# Courier::Filter::Overview
# (C) 2003-2008 Julian Mehnle <julian@mehnle.net>
# $Id: Overview.pod 210 2008-03-21 19:30:31Z julian $


=head1 NAME

Courier::Filter::Overview - Architectural and administrative overview of


Courier::Filter is a purely Perl-based mail filter framework for the Courier

=head2 The Courier MTA's B<courierfilter> interface

Courier offers an interface for daemon-style processes to act as mail filters,
called B<courierfilter>s.  For every incoming mail message, right after the
DATA command in the SMTP transaction phase has completed, Courier calls every
registered mail filter through a UNIX domain socket the filter is listening
on, and feeds it the file names of the incoming message and one or more control
files.  The mail filter processes the message and its control file(s), and
returns an SMTP-style status response.  If the status response is a positive
("2xx") one, Courier accepts the message.  Otherwise, Courier rejects the
message using the returned response code and text.  For details about the
courierfilter interface, see L<courierfilter>.

=head2 About B<Courier::Filter>

Courier::Filter implements the courierfilter interface as a framework for mail
filter modules that frees modules from the duties of creating and handling the
UNIX domain sockets, waiting for connections from Courier, and reading and
parsing message and control files.  Thus, authors of filter modules can
concentrate on writing the actual filter logic without having to care about
things that can easily be abstracted and can be performed by the framework.

Courier::Filter allows multiple filter modules to be installed, and filter
modules can be stacked and grouped hierarchically, and even a module's polarity
can be reversed, so some modules can be used for explicitly I<accepting>
messages while others are used in the traditional way for I<rejecting>

=head2 Courier::Filter compared to other courierfilter implementations

There are some alternative implementations of the courierfilter interface:


=item I<Writing your own standalone courierfilter>

If you need an ultra-high performance mail filter, writing a standalone
courierfilter in C/C++ is a good choice.  You will have maximum freedom for
optimizing your filter for performance and resource consumption.  But
regardless of which language you use, you will have to implement all the UNIX
domain socket and connection handling and message and control file processing
yourself.  And you don't get the modularity and module grouping capabilities
for free either.

=item I<courierperlfilter>

Courier brings a sample Perl-based courierfilter called B<courierperlfilter>.
It is a C executable that employs Perl embedding (see L<perlembed>) to execute
a Perl script for every incoming message, which is about as performant as the
purely Perl-based Courier::Filter.  But for every Perl-based courierfilter you
want to run, you have to use a separate instance of courierperlfilter, or
implement your own modularity and module grouping.  Also, the included template
Perl script is not very modular in itself, and Courier::Filter's message and
control file parsing features are missing.

=item I<pythonfilter>

B<pythonfilter> by Gordon Messmer is a purely Python-based, modular, threaded
courierfilter framework, similar to Courier::Filter.  If you primarily speak
Python, this is clearly your choice.  pythonfilter also provides infrastructure
to filter modules for modifying messages, even with versions of Courier prior
to 0.57.1, which did not directly allow global mail filters to modify messages.
As of version 1.1, pythonfilter supports only a linear topology in the
configuration of its filter modules.


=head2 Using Courier::Filter

First, Courier::Filter (of course) and the filter modules that you plan to use
for filtering your incoming mail need to be installed somewhere in your Perl
include path (see the last lines of `perl -V`).  You may also need to adjust
the B<Courier::Config> class (in C<Courier/Config.pm>) to reflect your system's
paths.  As for the filter modules, you can either use prepared ones (see
L</"Bundled Courier::Filter modules"> for a list of modules that come with
Courier::Filter), or you can write your own (see L</"How filter modules

Second, you need to create a configuration file for Courier::Filter.
Courier::Filter usually seeks for it at
C</etc/courier/filters/courier-filter-perl.conf> (see L<Courier::Config> on how
to configure that).  This file is a Perl snippet that must C<use> the filter
modules you want to use, and then fill in the C<$options> global variable with
the desired configuration options, instantiating filter modules and loggers as

If you plan to use non-ASCII string literals in your configuration file, it
should be encoded in UTF-8 (which is the native internal character encoding of
Perl 5.8+ and Courier::Filter), and if it is, it I<must> do C<use utf8>.  (It
is possible for the configuration file to be encoded differently, but you
still I<must> explicitly specify the used encoding, see L<encoding> for how to
do that.)

