rewrite – mail rewrite rules




Mail(1) uses rewrite rules to convert mail destinations into commands used to dispose of the mail. Each line of the file

unhandled troff command .F

is a rule. Blank lines and lines beginning with # are ignored.

Each rewriting rule consists of (up to) 4 strings:


A regular expression in the style of regexp(6). The pattern is applied to mail destination addresses. The pattern match is case-insensitive and must match the entire address.  


The type of rule; see below.  


An ed(1) style replacement string, with \n standing for the text matched by the nth parenthesized subpattern.  


Another ed(1) style replacement string.  

In each of these fields the substring \s is replaced by the login id of the sender and the substring \l is replaced by the name of the local machine.

When delivering a message, mail starts with the first rule and continues down the list until a pattern matches the destination address. It then performs one of the following actions depending on the type of the rule:


Append the mail to the file indicated by expanding arg1, provided that file appears to be a valid mailbox.  


Pipe the mail through the command formed from concatenating the expanded arg1 and arg2.  


Replace the address by the address(es) specified by expanding arg1 and recur.  


Replace the address by the address(es) output by the command formed by expanding arg1 and recur.  

Mail expands the addresses recursively until each address has matched a >> or | rule or until the recursion depth indicates a rewriting loop (currently 32).

If mail(1) is called with more than one address and several addresses match | rules and result in the same expanded arg1, the message is delivered to all those addresses by a single command, composed by concatenating the common expanded arg1 and each expanded arg2. This mail bundling is performed to reduce the number of times the same message is transmitted across a network. For example, with the following rewrite rule

   ([^!]*\.bell-labs\.com)!(.*)  |  "/mail/lib/qmail '\s' 'net!\1'" "'\2'"

if user presotto runs the command

   % mail!ken!rob

there will follow only one execution of the command

   /mail/lib/qmail presotto net! ken rob

Here /mail/lib/qmail is an rc(1) script used for locally queuing remote mail.

In the event of an error, the disposition of the mail depends on the name of the command executing the rewrite. If the command is called mail and is run by $user, the command will print an error and deposit the message in /mail/box/$user/dead.letter. If the command is called rmail, usually because it was invoked to deliver mail arriving over the network, the message will be returned to the sender. The returned message will appear to have been sent by user postmaster.