A mail transport agent that combines advanced capabilities with easy configuration.

As a Linux (or Unix) user you are certainly familiar with the program you use to read your electronic mail. It may be mail, mailx, elm, mush or pine but it preforms the function of allowing you to access your mailbox in an orderly fashion. This program is called a mail user agent or MUA.

But, how does all that mail get in the mailbox? And when you send mail, how does it get routed properly? That is the job of the mail transport agent or MTA.

Introduction to Sendmail+IDA

It's been said that you aren't a REAL Unix system administrator until you've edited a file. It's also been said that you're a crazy person if you've attempted to do so twice :-)

Sendmail is an incredibly powerful program. It's also incredibly difficult to learn and understand for most people. Any program whose definitive reference (Sendmail, published by O'Reilly and Associates) is 792 pages long quite justifiably scares most people off.

Sendmail+IDA is different. It removes the need to edit the always-cryptic file and permits the administrator to define the site-specific routing and addressing configuration through relatively easy-to-understand 'tables'. Switching to sendmail+IDA can save you many hours of work and stress.

Compared to the other major mail transport agents, I've yet to find anything that you can't do faster and simpler with sendmail+IDA. Typical things needed to run a normal UUCP or Internet site are absolutely trivial to accomplish. Normally difficult configurations are simple to create and maintain.

At this writing, the current version of sendmail5.67b+IDA1.5 is available via anonymous ftp from It compiles without any patching required under Linux.

All the configuration files required to get sendmail+IDA sources to compile, install, and run under Linux are included in newspak-2.0.tar.gz which is available via anonymous ftp on in the directory /pub/Linux/system/Mail.

Sendmail+IDA Configuration Files - Overview

Traditional sendmail is set up through a system configuration file, typically /etc/ or /usr/lib/, that is not anything close to any language you've seen before. Editing the file to provide customized behavior can be a humbling experience.

Sendmail+IDA makes such pain essentially a thing of the past by having all configuration options table-driven with rather easy-to-understand syntax. These options are configured by running m4 (a simple macro processor) or dbm (a simple database processor) on a number of data files via Makefiles supplied with the sources.

The file defines only the default behavior of the system. Virtually all special customization is done through a number of optional 'tables' rather than by directly editing the file.

  • mailertable - define special behavior for a remote host or domain

  • uucpxtable - force UUCP delivery of mail to a domainized host

  • pathtable - define the pathalias-style UUCP path to a remote host or domain

  • uucprelays - short-circuit the pathalias path to well-known remote hosts

  • genericfrom - convert internal addresses into generic ones visible to the outside world

  • xaliases - convert generic addresses to/from valid internal ones

  • decnetxtable - convert SMTP addresses to decnet-style addresses

The file


The file for sendmail+IDA is not edited directly, but is generated based on an administrator-specified m4 configuration file. This file creates a few definitions and otherwise points to the tables where the 'real work' gets done. In general, it is only necessary to specify the paths used on the local system, the name(s) the site is known by for e-mail purposes, and which default mailer (and perhaps smart relay host) is desired.

There are a large variety of parameters that can be defined to establish the behavior of the local site or to override compiled-in configuration items. These configuration options are identified in detail in the documentation that comes with the sources in the file <IDA_SOURCE_DIR>/ida/cf/OPTIONS.


A m4 file for a minimal configuration (UUCP or SMTP with all non-local mail being relayed to a directly connected smart-host) can be as short as 10 or 15 lines excluding comments.

A typical sendmail.m4 file for a UUCP-only site who talks to an Internet relay host is shown below.

Virtually all systems should set the DEFAULT_HOST, DEFAULT_MAILER, and PSEUDONYMS.

UUCP hosts will probably also need to define the UUCPNAME, RELAY_MAILER, and RELAY_HOST parameters.

If your site is SMTP-only and talks 'Domain Name Service', you would change the DEFAULT_MAILER to TCP-A and probably delete the RELAY_MAILER and RELAY_HOST lines.

See Figure 1