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GNU Mailman 3 Deployment with Docker

Table of Contents


This repository hosts code for two docker images maxking/mailman-core and maxking/mailman-web both of which are meant to deploy GNU Mailman 3 in a production environment.

Docker is a container ecosystem which can run containers on several platforms. It consists of a tool called docker-compose which can be used to run multi-container applications. This repository consists of a docker-compose.yaml file which is a set of configurations that can be used to deploy the Mailman 3 Suite.

Please see NEWS for the latest changes and releases.


The tags for the images are assumed to be release versions for images. This is going to be a somewhat common philosophy of distributing Container images where the images with same tags are usually updated with the new functionality.

Releases will follow the following rules:

  • Images tagged like A.B.C will never change. If you want to pin down versions of Images, use these tags.

  • Images tagged with A.B will correspond to the latest A.B.C version released. Releases in A.B series are supposed to be backwards compatible, i.e., any existing installation should not break when upgrading between subversions of A.B.C. So, if you want the latest updates and want to frequently update your installation without having to change the version numbers, you can use this.

  • Any changes in the minor version of Mailman components of the images will cause a bump in the minor version, e.g., A.(B+1) will have one (and only one) updated Mailman component from A.B. Also, significant change in functionality, that might change how Images work or how people interact with the containers can also cause a bump in the minor version.

  • Major versions will change either when there are backwards incompatible changes or when the releases reach a certain set milestone or when there are bugfix releases for the internal components or both.

Rolling Releases

Rolling releases are made up of Mailman Components installed from git source. Note that these releases are made up of un-released software and should be assumed to be beta quality.

Every commit is tested with Mailman's CI infrastructure and is included in rolling releases only if they have passed the complete test suite.

$ docker pull
$ docker pull

Rolling releases are built with every commit and also re-generated weekly. You can inspect the images to get which commit it was built using:

$ docker inspect --format '{{json .Config.Labels }}' mailman-core | python -m json.tool
    "version.core": "31f434d0",
    "version.git_commit": "45a4d7805b2b3d0e7c51679f59682d64ba02f05f",
    "version.mm3-hk": "c625bfd2"

$ docker inspect --format '{{json .Config.Labels }}' mailman-web | python -m json.tool
    "version.client": "d9e9cb73",
    "": "72a7d6c4",
    "version.git_commit": "45a4d7805b2b3d0e7c51679f59682d64ba02f05f",
    "version.hyperkitty": "b67ca8a8",
    "version.postorius": "73328ad4"
  • version.git_commit : This is the commit hash of the Dockerfile in the Github repo
  • version.core: The commit hash of Mailman Core
  • version.mm3-hk: The commit hash of Mailman3-hyperkitty plugin.
  • version.client: The commit hash of Mailman Client.
  • version.hyperkitty: The commit hash of Hyperkitty.
  • version.postorius: The commit hash of Postorius.
  • The commit hash of Django-Mailman3 project.


All the releases are signed and can be verified using Docker Content Trust. To make sure that your docker client actually verifies these signatures, you can enable Docker's content trust by setting an environment variable DOCKER_CONTENT_TRUST. In bash/zsh you can try this:


Or, alternatively, you can do this on a per-command basis without setting the environment variable above. For example, when pulling an image:

$ docker pull --disable-content-trust=false maxking/mailman-core:release

The above command will fail if the release tag doesn't exist or is not signed.


  • Docker
  • Docker-compose

To run this you first need to download docker for whichever operating system you are using. You can find documentation about how to install. It is recommended to use these instead of the one from your package managers. After you have downloaded and installed docker, install docker-compose from here.


Most of the common configuration is handled through environment variables in the docker-compose.yaml. However, there is need for some extra configuration that interacts directly with the application. There are two configuration files on the host that interact directly with Mailman's settings. These files exist on the host running the containers and are imported at runtime in the containers.

  • /opt/mailman/core/mailman-extra.cfg : This is the configuration for Mailman Core and anything that you add here will be added to Core's configuration. You need to restart your mailman-core container for the changes in this file to take effect.

  • /opt/mailman/web/ : This is the Django configuration that is imported by the existing configuration provided by the mailman-web container. To change or override any settings in Django, you need to edit this file.

Also, note that if you need any other files to be accessible from the host to inside the container, you can place them at certain directories which are mounted inside the containers.

  • /opt/mailman/core in host maps to /opt/mailman/ in mailman-core container.
  • /opt/mailman/web in host maps to /opt/mailman-web-data in mailman-web container.


