Dealing with e-mail in a development environment

If you build web applications, chances are that they will send e-mail. Think contact forms, order confirmations, etc. On a developer machine however, you usually don't want this e-mail to be delivered to a real mailbox. You could use MailCatcher to solve this problem, but there are also other solutions, like using your current MTA in a smart way.


MailCatcher catches all e-mail sent on a system, and stores it for display. You can read from the website: "MailCatcher runs a super simple SMTP server which catches any message sent to it to display in a web interface. Run mailcatcher, set your favourite app to deliver to smtp:// instead of your default SMTP server, then check out to see the mail that's arrived so far."

This behaviour is useful on a developer machine, where you want to send e-mails, but you don't want them to arrive in your mailbox, or in your spam filter, or even worse, in a real customer's mailbox. The downside is that, out of the box, you are running an extra service on port 1080 and you have to deliver the e-mail with SMTP on port 1025. That means you need to fiddle with your project's e-mail settings, or with the php.ini.

mailcatcher postfix roundcube email development


Wouldn't it be great if you could just tweak your current MTA a bit to catch all e-mail and deliver this to a default mailbox on the system? Sure! At Intracto we use Vagrant with Puppet for some projects and we choose to keep using our well-known Postfix to handle e-mail. It’s easy to configure Postfix to make sure no e-mail leaves the box. Instead, all e-mail, regardless the sender or the receiver, will be delivered to the local vagrant user. The mailbox of the vagrant user can be read with a combination of Dovecot and Roundcube. Internally, we call this an e-mail collect. This is a clean and simple solution and there is no need to fiddle with your e-mail settings.

The way we set up the e-mail collect for our SecretSanta project can be found on GitHub. To summarize the setup, we install packages 'postfix', 'postfix-pcre', 'dovecot-imapd' and 'roundcube-core'. The following lines were added to the default Postfix /etc/postfix/

virtual_alias_domains =
virtual_alias_maps = pcre:/etc/postfix/virtual_forwardings.pcre
virtual_mailbox_domains = pcre:/etc/postfix/virtual_domains.pcre
home_mailbox = Maildir/
Then, we use pcre (Perl Compatible Regular Expressions) to configure virtual aliases:
echo "/@.*/ vagrant" > /etc/postfix/virtual_forwardings.pcre
echo "/^.*/ OK" > /etc/postfix/virtual_domains.pcre

Dovecot works out of the box and Roundcube was enabled on /roundcube in Apache2. You can then just use the default vagrant user to log into the mailbox. We did change the following settings in the default Roundcube /etc/roundcube/ to make it a bit easier to work with:

$rcmail_config['default_host'] = array('localhost');
$rcmail_config['list_cols'] = array('subject', 'from', 'to', 'date', 'size', 'flag', 'attachment');
$rcmail_config['show_images'] = 2;
$rcmail_config['create_default_folders'] = TRUE;


While I think MailCatcher is a very cool project and our Puppet modules are still a work in progress, we are very happy with our Postfix / Roundcube setup right now and we don't plan to replace it anytime soon. For now, I just liked to share this small insight about our development and deployment setup. I'm always curious for your thoughts and your experiences, so please feel free to leave a comment, or talk to us at Puppet Camp 2013 Ghent which we will most likely be attending.

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