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Lena edited this page Dec 13, 2019 · 4 revisions

Greylisting without a database and without Perl


I used Michael Peek's Perl script, then decided to reimplement its general algorithm without using Perl in order to decrease memory expense. You can choose between two variants: one described here requires to recompile Exim (4.51 or newer) but is more efficient, another works with any Exim instance (Perl support isn't needed) but is slightly slower (though much faster than Perl).

Michael wrote:

We're a small organization, and I'm a lazy man. I don't really want to set up and maintain a database server. Especially since for us a greylist only involves keeping track of a few hundred KB of data at any one time.

It certainly makes sense. A filesystem can be considered as a database of sorts, using it for keeping greylisting data requires much less memory and maintenance. My implementation also keeps the data in files in a directory, but I place the data into filenames, not file content - it speeds up searching. Also, it runs update faster and much less frequently.


  • Exim source and knowledge how to compile it.
  • Basic knowledge of your Exim configuration file.

Recompile Exim

You need to change some options and recompile Exim without "make clean" at the end. Exim documentation says (11.5, dlfunc): This functionality is available only if Exim is compiled with EXPAND_DLFUNC=yes set in Local/Makefile; in the Exim build-time configuration, you must add -export-dynamic to EXTRALIBS.


Here I describe how I did it under FreeBSD. If you did it under some other operating system then please edit this wiki page adding how you did it.

  • Update ports tree.
  • Edit the file /usr/ports/mail/exim/files/patch-src::EDITME : at the end of the long line beginning with +EXTRALIBS add a blank and -export-dynamic
  • Recompile Exim and reinstall:
cd /usr/ports/mail/exim
make clean all deinstall reinstall

After that a directory for example /usr/ports/mail/exim/work/exim-4.93/build-FreeBSD-i386 contains files needed for the next step, so don't do make clean after reinstall.

  • Restore your versions of scripts such as /usr/local/etc/periodic/daily/460.exim-mail-rejects and /usr/local/etc/rc.d/exim if you edited them earlier.

Dynamically linked module

Download source of the module: exim-ext-grey.c , save it for example in the /root directory and compile placing the binary for example in /root/bin :

gcc -O2 -Wall -Werror -shared -fPIC -g \
-I/usr/ports/mail/exim/work/exim-4.93/build-FreeBSD-i386 \
-L/usr/local/lib \
-o /root/bin/ /root/exim-ext-grey.c
strip /root/bin/

Latest module version (0.4) supports both Exim 4.93 and older Exim versions. Module version 0.3 supported only older Exim versions.

Edit your Exim config file

Make a backup copy of your Exim configuration file.

If you used the Perl script for greylisting and don't use Perl for anything else then delete (or comment out) the perl_startup line.

For simplest usage, in your RCPT acl check choose a place (somewhere below accepting authenticated users) to put something like this:

defer log_message = greylisted
      condition = ${dlfunc{/root/bin/}{grey}\
      message = Deferred: Temporary error, please try again later

Here sg does the same as $cidr_mask=24 in Michael's script.

I greylist only suspicious connections and use various whitelists in order to minimize delays and false positives. You can use snippets from my Exim configuration file for developing your Exim configuration.

You can test greylisting on one email address (receiving spam) before employing it for all mail, for that insert a condition between log_message and the condition with dlfunc, like this:

condition = ${if eq{$local_part@$domain}\

Restart Exim

Check syntax of your updated Exim configuration file with exim -bV, restart exim daemon (using kill -HUP) and watch the log files for possible errors.

No maintenance needed

At the very first run the module creates empty file grey.lastupdated and subdirectory grey in Exim spool directory. The data is kept in names of files in the grey subdirectory. Its size varies, but doesn't grow forever. My mailserver endures about 3 thousand spam attempts per day, at the time of this writing the subdirectory is 25 Kbytes long and contains 350 files. No noticeable delays were observed in case of 60000 files (FreeBSD 7). 350000 files proved too much (too slow) - in case of so heavy load a database copes better. Quantity of files is limited also by quantity of free inodes on the partition with the grey directory (one inode per file). Check quantity of free inodes with df -i command. For example, under FreeBSD a 3 GB /var partition has 400000 free inodes by default.