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Classic Linux legacy mailboxes

Our old Classic Linux servers were permissive and allowed mail folders to be created via IMAP in arbitrary places. This sometimes led to unreliable mail access and user confusion.

On the new Classic Linux server, by default, all mail resides in exactly one place: in a maildir format directory called ~/Maildir/ , which is a direcory  Maildir  inside your home directory. The standard IMAP and POP servers, and the standard Roundcube webmail, will only ever show you this one location. Note that you can have any number of mail folders inside that ~/Maildir/ directory, so you are not limited to just one.

However, the OLD directory that contains your files from our old servers also contains old email. This old email can be accessed using the methods described below. These methods require all mail, new and old, to reside in one of four places. If you happen to have mail in any other place, you can either move it into one of the listed places (if it's an old-style mail folder also called mbox format), or you can use the Mutt program from the command line to access it.

These four places are listed in the table below. The ~ (tilde) character stands for your home directory.

Label Location Format Description
INBOX and subfolders ~/Maildir/ maildir New default mailbox
#NEW_Mail_mbox ~/Mail/ mbox Old legacy format in home directory
#OLD_Maildir_maildir ~/OLD/shell/Maildir/ maildir Old mail, migrated from old servers
#OLD_Mail_mbox ~/OLD/shell/Mail mbox Old mail, migrated from old servers

The label in the table above will let you recognize each of these locations in the instructions below.

Note that #NEW_Mail_mbox is on the new server so it's called NEW but it is a directory ~/Mail/ that should contain mbox format files. That is an old legacy format that we do not recommend as it is less reliable than maildir.

The default IMAP server will not access the legacy locations and formats. This is intentional. We want you to stick to the one ~/Maildir/ for long-term reliability and less confusion. The methods below are provided so you can access your old mail and, as time permits, refile it into the new ~/Maildir/ folder. Once you have done that, you won't need to use the below instructions any more. All your mail will safely and reliably reside in ~/Maildir/ and you can go back to the default IMAP server. Although access to legacy mail will continue to be available after our migration is over, you are advised to refile old mail into the new ~/Maildir/ (at your convenience, it's not urgent) for long-term reliability.

As a precaution, refile in small steps then bigger steps. Refile one or two unimportant messages from one folder to another, and check to make sure they are intact. Then select, say five or six, refile, and check. Then select more and more, in stages, always checking to make sure they got refiled correctly.

If you really don't want to refile. You don't have to. You can let your old mail stay where it is, and access it as needed using the instructions below. But we strongly recommend not adding any new messages into the old locations. Treat them as read-only and all will be fine.

How to access the various mail locations

Legacy Roundcube webmail

Access legacy Roundcube webmail here: You can log into it just like you log into the normal webmail. It will show you as many of the above four locations as it can find. Anything that doesn't exist will not be shown.

There is a little icon near the top of the screen, a little to the right of your email address, that looks like three dots, vertically stacked. (It looks like this on devices with the right fonts.) Clicking on this will give you a pop-up menu from which you can click on Manage folders. Now you can enable or disable any or all of the four locations listed in the table above (or as many as exist).

To actually access mail in these folders, click on the Mail icon at the left, then on a folder.

Don't use both the legacy Roundcube and the normal Roundcube at the same time. It will only cause confusion. The legacy Roundcube shows you all the mail the normal Roundcube shows you, and in addition, the legacy Roundcube also shows you mail in the legacy locations.

Roundcube official documentation can be found at:


The usual Alpine program will let you access all four locations (or as many as exist). Go through the folder menus and look for the four labels.

Alpine will let you refile mail between the various locations. So you can move old mail from one of the old locations into the new ~/Maildir.

Any IMAP or POP client

Any IMAP or POP client (e.g., Thunderbird) can access all four locations (or as many as exist) by connecting to our legacy IMAP or POP server. Then you should be able to refile mail between the various locations. So you can move old mail from one of the old locations into the new ~/Maildir.

Note: If you are refiling mail across folders, IMAP is recommended. POP might not work, or it might be very slow and unreliable.

Use the instructions on the page Classic Linux ports and protocols, but prefix each port with the digit 3. E.g., 993 becomes 3993.

Don't connect to both the legacy IMAP or POP server and the normal IMAP or POP server at the same time. It will only cause confusion. The legacy server shows you all the mail the normal server shows you, and in addition, the legacy server also shows you mail in the legacy locations.


The Mutt program can be configured by power users to access any number of mailboxes in various formats. Please consult documentation on the Internet.

Old inbox that was inside /var/spool/mail

On the old servers, you had a default inbox that resided in the file /var/spool/mail/USER where USER is your Linux login name. This old inbox ends up as the file  /home/USER/OLD/var-spool-mail-USER  on the new server. (See file layouts in File layout in Classic Linux.). This file is not accessible to the mechanisms described above. But all you need to do is move it into one of the Mail directories (either ~/Mail/ or ~/OLD/shell/Mail) and it will become visible.

We will move it for you at your request.

Manual maildir moves

It is possible to move a mail folder, along with all messages in it, from within a maildir format directory in OLD to a maildir format directory in your new home directory. This can be done at the Linux shell with a simple mv command.

Suppose you have a folder called example inside ~/OLD/shell/Maildir . Physically, this folder is just a subdirectory whose name begins with a dot.

pathname of maildir name of folder pathname of folder
~/OLD/shell/Maildir example ~/OLD/shell/Maildir/.example

This folder can be moved into your new home directory by moving it into ~/Maildir with a Linux shell command. The command in this case would be:

  mv ~/OLD/shell/Maildir/.example ~/Maildir/.

The final trailing dot in the above command is intentional and should not be omitted.

This command causes the directory ~/OLD/shell/Maildir/.example to be moved so that after the move it resides inside ~/Maildir/ . After this move the folder example will become accessible inside ~/Maildir/ , complete with all the messages in it.

Take care that there is not already a subdirectory called .example inside ~/Maildir/ , otherwise the mv command will fail (but there will not be any harm).

Also, it is easy to make typographical errors on the Linux command line, and the system will generally not protect you if you give it the wrong command. Thus caution should be exercised.

The above manual move works only for moving an entire folder. You cannot use the mv command to move individual messages.1)

Actually you can, but you have to carefully find the pathname of the desired message and use the mv command to move it. For most people it will be more reliable and quicker to use normal mail software to refile messages across folders.
legacy_mailboxes.txt · Last modified: 2021/03/24 18:50 by admin