For example, this is how a simple configuration file could look like:

    use utf8;
    use Courier::Filter::Logger::File;
    use Courier::Filter::Module::Header;
    $options = {
        logger      => Courier::Filter::Logger::File->new(
            file_name   => '/var/log/courier-filter-perl.log',
            timestamp   => 1
        modules     => [
                fields      => {
                    subject     => qr/fuzzybuzzy/
                response    => 'No fuzzybuzzy, please!'

These options will be used when creating the C<Courier::Filter> object.  For a
detailed explanation of supported configuration options and how filter modules
can be grouped, even hierarchically, see L<Courier::Filter/"new()">.

Third, you need to make Courier aware of Courier::Filter by installing a
symlink in C</etc/courier/filters/active/> pointing to the
C<courier-filter-perl> executable (which is used for bootstrapping

    $ ln -s $PATH_TO/courier-filter-perl /etc/courier/filters/active/

Finally, you may start (or restart) Courier::Filter (including any other
installed courierfilters; Courier must of course already be running):

    $ sudo courierfilter restart

In syslog, you should see the following message and no further error messages:

    Jan 24 01:42:15 yourhost courierfilter: Starting courier-filter-perl

Any errors occurring while Courier::Filter is running will appear in syslog as
well.  A broken filter module will not crash Courier::Filter, but will record
any Perl error messages in syslog, and I<reject> incoming mail messages with a
I<temporary> status code, so as not to enable attackers to circumvent the
configured Courier::Filter mail filtering.

=head2 How filter modules work

Filter modules are Perl classes that are derived from the class
B<Courier::Filter::Module>.  See L<perlobj> for an explanation of Perl's object
orientation features.

Filter modules are to be instantiated in the C<courier-filter-perl.conf>
configuration file, with either B<normal polarity> (the default) or B<inverse
polarity>.  Then, for every incoming mail message, Courier::Filter asks each
configured filter module in turn for consideration of the message's

Every module tries to match its filter criteria against the current message,
yielding a so-called I<match result>, which can be either an B<explicit match>,
an B<implicit mismatch>, or an B<explicit mismatch>.  (Filter modules usually
never return an I<explicit> mismatch, but only an I<implicit> one; see
L</"Writing filter modules"> if you want to know why.)

According to the filter module's polarity, the match result is then translated
into a so-called I<acceptability result>, which can be either an B<explicit
reject>, an B<implicit accept>, or an B<explicit accept>.

This is how I<match results> are translated into I<acceptability results> under
normal and inverse polarity:

     polarity | match result      | acceptability result
              | explicit match    | explicit reject
     normal   | implicit mismatch | implicit accept
              | explicit mismatch | explicit accept
              | explicit match    | explicit accept
     inverse  | implicit mismatch | implicit accept
              | explicit mismatch | explicit reject

Generally, Courier::Filter interprets the acceptability result as follows:


=item *

If a module states an B<explicit reject> for the current message,
Courier::Filter aborts the consideration process and rejects the message.

=item *

If a module states an B<implicit accept>, Courier::Filter continues the
consideration process with the next module in turn.

=item *

If a module states an B<explicit accept>, Courier::Filter skips the rest of the
group of modules and assumes the whole group to be an B<implicit accept>.


If no B<explicit reject> has occured when Courier::Filter finishes asking all
filter modules, the message is accepted.

(For details on how to use advanced I<filter module grouping>, see the
description of the C<modules> option in L<Courier::Filter/"new()">.)

