I can't find any documentation on how postfix stores email. Where is it stored, and in what format? I'm using Ubuntu server 11

2 Answers 2


Probably /var/mail/[username] or the more traditional /var/spool/mail/[username]

The normal format, called "mbox", uses a line that starts with "From " to indicate the start of each message - this is one reason why many email clients will change "From " in the body of the message to ">From ". You can also configure it to use "maildir", in which /var/mail/[username] is a directory in which every email message is a file in that directory.

  • 1
    This is of course assuming that the user doesn't have procmail configured to do it for him instead. Commented Oct 26, 2011 at 5:13
  • It's also assuming that they haven't installed cyrus-sasl which moves things around. We're trying to keep things simple. Commented Oct 26, 2011 at 13:00
  • I've installed postfix, both of the above paths are empty, but I can see the emails in the squirrel web interface.
    – Alex
    Commented Jun 30, 2018 at 4:21
  • 2
    @Alex Look in /etc/postfix/main.cf for the mail_spool_directory and home_mailbox and see which one is uncommented.Also look to see if mailbox_transport = cyrus is uncommented. Like I said above, cyrus does complicated things with your mail. Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 3:08

For outbound mail (you didn't specify, and inbound is answered elsewhere) it is in /var/spool/postfix. If you look there you will find all sorts of subdirectories.

  • I cannot find my outbound mails inthere on my debian machine.
    – simonpie
    Commented May 6, 2013 at 0:45
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    I cannot find my outbound mails in there on my debian machine. This directory is used but things there are store only trensiently. Alpine stores outbound emails in /home/[username]/mail/sent-mail for example.
    – simonpie
    Commented May 6, 2013 at 0:57
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    Postfix does not store outgoing mail permanently. Once it's off the system, it's no longer the responsibility of the MTA. If you need a permanent copy, Bcc: yourself, or use whatever your MUA offers (like you mention for Alpine).
    – tripleee
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 9:09
  • Yes, it's ephemeral. Take down your net connection and send an email. Then you'll see something queued up... Commented Feb 2, 2015 at 1:20
  • The files are not directly useful, though. Messages which could not be delivered are in /var/spool/postfix/deferred but the files are in some internal format.
    – tripleee
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 12:18

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