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I am constantly using different computers between home/work and I'd like to be able to easily check all of my email in one place, and I'd prefer not to use a web based mail program.

Currently I use Mac Mail on my laptop which downloads all of my email (from about 6 accounts) and filters it into different folders. However, this means I can only really 'check' my email from my Mac but I'd like to be able to use a program with the same settings to check my mail from other computers (windows or linux) in the same way (having everything downloaded from multiple mail servers and sorted into directories.)

I recently set up a home ubuntu server as an OpenVPN and Samba server so I could just mount a shared drive on any computer I use regardless of location/OS. My initial thoughts to solving syncing email was to switch to thunderbird and then just keep all of my mail files in the samba shared directory. Then the idea would be to either just point the user configuration files of thunderbird on any computer I'm using to the Samba mount or use a program like Unison to sync the user directories for Thunderbird. Has anyone tried something like this?

The other idea I toyed with was using Postfix + some IMAP server on my Ubuntu server, but I've never done something like that and I'm not sure exactly how they work. Would I be able to use Postfix to download and sort my email into different folders from multiple accounts and then just point any mail program to it's IMAP server and check my email that way? Doing some googling I found a lot of people recommend against hosting your own mail server though?

Thanks in advance for all of your thoughts and opinions on how I should go about this!

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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I would use IMAP to provide shared email storage. This can be done with Dovecot, Courier, or any of the other IMAP servers. The Maildir directory is usually in the users home directory. If you use TLS, you will not need to use the VPN for access. Dovecot allows various password databases, so you can use a seperate password for access to your IMAP server.

You may want to configure fetchmail and/or Postfix to recieve email. Exim is would be a good alterative to Postfix for recieving email to your server.

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Thanks, I'm going to try to try that - just wanted to check my sanity. To clarify before I dive in: I can use postfix to download email from all of my address that support pop (gmail, hotmail, work, etc) and sort the mail into different folders. Then I could also use Postfix to send mail from those accounts. Finally, I could use Dovecot to access everything via IMAP from any client just like accessing a gmail or other IMAP supporting account? Thanks again! –  evan Sep 28 '10 at 16:27
    
For services like gmail which support IMAP, I would just use them as an alternative mailbox in Thunderbird, or whichever client you use. For POP only servers, I would setup fetchmail to retrieve the email. If you are already using Postfix for local delivery, then you can use it with fetchmail. Otherwise, you can use procmail or maildrop to save the file into your inbox. –  BillThor Sep 29 '10 at 4:44
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The main reason I see people voting against personal email servers is the (usual) lack of reliability/redundancy (single point of failure). If your server were to go down, mail would bounce or remain in queue. I'm actually experimenting with hosting my own mail solution using 2-3 VPSes with postfix (virtual domains). One server would be the 'master' server (top MX priority), whilst others would 'hold and forward' the mail until the main server is back online.

I found this tutorial useful for learning the basics of setting up postfix with virtual domains (this one doesn't include redundancy) -- however I would skip over the ClamAV and SpamAssassin (personally).

IMAP is a great way to make sure that multiple computers stay in sync -- you would set up each client to connect to the server to grab the latest mail (and any changes). It's beneficial if paired with web access (roundcube, etc) if you are away from your 'main' computers frequently (or that odd time), since all emails are stored on the server.

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Yeah I'm not worried about one point of failure since the way I see it, my current system (depending on mac mail for everything) is really one point of failure also. Thanks for the vote of confidence, and good luck with your setup! –  evan Sep 28 '10 at 16:29
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What I do is run Thunderbird on my home PC (which run Windows Vista), and use RealVNC to remote into my home computer (which has a fixed IP) from wherever I am. RealVNC has versions for Windows, Mac and Linux. Not syncing, but it allows me to check my mail remotely yet keep it in one place. If I want to print out something, RealVNC has a remote printer feature that maps the printers on your local computer to your your remote one.

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I solved a similar problem by using thunderbird portable on a USB stick. All my email is now on one stick which I back up regularily to my PC. I don't have to worry about doing a sync to keep my email the same on all computers I just plug in the stick on what ever computer I want were ever I am. Works great

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Gmail is accessible via IMAP and Exchange. This is particularly awesome on a Mac:

http://www.apple.com/macosx/exchange/

If you really want to have your email with you wherever you go, get a smart phone.

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