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Chapter 39 - Access control lists

Access Control Lists (ACLs) are defined in a separate section of the run time configuration file, headed by “begin acl”. Each ACL definition starts with a name, terminated by a colon. Here is a complete ACL section that contains just one very small ACL:

begin acl

  accept   hosts = one.host.only

You can have as many lists as you like in the ACL section, and the order in which they appear does not matter. The lists are self-terminating.

The majority of ACLs are used to control Exim’s behaviour when it receives certain SMTP commands. This applies both to incoming TCP/IP connections, and when a local process submits a message using SMTP by specifying the -bs option. The most common use is for controlling which recipients are accepted in incoming messages. In addition, you can define an ACL that is used to check local non-SMTP messages. The default configuration file contains an example of a realistic ACL for checking RCPT commands. This is discussed in chapter 7.

1. Testing ACLs

The -bh command line option provides a way of testing your ACL configuration locally by running a fake SMTP session with which you interact. The host relay-test.mail-abuse.org provides a service for checking your relaying configuration (see section 39.40 for more details).

2. Specifying when ACLs are used

In order to cause an ACL to be used, you have to name it in one of the relevant options in the main part of the configuration. These options are:

 acl_not_smtp ACL for non-SMTP messages
 acl_smtp_auth ACL for AUTH
 acl_smtp_connect ACL for start of SMTP connection
 acl_smtp_data ACL after DATA is complete
 acl_smtp_etrn ACL for ETRN
 acl_smtp_expn ACL for EXPN
 acl_smtp_helo ACL for HELO or EHLO
 acl_smtp_mail ACL for MAIL
 acl_smtp_mailauth ACL for the AUTH parameter of MAIL
 acl_smtp_mime ACL for content-scanning MIME parts
 acl_smtp_predata ACL at start of DATA command
 acl_smtp_quit ACL for QUIT
 acl_smtp_rcpt ACL for RCPT
 acl_smtp_starttls ACL for STARTTLS
 acl_smtp_vrfy ACL for VRFY

For example, if you set

acl_smtp_rcpt = small_acl

the little ACL defined above is used whenever Exim receives a RCPT command in an SMTP dialogue. The majority of policy tests on incoming messages can be done when RCPT commands arrive. A rejection of RCPT should cause the sending MTA to give up on the recipient address contained in the RCPT command, whereas rejection at other times may cause the client MTA to keep on trying to deliver the message. It is therefore recommended that you do as much testing as possible at RCPT time.

3. The non-SMTP ACL

The non-SMTP ACL applies to all non-interactive incoming messages, that is, it applies to batch SMTP as well as to non-SMTP messages. (Batch SMTP is not really SMTP.) This ACL is run just before the local_scan() function. Any kind of rejection is treated as permanent, because there is no way of sending a temporary error for these kinds of message. Many of the ACL conditions (for example, host tests, and tests on the state of the SMTP connection such as encryption and authentication) are not relevant and are forbidden in this ACL.

4. The connect ACL

The ACL test specified by acl_smtp_connect happens after the test specified by host_reject_connection (which is now an anomaly) and any TCP Wrappers testing (if configured).

5. The DATA ACLs

Two ACLs are associated with the DATA command, because it is two-stage command, with two responses being sent to the client. When the DATA command is received, the ACL defined by acl_smtp_predata is obeyed. This gives you control after all the RCPT commands, but before the message itself is received. It offers the opportunity to give a negative response to the DATA command before the data is transmitted. Header lines added by MAIL or RCPT ACLs are not visible at this time, but any that are defined here are visible when the acl_smtp_data ACL is run.

You cannot test the contents of the message, for example, to verify addresses in the headers, at RCPT time or when the DATA command is received. Such tests have to appear in the ACL that is run after the message itself has been received, before the final response to the DATA command is sent. This is the ACL specified by acl_smtp_data, which is the second ACL that is associated with the DATA command.

For both of these ACLs, it is not possible to reject individual recipients. An error response rejects the entire message. Unfortunately, it is known that some MTAs do not treat hard (5xx) responses to the DATA command (either before or after the data) correctly – they keep the message on their queues and try again later, but that is their problem, though it does waste some of your resources.


The acl_smtp_mime option is available only when Exim is compiled with the content-scanning extension. For details, see chapter 40.


The ACL for the SMTP QUIT command is anomalous, in that the outcome of the ACL does not affect the response code to QUIT, which is always 221. Thus, the ACL does not in fact control any access. For this reason, the only verbs that are permitted are accept and warn.

This ACL can be used for tasks such as custom logging at the end of an SMTP session. For example, you can use ACL variables in other ACLs to count messages, recipients, etc., and log the totals at QUIT time using one or more logwrite modifiers on a warn verb.

Warning: Only the $acl_cx variables can be used for this, because the $acl_mx variables are reset at the end of each incoming message.

You do not need to have a final accept, but if you do, you can use a message modifier to specify custom text that is sent as part of the 221 response to QUIT.

This ACL is run only for a “normal” QUIT. For certain kinds of disastrous failure (for example, failure to open a log file, or when Exim is bombing out because it has detected an unrecoverable error), all SMTP commands from the client are given temporary error responses until QUIT is received or the connection is closed. In these special cases, the QUIT ACL does not run.

8. Finding an ACL to use

The value of an acl_smtp_xxx option is expanded before use, so you can use different ACLs in different circumstances. The resulting string does not have to be the name of an ACL in the configuration file; there are other possibilities. Having expanded the string, Exim searches for an ACL as follows:

  • If the string begins with a slash, Exim uses it as a file name, and reads its contents as an ACL. The lines are processed in the same way as lines in the Exim configuration file. In particular, continuation lines are supported, blank lines are ignored, as are lines whose first non-whitespace character is “#”. If the file does not exist or cannot be read, an error occurs (typically causing a temporary failure of whatever caused the ACL to be run). For example:

    acl_smtp_data = /etc/acls/\

    This looks up an ACL file to use on the basis of the host’s IP address, falling back to a default if the lookup fails. If an ACL is successfully read from a file, it is retained in memory for the duration of the Exim process, so that it can be re-used without having to re-read the file.

  • If the string does not start with a slash, and does not contain any spaces, Exim searches the ACL section of the configuration for an ACL whose name matches the string.

  • If no named ACL is found, or if the string contains spaces, Exim parses the string as an inline ACL. This can save typing in cases where you just want to have something like

    acl_smtp_vrfy = accept

    in order to allow free use of the VRFY command. Such a string may contain newlines; it is processed in the same way as an ACL that is read from a file.

9. ACL return codes

Except for the QUIT ACL, which does not affect the SMTP return code (see section 39.7 above), the result of running an ACL is either “accept” or “deny”, or, if some test cannot be completed (for example, if a database is down), “defer”. These results cause 2xx, 5xx, and 4xx return codes, respectively, to be used in the SMTP dialogue. A fourth return, “error”, occurs when there is an error such as invalid syntax in the ACL. This also causes a 4xx return code.

For the non-SMTP ACL, “defer” and “error” are treated in the same way as “deny”, because there is no mechanism for passing temporary errors to the submitters of non-SMTP messages.

ACLs that are relevant to message reception may also return “discard”. This has the effect of “accept”, but causes either the entire message or an individual recipient address to be discarded. In other words, it is a blackholing facility. Use it with care.

If the ACL for MAIL returns “discard”, all recipients are discarded, and no ACL is run for subsequent RCPT commands. The effect of “discard” in a RCPT ACL is to discard just the one recipient address. If there are no recipients left when the message’s data is received, the DATA ACL is not run. A “discard” return from the DATA or the non-SMTP ACL discards all the remaining recipients. The “discard” return is not permitted for the acl_smtp_predata ACL.

The local_scan() function is always run, even if there are no remaining recipients; it may create new recipients.

10. Unset ACL options

The default actions when any of the acl_xxx options are unset are not all the same. Note: These defaults apply only when the relevant ACL is not defined at all. For any defined ACL, the default action when control reaches the end of the ACL statements is “deny”.

For acl_not_smtp, acl_smtp_auth, acl_smtp_connect, acl_smtp_data, acl_smtp_helo, acl_smtp_mail, acl_smtp_mailauth, acl_smtp_mime, acl_smtp_predata, acl_smtp_quit, and acl_smtp_starttls, the action when the ACL is not defined is “accept”.

For the others (acl_smtp_etrn, acl_smtp_expn, acl_smtp_rcpt, and acl_smtp_vrfy), the action when the ACL is not defined is “deny”. This means that acl_smtp_rcpt must be defined in order to receive any messages over an SMTP connection. For an example, see the ACL in the default configuration file.

11. Data for message ACLs

When a MAIL or RCPT ACL, or either of the DATA ACLs, is running, the variables that contain information about the host and the message’s sender (for example, $sender_host_address and $sender_address) are set, and can be used in ACL statements. In the case of RCPT (but not MAIL or DATA), $domain and $local_part are set from the argument address. The entire SMTP command is available in $smtp_command.

When an ACL for the AUTH parameter of MAIL is running, the variables that contain information about the host are set, but $sender_address is not yet set. Section 33.2 contains a discussion of this parameter and how it is used.

The $message_size variable is set to the value of the SIZE parameter on the MAIL command at MAIL, RCPT and pre-data time, or to -1 if that parameter is not given. The value is updated to the true message size by the time the final DATA ACL is run (after the message data has been received).

The $rcpt_count variable increases by one for each RCPT command received. The $recipients_count variable increases by one each time a RCPT command is accepted, so while an ACL for RCPT is being processed, it contains the number of previously accepted recipients. At DATA time (for both the DATA ACLs), $rcpt_count contains the total number of RCPT commands, and $recipients_count contains the total number of accepted recipients.

