Nigel Metheringham edited this page Nov 25, 2012 · 1 revision

Authenticated SMTP using pwauth


One of the options Exim has for authentication without root access is by using SASLAuthd from the Cyrus suite. However, there is another option: pwauth, which is probably more easy to setup and which can be used by multiple daemons (like Apache AND Exim). It is recommended you follow the instructions in the AuthenticatedSmtpUsingPam tutorial regarding encryption (TLS) as they won't be discussed here. This is based on a Debian 5.0/Lenny install.

Required Software

Compiling Exim

Since I run Debian 5.0/Lenny which has a package system, I did not need to compile Exim. Issueing apt-get install exim4 as root is enough (and most Debian users would not have to do that either because Exim4 is the standard MTA on Debian).

Since I only use plaintext as authenticator driver, I don't think there's much hocus-pocus in compiling Exim. If anyone has instructions on compiling, please edit this page.

Configuring and compiling pwauth

Download pwauth, extract the package and cd into the new directory:

wget ''
tar xzf ./pwauth-2.3.8.tar.gz
cd pwauth-2.3.8/

As with any piece of software you compile yourself, you should read the README and the INSTALL file. They contain all the information you'll need to configure pwauth. Next, edit config.h and set it up to reflect your system. The settings I used are the following:

#define SHADOW_SUN
#define NOLOGIN_FILE "/etc/nologin"
#define SERVER_UIDS 33,101
#define MIN_UNIX_UID 500
#define SLEEP_LOCK "/var/run/pwauth.lock"

You need to give special attention to the line SERVER_UIDS, as that can differ for your system. It needs a list of UID (user ids) that can run pwauth. This list obviously needs to include the user that runs Debian-exim. On my system, Exim is run as user Debian-exim. To retrieve the UID for this user, I give the following command: grep Debian-exim /etc/passwd It gives the following output on my system: Debian-exim:x:101:105::/var/spool/exim4:/bin/false The UID is the number after the second ':' (so the UID is 101).

In case your wondering why I have two UIDs in the line SERVER_UIDS: UID 33 is the user Apache is running under.

When config.h is all set up, we can compile pwauth:


If compilation did not issue errors, we can install pwauth. Note that you need to run the following commands as root.

cp ./pwauth /usr/local/bin/
chown root:staff /usr/local/bin/pwauth
chmod 4755 /usr/local/bin/pwauth

Testing pwauth

Next, we should test to see if pwauth works. As root, type the following commands:

su -s /bin/bash Debian-exim
/usr/local/bin/pwauth ; echo $?

Then type the name of a user, hit enter, and type the password of a user. If the password is valid, the last command should display 0. If the password is invalid, the last command should display 1 or 2. For other numbers, refer to the INSTALL file in the pwauth directory.

If you are here, pwauth is set up correctly for Exim!

Configuring Exim

We need to tell Exim how to use pwauth. This is done using an authenticator. For my Debian system, I edited the file etc/exim4/exim4.conf.template. I added this:

 driver = plaintext
 public_name = PLAIN
 server_condition = ${run{/bin/bash -c "echo -e '$auth2\n$auth3' | /usr/local/bin/pwauth"}{1}{0}}
 server_set_id = $auth2
 server_prompts = :
 server_advertise_condition = ${if eq{$tls_cipher}{}{}{*}}

 driver = plaintext
 public_name = LOGIN
 server_condition = ${run{/bin/bash -c "(echo -n '$auth1' | head -n 1 ; echo -n '$auth2' | head -n 1) | /usr/local/bin/pwauth"}{1}{0}}
 server_set_id = $auth1
 server_prompts = <| Username: | Password:
 server_advertise_condition = ${if eq{$tls_cipher}{}{}{*}}

What this does is tell Exim4 to enable authentication using plain-text passwords only if we use a TLS connection. A TLS connection is an encrypted connection using SSL certificates, and this makes sure no-one can see our passwords. This also tells Exim to run pwauth to check if the given username and password are valid.


You'll now be able to authenticate without rooting up or messing with PAM modules.

Common Errors

Check the logfiles (/var/log/exim4/mainlog on my system) for errors.

535 Incorrect authentication data

A generic error that could mean one of serveral things:

  • The given username was wrong
  • The given password was wrong
  • Exim was unable to find pwauth
  • Exim was unable to start pwauth

You can check the last case by doing the steps described in 'Testing pwauth' above. If that succeeds, check you Exim configuration files again.

435 Unable to authenticate at present

I only got this error when I made a typo in the configuration files. This typo is described on the same logline as the error, so read the line carefully.

relay not permitted

The user did not authenticate to Exim, and therefor Exim only allows mail for THIS machine. Keep in mind that in the example authenticator above, Exim will only allow authentication when using a TLS connection! For info on how to set up TLS, see AuthenticatedSmtpUsingPam.

Other errors

If you can not get this to work, try posting to the Eximuusers mailing list. I more or less read that list. Be sure to say 'pwauth' in the subject.

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