[TUHS] man-page style

WIlliam Cheswick ches at cheswick.com
Sat Dec 1 00:55:11 AEST 2018

I sat down to my first TCP/IP connected host around 1985, and the first thing I wanted to do was to configure my first non-UUCP email machine.

After an hour of wading through sendmail’s state machines, I gave up wondering why it had to be so hard.  

In the amazing 184 BSTJ, Dave Presotto had described upas, the replacement he built for sendmail.  I loved its ease of use, and it was one of the reasons I wanted to join 1127, which I did in late 1987.

I supported email and upas for a number of years, including the {bitnet | csnet | uucp | acsnet(?)} -> domain migration.  Like the proverbial (and non-existent) boiling frog, this crept up on me: it was a mild surprise to realize we were using the other stuff much any more.

Aside from configuration issues, the main complaint with sendmail was that it was a huge program running as root, with intentional and unintentional holes in.  For many years it was a steady source of security problems, including its use in the Morris worm.

That said, sendmail is still running, and handling a fair amount of mail, I believe.  A few years ago I checked for recent security problems and found none reported.  I think this is a case of “software annealing”: if you don’t change the specs much, and keep working on it, you will eventually get most of the bugs.

As for the configuration: when Norman Wilson moved to Toronto, he implemented some form of little language for configuring sendmail, treating it somewhat as an assembly language.  I don’t know the details, but they might be of interest.

> On Nov 29, 2018, at 1:48 PM, Larry McVoy <lm at mcvoy.com> wrote:
> Indeed.  Sendmail got a lot of hate but mostly from people in pure
> user at host.domain <mailto:user at host.domain> worlds.  I lived in the UUCP / BitNet / Arpanet
> world and while sendmail was definitely not the easiest thing to
> configure, once you got it right it just kept working (unlike UUCP
> that seemed to need constant babysitting).

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