf. You can also use hostnames which expand to multiple IPs. By prefixing the setting with ? (e.g. login_source_ips = ? Dovecot will use only those IPs that actually exist in the server, allowing you to share the same config file with multiple servers. It’s probably better not to include the server’s default outgoing IP address in the setting, as explained here

Disconnection delay

New in version v2.2.19.

To avoid reconnection load spikes when a backend server dies, you can tell proxy to spread the client disconnections over a longer time period (after the server side of the connection is already disconnected). login_proxy_max_disconnect_delay setting in dovecot.conf controls this (disabled by default).

Forwarding fields

New in version v2.2.29.

You can forward arbitrary variables by returning them prefixed with forward_. Dovecot will use a protocol-dependent extension to forward these variables to the next hop. The next hop imports these to the auth request as passdb extra fields, so they are visible in e.g. %{passdb:forward_variable}. If the proxying continues, all these fields are further forwarded to the next hop again.

This feature requires that the sending host is in login_trusted_networks.

See Forwarding parameters in IMAP/POP3/LMTP/SMTP proxying for more details on how this is implemented for different protocols.

Moving users between backends/clusters

New in version v2.2.25.

A safe way to move users from one cluster to another is to do it like:

  • Set delay_until=<timestamp> Password database extra fields where <timestamp> is the current timestamp plus some seconds into future (e.g. 31s). You may also want to append e.g. +5 for some load balancing if a lot of users are moved at once.

  • Set host=<new host> Password database extra fields. This update should be atomic together with the delay_until field.

  • Use doveadm proxy kick or doveadm director kick to kick the user’s existing connections.

    • The processes may still continue running in the backend for a longer time. If you want to be absolutely sure, you could also run a script to kill -9 all processes for the user in the backend. This of course has its own problems.

The idea here is that while the user’s connections are being kicked and the backend processes are finishing up and shutting down, new connections are being delayed in the proxy. This delay should be long enough that the user’s existing processes are expected to die, but not so large that clients get connection timeouts. A bit over 30 seconds is likely a good value. Once the delay_until timestamp is reached, the connections continue to the new host.

If you have a lot of users, it helps to group some of them together and do the host/delay_until updates on a per-group basis rather than per-user basis.

ID command forwarding

New in version v2.2.29.

If you want to forward, for some reason, the IMAP ID command provided by the client, set


This will also enable client_id variable in variable expansions for auth requests, which will contain the ID command as IMAP arglist. See imap_id_retain.

Password forwarding

If you don’t want proxy itself to do authentication, you can configure it to succeed with any given password. You can do this by returning an empty password and nopassword field.

Master password

This way of forwarding requires the destination server to support master user feature. The users will be normally authenticated in the proxy and the common proxy fields are returned, but you’ll need to return two fields specially:

  • master=s: This contains the master username (e.g. proxy). It’s used as SASL authentication ID.

    • Alternatively you could return destuser=user*master and set auth_master_user_separator = *.

  • pass=s: This field contains the master user’s password.

See Master users/passwords for more information how to configure this.

OAuth2 forwarding

If you want to forward Open Authentication v2.0 database tokens, return field proxy_mech=%m as extra field.

Example password forwarding static DB configuration

See Static Password Database.

Example password forwarding SQL configuration

Create the SQL table:

  user varchar(255) NOT NULL,
  host varchar(16) default NULL,
  destuser varchar(255) NOT NULL default '',
  PRIMARY KEY  (user)

Insert data to SQL corresponding your users.

Working data could look like this:






The important parts of dovecot.conf:

# If you want to trade a bit of security for higher performance, change these settings:
service imap-login {
  service_count = 0
service pop3-login {
  service_count = 0

# If you are not moving mailboxes between hosts on a daily basis you can
# use authentication cache pretty safely.
auth_cache_size = 4096

auth_mechanisms = plain
passdb {
  driver = sql
  args = /usr/local/etc/dovecot/dovecot-sql.conf.ext

The important parts of dovecot-sql.conf.ext:

driver = mysql
connect = host=sqlhost1 host=sqlhost2 dbname=mail user=dovecot password=secret
password_query = SELECT NULL AS password, 'Y' as nopassword, host, destuser, 'Y' AS proxy FROM proxy WHERE user = '%u'

Example proxy_maybe SQL configuration

Create the SQL table:

  user varchar(255) NOT NULL,
  domain varchar(255) NOT NULL,
  password varchar(100) NOT NULL,
  host varchar(16) NOT NULL,
  home varchar(100) NOT NULL,
  PRIMARY KEY (user)

The important parts of dovecot.conf:

# user/group who owns the message files:
mail_uid = vmail
mail_gid = vmail

auth_mechanisms = plain

passdb {
  driver = sql
  args = /usr/local/etc/dovecot/dovecot-sql.conf.ext
userdb sql {
  driver = sql
  args = /usr/local/etc/dovecot/dovecot-sql.conf.ext

The important parts of dovecot-sql.conf.ext:

driver = mysql

password_query = \
  SELECT concat(user, '@', domain) AS user, password, host, 'Y' AS proxy_maybe \
  FROM users WHERE user = '%n' AND domain = '%d'

user_query = SELECT user AS username, domain, home \
  FROM users WHERE user = '%n' AND domain = '%d'

Example proxy LDAP configuration

see: Password database extra fields for more information, and a worked out example