mailadm: managing token-based temporary e-mail accounts

mailadm is automated e-mail account management tooling for use by Delta Chat.

The mailadm command line tool allows to add or remove tokens which are typically presented to users as QR tokens. This QR code can then be scanned in the Setup screen from all Delta Chat apps. After scanning the user is asked if they want to create a temporary account.

The account creation happens via the mailadm web interface and creates a random user id (the local part of an e-mail).

Mailadm keeps all configuration, token and user state in a single sqlite database. It comes with an example install script that can be modified for distributions.

Quick Start


To use mailadm, you need admin access to a Mailcow instance. You can run mailadm as a docker container, either on the same machine as mailcow or somewhere else.

First get a git copy of the mailadm repository and change into it.

$ git clone
$ cd mailadm
$ mkdir docker-data

Now you need to configure some environment variables in a file called .env:

  • MAIL_DOMAIN: the domain part of the email addresses your users will have.
  • WEB_ENDPOINT: the web endpoint of mailadm; make sure mailadm receives POST requests at this address.
  • MAILCOW_ENDPOINT: the API endpoint of your mailcow instance.
  • MAILCOW_TOKEN: the access token for the mailcow API; you can generate it in the mailcow admin interface.

In the end, your .env file should look similar to this:

Now you can build and run the docker container:

$ sudo docker build . -t mailadm-mailcow
$ sudo docker run --mount type=bind,source=$PWD/docker-data,target=/mailadm/docker-data --env-file .env --rm mailadm-mailcow mailadm init
$ sudo docker run -d -p 3691:3691 --mount type=bind,source=$PWD/docker-data,target=/mailadm/docker-data --name mailadm mailadm-mailcow gunicorn -b :3691 -w 1


As the web endpoint also transmits passwords, it is highly recommended to protect the WEB_ENDPOINT with HTTPS, for example through an nginx reverse proxy. In this case, WEB_ENDPOINT needs to be the outward facing address, in this example maybe something like

First Steps

Adding a First Token and User

You can now add a first token:

$ sudo docker exec mailadm mailadm add-token oneday --expiry 1d --prefix="tmp."
added token 'oneday'
  prefix = tmp.
  expiry = 1d
  maxuse = 50
  usecount = 0
  token  = 1d_r84EW3N8hEKk

Then we can add a user:

$ mailadm add-user --token oneday
added addr '' with token 'oneday'

Testing the Web App

Let’s find out the URL again for creating new users:

$ mailadm list-tokens
  prefix = tmp.
  expiry = 1d
  maxuse = 50
  usecount = 1
  token  = 1d_r84EW3N8hEKk

The second last line is the one we can use with curl:

$ curl -X POST 'http://localhost:3691/?t=1d_r84EW3N8hEKk&n=oneday'

We got an e-mail account through the web API, nice.

Note that we are using a localhost-url whereas in reality your WEB_ENDPOINT will be a full https-URL. All in all the architecture looks pretty much like this:

Delta Chat
    | scans QR code; sends POST request
NGINX Reverse Proxy (Let's Encrypt)
    | proxy_pass
gunicorn Python HTTP Server (e.g. in Docker)
    | executes
mailadm web API ------> creates user in mailadm.db
    | HTTP POST request /api/v1/add/mailbox
mailcow API
    | creates account
mailcow user management

Purging Old Accounts

The mailadm prune command will remove accounts of expired users. You should add a cron job which executes this once an hour, for example:

0 * * * * root docker exec mailadm mailadm prune

QR Code Generation

Once you have mailadm configured and integrated with nginx and mailcow, you can generate a QR code:

$ sudo docker exec mailadm mailadm gen-qr oneday written for token 'oneday'

This creates a QR code in the docker container. Now we need to copy it out of the container to our home directory:

$ sudo docker cp ~/

Now you can download it to your computer with scp or rsync.

You can print or hand out this QR code file and people can scan it with their Delta Chat to get a temporary account which is valid for one day.

Configuration Details

During setup, but also every time after you changed a config option, you need to run mailadm init to apply them, and restart the mailadm process/container.

mailadm init, saves the configuration in the database. mailadm init should be called from inside the docker container. Best practice is to save the environment variables in a .env file, and pass it to docker run with the --env-file .env argument:

$ sudo docker run --mount type=bind,source=$PWD/docker-data,target=/mailadm/docker-data --env-file .env --rm mailadm-mailcow mailadm init

mailadm has 4 config options:


This is the domain part of the email addresses your mailadm instance creates later. For addresses like, your MAIL_DOMAIN value in .env needs to look like:


The WEB_ENDPOINT is used for generating the URLs which are later encoded in the account creation QR codes. For mailadm to work, it must be reachable with curl -X POST "$WEB_ENDPOINT?t=$TOKEN" (see testing-the-web-app). For example:



mailadm needs to talk to the mailcow API to create and delete accounts. For this, add /api/v1/ to the URL of the mailcow admin interface, e.g.:



To authenticate with the mailcow API, mailadm needs an API token. You can generate it in the mailcow admin interface, under “API”. Note that you need to allow API access from the IP address of the server where you’re running mailadm, or enable “Skip IP check for API” to allow API access from everywhere.

When you have activated the API, you can pass the token to mailadm like this:


Setup Development Environment

To setup your development environment, you need to do something like this:

git clone
python3 -m venv venv
. venv/bin/activate
pip install pytest tox
pip install .

With tox you can run the tests - many of them need access to a mailcow instance though. If you have access to a mailcow instance, you can pass a MAILCOW_TOKEN and MAILCOW_ENDPOINT via the command line to run them.

Mailadm API

/, method: POST: Create a temporary account with a specified token.


  • ?t= a valid mailadm token

Successful Response:

  "status_code": 200,
  "email": "",
  "password": "p4$$w0rd",
  "expiry": "1h",
  "ttl": 3600,

Example for an error:

  "status_code": 403,
  "type": "error",
  "reason": "?t (token) parameter not specified",

Possible errors:

403 ?t (token) parameter not specified
403 token $t is invalid
409 user already exists in mailcow
409 user already exists in mailadm
500 internal server error, can have different reasons
504 mailcow not reachable

Migrating from a pre-mailcow setup

mailadm used to be built on top of a standard postfix/dovecot setup; with mailcow many things are simplified. The migration can be a bit tricky though.

What you need to do:

If you get NOT NULL constraint failed: users.hash_pw errors when you try to create a user, you probably need to migrate your database. You can use scripts/ for this; it’s not well tested though, so make a backup first and try it out.