Frequently Asked Questions: Email on pip

How do I read my SRCF email?

This information applies only to users of the "legacy" or "advanced" SRCF mail server. It might apply to you if you had a SRCF account before October 2018 (or you deliberately chose to handle your mail this way). To see which email system you are currently using, see the Control Panel.

There are four options:

  1. Forward it to some other address. When your account is first set up it will be configured to forward mail to the address you gave us when you applied — see the FAQ entry: How do I set up mail forwarding? for instructions on how to configure this.
  2. Read your mail using an email client running on the server, for example mutt or alpine.
  3. Read your mail via IMAP from a remote machine. You should always connect using a secure connection (enable “SSL” or the equivalent in your email client's configuration), otherwise your connection may be blocked. The incoming mail server name should be set to pip.srcf.net and the port should be set to 993. Note that we do not run a POP3 server, as it is an older protocol and provides no additional functionality over IMAP.

    NB: If you wish to use IMAP, we especially recommend Hades due to known quirks of the IMAP server on pip. You can switch to Hades on the Control Panel.

  4. Use our pip webmail service: webmail.pip.srcf.net.

    Hades offers a significantly superior webmail experience for most users. You can switch to Hades on the Control Panel.

Can I use the SRCF machine as an outgoing (SMTP) mail server?

Yes — you can use smtp.srcf.net, port 587, using STARTTLS. Authenticate using your SRCF username and password. This service is part of Hades but is available to all SRCF members whether or not your email is hosted on Hades.

You cannot use pip as a SMTP server, though — except from applications running on pip itself.

How do I set up mail forwarding?

This information applies only to users of the "legacy" or "advanced" SRCF mail server. It might apply to you if you had a SRCF account before October 2018 (or you deliberately chose to handle your mail this way). To see which email system you are currently using, see the Control Panel.

If you simply want to forward your SRCF email to an address elsewhere, we suggest configuring that using the Control Panel. If you want a more complex mail forwarding setup, you could use a .forward file, or a Sieve filter on Hades.

Create a file called .forward (note the leading full-stop) in your home directory containing the email address to which you would like your mail to be forwarded.

The SRCF offers a simple interactive tool to create this file for you. Login to shell.srcf.net using Secure Shell and type: srcf-MailForward at the prompt, followed by return. You will then be prompted to enter an e-mail address where you would like all your SRCF mail forwarded to. Once this program has run, type exit to logout.

How do I set up mail filtering?

This information applies only to users of the "legacy" or "advanced" SRCF mail server. It might apply to you if you had a SRCF account before October 2018 (or you deliberately chose to handle your mail this way). To see which email system you are currently using, see the Control Panel.

We have the Exim mail transfer agent installed. See the Exim filtering documentation.

If you would prefer a simpler interface to mail filtering, try Hades which offers very powerful filtering using Sieve, with a friendly web-based front-end. (However, there are a few things which cannot be done on Hades, such as piping your email into a custom program; for that purpose you should use an Exim filter on pip.)

You mentioned known quirks of mail on pip...?

pip's mail service dates from a time long ago when most UNIX systems stored email in Mbox format. Mbox is a primitive file format which concatenates all emails in a mailbox into one long file. It is slow and inefficient to use, and does not support concurrent access (you can't read your inbox whilst a message is arriving, for example!). Our IMAP server tries its best by using caches and indices but it is fundamentally not an efficient data storage system.

Furthermore, if you create folders (besides INBOX) in which to file your emails, those are placed in your home directory along with your other files. This leads to confusion, and also can lead to your entire home directory being served over IMAP, which has been known to upset email software (unsurprisingly).

And for added confusion, Mbox is incapable of storing any email containg a line of text starting with the word "From". Yes, really. (Mail software has to rewrite it as ">From" as a workaround.)

We cannot easily convert pip to a more modern email storage format, though, as we have some people with extensively curated mbox hierarchies and we don't want to break email for those people.

So (in September 2018) we created a brand new email service called Hades which runs alongside the "legacy" email service on pip. Hades was implemented with the benefit of another 20+ years of advancements in email technology.

We encourage you to take a look at Hades. If you're used to the setup on pip, you may find it quite different (better, we hope!), but if you have a complex Exim filter it may be time consuming to redefine your email filtering requirements in Sieve on Hades.

We have no immediate plans to discontinue pip's mail service, although eventually we hope to be able to shut down the IMAP server on pip as our IMAP users migrate to Hades. We know that there are some things that advanced users might want to do which are only possible on a traditional UNIX mail system, and we intend to keep running the mail service on pip for these advanced use cases.