Mail-server-upgrade to Opensuse Leap 15 – and some hours with authentication trouble …

Some of my readers know that the mail server in my private LAN resides in an encrypted KVM/qemu guest. It provides IMAP- and SMTP-services to mail-clients - and receives emails from several hosted servers on the Internet via a fetchmail system in a DMZ. It was/is my policy that any access to a mail service account on my private mail server requires authentication against user entries on a separate LDAP-server. The accounts the IMAP/SMTP-service-daemons deal with are not to be confused with Linux user accounts: On the mail server NO Linux user accounts are required for mail handling. I regard the absence of standard Linux user accounts on the mail-server as a small, but effective contribution to security. No mail user can login into the mail server as a Linux user. Nevertheless authentication for the use of mail services is required.

Upgrade top Leap 15 resulted in unusable mail services

The manual upgrade of the mail server system from OS Leap 42.3 to Leap 15 seemed to work perfectly. I got no serious warnings. As root I could login to the virtual KVM guest via ssh - and systemd had started all required services: Fetchmail operated on external servers in the DMZ and transferred new mails to the upgraded mail server. There my postfix queues and secondary services for virus and spam checks seemed to work perfectly. Regarding IMAP I could also see that new entries for new mails appeared in various email accounts (more precisely: in related spool directories). Everything looked great ...

However, the big surprise came pretty soon: No mail user could login to the IMAP-service - neither with Kmail, nor Mutt, nor Thunderbird. Access to the SMTP service for sending email was not possible either. System messages appeared on the GUIs saying that there was an authentication error. A very unpleasant situation which required analysis ....

In the meantime I had to start a backup copy of the old mailserver guest installation. On this front
virtualization proved its strengths and simplicity - I had made a copy of the whole KVM guest before the upgrade and just had to include the copy as a virtualization domain into the KVM setup of the virtualization host. But, as the upgraded server had already processed some new mails, I needed to transfer these mails between the servers and reconstruct and reindex some IMAP accounts ... A simple, but a task which can be done by some scripts ....

Error analysis

It took me quite a while to figure out where the origin of the upgrade problem was located. I first checked my local firewall protocols both on the mail server and on the LDAP server. Nothing special there ... Then I checked the LDAP access protocols - there were successful data requests from various systems - but astonishingly not from the mail server. So it seemed that the mail services did not even try to authenticate their users ... strange ....
I then created a new IMAP test user based on a new local Linux user account, i.e. with an entry in "/etc/passwd" and "/etc/shadow". Guess what? This user could work without any problems. So, obviously the communication of the mail services with the LDAP service for authentication was not triggered or failed in a strange way. I, therefore, tried a manual data request to the LDAP server from the mail server - and got a perfect answer. So, there seemed to be no fundamental problem with the required sssd-daemon and client-configurations. What else was wrong? A bit of despair was in the air ...

The role of PAM in the game

Then I tried to remember what I had done in the past to separate the email accounts from the Linux user accounts. Over the last years I had actually forgotten how I had treated this problem. After some reading in old diaries my attention eventually turned to PAM ...

The PAM-layer offers Linux admins the possibility of fine-tuning access/authentication conditions for the usage of a service; among other things you can request certain PAM-modules to authenticate a user via given credentials against defined resources. A sequential series of required, sufficient or optional criteria can be set up. ( When a service needs additional Linux user account information during a session NSS can in addition request information from name resolution backends as "/etc/passwd". However, this is NOT required for mail services. )

Linux mail services often use the SASL-framework and the saslauthd daemon to perform authentication. SASL can communicate with a variety of authentication backends directly - but it can also use PAM as an intermediate layer. And, in fact, I had used PAM to access my independent LDAP-server with mail account credentials via the PAM-module for SSSD.

I have described my simple approach in a previous article
Unfortunately, only in German. I, therefore, summarize the basic ideas shortly (see also the graphics in the referenced article).

