I have configured the Debian workstations at our department to use Exim 4 for mail delivery. Also I have created an alias such that I receive all the root emails. The Exim 4 configuration (via Ansible and debconf) has those settings:

exim4_dc_eximconfig_configtype: internet
exim4_dc_readhost: …
exim4_dc_smarthost: …
exim4_dc_use_split_config: 'true'
exim4_dc_hide_mailname: 'true'
exim4_dc_mailname_in_oh: 'true'

On each of the machines, I can use mailx to send an email to root and it will show up in my inbox just fine. Also some executions of the cron jobs are properly sent to me.

However, most cron jobs fail to deliver their emails and instead I get the following email:

This message was created automatically by mail delivery software.

A message that you sent could not be delivered to one or more of its
recipients. This is a permanent error. The following address(es) failed:

    (generated from root@echo)

Reporting-MTA: dns; echo

Action: failed
Final-Recipient: rfc822;ueding@…
Status: 5.0.0

Return-path: <root@echo>
Received: from root by echo with local (Exim 4.89)
    (envelope-from <root@echo>)
    id 1f7Jqz-0007jU-7y
    for root@echo; Sat, 14 Apr 2018 14:00:25 +0200
From: root@echo (Cron Daemon)
To: root@echo
Subject: Cron <root@echo> ansible-pull -U git@github.com:…/….git --private-key /root/.ssh/ansible_pull localhost.yml
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit
X-Cron-Env: <SHELL=/bin/sh>
X-Cron-Env: <HOME=/root>
X-Cron-Env: <PATH=/usr/bin:/bin>
X-Cron-Env: <LOGNAME=root>
Message-Id: <E1f7Jqz-0007jU-7y@echo>
Date: Sat, 14 Apr 2018 14:00:25 +0200
X-Exim-DSN-Information: Due to administrative limits only headers are returned

I really do not understand why this is happening. Either all email delivery fails, or almost all succeed. How can the email from cron fail on most workstations but succeed on others, while the delivery failure emails always get through?

The system log regarding exim on the machine, echo, is really sparse:

# journalctl -u exim4.service 
-- Logs begin at Tue 2018-03-06 18:35:11 CET, end at Sat 2018-04-14 17:13:08 CEST. --
Apr 02 18:00:30 echo systemd[1]: Starting LSB: exim Mail Transport Agent...
Apr 02 18:01:23 echo exim4[27433]: Starting MTA: exim4.
Apr 02 18:01:23 echo systemd[1]: Started LSB: exim Mail Transport Agent.

Looking into /var/log/exim4/mainlog serves the explanation on a silver platter:

2018-04-14 14:00:25 1f7Jqz-0007jU-7y <= root@echo U=root P=local S=7948
2018-04-14 14:00:25 1f7Jqz-0007jU-7y ** ueding@… <root@echo> R=dnslookup T=remote_smtp: message is too big (transport limit = 1)
2018-04-14 14:00:25 1f7Jqz-0007jW-BM <= <> R=1f7Jqz-0007jU-7y U=Debian-exim P=local S=1856
2018-04-14 14:00:25 1f7Jqz-0007jU-7y Completed
2018-04-14 14:00:26 1f7Jqz-0007jW-BM => ueding@… <root@echo> R=dnslookup T=remote_smtp H=… […] X=TLS1.0:RSA_AES_256_CBC_SHA1:256 CV=yes DN="C=DE,ST=…,L=…,O=…,OU=…,CN=…" C="250 2.0.0 Ok: queued as 6FCA1155FC32"
2018-04-14 14:00:26 1f7Jqz-0007jW-BM Completed

The error likely is “message is too big (transport limit = 1)”. But that still does not make so much sense since I have 30 identically configured workstations and for some of them the messages get through several days in a row. The length of the message should be the same for each machine (except the length of the hostname), and the two machines which currently get their emails through have longer names.

  • 2
    This is a delivery failure message. What do the Exim mail log files tell you on the system that fails to send the original message? – roaima Apr 14 '18 at 15:09
  • How could I not have looked into the logs‽ I now made up for this lapse. The issue seems to be a size issue. But since it is just a few page text log and other machines get their stuff through, it still seems unclear. – Martin Ueding Apr 14 '18 at 15:22

I think you've hit this reported bug, exim4: bogus reject response on overlong lines.

It actually refers to lines that are too long, not the message itself. Try piping your message through fmt -s before passing it to exim4.

  • This very much looks like it! The ansible-playbook command sometimes creates insanely long lines because it has the full failure output from apt-get in one line. I have updated two failing hosts with this, it should be fixed. I will come back here after the next run of cron and describe how it went. – Martin Ueding Apr 15 '18 at 8:41
  • for messages where you need to see where the original linebreaks where, I recommend sed -l 120 -n l FILE – am70 Jan 12 at 11:43

example in log:

email@domain.tld R=smarthost T=remote_smtp_smarthost: message is too big (transport limit = 1)

this means a max LINE limit of 998 chars has been hit


in "/etc/exim4/exim4.conf.localmacros" add the following line:


and then restart exim4.

  • 1
    Thanks!! I've spent a couple of hours on it before finding your answer.... In my version of exim4 I've added IGNORE_SMTP_LINE_LENGTH_LIMIT=1 at the end of /etc/exim4/update-exim4.conf.conf – AymKdn Jul 23 '19 at 15:33
  • if you add that in /etc/exim4/update-exim4.conf.conf and then run update-exim4.conf , it will barf – am70 Jan 12 at 11:45

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