Exim + Gmail On Ubuntu

Table of Contents

This tutorial shows you how to set up a light-weight mail server on your Ubuntu system that can send mail to host-only (e.g. tom) and remote (e.g. tom@tompurl.com) addresses using Gmail as your SMTP server.

So what the heck does that mean? We're making it possible for you (and various programs on your computer) do the following:

$ echo "Hello!" | mail -s "This is cool" tom # Sent to /var/mail/tom spool
$ echo "Hello!" | mail -s "This is cool" tom@tompurl.com # Sent to my Gmail account

So now you may be asking yourself “why anyone would want to so something like this on a desktop machine that isn't a mail server? Can't you just send email using programs like the Gmail web client and Thunderbird?”. You certainly can, but it's not always the best choice.

For example, it you wanted to send an email message from a shell script, the easiest way to do that is to use the *mail* command above. Also, *your system* may want to send you a message if something weird happens, like a failed cronjob. Without a working mail server like Exim installed and configured, those messages are going to end up in /dev/null. So let's get started :)


This tutorial is designed to work with *Ubuntu Linux 11.04*, but it /may/ work with other versions of Ubuntu and Debian Linux. Here's all of the pertinent software versions that I'm using:

exim4-base                4.74-1ubuntu1.2
exim4-config              4.74-1ubuntu1.2
exim4-daemon-light        4.74-1ubuntu1.2
libmailutils2             1:2.1+dfsg1-7build1
mailutils                 1:2.1+dfsg1-7build1
mutt                      1.5.21-2ubuntu3

I used  this tutorial on using Exim with Gmail  to set up outgoing mail. If my instructions below don't work for you, then that tutorial may be able to help.

Software Installation

This part is super easy:

$ sudo apt-get install exim4-base mailutils mutt

Note: We're using *exim* (the Debian default) as our mail server instead of *postfix*, which is the default mail server in the Ubuntu world. You probably don't care, and for 99% of you it shouldn't matter. I'm just pointing it out because this is an Ubuntu-centric tutorial.

The mailutils package gives you a lightweight version of the exim daemon along with the mail and mailxprograms, which are pretty important if you ever want to be notified by your system when something strange happens.

Finally, we're installing mutt, which is a mail reader that you can use in a console. Please note that you will need to install this program (or something similar) if you want to read mail that is sent to you by your system. Showing you how to use mutt is beyond the scope of this tutorial, but if you need some basic guidance, then I recommend My First Mutt.


First, let's configure exim with debconf using the following command:

$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure exim4-config

You will now be presented with a configuration wizard. Here's what I chose:

  • Server Type
    • smarthost + smtp
  • System mail name
    • <your host name>
  • listening ip address
    • ; ::1
  • Other destinations
    • <your host name>
  • machines to relay for
    • <blank>
  • smarthost ip address
    • smtp.gmail.com::587
  • Hide local mail name
    • No
  • DNS Queries
    • No
  • Delivery method
    • Mbox
  • Split config?
    • Yes

Next, execute the following command:

$ chown root:Debian-exim /etc/exim4/passwd.client

The only step left is to specify your Gmail password. Open /etc/exim4/passwd.client and add something like this at the bottom of the file:


Of course, you'll want to replace the email address and password :) Please note that this config works with normal Gmail accounts and accounts that use Google Apps For Your Domain (like mine).


Now let's run a couple of simple tests:

# Please replace "me" with your user account name and verify in mutt
$ echo test | mail -s "test" me # Sends mail to /var/mail/me spool
# Please replace "me@gmail.com" with your actual Gmail address
$ echo test | mail -s "test" me@gmail.com # verify using Gmail


That's it! I hope that I've been able to help a few other people

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