12. Data for non-message ACLs

When an ACL is being run for AUTH, EHLO, ETRN, EXPN, HELO, STARTTLS, or VRFY, the remainder of the SMTP command line is placed in $smtp_command_argument, and the entire SMTP command is available in $smtp_command. These variables can be tested using a condition condition. For example, here is an ACL for use with AUTH, which insists that either the session is encrypted, or the CRAM-MD5 authentication method is used. In other words, it does not permit authentication methods that use cleartext passwords on unencrypted connections.

  accept encrypted = *
  accept condition = ${if eq{${uc:$smtp_command_argument}}\
  deny   message   = TLS encryption or CRAM-MD5 required

(Another way of applying this restriction is to arrange for the authenticators that use cleartext passwords not to be advertised when the connection is not encrypted. You can use the generic server_advertise_condition authenticator option to do this.)

13. Format of an ACL

An individual ACL consists of a number of statements. Each statement starts with a verb, optionally followed by a number of conditions and “modifiers”. Modifiers can change the way the verb operates, define error and log messages, set variables, insert delays, and vary the processing of accepted messages.

If all the conditions are met, the verb is obeyed. The same condition may be used (with different arguments) more than once in the same statement. This provides a means of specifying an “and” conjunction between conditions. For example:

deny  dnslists = list1.example
dnslists = list2.example

If there are no conditions, the verb is always obeyed. Exim stops evaluating the conditions and modifiers when it reaches a condition that fails. What happens then depends on the verb (and in one case, on a special modifier). Not all the conditions make sense at every testing point. For example, you cannot test a sender address in the ACL that is run for a VRFY command.

14. ACL verbs

The ACL verbs are as follows:

  • accept: If all the conditions are met, the ACL returns “accept”. If any of the conditions are not met, what happens depends on whether endpass appears among the conditions (for syntax see below). If the failing condition is before endpass, control is passed to the next ACL statement; if it is after endpass, the ACL returns “deny”. Consider this statement, used to check a RCPT command:

    accept domains = +local_domains
    verify = recipient

    If the recipient domain does not match the domains condition, control passes to the next statement. If it does match, the recipient is verified, and the command is accepted if verification succeeds. However, if verification fails, the ACL yields “deny”, because the failing condition is after endpass.

  • defer: If all the conditions are met, the ACL returns “defer” which, in an SMTP session, causes a 4xx response to be given. For a non-SMTP ACL, defer is the same as deny, because there is no way of sending a temporary error. For a RCPT command, defer is much the same as using a redirect router and :defer: while verifying, but the defer verb can be used in any ACL, and even for a recipient it might be a simpler approach.

  • deny: If all the conditions are met, the ACL returns “deny”. If any of the conditions are not met, control is passed to the next ACL statement. For example,

    deny dnslists = blackholes.mail-abuse.org

    rejects commands from hosts that are on a DNS black list.

  • discard: This verb behaves like accept, except that it returns “discard” from the ACL instead of “accept”. It is permitted only on ACLs that are concerned with receiving messages, and it causes recipients to be discarded. If the log_message modifier is set when discard operates, its contents are added to the line that is automatically written to the log.

    If discard is used in an ACL for RCPT, just the one recipient is discarded; if used for MAIL, DATA or in the non-SMTP ACL, all the message’s recipients are discarded. Recipients that are discarded before DATA do not appear in the log line when the log_recipients log selector is set.

  • drop: This verb behaves like deny, except that an SMTP connection is forcibly closed after the 5xx error message has been sent. For example:

    drop   message   = I don't take more than 20 RCPTs
           condition = ${if > {$rcpt_count}{20}}

    There is no difference between deny and drop for the connect-time ACL. The connection is always dropped after sending a 550 response.

  • require: If all the conditions are met, control is passed to the next ACL statement. If any of the conditions are not met, the ACL returns “deny”. For example, when checking a RCPT command,

    require verify = sender

    passes control to subsequent statements only if the message’s sender can be verified. Otherwise, it rejects the command.

  • warn: If all the conditions are met, a header line is added to an incoming message and/or a line is written to Exim’s main log. In all cases, control passes to the next ACL statement. The text of the added header line and the log line are specified by modifiers; if they are not present, a warn verb just checks its conditions and obeys any “immediate” modifiers such as set and logwrite. There is more about adding header lines in section 39.19.

    If any condition on a warn statement cannot be completed (that is, there is some sort of defer), no header lines are added and the configured log line is not written. No further conditions or modifiers in the warn statement are processed. The incident is logged, but the ACL continues to be processed, from the next statement onwards.

    If a message modifier is present on a warn verb in an ACL that is not testing an incoming message, it is ignored, and the incident is logged.

    A warn statement may use the log_message modifier to cause a line to be written to the main log when the statement’s conditions are true. If an identical log line is requested several times in the same message, only one copy is actually written to the log. If you want to force duplicates to be written, use the logwrite modifier instead.

    When one of the warn conditions is an address verification that fails, the text of the verification failure message is in $acl_verify_message. If you want this logged, you must set it up explicitly. For example:

    warn   !verify = sender
           log_message = sender verify failed: $acl_verify_message

At the end of each ACL there is an implicit unconditional deny.

As you can see from the examples above, the conditions and modifiers are written one to a line, with the first one on the same line as the verb, and subsequent ones on following lines. If you have a very long condition, you can continue it onto several physical lines by the usual backslash continuation mechanism. It is conventional to align the conditions vertically.

15. ACL variables

There are some special variables that can be set during ACL processing. They can be used to pass information between different ACLs, different invocations of the same ACL in the same SMTP connection, and between ACLs and the routers, transports, and filters that are used to deliver a message. There are two sets of these variables:

  • The values of $acl_c0 to $acl_c19 persist throughout an SMTP connection. They are never reset. Thus, a value that is set while receiving one message is still available when receiving the next message on the same SMTP connection.

  • The values of $acl_m0 to $acl_m19 persist only while a message is being received. They are reset afterwards. They are also reset by MAIL, RSET, EHLO, HELO, and after starting up a TLS session.

When a message is accepted, the current values of all the ACL variables are preserved with the message and are subsequently made available at delivery time. The ACL variables are set by modifier called set. For example:

accept hosts = whatever
       set acl_m4 = some value

Note: A leading dollar sign is not used when naming a variable that is to be set. If you want to set a variable without taking any action, you can use a warn verb without any other modifiers or conditions.

16. Condition and modifier processing

An exclamation mark preceding a condition negates its result. For example:

deny   domains = *.dom.example
      !verify  = recipient

causes the ACL to return “deny” if the recipient domain ends in dom.example and the recipient address cannot be verified. Sometimes negation can be used on the right-hand side of a condition. For example, these two statements are equivalent:

deny  hosts = !
deny !hosts =

However, for many conditions (verify being a good example), only left-hand side negation of the whole condition is possible.

The arguments of conditions and modifiers are expanded. A forced failure of an expansion causes a condition to be ignored, that is, it behaves as if the condition is true. Consider these two statements:

accept  senders = ${lookup{$host_name}lsearch\
accept  senders = ${lookup{$host_name}lsearch\

Each attempts to look up a list of acceptable senders. If the lookup succeeds, the returned list is searched, but if the lookup fails the behaviour is different in the two cases. The fail in the first statement causes the condition to be ignored, leaving no further conditions. The accept verb therefore succeeds. The second statement, however, generates an empty list when the lookup fails. No sender can match an empty list, so the condition fails, and therefore the accept also fails.

ACL modifiers appear mixed in with conditions in ACL statements. Some of them specify actions that are taken as the conditions for a statement are checked; others specify text for messages that are used when access is denied or a warning is generated. The control modifier affects the way an incoming message is handled.

The positioning of the modifiers in an ACL statement important, because the processing of a verb ceases as soon as its outcome is known. Only those modifiers that have already been encountered will take effect. For example, consider this use of the message modifier:

require message = Can't verify sender
        verify  = sender
        message = Can't verify recipient
        verify  = recipient
        message = This message cannot be used

If sender verification fails, Exim knows that the result of the statement is “deny”, so it goes no further. The first message modifier has been seen, so its text is used as the error message. If sender verification succeeds, but recipient verification fails, the second message is used. If recipient verification succeeds, the third message becomes “current”, but is never used because there are no more conditions to cause failure.

For the deny verb, on the other hand, it is always the last message modifier that is used, because all the conditions must be true for rejection to happen. Specifying more than one message modifier does not make sense, and the message can even be specified after all the conditions. For example:

deny   hosts = ...
      !senders = *@my.domain.example
       message = Invalid sender from client host

The “deny” result does not happen until the end of the statement is reached, by which time Exim has set up the message.

17. ACL modifiers

The ACL modifiers are as follows:

add_header = <text>

This modifier specifies one of more header lines that are to be added to an incoming message, assuming, of course, that the message is ultimately accepted. For details, see section 39.19.

control = <text>

This modifier affects the subsequent processing of the SMTP connection or of an incoming message that is accepted. The effect of the first type of control lasts for the duration of the connection, whereas the effect of the second type lasts only until the current message has been received. The message-specific controls always apply to the whole message, not to individual recipients, even if the control modifier appears in a RCPT ACL.

As there are now quite a few controls that can be applied, they are described separately in section 39.18. The control modifier can be used in several different ways. For example:

  • It can be at the end of an accept statement:

        accept  ...some conditions
                control = queue_only

    In this case, the control is applied when this statement yields “accept”, in other words, when the conditions are all true.

  • It can be in the middle of an accept statement:

        accept  ...some conditions...
                control = queue_only
                ...some more conditions...

    If the first set of conditions are true, the control is applied, even if the statement does not accept because one of the second set of conditions is false. In this case, some subsequent statement must yield “accept” for the control to be relevant.

  • It can be used with warn to apply the control, leaving the decision about accepting or denying to a subsequent verb. For example:

        warn    ...some conditions...
                control = freeze
        accept  ...

    This example of warn does not contain message, log_message, or logwrite, so it does not add anything to the message and does not write a log entry.

  • If you want to apply a control unconditionally, you can use it with a require verb. For example:

        require  control = no_multiline_response
delay = <time>

This modifier causes Exim to wait for the time interval before proceeding. The time is given in the usual Exim notation. This modifier may appear in any ACL. The delay happens as soon as the modifier is processed. However, when testing Exim using the -bh option, the delay is not actually imposed (an appropriate message is output instead).