These are the settings that you MUST change before deploying:

  • SERVE_FROM_DOMAIN: The domain name from which Django will be served. To be added to ALLOWED_HOSTS in django settings. Default value is not set. This also replaces Django's default SITE and becomes the default SITE (with SITE_ID=1).

  • HYPERKITTY_API_KEY: Hyperkitty's API Key, should be set to the same value as set for the mailman-core.

  • MAILMAN_ADMIN_USER: The username for the admin user to be created by default.

  • MAILMAN_ADMIN_EMAIL: The email for the admin user to be created by default.

  • SECRET_KEY: Django's secret key, mainly used for signing cookies and others.

Please note here that if you choose to create the admin user using the environment variables mentioned above (MAILMAN_ADMIN_USER & MAILMAN_ADMIN_EMAIL), no password is set for your admin account. To set a password, plese follow the "Forgot Password" link on the "Sign In" page.

For more details on how to configure this image, please look at Mailman-web's Readme


These are the variables that you MUST change before deploying:

  • HYPERKITTY_API_KEY: Hyperkitty's API Key, should be set to the same value as set for the mailman-web.

  • DATABASE_URL: URL of the type driver://user:password@hostname:port/databasename for the django to use. If not set, the default is set to sqlite:///opt/mailman-web-data/mailmanweb.db. The standard docker-compose.yaml comes with it set to a postgres database. There is no need to change this if you are happy with PostgreSQL.

  • DATABASE_TYPE: Its value can be one of sqlite, postgres or mysql as these are the only three database types that Mailman 3 supports. Its default value is set to sqlite along with the default database class and default database url above.

  • DATABASE_CLASS: Default value is mailman.database.sqlite.SQLiteDatabase. The values for this can be found in the mailman's documentation here.

For more details on how to configure this image, please look Mailman-core's Readme

While the above configuration will allow you to run the images and possibly view the Web Frontend, it won't be functional until it is fully configured to to send emails.

To configure the mailman-web container to send emails, see these configuration settings.

To configure the mailman-core container to send emails, see the Setting your MTA section below.


To run the containers, simply run:

$ mkdir -p /opt/mailman/core
$ mkdir -p /opt/mailman/web
$ git clone
$ cd docker-mailman
# Change some configuration variables as mentioned above.
$ docker-compose up -d

Note that the web frontend in the mailman-web container is, by default, only configured to serve dynamic content. Anything static like stylesheets, etc., is expected to be served directly by the web server. The static content exists at /opt/mailman/web/static and should be aliased to /static/ in the web server configuration.

See the nginx configuration as an example.

This command will do several things, most importantly:

  • Run a wsgi server using uwsgi for the Mailman's Django-based web frontend listening on It will run 2 worker processes with 4 threads each. You may want to change the setting ALLOWED_HOSTS in the settings before deploying the application in production.

  • Run a PostgreSQL server with a default database, username, and password as mentioned in the docker-compose.yaml. You will have to change configuration files too if you change any of these.

  • Run mailman-core listening an LMTP server at for messages from your MTA. You will have to configure your MTA to send messages at this address.

Some more details about what the above system achieves is mentioned below. If you are only going to deploy a simple configuration, you don't need to read this. However, these are very easy to understand if you know how docker works.

  • First create a bridge network called mailman in the docker-compose.yaml. It will probably be named something else in your machine, but it will use the as subnet. All the containers mentioned (mailman-core, mailman-web, database) will join this network and are assigned static IPs. The host operating system is available at from within these containers.

  • Spin off a mailman-core container which has a static IP address of in the mailman bridge network created above. It has GNU Mailman 3 core running inside it. Mailman core's REST API is available at port 8001 and LMTP server listens at port 8024.

  • Spin off a mailman-web container which has a Django application running with both Mailman's web frontend Postorius and Mailman's web-based Archiver running. Uwsgi server is used to run a web server with the configuration provided in this repository here. You may want to change the setting ALLOWED_HOSTS in the settings before deploying the application in production. You can do that by adding a /opt/mailman/web/ which is imported by the Django when running.

  • Spin off a PostgreSQL database container which is used by both mailman-core and mailman-web as their primary database.

  • mailman-core mounts /opt/mailman/core from host OS at /opt/mailman in the container. Mailman's var directory is stored there so that it is accessible from the host operating system. Configuration for Mailman core is generated on every run from the environment variables provided. Extra configuration can also be provided at /opt/mailman/core/mailman-extra.cfg (on host), and will be added to generated configuration file. Mailman also needs another configuration file called mailman-hyperkitty.cfg and is also expected to be at /opt/mailman/core/ on the host OS.

  • mailman-web mounts /opt/mailman/web from the host OS to /opt/mailman-web-data in the container. It consists of the logs and file for Django.

