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Postfix: The Definitive Guide Kyle D Dent
Published by O'Reilly and Associates
ISBN:0-596-00212-2
264 pages
£ 24.95
Published: 9th January 2004
reviewed by James Youngman
   in the March 2004 issue (pdf), (html)
bookcover  

Postfix is a mail transport agent written by Wietse Venema (also the author of TCP Wrappers). In Wietse's words, ``Postfix attempts to be fast, easy to administer, and secure, while at the same time being sendmail compatible enough to not upset existing users. Thus, the outside has a sendmail-ish flavour, but the inside is completely different.''

The ``Postfix Book'' has been much anticipated; certainly since at least 1999. When it actually appeared in print, I was eager to review it.

The appeal of the Postfix MTA is that it is easy to set up, fast and secure. This combination is hard to come by. Some years ago I used to have a copy of the O'Reilly ``bat book'' on Sendmail by Costales and Allman. It's a good indication of how easy Postfix is to work with that this book is only 260 pages while the ``bat book'' is 1232 pages long.

This of course brings into question the necessity for having a Postfix book at all. As usual with Unix, the answer is that Postfix comes with a fine set of reference material, but the book provides an overview of the program's features, explaining how they fit together and how you might configure Postfix for various specialist purposes (there's no need to cover how one uses it for everyday usage, since Postfix will do that out of the box).

The book is fairly well-rounded; in its 15 chapters the range of Postfix's capabilities is addressed, including basic configuration, management, delivery to various mail stores, domain hosting, spam, database and LDAP integration, and authentication. It's certainly readable -- I read it in less than a day. However, I did find that I skipped bits, but that may be because I've used Postfix for some years and so I'm very familiar with some of the more basic points about Postfix.

The book is a good introduction to and guide for Postfix. It covers everything you might need to know to configure Postfix to do some fairly complex things. However, if I have a gripe about the book it's that while two whole chapters (31 pages) are devoted to UCE and mail filtering, I think that more treatment of this topic would be worthwhile. Postfix provides basic content filtering ``out of the box'': it can reject email having contents which match criteria in various back-end lookup mechanisms (lists of regexps, for example). However, to actually do a reasonable job of filtering spam, you need to plug in one of the many anti-spam tools. Because I've been using Postfix for a long time, one of my priorities is to improve the fraction of spam that I never have to see. This is therefore the main topic I was hoping to find a treatment of in the book, and so the extent of the book's coverage was less than I had hoped. On the other hand, filtering spam is largely a job for a spam-filtering tool, and so perhaps I should have been reading a book on SpamAssassin.

If you are installing Postfix -- or considering installing it -- in anything but a home environment, I think you should read this book. At the very least, you will be able to ensure that you're familiar with the range of capabilities that Postfix has. If you are considering Postfix for home use, then I suspect that the ``out-of-the-box'' configuration will be sufficient for your needs. However, I'm off now to install SpamAssassin...

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