Setting server-side mail filtering with sieve and dovecotAdministration

Setting server-side mail filtering with sieve and dovecot

July 16, 2012

Leaving GMail was of the best decisions for my mail I made recently. But also a most problematic one. I needed to set all the MTA architecture myself. I tested many solutions out there and finally ended with postfix + dovecot configuration. It appears that this is most stable and unproblematic one (at least for now).

The next feature I really missed is Gmail Server-Side mail filtering. I've got a bunch of machines that access my mail server (computers, phones etc.) and I receive lots emails from lists, friends and organizations every day. Setting filtering for all of that once, was a big pain. Setting it multiple times on all the machines, and then be consistent about it was enormous P.I.T.A. So I started looking for solution for that problem and found Sieve (and its dovecot plugin).

Ok, so how to do it? Firstly, as for dovecot 1.2.x, sieve was completely rewritten as a new plugin. It can be obtained from website. At the time of writing this post, there is no *.deb package in repositories, so I have to build it manually. I also had to install dovecot-dev package, because of sieve configurator, which needs a dovecot-config file.

tar -xzvf dovecot-1.2-sieve-0.1.19.tar.gz
cd dovecot-1.2-sieve-0.1.19
./configure --with-dovecot=/usr/lib/dovecot/ --prefix=/usr
sudo make install

After that, it was a time to enable sieve plugin in dovecot. /etc/dovecot/dovecot.conf

protocol lda {
    # Support for dynamically loadable plugins. mail_plugins is a space separated
    # list of plugins to load.
    mail_plugins = sieve # ... other plugins like quota
    # add those directives when you expect problems - huge time saver!
    debug = yes
    log_path = /var/log/dovecot-lda.log
    info_log_path = /var/log/dovecot-lda.log

There is a possibility to make some adjustments for plugin itself (filters paths and so on), but I didn't find it necessary. However, if you want to - you can check them on LDA/Sieve documentation page. After that, just restart postfix and everything is set.

The last step is setting all the filters properly. They should be stored in ~/.dovecot.sieve (if you use mailbox_command) or in /home/vmail/user@domain/.dovecot.sieve (if you use mailbox_transport). Sieve uses it's own pseudo-language for filtering, but below is a part of my file which should provide a good example for start:


# Require plugin for moving messages (fileinto) and vacation responder (vacation)
require ["fileinto", "vacation"];

# Move all mails with "List-Id" equal to "" to rzegocki_pl/lists IMAP directory
if header :contains "List-Id" "" { fileinto "rzegocki_pl.lists"; stop; }

# If messages are not from a list (most of the lists sets mail header "Precedence" either to "list" or "bulk") then send a vacation email
if not header :contains "Precedence" ["bulk","list"] {
    vacation :days 7 :addresses ["", ""] :subject "Vacation 15.07 - 22.07" " ..... "

# Move all messages from my father to one directory
if anyof (
    address :is "sender" "",
    address :is "sender" "",
    address :is "sender" "") {
        fileinto "rzegocki_pl.private.steven"; stop;

It took me some time to set everything up (mostly because of lack of documentation and multiple domain problems), but the final effect is awesome, and confirms that own server is an really, really great idea :)