In the ~ directory of the root user on my debian wheezy server regularly appears file named dead.letter with (currently) the following content:

orion : Jul 25 10:17:31 : root : unable to resolve host orion

orion : Jul 26 02:17:18 : root : unable to resolve host orion

orion : Jul 26 21:17:19 : root : unable to resolve host orion

orion is the hostname of the server (and can normally be resolved since I have various services/programs using this hostname without problems). After some searching I figured that there is a cron job running hourly, i.e.

17 * * * *  root    cd / && run-parts --report /etc/cron.hourly

which could explain why those errors only appear 17 minutes after the full hour. The only script in /etc/cron.hourly is fake-hwclock with the following content:

# Simple cron script - save the current clock periodically in case of
# a power failure or other crash

if (command -v fake-hwclock >/dev/null 2>&1) ; then   
   fake-hwclock save

Can this produce those mysterious dead.letter? And why seems fake-hwclock save try to resolve the hostname?

Edit: Some more information.

Input of /etc/hosts:       localhost
::1             localhost ip6-localhost ip6-loopback
fe00::0         ip6-localnet
ff00::0         ip6-mcastprefix
ff02::1         ip6-allnodes
ff02::2         ip6-allrouters
  • /etc/hosts is a starter. Jul 27, 2015 at 11:22
  • See edited post. What do I have to look for in /etc/hosts?
    – Matthias
    Jul 27, 2015 at 11:26

2 Answers 2


Change the following line in /etc/hosts       localhost

to       localhost  orion

Your MTA was unable to resolve the domain name of your machine.

  • I think I have to wait some time to ensure this is the correct answer. But it does make sense to me. Will eventually later mark your answer as correct.
    – Matthias
    Jul 27, 2015 at 11:43
  • 2
    Some context/explanation would be helpful. Why do these messages appear in dead.letter rather than some log, for example? Jul 27, 2015 at 11:46
  • @FaheemMitha see the answer below. Jodkas answer solved the problem for me, but Gerhards answer explains the "why" more detailed.
    – Matthias
    Jul 27, 2015 at 15:24

Jodka Lemon's answer is correct:

  • cron executes its job, and sends a result mail to "root@orion" (via "mail" or similar)
  • the MTA cannot resolve host orion, since the hostname is not listed in /etc/hosts and not resolvable via dns.
  • so the mailer writes the dead letter information

You will find the destination address of crons mail output in the crontab file which holds the /etc/cron.hourly entry. This sould be /etc/crontab, I think...

Have Fun ... Gerhard

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