Dovecot is commonly used with NFS. However, Dovecot does not support accessing the same user simultaneously by different servers. That will result in more or less severe mailbox corruption. Note that this applies to all mailbox access, including mail delivery.

  • Use Dovecot director for clustering.

  • Use LMTP Server for mail deliveries.

  • Set mmap_disable = yes

  • Set mail_fsync = always

  • Do not set mail_nfs_index or mail_nfs_storage (i.e. keep them as no)

  • Do not use the quota-status service.

  • Unmounted NFS mount point directory should not be writable to Dovecot mail processes (i.e. often the vmail user). Otherwise if the NFS isn’t mounted for some reason and user access mails, a new empty user mail directory is created, which breaks things.

NFS mount options

  • actimeo: This or the more specific settings can be used to control NFS caching. Increasing this can reduce NFS traffic. It should be at least 60 seconds (actimeo=60).

  • nordirplus: Disable readdirplus operations, which aren’t needed by Dovecot. They can also slow down some NFS servers.

  • noatime: Disable updating atime. Dovecot doesn’t need this and it may slow down NFS servers.

  • root_squash: Dovecot doesn’t care about this. Typically Dovecot doesn’t store any root-owned files in NFS.

  • nolock / local_lock=all: This is possible to use as a slightly unsafe optimization. All file locking is handled only locally instead of via NFS server. Assuming director works perfectly, there is no need to use locking across NFS. Each user only locks their own files, and the user should only be accessed by a single server at a time. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work 100% of the time so in some rare situations the same user can become accessed by multiple servers simultaneously. In those situations the mails are more likely to become corrupted if nolock is used. However, if indexes and emails are on different mountpoints, email corruption shouldn’t be possible if the nolock is enabled only for the index mountpoint. This can still increase the likelihood of index corruption (which can lose message flags), but locking won’t prevent index corruption completely anyway.


Potential optimizations to use:

  • mdbox format is likely more efficient to use than the sdbox format. The downside is that it requires running periodic doveadm purge for each user. This commands should be run via the doveadm directors so they are run in the proper backends.

  • Use mail_location = ...:VOLATILEDIR=/dev/shm/dovecot/%2.256Nu/%u to store some temporary files (e.g. lock files) in tmpfs rather than NFS.

  • Use mail_location = ...:LISTINDEX=/dev/shm/dovecot/%2.256Nu/%u/dovecot.list.index to store mailbox list indexes in tmpfs rather than NFS. This makes moving the users between backends more expensive though. It also needs a way to delete the list indexes for users that have already moved to different backends. This can be done with NFS host change plugin.

  • Use mail_location = ...:INDEX=/fast/%2.256Nu/%u:ITERINDEX to use “smaller fast storage” for index files and “larger slow storage” for mail files. The ITERINDEX is used to list mailboxes via the fast index storage rather than the slow mail storage.

  • Use mail_location = ...:ALT=/slow/%2.256Nu/%u:NOALTCHECK to use “smaller fast storage” for new mails and “larger slow storage” for old mails. The doveadm altmove command needs to be run periodically. The NOALTCHECK disables a sanity check to make sure alt storage path doesn’t unexpectedly change.

  • See the NFS mount options above.

Clock synchronization

Run ntpd in the NFS server and all the NFS clients to make sure their clocks are synchronized. If the clocks are more than one second apart from each others and multiple computers access the same mailbox simultaneously, you may get errors.

Clustering without director

Some people are using Dovecot in a cluster without the director service. Below are some suggestions for improving the reliability of this configuration.


This method is almost guaranteed to give random errors and can potentially lose emails.

  • Configure load balancer so that connections from the same source IP are redirected to the same Dovecot server. This way a single client using multiple IMAP connections doesn’t immediately cause problems.

  • Set mail_nfs_index = yes and mail_nfs_storage = yes. These will attempt to flush the NFS caches at appropriate times. However, it doesn’t work perfectly.

    • Disabling NFS attribute cache helps a lot in getting rid of caching related errors, but this makes performance MUCH worse and increases the load on NFS server. This can usually be done by giving actimeo=0 or noac mount option.

  • Make sure NFS lockd works properly. If it doesn’t, use lock_method = dotlock. However, this degrades performance.

  • Use Maildir mailbox format instead of sdbox/mdbox. Maildir is much more resistant to corruption.

    • Deliver mails in a way that it doesn’t update Dovecot index files. Either don’t use Dovecot LDA/LMTP, or configure it to use in-memory index files:

      protocol lda {
        mail_location = maildir:~/Maildir:INDEX=MEMORY