The things one has to do to force IMAP and/or a SMTP services to use LDAP, but other services to use local authentication resources is:

  • We direct local login-services, ssh-services, etc. on the server via PAM to local resources, only.
  • We eliminate any UIDs corresponding to email account names from local resources as "/etc/passwd" and "/etc/shadow" (and NIS if used).
  • We do not create any local home-directories for email account names.
  • We eliminate LDAP as a usable NSS resource from nsswitch.conf; i.e. we eliminate all LDAP references there.
  • We setup special PAM files in "/etc/pam.d" for the IMAP-service and the SMTP-service. These files will necessarily include pam-modules for the "sss"-service (
  • We select entries on the LDAP server for users which for any reasons shall NOT or NO LONGER get access to the mail service accounts, set the "host"-attribute for these entries and configure sssd to use the host-attribute. Or deny certain user names access to the IMAP-service by the help of IMAP -configuration files; cyrus e.g offers the maintenance of a list "userdeny_db".

This strategy worked very conveniently already on an Opensuse 12.3 platform. Examples for the required special files "/etc/pam.d/imap" and "/etc/pam.d/smtp" are given in the article named above. The mix and sequence of the statements there is due to the fact that locally defined system users as "cyrus" must get access to the IMAP-service, too.

What had happened during the Leap 15 upgrade?

My configuration had survived multiple upgrades of the virtualized server in the past. But not the one to Leap 15! What had happened?

After having remembered the importance of the PAM configuration, I eventually had a look into the directory "/etc/pam.d" on the upgraded system and compared it to the respective directory on the original system. Whereas during previous upgrades "personal" PAM configuration files for services had been respected, the upgrade to Leap 15 simply had removed my PAM configuration files for SMTP and IMAP - without a backup! Incredible, but true! Actually and astonishingly, the contents of some other standard PAM files had been transferred to a backup ....

A restoration of my PAM files for the mail services lead to an immediate success - authentication for the access of mail accounts on the upgraded server was possible again. Some hours in the hell for Linux admins came to an end.


Never (!) trust a standard upgrade of a whole Linux system procedure to keep configuration files in "/etc/pam.d" untouched. Keep an admin or system diary for unusual approaches. And - of course: Full backups of critical systems before backups are a MUST ....

Opensuse Leap, KVM/QEMU-guests, KMS – problems with QXL/Spice after upgrade to Leap 15

Many services in my LAN are provided by virtual KVM/QEMU-guests of a dedicated KVM-server-host. More special services are provided by local KVM-guests on Workstations. All my virtualized systems get normally equipped with a qxl/spice-combination to provide a graphical interface - which can be used on the KVM-host or by remote spice clients. A direct graphical access via a spice client is required only seldomly (besides ssh connections) - but in some cases or situations it is useful, if not mandatory.

Recently, I upgraded both the central KVM-Server, its guests and also guests on workstations from Opensuse Leap 42.3 to Leap 15.0. Unfortunately, after the upgrade no graphical access was possible any longer to my guest-systems via spice-clients (as virt-viewer or the graphical spice-console of virt-manager).

After some tests I found out that this was due to missing KMS on the guest systems - present qxl-modules, however, do require KMS. But, if you update/install from an ISO image "KMS" may not be compatible with the graphical SuSE installer. And due to previous configurations "nomodeset" may be a kernel parameter used in the installation before the upgrade. Here is the story ...

The problem: Unreadable, freezing interfaces on spice-clients

Normally, I upgrade by a 5-step sequence: 1) Update all packets, 2) reduce repositories to the Update- and OSS-repository, 3) switch to the repositories of the new distribution, 4) "zypper dup --download-only", 5) "zypper --no-refresh dup" (see e.g. how-to-upgrade-from-opensuse-leap-422-to-423/).

The KVM server-host itself gave me no major problem during its upgrade. Also the KVM-guests - with their server-services - seemed to work well. Most often, I access the KVM-guest-systems via ssh to perform regular administration tasks. So, I did not even notice for a while that something was wrong with the qxl/spice-configuration. But when I used "virt-manager" in an "ssh -X" session from my workstation to the KVM-server and tried to open the graphical console for a guest there, I got an unreadable virtual screen, which froze instantly and did no longer react to any input - special commands sent via "virt-manager" to switch to a non-graphical console terminal were ignored. The same happened with "virt-viewer" and/or when I executed virt-manager directly on the graphical screen of the KVM-server.

