Mail Server

The Synchronet Mail Server is responsible for incoming and outgoing Internet e-mail.


The mail server accepts submissions via the SMTP and ESMTP protocols, by default, on TCP ports 25 and 587.

By default, the mail server does not allow relaying of mail from unauthenticated clients to external mail servers.

The SMTP server supports authentication via the PLAIN, LOGIN, or CRAM-MD5 SMTP-AUTH methods (client chooses).

The SMTP server optionally supports SMTP-TLS sessions.

The SMTP server can service multiple simultaneous incoming sessions and messages, with multiple recipients per message.

The SMTP server also supports the SEND, SAML and SOML commands for delivering instant messages (a.k.a. telegrams) to users of the BBS.


When receiving email messages via SMTP, the Synchronet mail server can match recipient names to a BBS user account by their alias or optionally, their real name.

Special Characters

Non-alphanumeric characters are ignored when matching recipient names to BBS user aliases. So for example, the following will all match the user “digital man”:

  • digital_man
  • digitalman
  • d-i-g-i-t-a-l-man

Real Names

When matching recipient names to BBS real names (if so enabled by the sysop by setting SCFG->Message Options->Receive E-mail by Real Name to “Yes”), spaces and '.' are treated as equivalent. When “Receive E-mail by Real Name” is enabled, receiving e-mail by user's alias is still supported.

Special Aliases

Recipient names configured in ctrl/alias.cfg can be used to match recipient names to specific user account numbers, aliases, external email addresses, or even sub-boards.

User Number

Receiving by user account number is also optionally supported, not not encouraged and disabled by default.

Special Prefixes

Recipient mail addresses can have special prefixes to direct the routing of the incoming mail:

Prefix Syntax Description
local: local:<user> Deliver to local mailbox only, do not forward to external mail/netmail address
forward: forward:<user> Forward to the destination user's external mail/netmail address
sub: sub:<code> Post email contents as message on message sub-board (specified by internal code)
qwk-id! <qwk-id>!<user> Routes to <user> at QWKnet node with specified QWK-ID (may include a full slash-separated route)

It is sometimes preferred to use an alias (configured in the ctrl/alias.cfg file) to allow the reception of a more “normal” looking email address and route to the Specially-Prefixed address. The following examples allows the reception of email sent to “cnnreport@<yourbbs>” and forwards the message to the message sub-board with the internal code of dove-deb:

cnnreport    sub:dove-deb

Special Addresses

Some specially formatted destination addresses (RCPT TO addresses) are recognized and treated specially by the Synchronet SMTP server.


If the system supports FidoNet-style networking (has at least one address configured in SCFG->Networks->FidoNet->Addresses), then incoming FidoNet netmail messages are recognized with one of the following formats:

  • <name>@f<node>.n<net>.z<zone>.fidonet
  • <name>@p<point>.f<node>.n<net>.z<zone>.fidonet

Example: rob.swindell@f705.n103.z1.fidonet

Note: the .fidonet host suffix is required even if the destination network is an othernet (not technically part of FidoNet proper). This is a “virtual” TLD, no DNS lookup is performed by the mailserver for destination hostnames with this suffix.


The Synchronet Mail Server recognizes the incoming special address format: <name>#<tag>@<host>

The <tag> is extracted from the address and if it is not found in the data/user/<usernum>.smtpblock file, the mail message is sent to the destination user. If the tag matches a line in the .smtpblock file, the email is rejected by the mail server with a “no such user” error.

This feature allows you (the sysop) to easily create and use “temporary” email addresses without requiring additional user accounts. Once you start receiving spam with a tag, just disable that tag by adding it to your .smtpblock file.


The Synchronet SMTP Server contains several anti-SPAM measures:

  • DNS-based blacklist (DNSBL) look-up support with exemptions and multiple possible actions upon positive results
  • Mail server filtering based on IP address/subnet or hostname (ctrl/spamblock.cfg), with exemptions (ctrl/spamblock_exempt.cfg)
  • Email address filtering with wildcard support (text/email.can)
  • Message subject filtering with wildcard support (text/subject.can)
  • Configurable SPAM bait list (ctrl/spambait.cfg) for auto-blocking mail servers based on honey-pot destination email addresses
  • Unlimited number of external mail processors (e.g. spamc.js, mailauth.js) that can modify (e.g. tag) or reject email messages at will
  • Synchronet's normal host filtering (via ip.can and host.can) and configurable LoginAttempt tracking/throttling/blocking (in sbbs.ini) is also employed


DNS-based Blacklists (DNSBL) are 3rd party databases of IP addresses whose hosts are suspected of being habitual spammers or have other security problems which make mail received from these systems highly suspicious. Different DNSBL services/servers have differing criteria for what can get an IP listed or de-listed (removed) from their database. Examine your ctrl/dns_blacklist.cfg file to determine what DNSBL services your Synchronet Mail Server is using.

