Zarafa: Fedora's Exchange "killer"

Jack Wallen
Jun 16, 2010
Updated • Dec 11, 2012

For any open source advocate, one of the biggest needs is an Exchange-like server. There are plenty of them available, some of them offer less-than enough features to really be viable. Some of them offer plenty of features but are insanely difficult to install. And then there's Zarafa.

Zarafa is an open source collaborative software solution meant to be an alternative to Exchange. It works like Exchange, includes a web interface that has the same look and feel as Exchange, and even integrates with Outlook! Zarafa integrates with your existing mail server and includes IMAP4 and a POP3 gateway as well as an iCal/CalDAV gateway. In this article I am going to show you how to get this server up and running quickly and easily on top of a running Fedora 13 distribution that includes a working Apache server.
Features at a glance

Before we get into the installation, let's take a quick look at the feature list Zarafa offers:

  • Addressbook
  • Calendar
  • Notes
  • Tasks
  • Personal Folders / Public Outlook Folders
  • Permissions for every User and Folder configurable
  • Meeting invitation and free/busy option
  • Resources planning
  • POP3
  • IMAP
  • iCalendar
  • Caldav
  • synchronization via Z-push
  • BlackBerry integration over BES
  • Out-of-office message
  • Brick-level backup
  • Single sign-on

So it looks like there's very little this server is actually missing eh? That's right. Now, let's get this baby installed.


As I mentioned earlier, Zarafa will need a working email system. You can integrate Zarafa into Postfix by adding the following line to the /etc/postfix/ file:

mailbox_command = /usr/bin/zarafa-dagent "$USER"

You will also need to make sure users are in the Zarafa database as well as the Unix database on the system.

Now, to the installation of Zarafa itself. This is done completely via the command line, so open up a terminal window. The first thing you need to do (after you su to the root user) is to install the system with the command:

yum install zarafa zarafa-webaccess

This command should pick up any dependencies necessary to complete the installation. Depending upon the speed of your machine and network connection, this could take some time.

Once the installation is completed you need to issue a few commands:

  • service zarafa-server start
  • service zarafa-gateway start
  • service zarafa-spooler start

The above three commands will start all of the necessary services for the Zarafa system. Now you need to create a public store which is done with the command:

zarafa-admin -s

Once the store is complete you need to create a test user with the command:

zarafa-admin -c USERNAME -e USERNAME@localhost -f "Zarafa Tester" -p PASSWORD

Where everything in ALL CAPS is user specific.

Now restart your web server with the command:

service httpd restart

This of course doesn't set up a complete, usable experience. In order to get email delivered into Zarafa you will need to employ the zarafa-dagent with your local mailer (as I mentioned earlier with the Postfix example).

Final thoughts

Zarafa looks extremely promising. It's easy to install, offers full functionality (nearly equal to that of Exchange), and is open source. Give Zarafa a go and see if you think it can be an open source Exchange "killer".


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  1. Aaron said on June 29, 2010 at 1:05 am

    I agree with the above. “Killing” Exchange in the enterprise is going to require seamless integration with Outlook, and that client is written primarily as a client for Exchange MAPI.

    Ultimately what should be available is an open source implementation of Exchange MAPI that can be dropped in place of the Commercial server. User’s will go about their work and be none the wiser.

    People just aren’t going to switch entire org’s over to new servers, and reconfigure clients, so they can say they’re running an open source alternative to Exchange. IMO this option is something to look at if you’re starting from scratch.

  2. lefty.crupps said on June 17, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    How does this connect with Outlook clients? Because Exchange uses crazy protocols to tie in very tightly with Outlook, and really nothing is like Exchange in that sense. Maybe OpenXchange is headed that way, but IMAP4 connections just don’t really do it.

    The only way to get Exchange out of the corporate world is to come up with a new standard that does more than Exchange, that multiple servers and apps can use. Exchange is a part of the Embrace-Extend-Extinguish philosophy that MS has, and the FLOS community would do well to try doing the same to MS.

  3. 123456 said on June 17, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Even though it’s opensource and tries to emulate exchange, it still is more expensive than exchange.

    About 14K for 500 users…

    Thanks, but no thanks.

  4. Urban Strata said on June 16, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    I’m so tired of people cavalierly tossing around the phrase “(fill in the blank) killer.” It sounds like Zarafa is a promising project, but Exchange has an install base of around 300 million mailboxes and the trust of IT managers and CIOs worldwide. More to the point, Zarafa will be extremely hard-pressed to convince IT managers at any but the smallest companies to recommend to their CIOs: “Let’s dump Exchange for this Zarafa thing.”

    Kudos to the Zarafa team for the progress they’ve made so far, but let’s be realistic: Exchange “killer,” it is not.

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