The Mail crypt plugin is used to secure email messages stored in a Dovecot system. Messages are encrypted before written to storage and decrypted after reading. Both operations are transparent to the user.

In case of unauthorized access to the storage backend, the messages will, without access to the decryption keys, be unreadable to the offending party.

There can be a single encryption key for the whole system or each user can have a key of their own. The used cryptographical methods are widely used standards and keys are stored in portable formats, when possible.

Functional Overview

The use of Mail crypt plugin depends on a user having a keypair, a private and a public key, for asymmetric cryptography. These keys are provisioned in a variable via the user database or directly from Dovecot configuration files.

The public half of the provisioned keypairs are used to generate and encrypt keys for symmetric encryption. The symmetric keys are used to encrypt and decrypt individual files. Symmetric encryption is faster and more suitable for block mode storage encryption. The symmetric key used to encrypt a file is stored, after being encrypted with the public asymmetric key, together with the file.

Encryption Technologies

The Mail crypt plugin provides encryption at rest for emails. Encryption of the messages is performed using the symmetric Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) algorithm in Galois/Counter Mode (GCM) with 256 bit keys. Integrity of the data is ensured using Authenticated Encryption with Associated Data (AEAD) with SHA256 hashing. The encryption keys for the symmetric encryption are randomly generated. These keys in turn are encrypted using a key derived with from the provisioned private key. Provisioned private keys can be Elliptic Curve (EC) keys or RSA Encryption is done using the Integrated Encryption Scheme (IES). This algorithm is usable both with EC and RSA keys.

Technical Requirements

New in version v2.2.27.

Using per-folder keys is not considered production quality, but global keys are fine.


Improper configuration or use can make your emails unrecoverable. Treat encryption with care and backups.

This page assumes you are using configuring mail encryption from scratch with a recent version of Dovecot. If you are upgrading from an older version, see mail_crypt_save_version for possible backwards compatibility issues.


See mail-crypt plugin.

Plugin settings may also be dynamically set via User database extra fields. To provide mail_crypt_global_private_key and mail_crypt_global_public_key as userdb attributes, you can base64 encode the original contents, such as PEM file. For example,

cat ecprivkey.pem | base64 -w0

All external keys must be in PEM format, using pkey format.

Modes Of Operation

Mail crypt plugin can operate using either global keys or folder keys. Using both is not supported. To perform any encryption, mail_crypt_save_version must be specified and non-zero.

Folder Keys

In this mode, the user is generated a key pair, and each folder is generated a key pair, which is encrypted using the user’s key pair. A user can have more than one key pair but only one can be active.

mail_crypt_save_version must be 2.

mail_crypt_curve must be set.

mail_attribute_dict must be set, as is is used to store the keys.

Unencrypted User Keys

In this version of the folder keys mode, the users private key is stored unencrypted on the server.

Example config for folder keys with Maildir:

mail_attribute_dict = file:%h/Maildir/dovecot-attributes
mail_plugins = $mail_plugins mail_crypt

plugin {
  mail_crypt_curve = secp521r1
  mail_crypt_save_version = 2

Encrypted User Keys

In this version of the folder keys mode, the users private key is stored encrypted on the server.

Example config for mandatory encrypted folder keys with Maildir:

mail_attribute_dict = file:%h/Maildir/dovecot-attributes
mail_plugins = $mail_plugins mail_crypt

plugin {
  mail_crypt_curve = secp521r1
  mail_crypt_save_version = 2
  mail_crypt_require_encrypted_user_key = yes

The password that is used to decrypt the users master/private key, must be provided via password query:

# File: /etc/dovecot/dovecot-sql.conf.ext

password_query = SELECT \
  email as user, password, \
  '%w' AS userdb_mail_crypt_private_password \
  FROM virtual_users  WHERE email='%u';

Choosing encryption key

DO NOT use password directly. It can contain % which is interpreted as variable expansion and can cause errors. Also, it might be visible in debug logging. Suggested approaches are base64 encoding, hex encoding or hashing the password. With hashing, you get the extra benefit that password won’t be directly visible in logs.

Another issue that you must consider when using user’s password is that when the password changes, you must re-encrypt the user private key.

Global keys

In this mode, all keying material is taken from plugin environment. You can use either Elliptic Curve (EC) keys (recommended) or RSA keys. No key generation is automatically performed.

A good solution for environments where no user folder sharing is needed is to generate per-user EC key pair and encrypt that with something derived from user’s password. The benefit is that it can be easier to do key management when you can do the EC re-encryption steps in case of password change in your user database instead of dovecot’s database.

You should not configure mail_crypt_curve when using global keys.

RSA key


Use of RSA keys is discouraged, please use Elliptic Curve (EC) Key instead.

You can generate an unencrypted RSA private key in the pkey format with the command:

openssl genpkey -algorithm RSA -out rsaprivkey.pem

Alternatively, you can generate a password encrypted private key with:

openssl genpkey -algorithm RSA -out rsaprivkey.pem -aes-128-cbc -pass pass:qwerty

This does make the password show up in the process listing, so it can be visible for everyone on the system.

