Dovecot LDA

The Dovecot LDA is a mail delivery agent, which takes mail from an MTA and delivers it to a user’s mailbox, while keeping Dovecot index files up to date. Nowadays you should probably use the LMTP server instead, because it’s somewhat easier to configure (especially related to permissions) and gives better performance.

This page describes the common settings required to make LDA work. You should read it first, and then the MTA specific pages:

Main features of Dovecot LDA

Common configuration

The settings are listed in the example conf.d/15-lda.conf file. The important settings are:

  • postmaster_address is used as the From: header address in bounce mails

  • hostname is used in generated Message-IDs and in Reporting-UA: header in bounce mails

  • sendmail_path is used to send mails. Note that the default is /usr/sbin/sendmail, which doesn’t necessarily work the same as /usr/lib/sendmail.

    • Alternatively you can use submission_host to send mails via the specified SMTP server.

  • auth_socket_path specifies the UNIX socket to auth-userdb where LDA can lookup userdb information when -d parameter is used. See below how to configure Dovecot to configure the socket.

Note that the config files must be world readable to enable dovecot-lda process read them, while running with user privileges. You can put password related settings to a separate file, which you include with !include_try and dovecot-lda skips them.


Parameters accepted by dovecot-lda:

  • -d <username>: Destination username. If given, the user information is looked up from dovecot-auth. Typically used with virtual users, but not necessarily with system users.

  • -a <address>: Original envelope recipient address (e.g. user+ext@domain), typically same as SMTP’s RCPT TO: value. If not specified, it’s taken from header specified by lda_original_recipient_header setting (v2.0.3+). If the header doesn’t exist either, defaults to same as username.

  • -r <address>: Final envelope recipient address. Defaults to -a address, but may differ if e.g. aliases are used or when dropping the +ext part. (v2.0.3+)

  • -f <address>: Envelope sender address. If not specified and message data begins with a valid mbox-style “From “ line, the address is taken from it.

  • -c <path>: Alternative configuration file path.

  • -m <mailbox>: Destination mailbox (default is INBOX). If the mailbox doesn’t exist, it will not be created (unless the lda_mailbox_autocreate setting is set to yes). If message couldn’t be saved to the mailbox for any reason, it’s delivered to INBOX instead.

    • If Sieve plugin is used, this mailbox is used as the “keep” action’s mailbox. It’s also used if there is no Sieve script or if the script fails for some reason.

    • Deliveries to namespace prefix will result in saving the mail to INBOX instead. For example if you have “Mail/” namespace, this allows you to specify dovecot-lda -m Mail/$mailbox where mail is stored to Mail/$mailbox or to INBOX if $mailbox is empty.

    • The mailbox name is specified the same as it’s visible in IMAP client. For example if you’ve a Maildir with .box.sub/ directory and your namespace configuration is prefix=INBOX/, separator=/, the correct way to deliver mail there is to use -m INBOX/box/sub

  • -e: If mail gets rejected, write the rejection reason to stderr and exit with EX_NOPERM. The default is to send a rejection mail ourself.

  • -k: Don’t clear all environment at startup.

  • -p <path>: Path to the mail to be delivered instead of reading from stdin. If using maildir the file is hard linked to the destination if possible. This allows a single mail to be delivered to multiple users using hard links, but currently it also prevents dovecot-lda from updating cache file so it shouldn’t be used unless really necessary.

  • -o name=value: Override a setting from dovecot.conf. You can give this parameter multiple times.

Return values


will exit with one of the following values:

  • 0 (EX_OK): Delivery was successful.

  • 64 (EX_USAGE): Invalid parameter given.

  • 67 (EX_NOUSER): The destination username was not found.

  • 77 (EX_NOPERM): -e parameter was used and mail was rejected. Typically this happens when user is over quota and quota_full_tempfail = no.

  • 75 (EX_TEMPFAIL): A temporary failure. This is returned for almost all failures. See the log file for details.

System users

You can use LDA with a few selected system users (ie. user is found from /etc/passwd / NSS) by calling dovecot-lda in the user’s ~/.forward file:

| "/usr/local/libexec/dovecot/dovecot-lda"

This should work with any MTA which supports per-user .forward files. For qmail’s per-user setup, see Dovecot LDA with Qmail.

This method doesn’t require the authentication socket explained below since it’s executed as the user itself.

Virtual users

With a lookup

Give the destination username to dovecot-lda with -d parameter, for example:


You’ll need to set up a auth-userdb socket for dovecot-lda so it knows where to find mailboxes for the users:

service auth {
  unix_listener auth-userdb {
    mode = 0600
    user = vmail # User running dovecot-lda
    #group = vmail # Or alternatively mode 0660 + dovecot-lda user in this group

The auth-userdb socket can be used to do userdb lookups for given usernames or get a list of all users. Typically the result will contain the user’s UID, GID and home directory, but depending on your configuration it may return other information as well. So the information is similar to what can be found from eg. /etc/passwd for system users. This means that it’s probably not a problem to use mode=0666 for the socket, but you should try to restrict it more just to be safe.

Without a lookup

If you have already looked up the user’s home directory and you don’t need a userdb lookup for any other reason either (such as overriding settings for specific users), you can run dovecot-lda similar to how it’s run for system users:

HOME=/path/to/user/homedir dovecot-lda -f $FROM_ENVELOPE

This way you don’t need to have a master listener socket. Note that you should verify the user’s existence prior to running dovecot-lda, otherwise you’ll end up having mail delivered to nonexistent users as well.

