Skip to main content

Restore backup and move mail server

We all know that backup are essential, but your backup procedure is tested? I mean, you have ever tried to restore a service?

In this post I try to explain the procedure that I used to restore and move my mail service to another server: it's a pretty basic setup, consisting of postfix as service SMTP, dovecot as IMAPS service and having as pool directory the path /var/mail/.

The backup is done using rsnapshot via my easy-backup package: from the snapshot I created a tar archive with the configuration files for the services of interest in the /etc directory and the mail pool.


First of all install the necessary packages: to obtain the list of packages installed with the actual version on the src server you can use

$ /usr/bin/aptitude -q -F "%?p=%?V %M" --disable-columns search \~i

(this is already generated if you install my package ;)); now, depending how different is the destination system, you have to check if the versions that it finds make sense or a major version change happened (like dovecot in my case) and in such case google for problems.

In any case, if something goes wrong you can apt-get remove --purge <packages> and restart from beginning.

After that you can copy the backuped data into the new machine: from the machine where you have the backup, create an archive containing all the needed

$ tar \
    -c \
    -C <root path of the backup> \
    etc/dovecot etc/postfix etc/aliases etc/aliases.db var/mail /home/gipi/mail/ \
    > archive-`date --iso`.tar

As double check, look at the configuration files and try to find some reference to files in /etc that can be needed (for example, in my case, some certificates). Also, remember that is possible that the two systems can have the uid and gid of the corresponding users not equal causing permission issues ( I would like to extend easy-backup to handle these cases).

Finally, compress the archive and unarchive to the final server

cat archive-2016-01-01.tar | gzip -9 | ssh dest tar -C / -xzv

This step can be time expensive (in my case the archive was like 80MB).

After all, restart the services and tail -f /var/log/syslog to watch any problem that can arise.


After all the procedure we can test if the new installation is working correctly, but since this want to be a test, without interrupting the normal mail server, we can use SWAKS and its option --server to direct the connections to the new server, otherwise it looks for the MX DNS's entry of the recipient (i.e. the email address indicated in the to field); in the following example I used as the domain

$ swaks \
    --server \
    --to \

Meanwhile you can look at the syslog on the server: in my case the first time I've done this I forgot to add /etc/aliases.db into the backup and this below is what the server told me

Jan  3 12:30:13 miao postfix/smtpd[7337]: error: open database /etc/aliases.db: No such file or directory

Obviously, we care to have the TLS available, so we can test that also with autentication

$ swaks \
    --server \
    -tls --tls-verify --tls-protocol tlsv1_2 \
    --auth plain \
    --from \

At this point you can also use some online tool to check you mail server, like starttls. It's also possible to check for blacklist.


If all it's ok, you are ready to switch your mail server: my procedure was to add a MX record with lower precedence to the one pre-existing, but lowering the time-to-live of both the entries, so to have less time to wait in order to adjust the values. Once the new entry was available I swapped the precedence so to have the new entry to be used and not the old one.

At this point I tried the normal access with my email client so to assure the IMAP worked and all the folders was there.

Finally, activated the backup for mail on the new server.

I advise you to try this, or in general, backup procedures, as probably you are not aware exactly of what you need to restore a system: myself I missed for years the backup of the mail folders in the home of my user.


Comments powered by Disqus