August 10, 2005

Book review: The Book of Postfix

Author: Jem Matzan

Like many things in the Unix, GNU, and BSD worlds, the Postfix mail transport agent (MTA) is powerful but difficult to configure optimally. With basic instructions and a couple of hours (or more) to test the configuration, you can probably make Postfix work, but how do you make it work to its full potential? How do you make it more secure? How do you make it get rid of spam? How do you configure it for complex situations that involve multiple servers, email addresses, email groups, and domains? That's what "The Book of Postfix" is for.

If you're planning on setting up an email server for your home or small business, or if you're a sysadmin who is moving a corporate email server to Postfix from some other MTA, there are two things you should know before buying this book. First, "The Book of Postfix" is not a substitute for a comprehensive distribution- or operating system-specific guide on Postfix administration. Many GNU/Linux distributions and Unix operating systems alter Postfix in a number of ways. The authentication mechanism may be chosen for you (and it may require MySQL or OpenLDAP), as may the POP/IMAP retrieval tools. Your configuration files can also be in strange places and have somewhat different organizational philosophies. So Postfix can be very distribution-specific. If you have to rely solely on "The Book of Postfix" to set up Postfix on your server, you should know your server's OS from every angle.

Secondly, "The Book of Postfix" will not compare and contrast MTAs for you. If you don't know anything about Sendmail, Exim, and Qmail, you should probably check them out before stampeding toward Postfix. Each MTA has its charms, quirks, and special considerations for each platform and use. Likewise, the book offers no migration tips for moving to Postfix from other MTAs, so you'll have to figure out how to move your messages, user information, address books, and settings on your own.

Writing analysis and reading strategy

Authors Ralf Hildebrandt and Patrick Koetter have written "The Book of Postfix" using terms that are easy to understand in context. A glossary at the rear of the book defines terms that need more clarification. The book can be read cover to cover in order, referenced as necessary, or anything in between. Within the realm of the Postfix software and directly related issues, the book scales to your needs and ability.

One strong point of the book is its brilliant design. It offers in-depth explanations for all levels of installation complexity. If you've got an intricate server configuration, you'll probably get the most benefit from reading the entire book. If you're just going to set up a single domain with plain authentication and no server-side address book, you'll be able to take better advantage of "The Book of Postfix" by reading the table of contents and picking out the chapters that apply to your situation.

As many a sysadmin will attest, secure authentication through OpenLDAP or MySQL (via mailsql) is not usually easy to set up. While "The Book of Postfix" does provide helpful information on some outside programs that are related to Postfix, it is not a guide to LDAP or the various SQL databases. You're going to have to be familiar with these technologies before tackling a complicated Postfix installation.

Putting the book to the test

Using "The Book of Postfix," I was able to improve the performance and usefulness of my own Postfix email server. Since the server was hosted on Gentoo Linux, I read and followed the Gentoo guide to Postfix for the initial setup and to learn how Postfix is different on Gentoo than it might be on other platforms. I then refined the installation by using the book. I now have far superior spam filtering, and instead of doing all of the filtering on the client side, the server now does most of the work. My configuration files are cleaner, and I now understand more of the many options contained therein.

"The Book of Postfix" is a spectacular resource for all manner of Postfix administrators. Whether it's for your job, your business, or your hobby, managing Postfix-based email server is best done with the aid of this book.

Title The Book of Postfix
Publisher No Starch
Press
Authors Ralf Hildebrandt and Patrick Koetter
ISBN 1593270011
Pages Paperback, 496 pages
Rating 9 out of 10
Summary Build a reliable and secure mail server with Postfix
Price (retail) $45 Buy it online
Click Here!