The purpose of the RHS in a rule is to rewrite the workspace. To make this rewriting more versatile, sendmail offers several special RHS operators. The complete list is shown in Table 28.2.
|RHS||Description or Use|
|Section 28.6.1, "Copy by Position: $digit"||Copy by position|
|Section 28.6.2, "Rewrite Once Prefix: $:"||Rewrite once (prefix)|
|Section 28.6.3, "Rewrite-and-Return Prefix: $@"||Rewrite and return (prefix)|
|Section 28.6.4, "Rewrite Through Another Rule Set: $>set"||Rewrite through another rule set|
|Section 28.6.5, "Specify a Delivery Agent: $#"||Specify a delivery agent|
|Section 28.6.6, "Canonicalize Hostname: $[ and $]"||Canonicalize hostname|
|Section 33.4, "Use Maps with $( and $) in Rules"||Database lookup|
R$+@$* $2!$1 $1 $2
$1 in the RHS indicates tokens matched by the first
wildcard operator in the LHS (in this case the
$2 in the RHS indicates tokens matched by
the second wildcard operator in the LHS (the
In this example, if the workspace contains
will be rewritten by the RHS as follows:
$* matches B.C so $2 copies it to workspace ! explicitly placed into workspace $+ matches A so $1 copies it to workspace
digit copies all the tokens matched by its corresponding
$+ wildcard operator, only a single token (
is matched and copied with
! is copied as is.
$* wildcard operator,
three tokens are matched (
$2 copies all three.
Thus the above rule rewrites
Not all LHS operators need to be referenced with a
in the RHS.
Consider the following:
Here, only the middle LHS operator (the second one) is required to
rewrite the workspace. So only the
$2 is needed in the
$3 are not needed and are not present
in the RHS).
Although macros appear to be operators in the LHS, they are
not. Recall that macros are expanded when the configuration
file is read (see Section 28.1.1, "Macros in Rules"). As a consequence, although they appear as
letter in the configuration file, they are converted
to tokens when that configuration file is read. For example,
DAxxx R$A @ $* $1
Here, the macro
A is defined to have the value
To the unwary, the
$1 appears to indicate the
But when the configuration file is read, the above rule is expanded
Rxxx @ $* $1
$1 refers to the
references only operators and
$A is a macro, not an operator).
program is unable to detect errors of this sort. If the
(in a mistaken attempt to reference the
$*), sendmail prints the following error and skips
num out of bounds
V8 sendmail catches these errors when the configuration file is read. Earlier versions caught this error only when mail was actually sent.
digit of the
digit must be in the range
one through nine. A
$0 is meaningless and causes
sendmail to print the above error message and to skip that rule.
Extra digits are considered tokens,
rather than extensions of the
digit. That is,
$11 is the RHS operator
$1 and the token
not a reference to the eleventh LHS operator.
Ordinarily, the RHS rewrites the workspace as long as the workspace continues to match the LHS. This looping behavior can be useful. Consider the need to strip extra trailing dots off an address in the workspace:
$* matches any address that has two or more
trailing dots. The
$1. in the RHS then strips one
of those two trailing dots when rewriting the workspace. For
xxx . . . . . becomes xxx . . . . xxx . . . . becomes xxx . . . xxx . . becomes xxx . . xxx . . becomes xxx . xxx . match fails
Although this looping behavior of rules can be handy, for most rules it can be dangerous. Consider the following example:
The intention of this rule is to cause whatever is in the workspace
to become surrounded with angle brackets.
But after the workspace is rewritten, the LHS
again checks for a match; and since the
$* matches anything,
the match succeeds, the RHS rewrites the workspace again,
and again the LHS checks for a match:
xxx becomes < xxx > < xxx > becomes < < xxx > > < < xxx > > becomes < < < xxx > > > and so on, until ... sendmail prints: rewrite: expansion too long
In this case, sendmail catches the problem, because the workspace has become too large. It prints the above error message and skips that and all further rules in the rule set. If you are running sendmail in test mode, this fatal error would also be printed:
== Ruleset 0 (0) status 65
Unfortunately, not all such endless looping produces a visible error message. Consider the following example:
Here is an LHS that matches anything and an RHS that rewrites the workspace in such a way that the workspace never changes. For older versions this causes sendmail to appear to hang (as it processes the same rule over and over and over). Newer versions of sendmail will catch such endless looping and print (syslog) the following error:
Infinite loop in ruleset
ruleset_name, rule rule_number
In this instance the original workspace is returned.