Regardless of whether you generated an unencrypted or password encrypted private key, you can generate a public key out of it with:

openssl pkey -in rsaprivkey.pem -pubout -out rsapubkey.pem

These keys can then be used with this configuration:

mail_plugins = $mail_plugins mail_crypt

plugin {
  mail_crypt_global_private_key = <rsaprivkey.pem
  mail_crypt_global_private_password = qwerty
  mail_crypt_global_public_key = <rsapubkey.pem
  mail_crypt_save_version = 2

Elliptic Curve (EC) Key

In order to generate an EC key, you must first choose a curve from the output of this command:

openssl ecparam -list_curves

If you choose the curve prime256v1, generate an EC key with the command:

openssl ecparam -name prime256v1 -genkey | openssl pkey -out ecprivkey.pem

Then generate a public key out of your private EC key

openssl pkey -in ecprivkey.pem -pubout -out ecpubkey.pem

These keys can now be used with this configuration:

mail_plugins = $mail_plugins mail_crypt

plugin {
  mail_crypt_global_private_key = <ecprivkey.pem
  mail_crypt_global_public_key = <ecpubkey.pem
  mail_crypt_save_version = 2

Converting EC key to PKEY

If you have an EC private key which begins with something like:


With possibly parameters like this before that:


You must convert it to pkey format with:

openssl pkey -in oldkey.pem -out newkey.pem

Then newkey.pem can be used with mail-crypt-plugin.

Base64-encoded Keys

Mail-crypt plugin can read keys that are base64 encoded. This is intended mostly for providing PEM keys via userdb.

Hence, this is possible:

openssl ecparam -name secp256k1 -genkey | openssl pkey | base64 -w0 > ecprivkey.pem
base64 -d ecprivkey.pem | openssl ec -pubout | base64 -w0 > ecpubkey.pem
passdb {
  driver = static
  args = password=pass mail_crypt_global_public_key=<content of ecpubkey.pem> mail_crypt_global_private_key=<content of ecprivkey.pem>

mail_plugins = $mail_plugins mail_crypt

plugin {
  mail_crypt_save_version = 2

Read-only Mode (mail_crypt_save_version = 0)

If you have encrypted mailboxes that you need to read, but no longer want to encrypt new mail, use mail_crypt_save_version=0:

plugin {
  mail_crypt_save_version = 0
  mail_crypt_global_private_key = <server.key

mail-crypt-plugin and ACLs

If you are using global keys, mails can be shared within the key scope. The global key can be provided with several different scopes:

  • Global scope: key is configured in dovecot.conf file

  • Per-user(group) scope: key is configured in userdb file

With folder keys, key sharing can be done to single user, or multiple users. When key is shared to single user, and the user has public key available, the folder key is encrypted to recipient’s public key.

If you have mail_crypt_acl_require_secure_key_sharing enabled, you can’t share the key to groups or someone with no public key.

Decrypting Files Encrypted with mail-crypt plugin

You can use decrypt.rb to decrypt encrypted files.

fs-crypt and fs-mail-crypt

The fs-crypt is a lib-fs wrapper that can encrypt and decrypt files. It works similarly to the fs-compress wrapper. It can be used to encrypt e.g.:

  • FTS index objects (fts_dovecot_fs)

  • External mail attachments (mail_attachment_fs)

fs-crypt comes in two flavors, mail-crypt and crypt. (The differences between the two are technical and related to internal code contexts.)

Note that fs-[mail-]crypt and the fs-compress wrapper can be also combined. Please make sure that compression is always applied before encryption. See fs-compress plugin for an example and more details about compression.

Currently the fs-crypt plugin requires that all the files it reads are encrypted. If it sees an unencrypted file it’ll fail to read it. The plan is to fix this later.

FS driver syntax:

crypt:[algo=<s>:][set_prefix=<n>:][private_key_path=/path:][public_key_path=/path:][password=password:]<parent fs>``





Encryption algorithm. Default is aes-256-gcm-sha256.


Password for decrypting public key.


Path to private key.


Path to public key.


Read <set_prefix>_public_key and <set_prefix>_private_key. Default is mail_crypt_global.


plugin {
  fts_index_fs = crypt:set_prefix=fscrypt_index:posix:prefix=/tmp/fts
  fscrypt_index_public_key = <
  fscrypt_index_private_key = <server.key

To encrypt/decrypt files manually, you can use

doveadm fs get/put crypt private_key_path=foo:public_key_path=foo2:posix:prefix=/path/to/files/root path/to/file

doveadm plugin

The following commands are made available via doveadm.

doveadm mailbox cryptokey generate

doveadm [-o plugin/mail_crypt_private_password=some_password] mailbox cryptokey generate [-u username | -A] [-Rf] [-U] mailbox-mask [mailbox-mask ...]

Generate new keypair for user or folder.

  • -o - Dovecot option, needed if you use password protected keys

  • -u - Username or mask to operate on

  • -A - All users

  • -R - Re-encrypt all folder keys with current active user key

  • -f - Force keypair creation, normally keypair is only created if none found

  • -U - Operate on user keypair only

To generate new active user key and re-encrypt all your keys with it can be done with

doveadm mailbox cryptokey generate -u username -UR

This can be used to generate new user keypair and re-encrypt and create folder keys.


You must provide password if you want to generate password-protected keypair right away. You can also use doveadm mailbox cryptokey password to secure it.

doveadm mailbox cryptokey list

doveadm mailbox cryptokey list [-u username | -A] [-U] mailbox-mask [mailbox-mask ...]
  • -u - Username or mask to operate on

  • -A - All users

  • -U - Operate on user keypair only

Will list all keys for user or mailbox.

doveadm mailbox cryptokey export

doveadm [-o plugin/mail_crypt_private_password=some_password] mailbox cryptokey export [-u username | -A] [-U] mailbox-mask [mailbox-mask ...]
  • -u - Username or mask to operate on

  • -A - All users

  • -U - Operate on user keypair only

Exports user or folder private keys.

doveadm mailbox cryptokey password

doveadm mailbox cryptokey password [-u username | -A] [-N | -n password] [-O | -o password] [-C]
  • -u - Username or mask to operate on

  • -A - All users

  • -N - Ask new password

  • -n - New password

  • -O - Ask old password

  • -o - Old password

  • -C - Clear password

Sets, changes or clears password for user’s private key.