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Dovecot vs Postfix: What are the differences?


Dovecot and Postfix are both commonly used email server software that work together to facilitate email communication. However, there are several key differences between the two.

  1. Authentication and Security: Dovecot primarily focuses on providing secure authentication and access to emails. It supports various authentication methods such as plaintext, encrypted passwords, and external databases. It also offers strong encryption protocols for secure data transfer. In contrast, Postfix is primarily responsible for handling email routing and delivery, but it does not provide authentication services. It relies on Dovecot or other systems for user authentication and security.

  2. Functionality: Dovecot is primarily designed as an email retrieval (IMAP and POP3) server, responsible for delivering stored emails to clients. It provides powerful search capabilities, mailbox indexing, and folder management. On the other hand, Postfix is a mail transfer agent (MTA) that focuses on receiving, routing, and delivering outgoing emails. It handles SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) and is responsible for mail transfer between servers.

  3. Administration and Configuration: Dovecot's configuration primarily revolves around managing user mailboxes and their access. Administrators can define mailbox quotas, access rules, and permission settings. Postfix, on the other hand, requires more advanced configuration for email routing and delivery. Configuring DNS records, defining transport mappings, and managing mail relaying are key aspects of Postfix administration.

  4. Performance and Scalability: Dovecot is known for its high-performance capabilities, optimized for fast and efficient email retrieval. It can handle a large number of simultaneous connections and supports caching mechanisms to improve response times. Postfix, being responsible for email delivery and routing, requires efficient resource management and scalability to handle high email volumes. It is designed to handle high traffic and can be optimized for performance with appropriate configuration settings.

  5. Integration and Compatibility: Dovecot can integrate seamlessly with various email clients, supporting industry-standard IMAP and POP3 protocols. It also works well with different mailbox formats, such as Maildir and mbox. Postfix, on the other hand, focuses on seamless integration with other mail servers and spam filtering solutions. It supports various mail delivery protocols and can work with different filtering mechanisms.

  6. Community and Support: Dovecot has an active open-source community and a dedicated support team. It is well-documented, with extensive resources available for troubleshooting and configuration assistance. Postfix also has a strong community support network and is widely used, providing resources, mailing lists, and user forums for assistance.

In summary, Dovecot and Postfix differ in focus and functionality. Dovecot primarily handles email retrieval and provides secure access to stored emails, while Postfix focuses on mail routing and delivery. Dovecot emphasizes user authentication and security, while Postfix emphasizes efficient email transfer between servers.

Decisions about Dovecot and Postfix
Omid Farhang
Sr. Full Stack Developer · | 1 upvote · 9K views

For setting up a new VPS to host my personal site and emails I've decided to go with Ubuntu 18.04 and use Apache HTTP Server because many of the tools I use can handle Apache with htaccess and they don't need manual configs of nginx. Next step is setting up Let's Encrypt to enable SSL for websites and emails, I tried it with DNS Challenge so my Cache Proxy won't bother for challenges. And then for emails I setup Postfix with Dovecot and they are working perfectly and pretty fast. Install and config of PHP and PHP-FPM had no issue. After setting up MySQL and phpMyAdmin I felt the need of an Accelerator to speed things up so I used Memcached and it improved speed of my website so much. My WordPress installation with W3 Total Cache is using Memcached for html/css/js minify, for object cache etc., Since I'm using a CDN with page cache, I did not run a local nginx reverse proxy or Varnish , but if I decide to drop the current CDN, I will setup one.

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What is Dovecot?

It is an open source IMAP and POP3 email server for Linux/UNIX-like systems, written with security primarily in mind. It is an excellent choice for both small and large installations. It's fast, simple to set up, requires no special administration and it uses very little memory.

What is Postfix?

It is a free and open-source mail transfer agent that routes and delivers electronic mail. It is Wietse Venema's mail server that started life at IBM research as an alternative to the widely-used Sendmail program. Now at Google, Wietse continues to support it.

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