Abstracting the concept of a "match" from the concept of "acceptance" makes it
possible to use filter modules with normal polarity for "black-listing" certain
message characteristics, and filter modules with inverse polarity for
"white-listing", while still allowing all modules to be written in a uniform
sense of logic.  That is, there are no dedicated "accepting" and "rejecting"
modules, but only "matching" modules.  (E.g. there are no "HeaderAccept" and
"HeaderReject" modules, but only a "Header" module.)

=head2 Writing filter modules

The main objective of Courier::Filter is to make it very easy to write new
filter modules, so while the previous section described how filter modules work
in general, we will now look at the details of writing your own filter modules.
From here on you really should know what you are doing, so if you are not
familiar with Perl's object orientation features, now is the time to read
L<perlobj> plus any documents referenced from there.

As already mentioned, filter modules are Perl classes derived from the class
B<Courier::Filter::Module>, which is an abstract base class and thus cannot be
instantiated itself.

To ask a filter module for consideration of the message, Courier::Filter calls
C<$module-E<gt>consider()>, passing a B<Courier::Message> object.
C<$module-E<gt>consider()> (if not overrided from B<Courier::Filter::Module>)
then calls C<$module-E<gt>match()>, passing through the message object.

The C<match()> method really is where a filter module decides whether a message
matches the filter criteria, and this is usually the only method of
B<Courier::Filter::Module> that needs to be overrided.  That method may use any
configuration information from the filter module object (see
L<Courier::Filter::Module>, and of course your own class), and any information
from the message object (see L<Courier::Message>).

If a filter module wants to call external commands using C<system()>, or
functions from Perl modules that directly operate on files, it can efficiently
bypass the message and control files processing features of Courier::Message by
using the message object's C<control_file_names> and C<file_name> properties

Finally, after the message has been examined, C<match()> must return a I<match
result> of...


=item B<true>

if the module wants to state an B<explicit match> (the first return value being
the SMTP status response I<text>, an optional second one being the SMTP status
response I<code>),

=item B<undef>

if the module wants to state an B<implicit mismatch>, that is, indifference of
whether the message should be accepted or rejected,

=item B<false>

if the module wants to state an B<explicit mismatch>.


C<consider()> then translates the I<match result> into a I<acceptability
result> as described in L</"How filter modules work">.

C<match()> should usually never return an I<explicit> mismatch (B<false>), but
an I<implicit> one (B<undef>) instead for the message to pass I<this filter
module>, while still allowing any further modules to I<explicitly> reject
(under normal polarity) or accept (under inverse polarity) the message.  See
the description of the C<modules> option in L<Courier::Filter/"new()"> for
specifics on how Courier::Filter uses acceptability results.

=head2 A sample HeaderSimple filter module

Now let's see in practice how to write a simple filter module.  For instance,
we will create a simple variant of the C<Header> module that matches a
specified message header field against a specified string.  Let's call it

First, we create a Perl module for the class
B<Courier::Filter::Module::HeaderSimple>, with the file name
C<Courier/Filter/Module/HeaderSimple.pm>.  (That is, you need to install the
file C<HeaderSimple.pm> in the proper place in your Perl include path.)

Second, in that Perl module, we state the package/class name, and the name of
the base class, which is usually B<Courier::Filter::Module>:

    package Courier::Filter::Module::HeaderSimple;
    use base qw(Courier::Filter::Module);

Third, we override the C<match()> method by defining a rudimentary C<match>

    sub match {
        my ($self, $message) = @_;

        # ...

The first argument of the C<match()> method is (as usual in Perl's object
orientation model) the module object itself, which provides access to its
configuration options.  The second argument is the message object that is to be
examined.  The ellipsis ("...") is where we will place our own filter logic.

Now, we expect our module to be instantiated like this:

        field       => 'subject',
        value       => 'viagra',
        response    => 'Go away, spammer!'

which makes the configuration options available from the hash keys
C<$self-E<gt>{field}>, C<$self-E<gt>{value}>, and C<$self-E<gt>{response}>.