It is not always desirable (or even possible) to write "loop-proof"
rules. To prevent looping, sendmail offers the
RHS prefix. By starting the RHS of a rule with the
operator, you are telling sendmail to rewrite the workspace
R$* $: <$1>
Again the rule causes the contents of the workspace
to be surrounded by a pair of
angle brackets. But here the
$: prefix prevents the LHS from checking
for another match after the rewrite.
Note that the
$: prefix must begin the RHS to
have any effect. If it instead appears inside the RHS, its
special meaning is lost:
foo rewritten by $:$1 becomes foo foo rewritten by $1$: becomes foo $:
Rxxx yyy Ryyy zzz
The first rule matches
xxx in the workspace and
rewrites the workspace to contain
yyy. The first
rule then tries to match the workspace again but, of
The second rule then tries to match the workspace.
Since the workspace
yyy, a match is found, and the RHS rewrites the workspace
There will often be times when one rule in a series performs
the appropriate rewrite and no subsequent rules need to be
called. In the above example, suppose
yyy and that the second rule
should not be called. To solve problems like this,
sendmail offers the
$@ prefix for use in the RHS.
$@ prefix tells sendmail that the current rule
is the last one that should be used in the current rule set.
If the LHS of the current
rule matches, any rules that follow (in the current rule set) are ignored:
Rxxx $@yyy Ryyy zzz
If the workspace contains anything other than
first rule does not match, and the second rule is called.
But if the workspace contains
xxx, the first rule
matches and rewrites the workspace. The
for the RHS of that rule prevents the second rule (and any
subsequent rules) from being called.
Note that the
$@ also prevents looping. The
tells sendmail to skip further rules and to
rewrite only once. The difference between
that both rewrite only once, but
proceed to the next rule, whereas
$@ operator must be used as a prefix because it has special
meaning only when it
begins the RHS of a rule. If it appears anywhere
else inside the RHS it loses its special meaning:
foo rewritten by $@$1 becomes foo foo rewritten by $1$@ becomes foo $@
Rules are organized in sets that can be thought of as subroutines. Occasionally, a rule or series of rules can be common to two or more rule sets. To make the configuration file more compact and somewhat clearer, such common series of rules can be made into separate subroutines.
set operator tells sendmail to perform
additional rewriting using a secondary set of rules.
set is the rule-set name or number of that secondary
set is the name or number of a nonexistent rule set,
the effect is the same as if the subroutine rules were
never called (the workspace is unchanged).
set is numeric and is greater than the maximum number of allowable
rule sets, sendmail
prints the following error and skips that rule:
bad_number (maximum max)
set is a name and the rule-set name is unknown, sendmail
prints the following error and skips that rule:
Neither of these errors is caught when the configuration file is read. They are caught only when mail is sent, because a rule set name may be a macro:
The process of calling another set of rules proceeds in five stages:
As usual, if the LHS matches the workspace, the RHS gets to rewrite
The RHS ignores the
set part and rewrites the rest as usual.
The rewritten workspace is then given to the set of rules specified
set. They either rewrite the workspace or do not.
The original RHS (the one with the
the possibly rewritten workspace as is, as though it had performed
the subroutine's rewriting itself.
The LHS gets a crack at the new workspace as usual unless it is prevented
$@ prefix in the RHS.
For example, consider the following two sets of rules:
# first set S21 R$*.. $:$>22 $1. strip extra trailing dots ...etc. # second set S22 R$*.. $1. strip trailing dots
Here, the first set of rules contains, among other things, a single rule that removes extra dots from the end of an address. But because other rule sets may also need extra dots stripped, a subroutine (the second set of rules) is created to perform that task.
Note that the first rule strips one trailing dot
from the workspace and then calls
rule set 22 (the
$>22), which then strips
any additional dots.
The workspace as rewritten by rule set 22 becomes
the workspace yielded by the RHS in the first rule.
$: prevents the LHS of the first rule from
looking for a match a second time.
