Zimbra Proxy Guide

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Article Information

This article applies to the following ZCS versions.

ZCS 8.0 Article ZCS 8.0

Overview of proxy and related components

What is Zimbra Proxy

Zimbra Proxy (also referred in this wiki as Nginx-Zimbra or NZ in short) is an important component of ZCS. Zimbra Proxy is a high-performance proxy server that can be configured as a POP3/IMAP/HTTP proxy used to reverse proxy IMAP/POP3 and HTTP client requests to a set of backend servers. It also provides functions like GSSAPI authentication, throttle control, SSL connection with different certificates for different virtual host names etc. In a typical use case, NZ extract user login information in someway (like account id or user name) and then fetches the route to the upstream mail server or web servers’ address from “Nginx Lookup Extension” (or called NLE for short), and finally proxy the interactions between clients and upstream ZCS servers. To accelerate the speed of route lookup, memcached is introduced, which caches the lookup result. Therefore, the subsequent login with the same username will directly be proxied without looking up in NLE.

Benefits and reasons to use

1. Zimbra proxy centralizes access to Mailbox servers

Zimbra Proxy allows mailbox servers to be hidden from public internet by acting as a reverse proxy & also allowing end users to access mail system via single Login URL instead of knowing their mailbox hostnames. It acts as the first entry point for all the HTTP/IMAP/POP traffic and then intelligently routes all kind of static UI requests (HTML/CSS/JS etc) and Dynamic requests (SOAP/REST/IMAP/POP) to the appropriate upstream server. Here are some other benefits of using the proxy as well

2. Load Balancing

This is the reverse proxy function that people are most familiar with. Here the proxy routes incoming HTTP requests to a number of identical mail servers. The upstream mail server selection can be based on a simple client IP hash or round-robin algorithm. It’s such a common function that load balancing reverse proxies are usually just referred to as ‘load balancers’. There are specialized load balancing products available, but many general purpose reverse proxies also provide load balancing functionality.

3. Security

A reverse proxy can hide the topology and characteristics of your back-end servers by removing the need for direct internet access to them. You can place your reverse proxy in an internet facing DMZ, but hide your web servers inside a non-public subnet.

4. Authentication

You can use your reverse proxy to provide a single point of authentication for all HTTP requests. Although in case of ZCS, the authentication is provided by upstream mailstores where the user accounts reside.

5. SSL Termination

Here the reverse proxy handles incoming HTTPS connections, decrypting the requests and passing unencrypted requests on to the web servers.

6. Caching

Currently we use the memcached module with proxy to achieve caching of upstream routes to mailstores on a per end-client basis. This significantly reduces the route lookup time thereby improving the total time required to process the request and boost performance.

7. Centralised Logging and Auditing

Because all HTTP requests are routed through the reverse proxy, it makes an excellent point for logging and auditing.

8. URL Rewriting

Sometimes the URL scheme that a legacy application presents is not ideal for discovery or search engine optimisation. A reverse proxy can rewrite URLs before passing them on to your back-end servers.

To an external customer it appears that they are simply navigating a single website, but internally the organisation is maintaining three entirely separate sites. This approach can work extremely well for web service APIs where the reverse proxy provides a consistent single public facade to an internal distributed component oriented architecture.

Zimbra Proxy Components

Zimbra Proxy is designed to provide a HTTP/POP/IMAP proxy that is quick, reliable, and scalable. Zimbra Proxy includes the following:

  • Nginx. A high performance HTTP/IMAP/POP3 proxy server which handles all incoming HTTP/POP/IMAP requests.
  • Memcached. A high performance, distributed memory object caching system. Route information is cached for further use in order to increase performance.
  • Zimbra Proxy Route Lookup Handler. This is a servlet located on the ZCS mailbox server. This servlet handles queries for the user account route information (the server and port number where the user account resides).

Zimbra Proxy Architecture and Flow

The following sequence shows the architecture and flow of Zimbra Proxy.

  1. End clients connect to Zimbra Proxy using HTTP/HTTPS/POP/IMAP ports.
  2. When Zimbra Proxy receives an incoming connection, the Nginx component sends an HTTP request to Zimbra Proxy Route Lookup Handler component.
  3. Zimbra Proxy Route Lookup Handler locates the route information for the account being accessed and returns this to Nginx.
  4. The Memcached component stores the route information for the configured period of time (by default, this time is one hour). Nginx will use this route information instead of querying the Zimbra Proxy Route Lookup Handler until the default period of time has expired.
  5. Nginx uses the route information to connect to Zimbra Mailbox.
  6. Zimbra Proxy connects to Zimbra Mailbox and initiates the web/mail proxy session. The end client behaves as if it is connecting directly to Zimbra Mailbox.

Deployment strategies , server specifications , impact to other non-proxy hosts

The deployment strategy Zimbra actively suggests is to use Proxy on the edge with mailbox servers behind the firewall. Please note that the Zimbra Proxy package does not act as a firewall and needs to be behind the firewall in customer deployments.

Zimbra Proxy Command-Line Utilities

The following commands are zmprov commands that are specific to Zimbra Proxy. For more information about using zmprov, refer to the Appendix A: Command-Line Utilities in the ZCS Administrator’s Guide, located on the Zimbra Website.


zmprov [cmd]


Long Name Short Name Description
--getAllReverseProxyURLs -garpu Used to list all the upstream mailstore servers (NLEs) that should be used for reverse proxy lookup by the proxy
--getAllReverseProxyBackends -garpb Used to list all the upstream mailstore servers that are reverse-proxied by the proxy
--getAllMtaAuthURLs -gamau Used to publish into saslauthd.conf the servers that should be used for saslauthd.conf MTA auth
--getAllMemcachedServers -gamcs Used to list memcached servers (for Zimbra Proxy use)

Verified Against: ZCS 8.5.x Date Created: 6/2/2014
Article ID: https://wiki.zimbra.com/index.php?title=Zimbra_Proxy_Guide Date Modified: 2014-07-08

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