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Mail Management With Procmail
Say hello to procmail, automated message processing that's so cool, it makes you want to believe in magic again.

| Speaking Geek |

Let's start with a very basic question - what is procmail, and how is it going to make your life more fun?

Before I can answer that question, there are three acronyms you need to learn. Here they are:

MTA: An MTA, or mail transfer agent, is a program that routes mail from one host to another on the Internet. An MTA accepts email, looks at the destination address, and either passes the message on to another MTA or hands it off to an MDA for delivery to a local mailbox. Examples of common MTAs are sendmail and qmail.

MDA: An MDA, or mail delivery agent, is the program that accepts email from an MTA and actually delivers it to the recipient's mailbox. When an MDA works locally - that is, delivers mail to user mailboxes local to that host only - it is sometimes referred to as an LDA, or local delivery agent. Examples of common MDAs are procmail and mail.local.

MUA: An MUA, or mail user agent, is the program users interact with to view email messages, reply to or forward them, compose new messages and otherwise manipulate the contents of a mailbox. Examples of common MUAs are pine and mutt.

In a typical *NIX environment, the MTA takes care of accepting email messages and figuring out how to deliver them to their destination. Once the email message actually reaches the destination host, control passes to the LDA, which takes care of delivering the incoming message to the specified user's mailbox (or "mail spool") on that system. The user may then use any MUA to view and manipulate the mailbox and its contents.

Where does procmail fit into this picture? Developed by Stephen R. van den Berg in 1998, procmail is an LDA, commonly used to deliver messages to local mailboxes. Don't think of it as just a delivery boy, though - procmail's built-in constructs allow you to convert it into a primitive mail robot, automatically scanning and sorting received messages according to pre-defined rules.

These procmail rulesets (or "recipes") are very powerful - they allow you to do all kinds of magical things to your email, including automatically forwarding it elsewhere, starting special programs on your system for different types of email, filtering it into different mailboxes or - this is the part I like the most - automatically trashing spam without you ever having to see it.

The end result? Automatic, transparent mail management that allows you to zero in on important email, leaving the chaff for later.

Intrigued? Flip the page and let's get going!


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