This documentation is for Dovecot v2.x, see wiki1 for v1.x documentation.

Mail location

In configuration file the default mail location is set using mail_location setting. This setting used to be called default_mail_env in Dovecot versions earlier than 1.0.rc11.

You can use several variables in the value. A full list of them is in [wiki:Variables Variables], but the most commonly used are:

Typically with maildir this would be set to:

mail_location = maildir:%h/Maildir 

or with mbox:

mail_location = mbox:%h/mail:INBOX=/var/mail/%u 

Use only absolute paths. Even if relative paths might appear to work, they could just as well break some day.

Index files

Index files are by default stored under the same directory as mails. With maildir they are stored in the actual maildirs, with mbox they are stored under .imap/ directory. You can change these by adding :INDEX=location to location string. For example:

mail_location = mbox:%h/mail:INBOX=/var/mail/%u:INDEX=%h/indexes 

Homeless users

Having a home directory for users is highly recommended. [wiki:LDA Deliver]'s Sieve plugin already uses the home directory, and it won't work without one. You could even make the home directory be the same as the mail directory, but this isn't necessarily a good idea, especially with mbox where the created files would show up as mailboxes. If your home and mail directories are the same, you could use:

mail_location = maildir:%h 

If you really don't want to set a home directory, you can simply use something like:

mail_location = maildir:/home/%u/Maildir 

Per-user mail locations

It's possible to override mail_executable for specific users by making the [wiki:UserDatabase user database] return mail [wiki:UserDatabase/ExtraFields extra fields]. See your specific user database page for more information how to do this. Here are however a couple of examples:


user_query = SELECT home, uid, gid, mail FROM users WHERE user = '%u' 


user_attrs = homeDirectory=home,uidNumber=uid,gidNumber=gid,mailLocation=mail 



Mixing mbox and maildir

It's possible to use both mboxes and maildirs for the same user with namespaces. See [wiki:Namespaces Namespaces].

Having both mboxes and maildirs mixed within the same namespace isn't currently supported.

Custom mailbox location detection

Dovecot by default detects the mailboxes in this order:

  1. maildir: ~/Maildir
  2. mbox: ~/mail, and /var/mail/%u if it exists
  3. mbox: ~/Mail, and /var/mail/%u if it exists

If you need something else, you can override the mail_executable setting to run a script, which sets the MAIL environment properly. For example:


if [ -f $HOME/.maildir ]; then
  export MAIL=maildir:$HOME/.maildir
  export MAIL=mbox:$HOME/mail

# Finally execute the imap/pop3. If you use both, you'll need two scripts.
exec /usr/local/libexec/dovecot/imap

Only /var/mail mboxes

With POP3 it's been traditional that users have their mails only in /var/mail directory. IMAP however supports having multiple mailboxes, so each user has to have a private directory where the mailboxes are stored. Dovecot also needs a directory for its indexes unless you disable them completely.

If you really want to use Dovecot as a plain POP3 server without index files, you can work around the problem of not having the per-user directory:

Instead of /tmp directory you can use some other non-writable directory which could be safer.