We want to test whether the configured header field of the message matches the
configured value, and if so, return the configured response, so we write:

    return $self->{response}
        if $message->header($self->{field}) =~ m/\Q$self->{value}\E/;
    return undef;
        # otherwise.

That's it.  This is how the complete filter module looks like:

    package Courier::Filter::Module::HeaderSimple;
    use base qw(Courier::Filter::Module);
    sub match {
        my ($self, $message) = @_;
        return $self->{response}
            if $message->header($self->{field}) =~ m/\Q$self->{value}\E/;
        return undef;
            # otherwise.

=head2 Testing Courier::Filter modules

You may dry-test filter modules using the C<test-filter-module> utility.  See
its manpage for details.

You may also switch any or all installed filter modules into "testing" mode so
you can test them without risking messages being actually rejected.  See
L<Courier::Filter/"new()"> and L<Courier::Filter::Module/"new()">.

=head2 Bundled Courier::Filter modules

The following prepared filter modules are included with this version of


=item L<I<BlankBody>|Courier::Filter::Module::BlankBody>

Detection of messages with blank bodies (symptom of stupid spammers)

=item L<I<DNSBL>|Courier::Filter::Module::DNSBL>

Checking of the calling MTA's IP address against one or more DNS black-lists

=item L<I<SPF>|Courier::Filter::Module::SPF>

SPF (Sender Policy Framework) authorization checking of the calling MTA's IP
address against the envelope sender domain (classic inbound SPF checking)

=item L<I<SPFout>|Courier::Filter::Module::SPFout>

SPF authorization checking of the local system's IP address against the
envelope sender domain (so-called outbound SPF checking)

=item L<I<Envelope>|Courier::Filter::Module::Envelope>

Literal and reg-exp matching of one or more RFC 2821 message envelope fields

=item L<I<Header>|Courier::Filter::Module::Header>

Literal and reg-exp matching of one or more RFC 2822 message header fields

=item L<I<FakeDate>|Courier::Filter::Module::FakeDate>

Detection of implausible and malformed "Date" and "Resent-Date" header fields

=item L<I<ClamAVd>|Courier::Filter::Module::ClamAVd>

Malware detection using the ClamAV anti-virus scanner

=item L<I<SpamAssassin>|Courier::Filter::Module::SpamAssassin>

Spam detection using SpamAssassin

=item L<I<Parts>|Courier::Filter::Module::Parts>


Size and MD5 sum matching of message (MIME multipart and ZIP archive) parts

=item L<I<SendCopy>|Courier::Filter::Module::SendCopy>

Pseudo-filter for sending message copies to additional recipients


=head2 Bundled Courier::Filter loggers

The following prepared loggers are included with this version of


=item L<I<IOHandle>|Courier::Filter::Logger::IOHandle>

Logging to I/O handles

=item L<I<Syslog>|Courier::Filter::Logger::Syslog>

Logging to syslog (based on the B<IOHandle> logger)

=item L<I<File>|Courier::Filter::Logger::File>

Logging to files (based on the B<IOHandle> logger)


=head1 SEE ALSO

L<courier-filter-perl>, L<test-filter-module>,
L<Courier::Filter>, L<Courier::Filter::Module>, L<Courier::Message>,



=item The B<courierfilter> interface


=item B<courierperlfilter>


=item B<pythonfilter>




The latest version of Courier::Filter is available on CPAN and at

Support is usually (but not guaranteed to be) given by the author, Julian
Mehnle <julian@mehnle.net>, preferably through the Courier MTA's courier-users
mailing list <courier-users@lists.sourceforge.net>, which is subscribable
through L<http://lists.sourceforge.net/lists/listinfo/courier-users>.


Courier::Filter is Copyright (C) 2003-2008 Julian Mehnle <julian@mehnle.net>.
All rights reserved.

Courier::Filter is free software.  You may use, modify, and distribute it under
the same terms as Perl itself, i.e. under the GNU GPL or the Artistic License.


# vim:tw=79