Like control, delay can be used with accept or deny, for example:

deny    ...some conditions...
        delay = 30s

The delay happens if all the conditions are true, before the statement returns “deny”. Compare this with:

deny    delay = 30s
        ...some conditions...

which waits for 30s before processing the conditions. The delay modifier can also be used with warn and together with control:

warn    ...some conditions...
        delay = 2m
        control = freeze
accept  ...

This modifier, which has no argument, is recognized only in accept statements. It marks the boundary between the conditions whose failure causes control to pass to the next statement, and the conditions whose failure causes the ACL to return “deny”. See the description of accept above.

log_message = <text>

This modifier sets up a message that is used as part of the log message if the ACL denies access or a warn statement’s conditions are true. For example:

require log_message = wrong cipher suite $tls_cipher
        encrypted   = DES-CBC3-SHA

log_message adds to any underlying error message that may exist because of the condition failure. For example, while verifying a recipient address, a :fail: redirection might have already set up a message. Although the message is usually defined before the conditions to which it applies, the expansion does not happen until Exim decides that access is to be denied. This means that any variables that are set by the condition are available for inclusion in the message. For example, the $dnslist_<xxx> variables are set after a DNS black list lookup succeeds. If the expansion of log_message fails, or if the result is an empty string, the modifier is ignored.

If you want to use a warn statement to log the result of an address verification, you can use $acl_verify_message to include the verification error message.

If log_message is used with a warn statement, “Warning:” is added to the start of the logged message. If the same warning log message is requested more than once while receiving a single email message, only one copy is actually logged. If you want to log multiple copies, use logwrite instead of log_message. In the absence of log_message and logwrite, nothing is logged for a succesful warn statement.

If log_message is not present and there is no underlying error message (for example, from the failure of address verification), but message is present, the message text is used for logging rejections. However, if any text for logging contains newlines, only the first line is logged. In the absence of both log_message and message, a default built-in message is used for logging rejections.

logwrite = <text>

This modifier writes a message to a log file as soon as it is encountered when processing an ACL. (Compare log_message, which, except in the case of warn, is used only if the ACL statement denies access.) The logwrite modifier can be used to log special incidents in ACLs. For example:

accept <some special conditions>
       control  = freeze
       logwrite = froze message because ...

By default, the message is written to the main log. However, it may begin with a colon, followed by a comma-separated list of log names, and then another colon, to specify exactly which logs are to be written. For example:

logwrite = :main,reject: text for main and reject logs
logwrite = :panic: text for panic log only
message = <text>

This modifier sets up a text string that is expanded and used as an error message if the current statement causes the ACL to deny access. The expansion happens at the time Exim decides that access is to be denied, not at the time it processes message. If the expansion fails, or generates an empty string, the modifier is ignored. For ACLs that are triggered by SMTP commands, the message is returned as part of the SMTP error response.

The text is literal; any quotes are taken as literals, but because the string is expanded, backslash escapes are processed anyway. If the message contains newlines, this gives rise to a multi-line SMTP response. Like log_message, the contents of message are not expanded until after a condition has failed.

If message is used on a statement that verifies an address, the message specified overrides any message that is generated by the verification process. However, the original message is available in the variable $acl_verify_message, so you can incorporate it into your message if you wish. In particular, if you want the text from :fail: items in redirect routers to be passed back as part of the SMTP response, you should either not use a message modifier, or make use of $acl_verify_message.

For compatibility with previous releases of Exim, a message modifier that is used with a warn verb behaves in a similar way to the add_header modifier, but this usage is now deprecated. However, message acts only when all the conditions are true, wherever it appears in an ACL command, whereas add_header acts as soon as it is encountered. If message is used with warn in an ACL that is not concerned with receiving a message, it has no effect.

set <acl_name> = <value>

This modifier puts a value into one of the ACL variables (see section 39.15).

18. Use of the control modifier

The control modifier supports the following settings:

control = allow_auth_unadvertised

This modifier allows a client host to use the SMTP AUTH command even when it has not been advertised in response to EHLO. Furthermore, because there are apparently some really broken clients that do this, Exim will accept AUTH after HELO (rather than EHLO) when this control is set. It should be used only if you really need it, and you should limit its use to those broken clients that do not work without it. For example:

warn hosts   =
     control = allow_auth_unadvertised

Normally, when an Exim server receives an AUTH command, it checks the name of the authentication mechanism that is given in the command to ensure that it matches an advertised mechanism. When this control is set, the check that a mechanism has been advertised is bypassed. Any configured mechanism can be used by the client. This control is permitted only in the connection and HELO ACLs.

control = caseful_local_part

See below.

control = caselower_local_part

These two controls are permitted only in the ACL specified by acl_smtp_rcpt (that is, during RCPT processing). By default, the contents of $local_part are lower cased before ACL processing. If “caseful_local_part” is specified, any uppercase letters in the original local part are restored in $local_part for the rest of the ACL, or until a control that sets “caselower_local_part” is encountered.

These controls affect only the current recipient. Moreover, they apply only to local part handling that takes place directly in the ACL (for example, as a key in lookups). If a test to verify the recipient is obeyed, the case-related handling of the local part during the verification is controlled by the router configuration (see the caseful_local_part generic router option).

This facility could be used, for example, to add a spam score to local parts containing upper case letters. For example, using $acl_m4 to accumulate the spam score:

warn  control = caseful_local_part
      set acl_m4 = ${eval:\
                     $acl_m4 + \
                     ${if match{$local_part}{[A-Z]}{1}{0}}\
      control = caselower_local_part

Notice that we put back the lower cased version afterwards, assuming that is what is wanted for subsequent tests.

control = enforce_sync

See below.

control = no_enforce_sync

These controls make it possible to be selective about when SMTP synchronization is enforced. The global option smtp_enforce_sync specifies the initial state of the switch (it is true by default). See the description of this option in chapter 14 for details of SMTP synchronization checking.

The effect of these two controls lasts for the remainder of the SMTP connection. They can appear in any ACL except the one for the non-SMTP messages. The most straightforward place to put them is in the ACL defined by acl_smtp_connect, which is run at the start of an incoming SMTP connection, before the first synchronization check. The expected use is to turn off the synchronization checks for badly-behaved hosts that you nevertheless need to work with.

control = fakedefer/<message>

This control works in exactly the same way as fakereject (described below) except that it causes an SMTP 450 response after the message data instead of a 550 response. You must take care when using fakedefer because it causes the messages to be duplicated when the sender retries. Therefore, you should not use fakedefer if the message is to be delivered normally.

control = fakereject/<message>

This control is permitted only for the MAIL, RCPT, and DATA ACLs, in other words, only when an SMTP message is being received. If Exim accepts the message, instead the final 250 response, a 550 rejection message is sent. However, Exim proceeds to deliver the message as normal. The control applies only to the current message, not to any subsequent ones that may be received in the same SMTP connection.

The text for the 550 response is taken from the control modifier. If no message is supplied, the following is used:

550-Your message has been rejected but is being
550-kept for evaluation.
550-If it was a legitimate message, it may still be
550 delivered to the target recipient(s).

This facilty should be used with extreme caution.

control = freeze

This control is permitted only for the MAIL, RCPT, DATA, and non-SMTP ACLs, in other words, only when a message is being received. If the message is accepted, it is placed on Exim’s queue and frozen. The control applies only to the current message, not to any subsequent ones that may be received in the same SMTP connection.

This modifier can optionally be followed by /no_tell. If the global option freeze_tell is set, it is ignored for the current message (that is, nobody is told about the freezing), provided all the control=freeze modifiers that are obeyed for the current message have the /no_tell option.

control = no_mbox_unspool

This control is available when Exim is compiled with the content scanning extension. Content scanning may require a copy of the current message, or parts of it, to be written in “mbox format” to a spool file, for passing to a virus or spam scanner. Normally, such copies are deleted when they are no longer needed. If this control is set, the copies are not deleted. The control applies only to the current message, not to any subsequent ones that may be received in the same SMTP connection. It is provided for debugging purposes and is unlikely to be useful in production.

control = no_multiline_response

This control is permitted for any ACL except the one for non-SMTP messages. It seems that there are broken clients in use that cannot handle multiline SMTP responses, despite the fact that RFC 821 defined them over 20 years ago.

If this control is set, multiline SMTP responses from ACL rejections are suppressed. One way of doing this would have been to put out these responses as one long line. However, RFC 2821 specifies a maximum of 512 bytes per response (“use multiline responses for more” it says – ha!), and some of the responses might get close to that. So this facility, which is after all only a sop to broken clients, is implemented by doing two very easy things:

  • Extra information that is normally output as part of a rejection caused by sender verification failure is omitted. Only the final line (typically “sender verification failed”) is sent.

  • If a message modifier supplies a multiline response, only the first line is output.

The setting of the switch can, of course, be made conditional on the calling host. Its effect lasts until the end of the SMTP connection.

control = queue_only

This control is permitted only for the MAIL, RCPT, DATA, and non-SMTP ACLs, in other words, only when a message is being received. If the message is accepted, it is placed on Exim’s queue and left there for delivery by a subsequent queue runner. No immediate delivery process is started. In other words, it has the effect as the queue_only global option. However, the control applies only to the current message, not to any subsequent ones that may be received in the same SMTP connection.

control = submission/<options>

This control is permitted only for the MAIL, RCPT, and start of data ACLs (the latter is the one defined by acl_smtp_predata). Setting it tells Exim that the current message is a submission from a local MUA. In this case, Exim operates in “submission mode”, and applies certain fixups to the message if necessary. For example, it add a Date: header line if one is not present. This control is not permitted in the acl_smtp_data ACL, because that is too late (the message has already been created).

Chapter 43 describes the processing that Exim applies to messages. Section 43.1 covers the processing that happens in submission mode; the available options for this control are described there. The control applies only to the current message, not to any subsequent ones that may be received in the same SMTP connection.

control = suppress_local_fixups

This control applies to locally submitted (non TCP/IP) messages, and is the complement of control = submission. It disables the fixups that are normally applied to locally-submitted messages. Specifically:

  • Any Sender: header line is left alone (in this respect, it is a dynamic version of local_sender_retain).

