Your editor, like many LWN readers, deals in large quantities of electronic
mail. As a result, tools which can help with the mail flood are always of
interest. One tool which has been on the radar for some time is
, a database-backed
mail store which is meant to deal with high mail volumes. Archiveopteryx
does not seem to have a hugely high profile, but it does have a dedicated
user base and a steady development pace; Archiveopteryx 3.1.3
released on March 10.
The idea behind Archiveopteryx is simple enough: build a mail store around
the PostgreSQL database, then provide access to it through the usual
protocols. Installation is relatively easy for a site which already has
PostgreSQL in place; a simple "make install" does the bulk of the work. A
straightforward configuration file allows for control over protocols,
ports, etc., and there is an administrative program which can be used to
set up users within the mail store.
On the protocol side, Archiveopteryx supports POP and IMAP for access to
email. It can handle mail receipt directly through SMTP, but that is not
normally how one would do things; there is still value in having a real
mail transfer agent in the process. The preferred mode is to use the
protocol to accept mail from the MTA; there is also a command-line utility
which can be used for that purpose if need be. The installation
instructions include straightforward recipes for configuring Archiveopteryx
to work with a number of MTAs.
supports the Sieve
filtering standard and the associated protocol for managing scripts.
Those who set up a large-scale mail store can be expected to have some
archived mail sitting around. Archiveopteryx provides an
aoximport tool for importing this email into the system. Your
editor found it to be overly simple and inflexible, though. It is unable
to create subfolders when importing an entire folder tree (they must
already be in place or the import fails), and it failed to import the bulk
of the messages when working with a Dovecot-managed maildir mailbox. The
importer, perhaps, is like the Debian installer: users tend to only need it
once, so it gets relatively little work once the basic functionality is in
Archiveopteryx works well as an IMAP server, and it is indeed fast when
dealing with folders containing many messages. Operations like deleting or
refiling groups of messages go notably faster than with Dovecot on the same
server. On the other hand, your editor was unable to get the Sieve script
functionality to work at all; this is probably more a matter of incomplete
configuration than fundamental problems with Archiveopteryx itself, but it
was still a discouraging development.
That ties into the biggest disappointment with Archiveopteryx, though,
which is probably totally unjustified: your editor would like this tool to
be something that it is not. If one is going to go to the trouble of
storing all of one's email into a complex database, it would be nice to be
able to do fast, complex searches on that email. That way, the next time
it becomes necessary to, say, collect linux-kernel zombie posts, a
quick search will do. Archiveopteryx seems to have a search feature
built into it, but actually using that feature appears to be limited to
exporting messages with the aoxexport tool. The IMAP protocol is
not particularly friendly toward the implementation of fast, server-side
searching, but it still seems like something better should be possible.
All that should not detract from what Archiveopteryx does well: store and
serve email in large volumes using standard protocols. As a tool for ISPs
and for others needing to make email available to lots of users, it seems
highly useful; it is clearly meant to scale in ways that servers like
Dovecot are not.
There is one remaining problem, though: the future of Archiveopteryx is not
entirely assured. For years, this program has been developed by a company
called Oryx, which offered commercial support for it. In June, 2009,
though, the developers behind Oryx announced
that the company was shutting down, with the final closure expected in
October of this year. They say:
So we're gradually closing down Oryx, BUT NOT ARCHIVEOPTERYX. We'll
relicense it using either the BSD or Apache 2 licenses and continue
making new releases for years to come. We both feel obliged to keep
the existing archives viable.
(The code is currently licensed under OSLv3).
A sense of obligation may keep Archiveopteryx going for a while, but if
it's going to be something that people can count on for years into the
future, it will have to develop a more active development community.
Archiveopteryx has the look of a solidly company-controlled project - the
repository is overwhelmingly dominated by commits from the two
principal developers. Such projects are always at a bit of risk if the
backing company runs into trouble. But Archiveopteryx is free software,
and highly useful free software at that; it seems like its user community
should be able to carry it forward.
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