Prior to V8.8 sendmail
the subroutine call must begin the RHS (immediately follow any
$: prefix, if any) and
only a single subroutine may be called. That is, the following
causes rule set 22 to be called but does not call 23:
$>22 xxx $>23 yyy
Instead of calling rule set 23, the
$> operator and
23 are copied as is into the workspace, and
that workspace is passed to rule set 22:
xxx $> 23 yyy passed to rule set 22
Beginning with V8.8  sendmail, subroutine calls may appear anywhere inside the RHS, and there may be multiple subroutine calls. Consider the same RHS as above:
 Using code derived from IDA sendmail.
$>22 xxx $>23 yyy
Beginning with V8.8 sendmail, rule set 23 is called first and is
given the workspace
yyy to rewrite. The workspace,
as rewritten by rule set 23, is added to the end of the
and the combined result is passed to rule set 22.
Under V8.8 sendmail, subroutine rule-set calls are performed from right to left. The result (rewritten workspace) of each call is appended to the RHS text to the left.
You should beware of one problem with all versions of sendmail.
When ordinary text immediately follows the number of the rule
set, that text is likely to be ignored. This can be witnessed
by using the
-d21.3 debugging switch.
Consider the following RHS:
Because sendmail parses the
3 and the
as a single token, the subroutine call succeeds, but the
uucp is lost. The
-d21.3 switch illustrates this
-----callsubr 3uucp (3) sees this -----callsubr 3 (3) but should have seen this
3uucp is interpreted as the number 3,
so it is accepted as a valid number despite the fact
uucp was attached.
uucp is a part of the number, it
is not available for comparison
to the workspace and so is lost.
The correct way to write the above RHS is
Note that the space between the
3 and the
them to be viewed as two separate tokens.
This problem can also arise with macros. Consider the following:
$M is expanded when the configuration file is
parsed. If the expanded value
lacks a leading space, that value (or the first token in it) is lost.
Note that operators that follow a rule-set number are correctly recognized:
3 is immediately followed by the
Because operators are token separators, the call to rule set 3
will be correctly interpreted as
-----callsubr 3 (3) good
 As a stylistic point, it is easier to read rules that have spaces between all patterns that are expected to match separate tokens. For example, use
$+ @ $* $=minstead of
$+@$*$=m. This style handles subroutine calls automatically.
$# operator in the RHS is copied as is into the workspace
and functions as a flag advising sendmail that
a delivery agent has been selected. The
$# must be the first
token copied into the rewritten workspace for it to have this special
If it occupies any other position in the workspace, it loses its
$# local selects delivery agent xxx $# local no special meaning
When it occurs first in the rewritten workspace, the
operator tells sendmail
that the second token in the workspace is the name of a delivery
$# operator is useful only in rule
sets 0 and 5.
Note that the
$# operator may be prefixed with a
$: without losing its special meaning, because those prefix
operators are not copied to the workspace:
$@ $# local rewritten as $# local
However, those prefix operators are not necessary, because
$# acts just like a
$@ prefix. It
prevents the LHS from attempting to match again after the RHS
rewrite, and it causes any following rules to be skipped.
When used in nonprefix roles in rule sets 0 and 5,
also act like flags, conveying host and user information
to sendmail (see Section 29.6, "Rule Set 0").
Tokens that appear between
$] pair of operators in the RHS are
considered to be the name of a host.
That hostname is looked up by using DNS
and replaced with the full canonical form of that name.
If found, it is then copied to the workspace, and the
$] are discarded.
 Or other means, depending on the setting of service switch file, if you have one, or the state of the
ServiceSwitchFileoption (see Section 34.8.61, ServiceSwitchFile).
For example, consider a rule that looks for a hostname in angle brackets and (if found) rewrites it in canonical form:
R<$*> $@ <$[ $1 $]> canonicalize host name
Such canonicalization is useful at sites where users frequently send mail
to machines using the short version of a machine's name.
$[ tells sendmail to view all the tokens
that follow (up to the
$]) as a single hostname.
If the name cannot be canonicalized (perhaps because there is no such host), the name is copied as is into the workspace. For configuration files lower than 2, no indication is given that it could not be canonicalized (more about this soon).
Note that if the
$[ is omitted and the
$] is included,
$] loses its special meaning and is copied as is
into the workspace.