You must have set the proper UID (and GID) before running dovecot-lda. It’s not possible to run dovecot-lda as root without -d parameter.

Multiple UIDs

If you’re using more than one UID for users, you’re going to have problems running dovecot-lda, as most MTAs won’t let you run dovecot-lda as root. Best solution is to use LMTP instead, but if you can’t do that, there are two ways to work around this problem:

  1. Make dovecot-lda setuid-root.

  2. Use sudo to wrap the invocation of dovecot-lda.

Making dovecot-lda setuid-root:

Beware: it’s insecure to make dovecot-lda setuid-root, especially if you have untrusted users in your system. Setuid-root dovecot-lda can be used to gain root privileges. You should take extra steps to make sure that untrusted users can’t run it and potentially gain root privileges. You can do this by making sure only your MTA has execution access to it. For example:

# chgrp secmail /usr/local/libexec/dovecot/dovecot-lda
# chmod 04750 /usr/local/libexec/dovecot/dovecot-lda
# ls -l /usr/local/libexec/dovecot/dovecot-lda
-rwsr-x--- 1 root secmail 4023932 2010-06-15 16:23 dovecot-lda

Then start dovecot-lda as a user that belongs to secmail group. Note that you have to recreate these rights after each update of dovecot.

Using sudo:

Alternatively, you can use sudo to wrap the invocation of dovecot-lda. This has the advantage that updates will not clobber the setuid bit, but note that it is just as insecure being able to run dovecot-lda via sudo as setuid-root. Make sure you only give your MTA the ability to invoke dovecot-lda via sudo.

First configure sudo to allow ‘dovelda’ user to invoke dovecot-lda by adding the following to your /etc/sudoers:

Defaults:dovelda !syslog
dovelda          ALL=NOPASSWD:/usr/local/libexec/dovecot/dovecot-lda

Then configure your MTA to invoke dovecot-lda as user ‘dovelda’ and via sudo:

/usr/bin/sudo /usr/local/libexec/dovecot/dovecot-lda

instead of just plain /usr/local/libexec/dovecot/dovecot-lda.

Problems with dovecot-lda

  • If you are using prefetch userdb, keep in mind that dovecot-lda does not make a password query and thus will not work if -d parameter is used. The UserDatabase/Prefetch page explains how to fix this.

    • See Checkpassword for how to make dovecot-lda work with checkpassword.


  • Normally Dovecot logs everything through its log process, which is running as root. dovecot-lda doesn’t, which means that you might need some special configuration for it to log anything at all.

  • If dovecot-lda fails to write to log files it exits with temporary failure.

  • If you have trouble finding where Dovecot logs by default, see Dovecot Logging.

  • Note that Postfix’s mailbox_size_limit setting applies to all files that are written to. So if you have a limit of 50 MB, dovecot-lda can’t write to log files larger than 50 MB and you’ll start getting temporary failures.

If you want dovecot-lda to keep using Dovecot’s the default log files:

  • If you’re logging to syslog, make sure the syslog socket (usually /dev/log) has enough write permissions for dovecot-lda. For example set it world-read/writable: chmod a+rw /dev/log.

  • If you’re logging to Dovecot’s default log files again you’ll need to give enough write permissions to the log files for dovecot-lda.

You can also specify different log files for dovecot-lda. This way you don’t have to give any extra write permissions to other log files or the syslog socket. You can do this by overriding the log_path and info_log_path settings:

protocol lda {
  # remember to give proper permissions for these files as well
  log_path = /var/log/dovecot-lda-errors.log
  info_log_path = /var/log/dovecot-lda.log

For using syslog with dovecot-lda, set the paths empty:

protocol lda {
  log_path =
  info_log_path =
  # You can also override the default syslog_facility:
  #syslog_facility = mail


LDA Indexing

LDA’s indexing basically does two things while message is being saved:

  1. It updates the main index file.

  2. It updates the dovecot.index.cache file.

Cache file

The LDA also updates the cache file, which can be very useful with all mailbox formats. It means that when an IMAP client wants to fetch the message’s metadata (e.g. some header fields), they’re can be retrieved from the cache file and Dovecot doesn’t have to open and parse the message file. There are some tradeoffs though:

  • LDA indexing wastes disk I/O because it has to open and update index files

  • LDA indexing saves disk I/O because it already has the message body in memory, so it doesn’t need to read it from disk.

  • IMAP indexing wastes disk I/O because it has to open and read message files

  • IMAP indexing may save disk I/O because IMAP process always has index files opened, and many IMAP clients are configured to download all new message bodies anyway, so the second time message bodies are read they’re already in memory

So it depends on IMAP client if it’s faster to use LDA or IMAP time indexing. In any case the user experience is typically faster with LDA indexing, because the message list metadata can be returned faster when it’s pre-indexed.

See Index Files for more information about what the index files contain.

Non-indexed mail delivery

Ignoring the benefits of cache file updates, the only thing left is the main index updates. As mentioned above, with Maildir format these benefits are very small. This also means that it’s perfectly fine to use a non-Dovecot MDA to deliver mails that doesn’t update indexes. Dovecot can efficiently see and index such new mails without doing anything expensive like “rebuilding indexes”.