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Mailpopbox Installation Guide

This guide covers how to install mailpopbox, set up auto-renewing TLS certificates, and setting up Gmail to POP messages off the server.


Mailpopbox can be deployed on a variety of operating system environments, but this guide is for a Linux server with:

  • Root access and the ability to run long-lived processes (i.e. not shared hosting)
  • The iptables package

I recommend Digital Ocean droplets, which cost $5/month. This guide does not cover how to properly secure a Linux server, such as SSH configuration and firewalls; please use other guides to do that if this is a new server instance.

Install Mailpopbox

These commands assume you are running as root; if not, precede the commands with sudo.

  1. Download the latest mailpopbox release and copy the binary to /usr/local/bin

  2. Set ownership and permissions:

    • chown root:wheel /usr/local/bin/mailpopbox
    • chmod 755 /usr/local/bin/mailpopbox
  3. Create a new user that the server will run under: useradd mailpopbox --shell /sbin/nologin

  4. Create some directories with the correct permissions:

    • cd /home/mailpopbox
    • mkdir -p maildrop/ cert www/.well-known/acme-challenge
    • chown -R mailpopbox:mailpopbox maildrop cert www
  5. Create a file at /home/mailpopbox/config.json:

        "SMTPPort": 9025,
        "POP3Port": 9995,
        "Hostname": "",
        "Servers": [
                "Domain": "",
                "MailboxPassword": "yourpassword",
                "TLSKeyPath": "/home/mailpopbox/cert/certificates/",
                "TLSCertPath": "/home/mailpopbox/cert/certificates/",
                "MaildropPath": "/home/mailpopbox/maildrop/"
    • The SMTP and POP3 ports are not the values that will be exposed to the Internet, as those are reserved ports that require root access to bind. Instead, mailpopbox binds these unprivileged ports and iptables will be used to route Internet traffic to the server. This is handled by the included systemd unit.
    • The Hostname is the MX server hostname. Multiple catch-all domains can be configured on a single server, but they will all share this MX hostname in e.g. the SMTP HELO.
    • The Domain is the domain name for which * will be set up.
    • The MailboxPassword is the password for the account, used to authenticate POP3 and outbound SMTP connections. Choose a strong (preferably random) password!
    • The TLSKeyPath and TLSCertPath are used to find the TLS certificate, which will be configured below.
    • The MaildropPath is where delivered messages are stored until they are POP'd off the server.

Configure DNS

  1. Add a DNS A record to, configuring the subdomain to point to the public IP address of the server running mailpopbox.

  2. Set or change the DNS MX record of to point to

Changes to DNS can take up between 1 and 24 hours to propagate. The DNS entries need to be configured in order to continue installation.

Setup Automatic TLS Certificates

This guide will assume that your instance of mailpopbox is running on a system that also has a web server running. The web server will be used to host ACME certificate challenges. I recommend the lego tool for certificate management.

If you already have a mechanism to get certificates, you can use that and just adjust the paths in config.json. Also be sure to configure a hook for your auto-renew mechanism to restart mailpopbox when a new certificate is installed.

  1. Install lego on the server.

  2. Configure your web server to serve the content under the mailpopbox home directory. With an apache2 configuration, this can be done by editing /etc/httpd/conf.d/ with this content:

    <VirtualHost *:80>
        ErrorLog logs/yourdomain_error_log
        CustomLog logs/yourdomain_access_log combined
        DocumentRoot /home/mailpopbox/www
    <Directory /home/mailpopbox/www>
        Require all granted

    You may also need to adjust the permissions so the web server can serve the files:

    • chmod o+x /home/mailpopbox
    • chmod o+rx /home/mailpopbox/www
  3. Reload the web server systemctl reload httpd.service

  4. Customize this command and register for the initial account and certificate:

     sudo -u mailpopbox /usr/local/bin/lego --email --domains --http --http.webroot /home/mailpopbox/www --path /home/mailpopbox/cert run

This will register with LetsEncrypt to get a certificate for by putting an authentication challenge file in the /home/mailpopbox/www directory, with the resulting certificate files in /home/mailpopbox/cert.

  1. Let mailpopbox restart itself via systemd by editing the sudoers file with visudo, and add this line:

     mailpopbox ALL=(root) NOPASSWD: /usr/bin/systemctl restart mailpopbox.service
  2. Set up a cron job to automatically renew the certificate using sudo crontab -u mailpopbox -e and specifying this command (which is nearly the same as the run above, except it uses renew and a hook). Customize this command:

     0 22 * * * /usr/local/bin/lego --email --domains --http --http.webroot /home/mailpopbox/www --path /home/mailpopbox/cert renew --renew-hook "sudo /usr/bin/systemctl restart mailpopbox.service"

Starting Mailpopbox

  1. Copy the mailpopbox.service systemd unit file from the release archive to /usr/local/lib/systemd/system

Note that the systemd unit file uses /sbin/iptables to forward traffic from ports 25 and 995 to the ports specified in the config.json file. It also specifies the path to the config.json file.

  1. Enable the systemd unit with sudo systemctl enable mailpopbox.service

  2. Start mailpopbox with sudo systemctl start mailpopbox.service

  3. Verify that the server has started with sudo journalctl -u mailpopbox

  4. Test the connection to the server from your local machine: openssl s_client -connect You should see your certificate printed by openssl and then a line that says +OK POP3 (mailpopbox) server

Configuring Your Email Client

Now that mailpopbox is running and DNS is configured, it is time to set your mail client up to connect to it. We will set up both a POP3 account to download delivered mail, and a SMTP account to enable replying. This guide is for Gmail, but the configuration parameters are the same regardless of client.

  1. Go to Gmail Settings > Accounts and Import

  2. Under Check mail from other accounts:, click Add a mail account

  3. Specify as the email address and click Next

  4. Choose Import emails from my other account (POP3) and click Next

  5. Specify the following configuration and add the account:

    • Username:
    • Password: The password you specified in config.json
    • POP Server:
    • Port: 995
    • Check Always use a secure connection (SSL) when retrieving mail
    • Optionally, apply a label to all the messages sent to this domain

Gmail will now fetch messages delivered to the server. You can send a test message to and it should be delivered within a few minutes. Note that Gmail detects when a newly delivered message is the same as one in the Sent folder and it discards it; use a separate email account for this test. Gmail also fetches mail from the POP account periodically via polling, so message delivery can seem slower than normal.

  1. Go to Gmail Settings > Accounts and Import

  2. Under Send mail as:, click Add another email address

  3. Specify the following and click Next:

    • Name: Whatever you prefer
    • Email:
    • Check Treat as an alias
  4. Specify the following and add the account:

    • SMTP Server:
    • Port: 25
    • Username:
    • Password: The password you specified in config.json
    • Check Secured connection using TLS

Gmail will now let you send email as But if you are replying to a message sent to, you do not want the recipient to see the "mailbox" username in your reply. If you append [sendas:random] to the Subject line of the message, the SMTP server will change the From address to and remove the special tag from the Subject line.