  • No Message-ID:, From:, or Date: header lines are added.

  • There is no check that From: corresponds to the actual sender.

This feature may be useful when a remotely-originated message is accepted, passed to some scanning program, and then re-submitted for delivery.

All four possibilities for message fixups can be specified:

  • Locally submitted, fixups applied: the default.

  • Locally submitted, no fixups applied: use control = suppress_local_fixups.

  • Remotely submitted, no fixups applied: the default.

  • Remotely submitted, fixups applied: use control = submission.

19. Adding header lines in ACLs

The add_header modifier can be used to add one or more extra header lines to an incoming message, as in this example:

warn dnslists = sbl.spamhaus.org : \
     add_header = X-blacklisted-at: $dnslist_domain

The add_header modifier is permitted in the MAIL, RCPT, PREDATA, DATA, MIME, and non-SMTP ACLs (in other words, those that are concerned with receiving a message). The message must ultimately be accepted for add_header to have any significant effect. You can use add_header with any ACL verb, including deny (though this is potentially useful only in a RCPT ACL).

If the data for the add_header modifier contains one or more newlines that are not followed by a space or a tab, it is assumed to contain multiple header lines. Each one is checked for valid syntax; X-ACL-Warn: is added to the front of any line that is not a valid header line.

Added header lines are accumulated during the MAIL, RCPT, and predata ACLs. They are added to the message before processing the DATA and MIME ACLs. However, if an identical header line is requested more than once, only one copy is actually added to the message. Further header lines may be accumulated during the DATA and MIME ACLs, after which they are added to the message, again with duplicates suppressed. Thus, it is possible to add two identical header lines to an SMTP message, but only if one is added before DATA and one after. In the case of non-SMTP messages, new headers are accumulated during the non-SMTP ACL, and added to the message at the end. If a message is rejected after DATA or by the non-SMTP ACL, all added header lines are included in the entry that is written to the reject log.

Header lines are not visible in string expansions until they are added to the message. It follows that header lines defined in the MAIL, RCPT, and predata ACLs are not visible until the DATA ACL and MIME ACLs are run. Similarly, header lines that are added by the DATA or MIME ACLs are not visible in those ACLs. Because of this restriction, you cannot use header lines as a way of passing data between (for example) the MAIL and RCPT ACLs. If you want to do this, you can use ACL variables, as described in section 39.15.

The add_header modifier acts immediately it is encountered during the processing of an ACL. Notice the difference between these two cases:

accept add_header = ADDED: some text
       <some condition>

accept <some condition>
       add_header = ADDED: some text

In the first case, the header line is always added, whether or not the condition is true. In the second case, the header line is added only if the condition is true. Multiple occurrences of add_header may occur in the same ACL statement. All those that are encountered before a condition fails are honoured.

For compatibility with previous versions of Exim, a message modifier for a warn verb acts in the same way as add_header, except that it takes effect only if all the conditions are true, even if it appears before some of them. Furthermore, only the last occurrence of message is honoured. This usage of message is now deprecated. If both add_header and message are present on a warn verb, both are processed according to their specifications.

By default, new header lines are added to a message at the end of the existing header lines. However, you can specify that any particular header line should be added right at the start (before all the Received: lines), immediately after the first block of Received: lines, or immediately before any line that is not a Received: or Resent-something: header.

This is done by specifying “:at_start:”, “:after_received:”, or “:at_start_rfc:” (or, for completeness, “:at_end:”) before the text of the header line, respectively. (Header text cannot start with a colon, as there has to be a header name first.) For example:

warn add_header = \
       :after_received:X-My-Header: something or other...

If more than one header line is supplied in a single add_header modifier, each one is treated independently and can therefore be placed differently. If you add more than one line at the start, or after the Received: block, they end up in reverse order.

Warning: This facility currently applies only to header lines that are added in an ACL. It does NOT work for header lines that are added in a system filter or in a router or transport.

20. ACL conditions

Some of conditions listed in this section are available only when Exim is compiled with the content-scanning extension. They are included here briefly for completeness. More detailed descriptions can be found in the discussion on content scanning in chapter 40.

Not all conditions are relevant in all circumstances. For example, testing senders and recipients does not make sense in an ACL that is being run as the result of the arrival of an ETRN command, and checks on message headers can be done only in the ACLs specified by acl_smtp_data and acl_not_smtp. You can use the same condition (with different parameters) more than once in the same ACL statement. This provides a way of specifying an “and” conjunction. The conditions are as follows:

acl = <name of acl or ACL string or file name >

The possible values of the argument are the same as for the acl_smtp_xxx options. The named or inline ACL is run. If it returns “accept” the condition is true; if it returns “deny” the condition is false. If it returns “defer”, the current ACL returns “defer” unless the condition is on a warn verb. In that case, a “defer” return makes the condition false. This means that further processing of the warn verb ceases, but processing of the ACL continues.

If the nested acl returns “drop” and the outer condition denies access, the connection is dropped. If it returns “discard”, the verb must be accept or discard, and the action is taken immediately – no further conditions are tested.

ACLs may be nested up to 20 deep; the limit exists purely to catch runaway loops. This condition allows you to use different ACLs in different circumstances. For example, different ACLs can be used to handle RCPT commands for different local users or different local domains.

authenticated = <string list>

If the SMTP connection is not authenticated, the condition is false. Otherwise, the name of the authenticator is tested against the list. To test for authentication by any authenticator, you can set

authenticated = *
condition = <string>

This feature allows you to make up custom conditions. If the result of expanding the string is an empty string, the number zero, or one of the strings “no” or “false”, the condition is false. If the result is any non-zero number, or one of the strings “yes” or “true”, the condition is true. For any other values, some error is assumed to have occurred, and the ACL returns “defer”.

decode = <location>

This condition is available only when Exim is compiled with the content-scanning extension, and it is allowed only the the ACL defined by acl_smtp_mime. It causes the current MIME part to be decoded into a file. For details, see chapter 40.

demime = <extension list>

This condition is available only when Exim is compiled with the content-scanning extension. Its use is described in section 40.6.

dnslists = <list of domain names and other data>

This condition checks for entries in DNS black lists. These are also known as “RBL lists”, after the original Realtime Blackhole List, but note that the use of the lists at mail-abuse.org now carries a charge. There are too many different variants of this condition to describe briefly here. See sections 39.21--39.29 for details.

domains = <domain list>

This condition is relevant only after a RCPT command. It checks that the domain of the recipient address is in the domain list. If percent-hack processing is enabled, it is done before this test is done. If the check succeeds with a lookup, the result of the lookup is placed in $domain_data until the next domains test.

encrypted = <string list>

If the SMTP connection is not encrypted, the condition is false. Otherwise, the name of the cipher suite in use is tested against the list. To test for encryption without testing for any specific cipher suite(s), set

encrypted = *
hosts = < host list>

This condition tests that the calling host matches the host list. If you have name lookups or wildcarded host names and IP addresses in the same host list, you should normally put the IP addresses first. For example, you could have:

accept hosts = : dbm;/etc/friendly/hosts

The reason for this lies in the left-to-right way that Exim processes lists. It can test IP addresses without doing any DNS lookups, but when it reaches an item that requires a host name, it fails if it cannot find a host name to compare with the pattern. If the above list is given in the opposite order, the accept statement fails for a host whose name cannot be found, even if its IP address is

If you really do want to do the name check first, and still recognize the IP address even if the name lookup fails, you can rewrite the ACL like this:

accept hosts = dbm;/etc/friendly/hosts
accept hosts =

The default action on failing to find the host name is to assume that the host is not in the list, so the first accept statement fails. The second statement can then check the IP address.

If a hosts condition is satisfied by means of a lookup, the result of the lookup is made available in the $host_data variable. This allows you, for example, to set up a statement like this:

deny  hosts = net-lsearch;/some/file
message = $host_data

which gives a custom error message for each denied host.

local_parts = <local part list>

This condition is relevant only after a RCPT command. It checks that the local part of the recipient address is in the list. If percent-hack processing is enabled, it is done before this test. If the check succeeds with a lookup, the result of the lookup is placed in $local_part_data, which remains set until the next local_parts test.

malware = <option>

This condition is available only when Exim is compiled with the content-scanning extension. It causes the incoming message to be scanned for viruses. For details, see chapter 40.

mime_regex = <list of regular expressions>

This condition is available only when Exim is compiled with the content-scanning extension, and it is allowed only the the ACL defined by acl_smtp_mime. It causes the current MIME part to be scanned for a match with any of the regular expressions. For details, see chapter 40.

ratelimit = <parameters>

This condition can be used to limit the rate at which a user or host submits messages. Details are given in section 39.30.

recipients = <address list>

This condition is relevant only after a RCPT command. It checks the entire recipient address against a list of recipients.

regex = <list of regular expressions>

This condition is available only when Exim is compiled with the content-scanning extension, and is available only in the DATA, MIME, and non-SMTP ACLs. It causes the incoming message to be scanned for a match with any of the regular expressions. For details, see chapter 40.

sender_domains = <domain list>

This condition tests the domain of the sender of the message against the given domain list. Note: The domain of the sender address is in $sender_address_domain. It is not put in $domain during the testing of this condition. This is an exception to the general rule for testing domain lists. It is done this way so that, if this condition is used in an ACL for a RCPT command, the recipient’s domain (which is in $domain) can be used to influence the sender checking.