The Synchronet Mail Server can use DNS queries to multiple DNSBL servers (as configured in ctrl/dns_blacklist.cfg) for each inbound SMTP/ESMTP connection from a prospective mail transfer agent (MTA). If the MTA's IP address is listed by one of the DNSBL servers, then multiple actions may be taken:

  • A Notice-level mail server log entry: SMTP BLACKLISTED SERVER on ... (always)
  • An entry added to the data/spam.log file (always)
  • Mail session refused, if the DNSBL_REFUSE option is set in the Mail section of the sbbs.ini file
  • SMTP commands and lines of message headers and body text may be throttled at 1 line per second when the DNSBL_THROTTLE option is set
  • Reject the mail message, if the DNSBL_BADUSER option is set
  • Message Subject may be 'tagged' with a prepended configurable string (e.g. SPAM:), see DNSBlacklistSubject sbbs.ini key
  • Message Header may be 'tagged' with a special header field (e.g. X-DNSBL), see DNSBlacklistHeader sbbs.ini key
  • Message may be received and ignored/dropped, if the DNSBL_IGNORE option is set
  • Message hash stored in a database of SPAM message body hashes (data/spam.hash), if the DNSBL_SPAMHASH option is set

A mail message's “Received” headers may also be scanned for DNSBL-listed IP addresses (DNSBL_CHKRECVHDRS option) so that any e-mail messages that originate or pass-through a DNSBL-listed will be treated as though it is being delivered directly from a DNSBL-listed MTA.

When a DNSBL service reports an IP address as “black-listed”, any additional DNSBL services/servers are not queried.


MTA's whose IP address or hostname is listed in your ctrl/dnsbl_exempt.cfg file are never checked against DNSBL servers.

Mail from e-mail addresses that are listed in the dnsbl_exempt.cfg file are also exempt from DNSBL actions.

The destination addersses of email delivered by the Synchronet Mail Server's SendMail Thread are automatically added to your dnsbl_exempt.cfg file unless the NO_AUTO_EXEMPT option is set.

Synchronet Control Panel

Most of the DNSBL-related settings can be found in the sbbsctrl Mail Server Configuration tabs:

External Mail Processors



The Synchronet Mail Server's SendMail Thread is responsible for delivering Internet email using the SMTP or ESMTP protocols, optionally authenticating using PLAIN, LOGIN, or CRAM-MD5 SMTP-AUTH methods if required by an SMTP relay server.

Both Direct Delivery and Relaying (e.g. through intermediary mail server) is supported.

The SendMail Thread currently can service one outgoing SMTP/ESMTP session at a time.

The SendMail Thread will attempt to deliver securely (encrypted via TLS) when possible, though it will fall back to plain text delivery when necessary.

Post Office

The mail server also services authenticated “post office” requests from mail clients using the POP3 protocol, by default, on TCP port 110 and POP3S (Secure/encrypted POP3 over TLS) on TCP Port 995.

The POP3 server supports client authentication via the USER or APOP methods.

The POP3 server can service multiple simultaneous incoming sessions.

For IMAP support, see Deuce's IMAP Service.


The Synchronet POP3 server will filter-out SPAM-tagged mail automatically when a POP3 client logs in with <username>#nospam.

Append “#nospam” to your login name/alias and any SPAM-tagged messages will not be listed/downloaded. This is useful if for example you use POP3 to download mail to your phone and have limited storage or sorting options. The SPAM-tagged messages will remain in your inbox on the BBS so you should use another POP3 or local mail client to download and delete those messages (which could potentially include false positives).


The [mail] section of the ctrl/sbbs.ini file supports the following configuration settings (key = value lines):