  • database mounts /opt/mailman/database at /var/lib/postgresql/data so that PostgreSQL can persist its data even if the database containers are updated/changed/removed.

Setting up your MTA

The provided docker containers do not have an MTA in-built. You can either run your own MTA inside a container and have them relay emails to the mailman-core container or just install an MTA on the host and have them relay emails.

To use Exim4, it should be setup to relay emails from and The mailman specific configuration is provided in the repository at core/assets/exim. There are three files

  • 25_mm_macros to be placed at /etc/exim4/conf.d/main/25_mm3_macros in a typical Debian install of exim4. Please change MY_DOMAIN_NAME to the domain name that will be used to serve mailman. Multi-domain setups will be added later.

  • 455_mm3_router to be placed at /etc/exim4/conf.d/router/455_mm3_router in a typical Debian install of exim4.

  • 55_mm3_transport to be placed at /etc/exim4/conf.d/transport/55_mm3_transport in a typical Debian install of exim4.

Also, the default configuration inside the mailman-core image has the MTA set to Exim, but just for reference, it looks like this:

# mailman.cfg
incoming: mailman.mta.exim4.LMTP
outgoing: mailman.mta.deliver.deliver
lmtp_host: $MM_HOSTNAME
lmtp_port: 8024
smtp_host: $SMTP_HOST
smtp_port: $SMTP_PORT
configuration: python:mailman.config.exim4

To use Postfix, it should be set up to relay emails from and The mailman specific configuration is mentioned below which you should add to your configuration file, which is typically at /etc/postfix/ on Debian-based operating systems:


# Support the default VERP delimiter.
recipient_delimiter = +
unknown_local_recipient_reject_code = 550
owner_request_special = no

transport_maps =
local_recipient_maps =
relay_domains =

To configure Mailman to use Postfix, add the following to mailman-extra.cfg at /opt/mailman/core/mailman-extra.cfg.

# mailman-extra.cfg

incoming: mailman.mta.postfix.LMTP
outgoing: mailman.mta.deliver.deliver
lmtp_port: 8024
smtp_port: 25
configuration: /etc/postfix-mailman.cfg

The configuration file /etc/postfix-mailman.cfg is generated automatically.

Setting up your web server

It is advisable to run your Django (interfaced through WSGI server) through an actual webserver in production for better performance.

If you are using v0.1.0, the uwsgi server is configured to listen to requests at using the HTTP protocol. Make sure that you preserve the HOST header when you proxy the requests from your Web Server. In Nginx you can do that by adding the following to your configuration:

       # Nginx configuration.

        location / {
		 # First attempt to serve request as file, then

		  include uwsgi_params;
		  uwsgi_read_timeout 300;
		  proxy_set_header Host $host;
		  proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $remote_addr;

Make sure you are using proxy_pass for the HTTP protocol.

Starting from v0.1.1, the uwsgi server is configured to listen to requests at with the http protocol and for the uwsgi protocol.

It is advised to use the uwsgi protocol as it has better performance. Both Apache and Nginx have native support for the uwsgi protocol through plugins which are generally included in the distro packages.

To move to uwsgi protocol in the above nginx configuration use this

       # Nginx configuration.

        location / {
		 # First attempt to serve request as file, then

		  include uwsgi_params;
		  uwsgi_read_timeout 300;

Please make sure that you are using v0.1.1 or greater if you use this configuration.

Serving static files

UWSGI by default doesn't serve static files so, when running mailman-web using the provided docker-compose.yaml file, you won't see any CSS or JS files being served.

To enable serving of static files using UWSGI, add the following environment variable to your docker-compose.yaml file under mailman-web:


It is recommended to use web-server to serve static files instead of UWSGI for better performance. You will have to add an alias rule in your web server to serve the static files. See here for instructions on how to configure your web server. The STATIC_ROOT for you would be /opt/mailman/web/static.

SSL certificates

SSL Certificates from Lets Encrypt need to be renewed every 90 days. You can setup a cron job to do the job. I have this small shell script ( that you can put up in /etc/cron.monthly to get the job done.

#! /bin/bash

cd /opt/letsencrypt/
./certbot-auto --config /etc/letsencrypt/renewal/MY_DOMAIN_NAME.conf certonly

if [ $? -ne 0 ]
        ERRORLOG=`tail /var/log/letsencrypt/letsencrypt.log`
        echo -e "The Let's Encrypt cert has not been renewed! \n \n" \
        nginx -s reload

exit 0

Please do not forget to make the script executable (chmod +x


This repository is licensed under the MIT License. Please see the LICENSE file for more details.