Warning: It is a bad idea to use this condition on its own as a control on relaying, because sender addresses are easily, and commonly, forged.

senders = <address list>

This condition tests the sender of the message against the given list. To test for a bounce message, which has an empty sender, set

senders = :

Warning: It is a bad idea to use this condition on its own as a control on relaying, because sender addresses are easily, and commonly, forged.

spam = <username>

This condition is available only when Exim is compiled with the content-scanning extension. It causes the incoming message to be scanned by SpamAssassin. For details, see chapter 40.

verify = certificate

This condition is true in an SMTP session if the session is encrypted, and a certificate was received from the client, and the certificate was verified. The server requests a certificate only if the client matches tls_verify_hosts or tls_try_verify_hosts (see chapter 38).

verify = csa

This condition checks whether the sending host (the client) is authorized to send email. Details of how this works are given in section 39.37.

verify = header_sender/<options>

This condition is relevant only in an ACL that is run after a message has been received, that is, in an ACL specified by acl_smtp_data or acl_not_smtp. It checks that there is a verifiable address in at least one of the Sender:, Reply-To:, or From: header lines. Such an address is loosely thought of as a “sender” address (hence the name of the test). However, an address that appears in one of these headers need not be an address that accepts bounce messages; only sender addresses in envelopes are required to accept bounces. Therefore, if you use the callout option on this check, you might want to arrange for a non-empty address in the MAIL command.

Details of address verification and the options are given later, starting at section 39.31 (callouts are described in section 39.32). You can combine this condition with the senders condition to restrict it to bounce messages only:

deny    senders = :
        message = A valid sender header is required for bounces
       !verify  = header_sender
verify = header_syntax

This condition is relevant only in an ACL that is run after a message has been received, that is, in an ACL specified by acl_smtp_data or acl_not_smtp. It checks the syntax of all header lines that can contain lists of addresses (Sender:, From:, Reply-To:, To:, Cc:, and Bcc:). Unqualified addresses (local parts without domains) are permitted only in locally generated messages and from hosts that match sender_unqualified_hosts or recipient_unqualified_hosts, as appropriate.

Note that this condition is a syntax check only. However, a common spamming ploy used to be to send syntactically invalid headers such as

To: @

and this condition can be used to reject such messages, though they are not as common as they used to be.

verify = helo

This condition is true if a HELO or EHLO command has been received from the client host, and its contents have been verified. It there has been no previous attempt to verify the the HELO/EHLO contents, it is carried out when this condition is encountered. See the description of the helo_verify_hosts and helo_try_verify_hosts options for details of how to request verification independently of this condition.

verify = not_blind

This condition checks that there are no blind (bcc) recipients in the message. Every envelope recipient must appear either in a To: header line or in a Cc: header line for this condition to be true. Local parts are checked case-sensitively; domains are checked case-insensitively. If Resent-To: or Resent-Cc: header lines exist, they are also checked. This condition can be used only in a DATA or non-SMTP ACL.

There are, of course, many legitimate messages that make use of blind (bcc) recipients. This check should not be used on its own for blocking messages.

verify = recipient/<options>

This condition is relevant only after a RCPT command. It verifies the current recipient. Details of address verification are given later, starting at section 39.31. After a recipient has been verified, the value of $address_data is the last value that was set while routing the address. This applies even if the verification fails. When an address that is being verified is redirected to a single address, verification continues with the new address, and in that case, the subsequent value of $address_data is the value for the child address.

verify = reverse_host_lookup

This condition ensures that a verified host name has been looked up from the IP address of the client host. (This may have happened already if the host name was needed for checking a host list, or if the host matched host_lookup.) Verification ensures that the host name obtained from a reverse DNS lookup, or one of its aliases, does, when it is itself looked up in the DNS, yield the original IP address.

If this condition is used for a locally generated message (that is, when there is no client host involved), it always succeeds.

verify = sender/<options>

This condition is relevant only after a MAIL or RCPT command, or after a message has been received (the acl_smtp_data or acl_not_smtp ACLs). If the message’s sender is empty (that is, this is a bounce message), the condition is true. Otherwise, the sender address is verified.

If there is data in the $address_data variable at the end of routing, its value is placed in $sender_address_data at the end of verification. This value can be used in subsequent conditions and modifiers in the same ACL statement. It does not persist after the end of the current statement. If you want to preserve the value for longer, you can save it in an ACL variable.

Details of verification are given later, starting at section 39.31. Exim caches the result of sender verification, to avoid doing it more than once per message.

verify = sender=<address>/<options>

This is a variation of the previous option, in which a modified address is verified as a sender.

21. Using DNS lists

In its simplest form, the dnslists condition tests whether the calling host is on at least one of a number of DNS lists by looking up the inverted IP address in one or more DNS domains. For example, if the calling host’s IP address is, and the ACL statement is

deny dnslists = blackholes.mail-abuse.org : \

the following records are looked up:

As soon as Exim finds an existing DNS record, processing of the list stops. Thus, multiple entries on the list provide an “or” conjunction. If you want to test that a host is on more than one list (an “and” conjunction), you can use two separate conditions:

deny dnslists = blackholes.mail-abuse.org
     dnslists = dialups.mail-abuse.org

If a DNS lookup times out or otherwise fails to give a decisive answer, Exim behaves as if the host does not match the list item, that is, as if the DNS record does not exist. If there are further items in the DNS list, they are processed.

This is usually the required action when dnslists is used with deny (which is the most common usage), because it prevents a DNS failure from blocking mail. However, you can change this behaviour by putting one of the following special items in the list:

+include_unknown    behave as if the item is on the list
+exclude_unknown    behave as if the item is not on the list (default)
+defer_unknown      give a temporary error

Each of these applies to any subsequent items on the list. For example:

deny dnslists = +defer_unknown : foo.bar.example

Testing the list of domains stops as soon as a match is found. If you want to warn for one list and block for another, you can use two different statements:

deny  dnslists = blackholes.mail-abuse.org
warn  message  = X-Warn: sending host is on dialups list
      dnslists = dialups.mail-abuse.org

DNS list lookups are cached by Exim for the duration of the SMTP session, so a lookup based on the IP address is done at most once for any incoming connection. Exim does not share information between multiple incoming connections (but your local name server cache should be active).

22. Specifying the IP address for a DNS list lookup

By default, the IP address that is used in a DNS list lookup is the IP address of the calling host. However, you can specify another IP address by listing it after the domain name, introduced by a slash. For example:

deny dnslists = black.list.tld/

This feature is not very helpful with explicit IP addresses; it is intended for use with IP addresses that are looked up, for example, the IP addresses of the MX hosts or nameservers of an email sender address. For an example, see section 39.24 below.

23. DNS lists keyed on domain names

There are some lists that are keyed on domain names rather than inverted IP addresses (see for example the domain based zones link at http://www.rfc-ignorant.org/). No reversing of components is used with these lists. You can change the name that is looked up in a DNS list by listing it after the domain name, introduced by a slash. For example,

deny  message  = Sender's domain is listed at $dnslist_domain
      dnslists = dsn.rfc-ignorant.org/$sender_address_domain

This particular example is useful only in ACLs that are obeyed after the RCPT or DATA commands, when a sender address is available. If (for example) the message’s sender is user@tld.example the name that is looked up by this example is


A single dnslists condition can contain entries for both names and IP addresses. For example:

deny dnslists = sbl.spamhaus.org : \

The first item checks the sending host’s IP address; the second checks a domain name. The whole condition is true if either of the DNS lookups succeeds.

24. Multiple explicit keys for a DNS list

The syntax described above for looking up explicitly-defined values (either names or IP addresses) in a DNS blacklist is a simplification. After the domain name for the DNS list, what follows the slash can in fact be a list of items. As with all lists in Exim, the default separator is a colon. However, because this is a sublist within the list of DNS blacklist domains, it is necessary either to double the separators like this:

dnslists = black.list.tld/name.1::name.2

or to change the separator character, like this:

dnslists = black.list.tld/<;name.1;name.2

If an item in the list is an IP address, it is inverted before the DNS blacklist domain is appended. If it is not an IP address, no inversion occurs. Consider this condition:

dnslists = black.list.tld/<;;a.domain

The DNS lookups that occur are:

Once a DNS record has been found (that matches a specific IP return address, if specified – see section 39.27), no further lookups are done. If there is a temporary DNS error, the rest of the sublist of domains or IP addresses is tried. A temporary error for the whole dnslists item occurs only if no other DNS lookup in this sublist succeeds. In other words, a successful lookup for any of the items in the sublist overrides a temporary error for a previous item.

The ability to supply a list of items after the slash is in some sense just a syntactic convenience. These two examples have the same effect:

dnslists = black.list.tld/a.domain : black.list.tld/b.domain
dnslists = black.list.tld/a.domain::b.domain

However, when the data for the list is obtained from a lookup, the second form is usually much more convenient. Consider this example:

deny message  = The mail servers for the domain \
                $sender_address_domain \
                are listed at $dnslist_domain ($dnslist_value); \
                see $dnslist_text.
     dnslists = sbl.spamhaus.org/<|${lookup dnsdb {>|a=<|\
                                   ${lookup dnsdb {>|mxh=\
                                   $sender_address_domain} }} }

Note the use of >| in the dnsdb lookup to specify the separator for multiple DNS records. The inner dnsdb lookup produces a list of MX hosts and the outer dnsdb lookup finds the IP addresses for these hosts. The result of expanding the condition might be something like this:

dnslists = sbl.spahmaus.org/<|||...

Thus, this example checks whether or not the IP addresses of the sender domain’s mail servers are on the Spamhaus black list.

25. Data returned by DNS lists

DNS lists are constructed using address records in the DNS. The original RBL just used the address on the right hand side of each record, but the RBL+ list and some other lists use a number of values with different meanings. The values used on the RBL+ list are:  RBL  DUL  DUL and RBL  RSS  RSS and RBL  RSS and DUL  RSS and DUL and RBL

Some DNS lists may return more than one address record.

26. Variables set from DNS lists

When an entry is found in a DNS list, the variable $dnslist_domain contains the name of the domain that matched, $dnslist_value contains the data from the entry, and $dnslist_text contains the contents of any associated TXT record. If more than one address record is returned by the DNS lookup, all the IP addresses are included in $dnslist_value, separated by commas and spaces.

You can use these variables in message or log_message modifiers – although these appear before the condition in the ACL, they are not expanded until after it has failed. For example:

deny    hosts = !+local_networks
        message = $sender_host_address is listed \
                  at $dnslist_domain
        dnslists = rbl-plus.mail-abuse.example

27. Additional matching conditions for DNS lists

You can add an equals sign and an IP address after a dnslists domain name in order to restrict its action to DNS records with a matching right hand side. For example,

deny dnslists = rblplus.mail-abuse.org=

rejects only those hosts that yield Without this additional data, any address record is considered to be a match. If more than one address record is found on the list, they are all checked for a matching right-hand side.

