Standard Mailboxes

by Dave Cross

I run an open source project which uses Sourceforge for its infrastructure. This includes running an end-user support mailing list using Sourceforge's mailing list manager. Now our users are often not particularly technical. They are largely drawn from the large numbers of people who know a bit of HTML and want to add things like guestbooks and formmails to their web sites.

The people who run Sourceforge are (rightly in my opinion) very keen on internet standards. They enforce them in any way they can. One of the ways that they enforce them is that their mail server will only accept email from a domain that has a working "postmaster" email address. This doesn't effect most people as they are using mail servers that are administered by people who know the relevant RFCs and who have configured the correct standard mailboxes on their server.

However we have a whole class of user who has moved beyond using Hotmail for their email. They have bought their own domain and use it for their web site and their email. In many cases their hosting company will give them a web-based configuration application which allows them to set up all of the email addresses that they want. But at no point do they get told about the RFCs or advised that there are a certain number of email addresses that every domain should have. They set up a number of addresses and that all works fine until they try to send email to a server like the one at Sourceforge which rejects their email because they haven't set up a postmaster address. They will then get a message explaining the reason for the rejection and, in the case of my Sourceforge project, they often track down my email address and I get a mail telling me that my email system is broken.

Another good example is the number of domains without a working "webmaster" email address. People download our web programs and install them on their web sites themselves. Often this installation doesn't go well and they'll end up with a broken installation. Then a visitor will find the broken formmail and get in touch with me (the error message includes a link to our web site - not the best design decision we took!) and tell me that my web site is broken. Of course it's not my web site, it's just someone using our software. Only the owners of the site can fix the problem. But getting in touch with the owner of a web site with a broken formmail installation isn't easy. I try to pass the error report on to the owners of the site by contacting the webmaster, but in most cases, the webmaster address bounces back as undeliverable.

I just wish that people who are selling these hosting services took a bit more responsibility for the domains that their customers set up and told them about the standard mailboxes that all domains should have. I know that no-one has the power to mandate the existance of these mailboxes - but it would make my life easier if more people used them.

(See RFC 2142 and RFC 2821 for more details)

2 Comments

Bart van Kuik
2006-03-15 23:20:19
The link to your project is broken: The nms Project. An excellent entry otherwise.
Dave Cross
2006-03-16 00:49:44
Oops. Thanks for pointing that out. I've fixed it now.