Independent test with a new installation of a "Leap 15"-guest-system

To find out more I tested a new installation of Leap 15 on my Leap 15 workstation as a KVM-server. I chose a guest system configuration with standard equipment - among other things qxl/spice-components. The installation was started via the "virt-installer" component of virt-manager. I used an ISO-image of the Leap 15 installation image.

First thing I stumbled across was that I had to use a "No KMS" for the text console setting on the first screen of the Opensuse installer (see the options for the graphical setup there; F3-key). Otherwise the installer froze during the first "udev" checks. I knew this effect already from installations on some physical systems. Note that the choice of "No KMS" leads to an kernel parameter entry "nomodeset" in the command line for the kernel call in the Grub2 configuration (see the file /etc/default/grub).

Such a full new installation lead into a void. SuSE's graphical installer itself worked perfectly with high resolution. However, after a restart of the freshly installed guest-system the switch to the graphical screen lead to a flickering virtual screen and the graphical display of the SDDM login manager never appeared.

Still and luckily, it was possible to login as root and execute a "init 3" command - which brought me to a working, non-flickering ASCII console interface (TTY1).

I had experienced this type of behavior before, too, on some real physical systems. I recommend Leap users to be prepared: activate ssh-services during installation and open the firewall for ssh-ports! The SuSE-installer allows for such settings on its summary screen for the installation configuration. This gives you a chance to switch to a working text console (init 3) from a remote SSH-command line - if the graphical console does not allow for any input.

Tests 2: Upgrade to latest KVM / QEMU / libvirt - versions of the "Virtualization" repository

An installation of the cutting edge versions of KVM/QEMU and spice sever and client software did not change anything - neither on my dedicated KVM-server-system and its upgraded guests nor on my workstation with the fresh Leap 15 test-guest.

Repair of the older upgraded guest-systems

The emulated "hardware" of my older (upgraded) guest-systems, which stem from an OS 13.2 era, is a bit different from the equipment of the newest test guest. On these older systems I still had the choice to use a cirrus, vga or vmwvga graphics. Interestingly, these drivers do not provide the performance of qxl - but they worked at least with the virtual spice client displays.

One central question was whether the QXL driver - more precisely the corresponding kernel module "qxl" - was loaded at all. Answer for the guests on the central KVM-server: No, it was not.

So, on the first guest I simply tried "modprobe qxl" - and hey - the module loaded. An "init 5" then gave me the aspired graphical screen.

Later I checked that actually no "nomodeset" parameter was set in these guests. So, something went "wrong" with the system's startup-configuration during the upgrade procedure. I have no real clue why - as the qxl-module was loaded without problems on the previous Leap 42.3 installations.

For Opensuse Leap the wrapper-script "mkinitrd" transfers a running configuration with its loaded kernel modules via "dracut" into a suitable and permanent initramfs/initrd- and systemd-startup configuration. So, issue "mkinitrd" after a successful test of a qxl/spice-interface.

Repair of the freshly installed Leap 15 guest-system

On the freshly installed Leap 15 guest client on my workstation things were slightly different: The qxl-module did not load there. A "modinfo qxl" shows you parameters you can apply. The right thing to do there was to try

modprobe qxl modeset=1

This worked! Then I eliminated the "nomodeset"-parameter from the "GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT"-entry in the file "/etc/default/grub" and started "mkinitrd" to get a stable permanent startup-configuration (via dracut) which booted the guest into graphical mode afterwards.

Adjustment of the TTYs and KDE

As soon as you have a reasonable configuration, you may want to adjust the screen dimensions of the text consoles tty1 to tty6, the sddm-login-screen and the KDE or Gnome screen. These are topics for separate articles. See, however, previous articles in this blog on KVM guests for some hints.

For the text console TTYs try reasonable settings for the following entries in the "/etc/default/grub" - below e.g. for a resolution of "1680x1050":



Do not forget to execute "mkinitrd" again afterwards!