More than one IP address may be given for checking, using a comma as a separator. These are alternatives – if any one of them matches, the dnslists condition is true. For example:

deny  dnslists = a.b.c=,

If you want to specify a constraining address list and also specify names or IP addresses to be looked up, the constraining address list must be specified first. For example:

deny dnslists = dsn.rfc-ignorant.org\

If the character & is used instead of =, the comparison for each listed IP address is done by a bitwise “and” instead of by an equality test. In other words, the listed addresses are used as bit masks. The comparison is true if all the bits in the mask are present in the address that is being tested. For example:

dnslists = a.b.c&

matches if the address is x.x.x.3, x.x.x.7, x.x.x.11, etc. If you want to test whether one bit or another bit is present (as opposed to both being present), you must use multiple values. For example:

dnslists = a.b.c&,

matches if the final component of the address is an odd number or two times an odd number.

28. Negated DNS matching conditions

You can supply a negative list of IP addresses as part of a dnslists condition. Whereas

deny  dnslists = a.b.c=,

means “deny if the host is in the black list at the domain a.b.c and the IP address yielded by the list is either or”,

deny  dnslists = a.b.c!=,

means “deny if the host is in the black list at the domain a.b.c and the IP address yielded by the list is not and not”. In other words, the result of the test is inverted if an exclamation mark appears before the = (or the &) sign.

Note: This kind of negation is not the same as negation in a domain, host, or address list (which is why the syntax is different).

If you are using just one list, the negation syntax does not gain you much. The previous example is precisely equivalent to

deny  dnslists = a.b.c
     !dnslists = a.b.c=,

However, if you are using multiple lists, the negation syntax is clearer. Consider this example:

deny  dnslists = sbl.spamhaus.org : \
                 list.dsbl.org : \
                 dnsbl.njabl.org!= : \

Using only positive lists, this would have to be:

deny  dnslists = sbl.spamhaus.org : \
deny  dnslists = dnsbl.njabl.org
     !dnslists = dnsbl.njabl.org=
deny  dnslists = relays.ordb.org

which is less clear, and harder to maintain.

29. DNS lists and IPv6

If Exim is asked to do a dnslist lookup for an IPv6 address, it inverts it nibble by nibble. For example, if the calling host’s IP address is 3ffe:ffff:836f:0a00:000a:0800:200a:c031, Exim might look up


(split over two lines here to fit on the page). Unfortunately, some of the DNS lists contain wildcard records, intended for IPv4, that interact badly with IPv6. For example, the DNS entry

*.3.some.list.example.    A

is probably intended to put the entire IPv4 network on the list. Unfortunately, it also matches the entire 3::/4 IPv6 network.

You can exclude IPv6 addresses from DNS lookups by making use of a suitable condition condition, as in this example:

deny   condition = ${if isip4{$sender_host_address}}
       dnslists  = some.list.example

30. Rate limiting senders

The ratelimit ACL condition can be used to measure and control the rate at which clients can send email. This is more powerful than the smtp_ratelimit_* options, because those options control the rate of commands in a single SMTP session only, whereas the ratelimit condition works across all connections (concurrent and sequential) from the same client host. The syntax of the ratelimit condition is:

ratelimit = <m> / <p> / <options> / <key>

If the average client sending rate is less than m messages per time period p then the condition is false; otherwise it is true.

As a side-effect, the ratelimit condition sets the expansion variable $sender_rate to the client’s computed rate, $sender_rate_limit to the configured value of m, and $sender_rate_period to the configured value of p.

The parameter p is the smoothing time constant, in the form of an Exim time interval, for example, 8h for eight hours. A larger time constant means that it takes Exim longer to forget a client’s past behaviour. The parameter m is the maximum number of messages that a client is permitted to send in each time interval. It also specifies the number of messages permitted in a fast burst. By increasing both m and p but keeping m/p constant, you can allow a client to send more messages in a burst without changing its overall sending rate limit. Conversely, if m and p are both small, messages must be sent at an even rate.

There is a script in util/ratelimit.pl which extracts sending rates from log files, to assist with choosing appropriate settings for m and p when deploying the ratelimit ACL condition. The script prints usage instructions when it is run with no arguments.

The key is used to look up the data for calculating the client’s average sending rate. This data is stored in a database maintained by Exim in its spool directory, alongside the retry and other hints databases. The default key is $sender_host_address, which applies the limit to each client host IP address. By changing the key you can change how Exim identifies clients for the purpose of ratelimiting. For example, to limit the sending rate of each authenticated user, independent of the computer they are sending from, set the key to $authenticated_id. You must ensure that the lookup key is meaningful; for example, $authenticated_id is only meaningful if the client has authenticated, and you can check with with the authenticated ACL condition.

Internally, Exim includes the smoothing constant p and the options in the lookup key because they alter the meaning of the stored data. This is not true for the limit m, so you can alter the configured maximum rate and Exim will still remember clients’ past behaviour, but if you alter the other ratelimit parameters Exim forgets past behaviour.

Each ratelimit condition can have up to two options. The first option specifies what Exim measures the rate of, and the second specifies how Exim handles excessively fast clients. The options are separated by a slash, like the other parameters.

The per_conn option limits the client’s connection rate.

The per_mail option limits the client’s rate of sending messages. This is the default if none of the per_* options is specified.

The per_byte option limits the sender’s email bandwidth. Note that it is best to use this option in the DATA ACL; if it is used in an earlier ACL it relies on the SIZE parameter on the MAIL command, which may be inaccurate or completely missing. You can follow the limit m in the configuration with K, M, or G to specify limits in kilobytes, megabytes, or gigabytes, respectively.

The per_cmd option causes Exim to recompute the rate every time the condition is processed. This can be used to limit the SMTP command rate. The alias per_rcpt is provided for use in the RCPT ACL instead of per_cmd to make it clear that the effect is to limit the rate at which recipients are accepted. Note that in this case the rate limiting engine will see a message with many recipients as a large high-speed burst.

If a client’s average rate is greater than the maximum, the rate limiting engine can react in two possible ways, depending on the presence of the strict or leaky options. This is independent of the other counter-measures (such as rejecting the message) that may be specified by the rest of the ACL. The default mode is leaky, which avoids a sender’s over-aggressive retry rate preventing it from getting any email through.

The strict option means that the client’s recorded rate is always updated. The effect of this is that Exim measures the client’s average rate of attempts to send email, which can be much higher than the maximum. If the client is over the limit it will be subjected to counter-measures until it slows down below the maximum rate. The smoothing period determines the time it takes for a high sending rate to decay exponentially to 37% of its peak value, which means that you can work out the time (the number of smoothing periods) that a client is subjected to counter-measures after an over-limit burst with this formula:


The leaky option means that the client’s recorded rate is not updated if it is above the limit. The effect of this is that Exim measures the client’s average rate of successfully sent email, which cannot be greater than the maximum. If the client is over the limit it will suffer some counter-measures, but it will still be able to send email at the configured maximum rate, whatever the rate of its attempts. This is generally the better choice if you have clients that retry automatically.

Exim’s other ACL facilities are used to define what counter-measures are taken when the rate limit is exceeded. This might be anything from logging a warning (for example, while measuring existing sending rates in order to define policy), through time delays to slow down fast senders, up to rejecting the message. For example:

# Log all senders' rates
  ratelimit = 0 / 1h / strict
  log_message = Sender rate $sender_rate / $sender_rate_period

# Slow down fast senders; note the need to truncate $sender_rate
# at the decimal point.
  ratelimit = 100 / 1h / per_rcpt / strict
  delay     = ${eval: ${sg{$sender_rate}{[.].*}{}} - \
                $sender_rate_limit }s

# Keep authenticated users under control
  authenticated = *
  ratelimit = 100 / 1d / strict / $authenticated_id

# System-wide rate limit
  message = Sorry, too busy. Try again later.
  ratelimit = 10 / 1s / $primary_hostname

# Restrict incoming rate from each host, with a default
# set using a macro and special cases looked up in a table.
  message = Sender rate exceeds $sender_rate_limit \
            messages per $sender_rate_period
  ratelimit = ${lookup {$sender_host_address} \
                cdb {DB/ratelimits.cdb} \
                {$value} {RATELIMIT} }

Warning: If you have a busy server with a lot of ratelimit tests, especially with the per_rcpt option, you may suffer from a performance bottleneck caused by locking on the ratelimit hints database. Apart from making your ACLs less complicated, you can reduce the problem by using a RAM disk for Exim’s hints directory (usually /var/spool/exim/db/). However this means that Exim will lose its hints data after a reboot (including retry hints, the callout cache, and ratelimit data).

31. Address verification

Several of the verify conditions described in section 39.20 cause addresses to be verified. These conditions can be followed by options that modify the verification process. The options are separated from the keyword and from each other by slashes, and some of them contain parameters. For example:

verify = sender/callout
verify = recipient/defer_ok/callout=10s,defer_ok

The first stage of address verification, which always happens, is to run the address through the routers, in “verify mode”. Routers can detect the difference between verification and routing for delivery, and their actions can be varied by a number of generic options such as verify and verify_only (see chapter 15). If routing fails, verification fails. The available options are as follows:

  • If the callout option is specified, successful routing to one or more remote hosts is followed by a “callout” to those hosts as an additional check. Callouts and their sub-options are discussed in the next section.

  • If there is a defer error while doing verification routing, the ACL normally returns “defer”. However, if you include defer_ok in the options, the condition is forced to be true instead. Note that this is a main verification option as well as a suboption for callouts.

  • The no_details option is covered in section 39.35, which discusses the reporting of sender address verification failures.

  • The success_on_redirect option causes verification always to succeed immediately after a successful redirection. By default, if a redirection generates just one address, that address is also verified. See further discussion in section 39.36.