The hostname between the
$] can also
be an IP address. By surrounding the hostname with
square brackets (
]), you are telling sendmail
that it is really an IP address:
wash.dc.gov a host name [188.8.131.52] an IP address
When the IP address between the square brackets corresponds to a known host, the address and the square brackets are replaced with that host's canonical name.
If the version of the configuration
2 or greater (as set with the
V configuration command;
see Section 27.5, "The V Configuration Command"),
a successful canonicalization has a dot appended to the
myhost becomes myhost . domain . success nohost becomes nohost failure
Note that a trailing dot is not legal  in an address specification, so subsequent rules (such as rule set 4) must remove these added trailing dots.
 Under DNS the trailing dot signifies the root (topmost) domain. Therefore under DNS a trailing dot is legal. For mail, however, RFC1123 specifically states that no address is to be propagated that contains a trailing dot.
K configuration command
(see Section 33.3, "The K Configuration Command")
can be used
to redefine (or eliminate) the dot as the added character. For example,
Khost host -a.found
This causes sendmail to
add the text
.found to a successfully
canonicalized hostname instead of the dot.
One difference between V8 sendmail and other versions
is in the way it looks up names from between the
operators. The rules for V8 sendmail are as follows:
If the name contains at least one dot (
.) anywhere within it, it is
looked up as is; for example, host.CS.
If that fails, it appends the default domain to the name (as defined
in /etc/resolv.conf) and tries to look up the result;
for example, host.CS.our.Sub.Domain.
If that fails, the leftmost part of the subdomain (if any) is discarded
and the result is appended to the original host;
for example, host.our.Sub.Domain.
If the original name did not have a dot in it, it is looked up as is;
for example, host.
This approach allows names such as host.CS to first match
a site in the Czech Republic, such as vscht.CS
(if that was intended), rather than to wrongly
match a host in your local Computer Science (
This is particularly important if you have wildcard MX records
for your site.
The following two-line configuration file can be used to observe how sendmail canonicalizes hostnames:
V2 R$* $@ $[ $1 $]
If this file were called x.cf, sendmail could be run in rule-testing mode with a command like the following:
/usr/lib/sendmail -oQ. -Cx.cf -bt
Thereafter, hostname canonicalization can be observed by specifying rule set 0 and a hostname. One such run of tests is as follows:
ADDRESS TEST MODE (ruleset 3 NOT automatically invoked) Enter <ruleset> <address> >
0 washrewrite: ruleset 0 input: wash rewrite: ruleset 0 returns: wash . dc . gov . >
0 nohostrewrite: ruleset 0 input: nohost rewrite: ruleset 0 returns: nohost >
Note that the known host named
wash is rewritten in
canonicalized form (with a dot appended because of the
The unknown host named
nohost is unchanged and has no dot appended.
IDA and V8 sendmail both offer an alternative to
leaving the hostname unchanged when canonicalization fails
$]. A default can be used instead
of the failed hostname by prefixing that default with a
host $: default $]
default must follow the
$]. To illustrate its use, consider the
R$* $:$[ $1 $: $1.notfound $]
If the hostname
$1 can be canonicalized, the workspace
becomes that canonicalized name. If it cannot, the workspace
becomes the original hostname with a
default part of the
default is omitted,
a failed canonicalization is rewritten as zero tokens.
Many other operators (depending on your version of sendmail) may also be used in rules. Because of their individual complexity, all of the following are detailed in other chapters. We outline them here, however, for completeness.
Class macros are described in
Section 32.2.1, "Matching Any in a Class: $=" and Section 32.2.2, "Matching Any Not in a Class: $~" of
Chapter 32, Class Macros.
Class macros may appear only in the LHS. They begin with the prefix
to match a token in the workspace to one of many items in
a class. The alternative prefix
$~ causes a token
in the workspace to match if it does not appear in the list
of items that are the class.
The conditional macro operator
$? is rarely used in
rules (see Section 31.6, "Macro Conditionals: $?, $|, and $.").
When it is used in rules,
the result is often not what was intended.
Its else part, the
$| conditional operator is used by
check_compat rule set (see Section 29.10.4, "The check_compat Rule Set")
to separate the sender from the recipient address.
The database operators,
$), are used to look up tokens
in various types of database files and network database services.
They also provide access to internal services, such as dequoting and looking
up MX records (see
Chapter 33, Database Macros).