For KDE adjustments a user can use the command "systemsettings5" and then specify screen resolutions in the dialog for "display and monitors".


The graphical installer of Opensuse, but also upgrade-procedures on working virtual KVM/QEMU guests with qxl/spice can lead to situations where KMS is or must be deactivated both for physical and virtual systems. As a consequence the "qxl-module" may not be loadable automatically afterwards. This can lead to failures during the start of a graphical qxl/spice-interface for local and remote spice-clients.

The remedy is to remove any "nomodeset"-parameter which may be a part of the entry for "GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT" in the file "/etc/default/grub".

For tests of the qxl-driver try loading the qxl-module with "modprobe qxl modeset=1". After a successful start of a graphical interface use the command "mkinitrd" (whilst the qxl-module is loaded!) to establish a permanent configuration which loads "qxl" during system start.

Laptop – SSD mit dm-crypt/Luks -Verschlüsselung und Opensuse Leap 15 – XI – Keyfiles, LUKS2-Volumes

Ich setze meine Artikel-Serie zur Voll-Verschlüsselung eines Linux-Laptops unter Opensuse Leap 15 fort.

Laptop – SSD mit dm-crypt/Luks -Verschlüsselung und Opensuse Leap 15 – I – Vorüberlegungen
Laptop – SSD mit dm-crypt/Luks -Verschlüsselung und Opensuse Leap 15 – II – Vorüberlegungen zur Virtualisierung
Laptop – SSD mit dm-crypt/Luks -Verschlüsselung und Opensuse Leap 15 – III – Zugriffs-Layer
Laptop – SSD mit dm-crypt/Luks -Verschlüsselung und Opensuse Leap 15 – IV – Disk-Layout
Laptop – SSD mit dm-crypt/Luks -Verschlüsselung und Opensuse Leap 15 – V – kryptierte Partitionen und Alignment
Laptop – SSD mit dm-crypt/Luks -Verschlüsselung und Opensuse Leap 15 – VI – Key-Slots, PBKDF2- und MK-Iterationen
Laptop – SSD mit dm-crypt/Luks -Verschlüsselung und Opensuse Leap 15 – VII – Grundinstallation für LUKS on LVM
Laptop – SSD mit dm-crypt/Luks -Verschlüsselung und Opensuse Leap 15 – VIII – Systemd-Fehler nach Neustart
Laptop – SSD mit dm-crypt/Luks -Verschlüsselung und Opensuse Leap 15 – IX – Verschlüsselter SWAP
Laptop – SSD mit dm-crypt/Luks -Verschlüsselung und Opensuse Leap 15 – X – Hibernation

Wir haben bislang "LUKS on LVM" genutzt und zwei LVM-Volumes mit LUKS1-Verschlüsselung angelegt - eines für das Root-Filesystem ("/"-FS; inkl. /boot-Verzeichnis) und eines für den SWAP. Hibernation funktionierte damit zufriedenstellend; allerdings mussten wir zur Vermeidung von Fehlern Plymouth abschalten. Beim Systemstart verlangt Grub2 von uns die Passphrase für das "/"-FS. Sobald der Kernel und systemd übernehmen, müssen wir allerdings Passphrases für alle (!) bisher angelegten LUKS-Volumes einzeln eingeben.

Schon in unserer einfachen Konfiguration führt das zu 3 Passworteingaben während des Systemstarts. Dabei haben wir bei weitem noch nicht alle Volumes angelegt, die wir im 4-ten Artikel der Serie geplant hatten. Eine zusätzliche Eingabe von Passphrases für alle noch benötigten Volumes wäre wirklich unbequem. Wir befassen uns in diesem Beitrag daher mit der Nutzung sog. LUKS-Keyfiles und zugehöriger Key-Slots.

Ein anderes Thema ist die Anlage weiterer Volumes - diesmal mit LUKS2. LUKS2 sorgt nicht nur für Konsistenz auf der Ebene verschlüsselter Blöcke, es nutzt auch ein anderes KDF-Verfahren - nämlich argon2i - für die iterative Erzeugung hashbasierter Keys zur Verschlüsselung des LUKS-Masterkeys [MK].