After an address verification failure, $acl_verify_message contains the error message that is associated with the failure. It can be preserved by coding like this:

warn  !verify = sender
       set acl_m0 = $acl_verify_message

If you are writing your own custom rejection message or log message when denying access, you can use this variable to include information about the verification failure.

In addition, $sender_verify_failure or $recipient_verify_failure (as appropriate) contains one of the following words:

  • qualify: The address was unqualified (no domain), and the message was neither local nor came from an exempted host.

  • route: Routing failed.

  • mail: Routing succeeded, and a callout was attempted; rejection occurred at or before the MAIL command (that is, on initial connection, HELO, or MAIL).

  • recipient: The RCPT command in a callout was rejected.

  • postmaster: The postmaster check in a callout was rejected.

The main use of these variables is expected to be to distinguish between rejections of MAIL and rejections of RCPT in callouts.

32. Callout verification

For non-local addresses, routing verifies the domain, but is unable to do any checking of the local part. There are situations where some means of verifying the local part is desirable. One way this can be done is to make an SMTP callback to a delivery host for the sender address or a callforward to a subsequent host for a recipient address, to see if the host accepts the address. We use the term callout to cover both cases. Note that for a sender address, the callback is not to the client host that is trying to deliver the message, but to one of the hosts that accepts incoming mail for the sender’s domain.

Exim does not do callouts by default. If you want them to happen, you must request them by setting appropriate options on the verify condition, as described below. This facility should be used with care, because it can add a lot of resource usage to the cost of verifying an address. However, Exim does cache the results of callouts, which helps to reduce the cost. Details of caching are in section 39.34.

Recipient callouts are usually used only between hosts that are controlled by the same administration. For example, a corporate gateway host could use callouts to check for valid recipients on an internal mailserver. A successful callout does not guarantee that a real delivery to the address would succeed; on the other hand, a failing callout does guarantee that a delivery would fail.

If the callout option is present on a condition that verifies an address, a second stage of verification occurs if the address is successfully routed to one or more remote hosts. The usual case is routing by a dnslookup or a manualroute router, where the router specifies the hosts. However, if a router that does not set up hosts routes to an smtp transport with a hosts setting, the transport’s hosts are used. If an smtp transport has hosts_override set, its hosts are always used, whether or not the router supplies a host list.

The port that is used is taken from the transport, if it is specified and is a remote transport. (For routers that do verification only, no transport need be specified.) Otherwise, the default SMTP port is used. If a remote transport specifies an outgoing interface, this is used; otherwise the interface is not specified.

For a sender callout check, Exim makes SMTP connections to the remote hosts, to test whether a bounce message could be delivered to the sender address. The following SMTP commands are sent:

HELO <smtp active host name>
RCPT TO:<the address to be tested>

LHLO is used instead of HELO if the transport’s protocol option is set to “lmtp”.

A recipient callout check is similar. By default, it also uses an empty address for the sender. This default is chosen because most hosts do not make use of the sender address when verifying a recipient. Using the same address means that a single cache entry can be used for each recipient. Some sites, however, do make use of the sender address when verifying. These are catered for by the use_sender and use_postmaster options, described in the next section.

If the response to the RCPT command is a 2xx code, the verification succeeds. If it is 5xx, the verification fails. For any other condition, Exim tries the next host, if any. If there is a problem with all the remote hosts, the ACL yields “defer”, unless the defer_ok parameter of the callout option is given, in which case the condition is forced to succeed.

33. Additional parameters for callouts

The callout option can be followed by an equals sign and a number of optional parameters, separated by commas. For example:

verify = recipient/callout=10s,defer_ok

The old syntax, which had callout_defer_ok and check_postmaster as separate verify options, is retained for backwards compatibility, but is now deprecated. The additional parameters for callout are as follows:

<a time interval>

This specifies the timeout that applies for the callout attempt to each host. For example:

verify = sender/callout=5s

The default is 30 seconds. The timeout is used for each response from the remote host. It is also used for the intial connection, unless overridden by the connect parameter.

connect = <time interval>

This parameter makes it possible to set a different (usually smaller) timeout for making the SMTP connection. For example:

verify = sender/callout=5s,connect=1s

If not specified, this timeout defaults to the general timeout value.


When this parameter is present, failure to contact any host, or any other kind of temporary error, is treated as success by the ACL. However, the cache is not updated in this circumstance.


This operates like the postmaster option (see below), but if the check for postmaster@domain fails, it tries just postmaster, without a domain, in accordance with the specification in RFC 2821. The RFC states that the unqualified address postmaster should be accepted.

mailfrom = <email address>

When verifying addresses in header lines using the header_sender verification option, Exim behaves by default as if the addresses are envelope sender addresses from a message. Callout verification therefore tests to see whether a bounce message could be delivered, by using an empty address in the MAIL command. However, it is arguable that these addresses might never be used as envelope senders, and could therefore justifiably reject bounce messages (empty senders). The mailfrom callout parameter allows you to specify what address to use in the MAIL command. For example:

require  verify = header_sender/callout=mailfrom=abcd@x.y.z

This parameter is available only for the header_sender verification option.

maxwait = <time interval>

This parameter sets an overall timeout for performing a callout verification. For example:

verify = sender/callout=5s,maxwait=30s

This timeout defaults to four times the callout timeout for individual SMTP commands. The overall timeout applies when there is more than one host that can be tried. The timeout is checked before trying the next host. This prevents very long delays if there are a large number of hosts and all are timing out (for example, when network connections are timing out).


When this parameter is given, the callout cache is neither read nor updated.


When this parameter is set, a sucessful callout check is followed by a similar check for the local part postmaster at the same domain. If this address is rejected, the callout fails (but see fullpostmaster above). The result of the postmaster check is recorded in a cache record; if it is a failure, this is used to fail subsequent callouts for the domain without a connection being made, until the cache record expires.

postmaster_mailfrom = <email address>

The postmaster check uses an empty sender in the MAIL command by default. You can use this parameter to do a postmaster check using a different address. For example:

require  verify = sender/callout=postmaster_mailfrom=abc@x.y.z

If both postmaster and postmaster_mailfrom are present, the rightmost one overrides. The postmaster parameter is equivalent to this example:

require  verify = sender/callout=postmaster_mailfrom=

Warning: The caching arrangements for postmaster checking do not take account of the sender address. It is assumed that either the empty address or a fixed non-empty address will be used. All that Exim remembers is that the postmaster check for the domain succeeded or failed.


When this parameter is set, before doing the normal callout check, Exim does a check for a “random” local part at the same domain. The local part is not really random – it is defined by the expansion of the option callout_random_local_part, which defaults to


The idea here is to try to determine whether the remote host accepts all local parts without checking. If it does, there is no point in doing callouts for specific local parts. If the “random” check succeeds, the result is saved in a cache record, and used to force the current and subsequent callout checks to succeed without a connection being made, until the cache record expires.


This parameter applies to recipient callouts only. For example:

deny  !verify = recipient/callout=use_postmaster

It causes a non-empty postmaster address to be used in the MAIL command when performing the callout for the recipient, and also for a “random” check if that is configured. The local part of the address is postmaster and the domain is the contents of $qualify_domain.


This option applies to recipient callouts only. For example:

require  verify = recipient/callout=use_sender

It causes the message’s actual sender address to be used in the MAIL command when performing the callout, instead of an empty address. There is no need to use this option unless you know that the called hosts make use of the sender when checking recipients. If used indiscriminately, it reduces the usefulness of callout caching.

If you use any of the parameters that set a non-empty sender for the MAIL command (mailfrom, postmaster_mailfrom, use_postmaster, or use_sender), you should think about possible loops. Recipient checking is usually done between two hosts that are under the same management, and the host that receives the callouts is not normally configured to do callouts itself. Therefore, it is normally safe to use use_postmaster or use_sender in these circumstances.

However, if you use a non-empty sender address for a callout to an arbitrary host, there is the likelihood that the remote host will itself initiate a callout check back to your host. As it is checking what appears to be a message sender, it is likely to use an empty address in MAIL, thus avoiding a callout loop. However, to be on the safe side it would be best to set up your own ACLs so that they do not do sender verification checks when the recipient is the address you use for header sender or postmaster callout checking.

Another issue to think about when using non-empty senders for callouts is caching. When you set mailfrom or use_sender, the cache record is keyed by the sender/recipient combination; thus, for any given recipient, many more actual callouts are performed than when an empty sender or postmaster is used.

34. Callout caching

Exim caches the results of callouts in order to reduce the amount of resources used, unless you specify the no_cache parameter with the callout option. A hints database called “callout” is used for the cache. Two different record types are used: one records the result of a callout check for a specific address, and the other records information that applies to the entire domain (for example, that it accepts the local part postmaster).

When an original callout fails, a detailed SMTP error message is given about the failure. However, for subsequent failures use the cache data, this message is not available.

The expiry times for negative and positive address cache records are independent, and can be set by the global options callout_negative_expire (default 2h) and callout_positive_expire (default 24h), respectively.

If a host gives a negative response to an SMTP connection, or rejects any commands up to and including


(but not including the MAIL command with a non-empty address), any callout attempt is bound to fail. Exim remembers such failures in a domain cache record, which it uses to fail callouts for the domain without making new connections, until the domain record times out. There are two separate expiry times for domain cache records: callout_domain_negative_expire (default 3h) and callout_domain_positive_expire (default 7d).

Domain records expire when the negative expiry time is reached if callouts cannot be made for the domain, or if the postmaster check failed. Otherwise, they expire when the positive expiry time is reached. This ensures that, for example, a host that stops accepting “random” local parts will eventually be noticed.

The callout caching mechanism is based on the domain of the address that is being tested. If the domain routes to several hosts, it is assumed that their behaviour will be the same.