Key Default Value Description
AutoStart true Automatically start up the server (manual is only supported in sbbsctrl)
Interface [global] Comma-separated list of IPv4 and IPv6 network interfaces to listen on for incoming SMTP/SMTPS connections
POP3Interface Interface Comma-separated list of IPv4 and IPv6 network interfaces to listen on for incoming POP3/POP3S connections
OutboundInterface [global] IPv4 network interface to use for outgoing SMTP/SMTPS connections ( = any interface)
SMTPPort 25 TCP port number to listen on for incoming SMTP mail-delivery connections
SubmissionPort 587 TCP port number to listen on for incoming SMTP mail-submission connections
TLSSubmissionPort 465 TCP port number to listen on for incoming SMTPS (encrypted) mail-submission connections
POP3Port 110 TCP port number to listen on for incoming POP3 mail-retrieval connections
TLSPOP3Port 995 TCP port number to listen on for incoming POP3S (encrypted) mail-retrieval connections
MaxClients 10 Maximum number of simultaneous incoming TCP sessions supported
MaxConcurrentConnections 0 Maximum number of concurrent connections (without login) from the same IP address (0 = unlimited)
MaxInactivity 120 Maximum amount of TCP session inactivity before timeout and disconnection (in seconds)
MaxDeliveryAttempts 50 Maximum number of outbound mail delivery attempts before mail is bounced back to sender
RescanFrequency 60M Frequency (in seconds) of mail base re-scans for outbound mail to be sent/re-sent
SemFileCheckFrequency 2 Frequency (in seconds) of checks for semaphore files
LinesPerYield 10 Interval (in message body lines) of thread-yields during message receive (0 = none)
MaxRecipients 100 Maximum number of mail recipients for a single inbound SMTP mail message
MaxMsgSize 20MB Maximum size of incoming SMTP mail messages, in bytes
MaxMsgsWaiting 100 Maximum number of messages allowed in a (non-W-exempt) user's inbox
ConnectTimeout 30 Timeout (in seconds) before blocked outbound SMTP/TCP connections are aborted
HostName [global] Hostname of this server
TempDirectory [global] Directory to use for the storage of temporary files
RelayServer Hostname or IP address of SMTP server to relay outbound mail through (requires RELAY_TX option)
RelayPort 25 TCP port number to connect with when relaying mail to RelayServer
RelayUsername Username used to authenticate with RelayServer
RelayPassword Password used to authenticate with RelayServer
DNSServer <auto> IP address of DNS server used to discover mail-exchange servers for outbound mail destinations
DefaultUser Default recipient of mail for unrecognized recipient names (blank = none)
DefaultCharset Default MIME Content-Type charset value when unspecified (e.g. IBM437)
DNSBlacklistHeader X-DNSBL Header value to add to incoming mail messages from DNS-Blacklisted servers
DNSBlacklistSubject SPAM Word to insert into beginning of subject of mail messages from DNS-Blacklisted servers
POP3Sound WAV file to play upon incoming POP3 connections (Windows only)
InboundSound WAV file to play upon incoming SMTP/SMTPS connections (Windows only)
OutboundSound WAV file to play upon outgoing SMTP/SMTPS connections (Windows only)
JavaScript* [global] JavaScript-related settings for external mail processing
LogLevel [global] Minimum severity of log messages to be displayed / stored
BindRetryCount [global] Maximum number of TCP port bind attempts before failure
BindRetryDelay [global] Delay (in seconds) between TCP port bind retries
LoginAttempt* [global] Failed login attempt throttling / filtering / banning
Options ALLOW_POP3 Mail server option flags (see below for details)


The Options key of the [mail] section of the ctrl/sbbs.ini file supports the following option flags (separated by a | character):

Option Description
USE_SUBMISSION_PORT Support mail submissions on the SMTP submission port
TLS_SUBMISSION Support incoming SMTP Submissions (encrypted) connections
ALLOW_POP3 Support incoming POP3 connections for BBS users to use mail clients to retrieve the mail in their BBS inbox
DEBUG_POP3 Log all POP3 activity (Debug log level)
TLS_POP3 Support incoming POP3S (POP3/TLS) connections
DEBUG_TX Log all transmissions (Debug log level)
DEBUG_RX_HEADER Log headers of all received messages (Debug log level)
DEBUG_RX_BODY Log body text of all received messages (Debug log level)
DEBUG_RX_RSP Log all received responses (Debug log level)
ALLOW_RX_BY_NUMBER Allow email to be received by user number in addition to name/alias (not recommended)
ALLOW_SYSOP_ALIASES Allow email to received for various administrative aliases (e.g. “sysop”, “postmaster”) to be delivered to the sysop
NO_NOTIFY Do not send telegrams to users notifying them of newly received email
NO_HOST_LOOKUP Do not resolve/log hostnames of incoming TCP connections
USE_TCP_DNS Use TCP instead of UDP for MX-record queries using DNS
NO_SENDMAIL Do not send outbound Internet email
ALLOW_RELAY Allow authenticated users to relay Internet email through this server
SMTP_AUTH_VIA_IP Authenticate users via IP address when supported
DNSBL_REFUSE Actively refuse all mail sessions from DNS-blacklisted servers
DNSBL_IGNORE Ignore (silently-discard) mail from DNS-blacklisted servers
DNSBL_BADUSER Block (report “invalid mailbox”) mail from DNS-blacklisted servers
DNSBL_CHKRECVHDRS Check “Received” headers in mail messages for DNS-blacklisted servers
DNSBL_THROTTLE Throttle mail sessions from DNS-blacklisted servers
DNSBL_SPAMHASH Store hashes of confirmed SPAM messages for later comparison
SEND_INTRANSIT Send mail that is marked 'in-transit' (not recommended)
RELAY_TX Relay outbound SMTP mail through an intermediary SMTP RelayServer
RELAY_AUTH_PLAIN When relaying mail to a RelayServer, use SMTP-PLAIN AUTH
RELAY_AUTH_LOGIN When relaying mail to a RelayServer, use SMTP-LOGIN AUTH
RELAY_AUTH_CRAM_MD5 When relaying mail to a RelayServer, use SMTP-CRAM_MD5 AUTH
NO_AUTO_EXEMPT Do not automatically exempt outbound mail recipients in dnsbl_exempt.cfg
NO_RECYCLE Do not allow this server to be automatically recycled by external event
KILL_READ_SPAM Mark received SPAM messages for “Kill after read”

See Also

server/mail.txt · Last modified: 2023/02/18 14:02 by digital man
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