The popularity and prevalence of always-on home network service (via DSL or cable modem) has changed the notion of what an Internet Service Provider (ISP) needs to provide. In the old days, an ISP hosted your Web site and email on their servers. You used their network to browse the Web, read newsgroups, and POP your email. Since your connection was temporary, there wasn't a way to get email delivered directly and reliably to your computer.
The popularity and prevalence of always-on home network service (via DSL or cable modem) has changed the notion of what an Internet Service Provider (ISP) needs to provide. In the old days, an ISP hosted your Web site and email on their servers. You used their network to browse the Web, read newsgroups, and POP your email. Since your connection was temporary, there wasn’t a way to get email delivered directly and reliably to your computer.
Now, thanks to Linux, you can setup an old 486 or Pentium and run your own email and Web server. And once you’re up and running, it’s time to look at Web-based email software. Why? Because a Web-based email interface gives you always-on access to your email. If you’re stuck half way around the world without a computer, all you need is a browser to check your mail. Sure, you could use HotMail or Yahoo! Mail, but that means dealing with a lot of SPAM and annoying advertisements. Even if you don’t use the Web-based interface, your non-technical friends and family might enjoy a clean and fast alternative to commercial Web mail services.
Squirrelmail is a popular Web-based email system written in pure PHP. It works with all popular IMAP (UW, Courier, Cyrus) and SMTP servers (Exim, Postfix, Sendmail, Qmail).
Plug and Play
Squirrelmail is incredibly easy to setup. Simply visit the Squirrelmail Web site (http://www.squirrelmail.org) and download the latest release. To install and run it, you’ll need a Web server with PHP, an IMAP server, and optionally, Perl. Unpack Squirrelmail, create a few directories, run the configuration script, and adjust directory permissions.
$ tar -zxvf squirrelmail-1.2.9.tar.gz
$ mv squirrelmail-1.2.9 squirrelmail
$ cd squirrelmail
$ mkdir attachments
$ chmod -R 777 attachments data
$ cd config
$ perl config.pl (Here, you’ll answer a few questions…)
$ chown -R nobody data
$ chmod go-w data
$ chgrp -R nobody attachments
$ chmod -R 730 attachments
Finally, make sure the path in config/config.php points to the location where you installed Squirrelmail. Point your browser at http://yourserver.com/squirrelmail (or wherever you’ve installed it) and you’ll see a login screen. Login (with your email account name and password) and you’ll see your INBOX, as shown in Figure One.
Figure One: The incoming mail screen
Squirrelmail is a full-featured Web email system. It not only offers a high degree of customization and support for bulk operations on groups of messages, it does so without sacrificing usability. Squirrelmail was designed with easy-of-use in mind.
Beyond all of SquirrelMail’s built-in features, there’s also a growing library of Squirrelmail plug-ins that you can download and install to add to or enhance the features of your system. On the Squirrelmail site, you can find plug-ins for everything from enhanced address books to custom login and authentication modules.
If you plan to use Squirrelmail with any frequency, think hard about the security of your email and the password you use to retrieve it. Additionally, Apache can be configured to allow access to Squirrelmail using SSL (which is very useful for users outside of your private network). SSL helps ensure that casual snoopers don’t read your mail or steal your password.
Squirrelmail isn’t the only game in town. After all, the open source world has at least two of everything. Among Linux enthusiasts, IMP (http://www.horde.org/imp) is the other popular Web email system. IMP and Squirrelmail have both become quite popular with ISPs and home users alike.
Have an idea for a project we should feature? Drop a note to email@example.com and let us know.
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