35. Sender address verification reporting

When sender verification fails in an ACL, the details of the failure are given as additional output lines before the 550 response to the relevant SMTP command (RCPT or DATA). For example, if sender callout is in use, you might see:

MAIL FROM:<xyz@abc.example>
250 OK
RCPT TO:<pqr@def.example>
550-Verification failed for <xyz@abc.example>
550-Sent:     RCPT TO:<xyz@abc.example>
550-Response: 550 Unknown local part xyz in <xyz@abc.example>
550 Sender verification failed

If more than one RCPT command fails in the same way, the details are given only for the first of them. However, some administrators do not want to send out this much information. You can suppress the details by adding /no_details to the ACL statement that requests sender verification. For example:

verify = sender/no_details

36. Redirection while verifying

A dilemma arises when a local address is redirected by aliasing or forwarding during verification: should the generated addresses themselves be verified, or should the successful expansion of the original address be enough to verify it? By default, Exim takes the following pragmatic approach:

  • When an incoming address is redirected to just one child address, verification continues with the child address, and if that fails to verify, the original verification also fails.

  • When an incoming address is redirected to more than one child address, verification does not continue. A success result is returned.

This seems the most reasonable behaviour for the common use of aliasing as a way of redirecting different local parts to the same mailbox. It means, for example, that a pair of alias entries of the form

A.Wol:   aw123
aw123:   :fail: Gone away, no forwarding address

work as expected, with both local parts causing verification failure. When a redirection generates more than one address, the behaviour is more like a mailing list, where the existence of the alias itself is sufficient for verification to succeed.

It is possible, however, to change the default behaviour so that all successful redirections count as successful verifications, however many new addresses are generated. This is specified by the success_on_redirect verification option. For example:

require verify = recipient/success_on_redirect/callout=10s

In this example, verification succeeds if a router generates a new address, and the callout does not occur, because no address was routed to a remote host.

37. Client SMTP authorization (CSA)

Client SMTP Authorization is a system that allows a site to advertise which machines are and are not permitted to send email. This is done by placing special SRV records in the DNS; these are looked up using the client’s HELO domain. At the time of writing, CSA is still an Internet Draft. Client SMTP Authorization checks in Exim are performed by the ACL condition:

verify = csa

This fails if the client is not authorized. If there is a DNS problem, or if no valid CSA SRV record is found, or if the client is authorized, the condition succeeds. These three cases can be distinguished using the expansion variable $csa_status, which can take one of the values “fail”, “defer”, “unknown”, or “ok”. The condition does not itself defer because that would be likely to cause problems for legitimate email.

The error messages produced by the CSA code include slightly more detail. If $csa_status is “defer”, this may be because of problems looking up the CSA SRV record, or problems looking up the CSA target address record. There are four reasons for $csa_status being “fail”:

  • The client’s host name is explicitly not authorized.

  • The client’s IP address does not match any of the CSA target IP addresses.

  • The client’s host name is authorized but it has no valid target IP addresses (for example, the target’s addresses are IPv6 and the client is using IPv4).

  • The client’s host name has no CSA SRV record but a parent domain has asserted that all subdomains must be explicitly authorized.

The csa verification condition can take an argument which is the domain to use for the DNS query. The default is:

verify = csa/$sender_helo_name

This implementation includes an extension to CSA. If the query domain is an address literal such as [], or if it is a bare IP address, Exim searches for CSA SRV records in the reverse DNS as if the HELO domain was (for example) Therefore it is meaningful to say:

verify = csa/$sender_host_address

In fact, this is the check that Exim performs if the client does not say HELO. This extension can be turned off by setting the main configuration option dns_csa_use_reverse to be false.

If a CSA SRV record is not found for the domain itself, a search is performed through its parent domains for a record which might be making assertions about subdomains. The maximum depth of this search is limited using the main configuration option dns_csa_search_limit, which is 5 by default. Exim does not look for CSA SRV records in a top level domain, so the default settings handle HELO domains as long as seven (hostname.five.four.three.two.one.com). This encompasses the vast majority of legitimate HELO domains.

The dnsdb lookup also has support for CSA. Although dnsdb also supports direct SRV lookups, this is not sufficient because of the extra parent domain search behaviour of CSA, and (as with PTR lookups) dnsdb also turns IP addresses into lookups in the reverse DNS space. The result of a successful lookup such as:

${lookup dnsdb {csa=$sender_helo_name}}

has two space-separated fields: an authorization code and a target host name. The authorization code can be “Y” for yes, “N” for no, “X” for explicit authorization required but absent, or “?” for unknown.

38. Bounce address tag validation

Bounce address tag validation (BATV) is a scheme whereby the envelope senders of outgoing messages have a cryptographic, timestamped “tag” added to them. Genuine incoming bounce messages should therefore always be addressed to recipients that have a valid tag. This scheme is a way of detecting unwanted bounce messages caused by sender address forgeries (often called “collateral spam”), because the recipients of such messages do not include valid tags.

There are two expansion items to help with the implementation of the BATV “prvs” (private signature) scheme in an Exim configuration. This scheme signs the original envelope sender address by using a simple shared key to add a hash of the address and some time-based randomizing information. The prvs expansion item creates a signed address, and the prvscheck expansion item checks one. The syntax of these expansion items is described in section 11.5.

As an example, suppose the secret per-address keys are stored in an MySQL database. A query to look up the key for an address could be defined as a macro like this:

PRVSCHECK_SQL = ${lookup mysql{SELECT secret FROM batv_prvs \
                WHERE sender='${quote_mysql:$prvscheck_address}'\

Suppose also that the senders who make use of BATV are defined by an address list called batv_senders. Then, in the ACL for RCPT commands, you could use this:

# Bounces: drop unsigned addresses for BATV senders
deny message = This address does not send an unsigned reverse path.
     senders = :
     recipients = +batv_senders

# Bounces: In case of prvs-signed address, check signature.
deny message = Invalid reverse path signature.
     senders = :
     condition  = ${prvscheck {$local_part@$domain}\
     !condition = $prvscheck_result

The first statement rejects recipients for bounce messages that are addressed to plain BATV sender addresses, because it is known that BATV senders do not send out messages with plain sender addresses. The second statement rejects recipients that are prvs-signed, but with invalid signatures (either because the key is wrong, or the signature has timed out).

A non-prvs-signed address is not rejected by the second statement, because the prvscheck expansion yields an empty string if its first argument is not a prvs-signed address, thus causing the condition condition to be false. If the first argument is a syntactically valid prvs-signed address, the yield is the third string (in this case “1”), whether or not the cryptographic and timeout checks succeed. The $prvscheck_result variable contains the result of the checks (empty for failure, “1” for success).

There are two more issues you must consider when implementing prvs-signing. Firstly, you need to ensure that prvs-signed addresses are not blocked by your ACLs. A prvs-signed address contains a slash character, but the default Exim configuration contains this statement in the RCPT ACL:

deny    message       = Restricted characters in address
        domains       = +local_domains
        local_parts   = ^[.] : ^.*[@%!/|]

This is a conservative rule that blocks local parts that contain slashes. You should remove the slash in the last line.

Secondly, you have to ensure that the routers accept prvs-signed addresses and deliver them correctly. The easiest way to handle this is to use a redirect router to remove the signature with a configuration along these lines:

  driver = redirect
  data = ${prvscheck {$local_part@$domain}{PRVSCHECK_SQL}}

This works because, if the third argument of prvscheck is empty, the result of the expansion of a prvs-signed address is the decoded value of the original address. This router should probably be the first of your routers that handles local addresses.

To create BATV-signed addresses in the first place, a transport of this form can be used:

  driver = smtp
  return_path = ${prvs {$return_path} \
                       {${lookup mysql{SELECT \
                       secret FROM batv_prvs WHERE \
                       sender='${quote_mysql:$sender_address}'} \

If no key can be found for the existing return path, no signing takes place.

39. Using an ACL to control relaying

An MTA is said to relay a message if it receives it from some host and delivers it directly to another host as a result of a remote address contained within it. Redirecting a local address via an alias or forward file and then passing the message on to another host is not relaying, but a redirection as a result of the “percent hack” is.

Two kinds of relaying exist, which are termed “incoming” and “outgoing”. A host which is acting as a gateway or an MX backup is concerned with incoming relaying from arbitrary hosts to a specific set of domains. On the other hand, a host which is acting as a smart host for a number of clients is concerned with outgoing relaying from those clients to the Internet at large. Often the same host is fulfilling both functions, but in principle these two kinds of relaying are entirely independent. What is not wanted is the transmission of mail from arbitrary remote hosts through your system to arbitrary domains.

You can implement relay control by means of suitable statements in the ACL that runs for each RCPT command. For convenience, it is often easiest to use Exim’s named list facility to define the domains and hosts involved. For example, suppose you want to do the following:

  • Deliver a number of domains to mailboxes on the local host (or process them locally in some other way). Let’s say these are my.dom1.example and my.dom2.example.

  • Relay mail for a number of other domains for which you are the secondary MX. These might be friend1.example and friend2.example.

  • Relay mail from the hosts on your local LAN, to whatever domains are involved. Suppose your LAN is

In the main part of the configuration, you put the following definitions:

domainlist local_domains = my.dom1.example : my.dom2.example
domainlist relay_domains = friend1.example : friend2.example
hostlist   relay_hosts   =

Now you can use these definitions in the ACL that is run for every RCPT command:

  accept domains = +local_domains : +relay_domains
  accept hosts   = +relay_hosts

The first statement accepts any RCPT command that contains an address in the local or relay domains. For any other domain, control passes to the second statement, which accepts the command only if it comes from one of the relay hosts. In practice, you will probably want to make your ACL more sophisticated than this, for example, by including sender and recipient verification. The default configuration includes a more comprehensive example, which is described in chapter 7.

40. Checking a relay configuration

You can check the relay characteristics of your configuration in the same way that you can test any ACL behaviour for an incoming SMTP connection, by using the -bh option to run a fake SMTP session with which you interact.

For specifically testing for unwanted relaying, the host relay-test.mail-abuse.org provides a useful service. If you telnet to this host from the host on which Exim is running, using the normal telnet port, you will see a normal telnet connection message and then quite a long delay. Be patient. The remote host is making an SMTP connection back to your host, and trying a number of common probes to test for open relay vulnerability. The results of the tests will eventually appear on your terminal.

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