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Email Filtering with Sieve

User-Defined Sieve Filters

Advice may be outdated

This section was contributed by the community some time ago and some configuration examples may be outdated.

Sieve allows to specify filtering rules for incoming emails that allow for example sorting mails into different folders depending on the title of an email.

Global vs User order

There are global and user specific filters which are filtering the incoming emails in the following order:

Global-before -> User specific -> Global-after

Global filters are applied to EVERY incoming mail for EVERY email address.

  • To specify a global Sieve filter provide a docker-data/dms/config/before.dovecot.sieve or a docker-data/dms/config/after.dovecot.sieve file with your filter rules.
  • If any filter in this filtering chain discards an incoming mail, the delivery process will stop as well and the mail will not reach any following filters (e.g. global-before stops an incoming spam mail: The mail will get discarded and a user-specific filter won't get applied.)

To specify a user-defined Sieve filter place a .dovecot.sieve file into a virtual user's mail folder (e.g. /var/mail/ If this file exists dovecot will apply the filtering rules.

It's even possible to install a user provided Sieve filter at startup during users setup: simply include a Sieve file in the docker-data/dms/config/ path for each user login that needs a filter. The file name provided should be in the form <user_login>.dovecot.sieve, so for example for you should provide a Sieve file named docker-data/dms/config/

An example of a sieve filter that moves mails to a folder INBOX/spam depending on the sender address:


require ["fileinto", "reject"];

if address :contains ["From"] "" {
  fileinto "INBOX.spam";
} else {


That folders have to exist beforehand if sieve should move them.

Another example of a sieve filter that forward mails to a different address:


require ["copy"];

redirect :copy "";

Just forward all incoming emails and do not save them locally:


redirect "";

You can also use external programs to filter or pipe (process) messages by adding executable scripts in docker-data/dms/config/sieve-pipe or docker-data/dms/config/sieve-filter.

This can be used in lieu of a local alias file, for instance to forward an email to a webservice.

  • These programs can then be referenced by filename, by all users.
  • Note that the process running the scripts run as a privileged user.
  • For further information see Dovecot's docs.
require ["vnd.dovecot.pipe"];
pipe "external-program";

For more examples or a detailed description of the Sieve language have a look at the official site. Other resources are available on the internet where you can find several examples.

Automatic Sorting Based on Subaddresses

It is possible to sort subaddresses such as into a corresponding folder (here: INBOX/Mailing-lists) automatically.

require ["envelope", "fileinto", "mailbox", "subaddress", "variables"];

if envelope :detail :matches "to" "*" {
  set :lower :upperfirst "tag" "${1}";
  if mailboxexists "INBOX.${1}" {
    fileinto "INBOX.${1}";
  } else {
    fileinto :create "INBOX.${tag}";

Manage Sieve

The Manage Sieve extension allows users to modify their Sieve script by themselves. The authentication mechanisms are the same as for the main dovecot service. ManageSieve runs on port 4190 and needs to be enabled using the ENABLE_MANAGESIEVE=1 environment variable.


# compose.yaml
  - "4190:4190"

All user defined sieve scripts that are managed by ManageSieve are stored in the user's home folder in /var/mail/ Just one Sieve script might be active for a user and is sym-linked to /var/mail/ automatically.


ManageSieve makes sure to not overwrite an existing .dovecot.sieve file. If a user activates a new sieve script the old one is backed up and moved to the sieve folder.

The extension is known to work with the following ManageSieve clients:

  • Sieve Editor a portable standalone application based on the former Thunderbird plugin.
  • Kmail the mail client of KDE's Kontact Suite.