Swatmail experiences slowdown, reverts to TWIG

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Earlier in the semester ITS began the process of switching over to a new email interface, called Horde Internet Messaging Program (IMP) Webmail Client, from the older TWIG client. Horde IMP boosts new features such as search and filtering capabilities, as well as an improved interface design. These features absent from TWIG made it easier for users to find particular email messages and manage their inboxes in general.

However, these features came at a cost as Unix Systems Administrator Fran Gelfand noted “we noticed some slowness during peak times, such as in the early afternoon” after deploying Horde IMP. ITS did not initially know the reasons for the slowdown so they turned off the new Swatmail client in an effort to diagnose the problem. The condition of the mail server improved during the test but ITS found that “the underlying cause [of the slowdown] is large inboxes and trash folders” said Gelfand.

As it turned out, the new Swatmail client was not the root of the problem, but rather aggravated the symptoms due to inefficiencies in how it handled large inboxes. Some of the new features in Horde IMP required scanning through a user’s inbox when the user logged into the new Swatmail client, which bogged down the mail server when a user’s inbox was particularly large. In addition, the new Swatmail client automatically subscribed to folders other than the inbox when a user logged in, causing the mail server to load large trash folders often unknown to the user.

The older webmail client TWIG did not provide these features and therefore put less of a burden on the mail server when handling users with large quantities of email. Gelfand mentioned that only a minority of students have such large inboxes to cause problems for the mail server, but ITS is beginning to contact students in an effort to ease the burden on the mail server. Even after taking down the new webmail client, “we have still noticed some slowdown this week” said Gelfand.

However, Gelfand was hopeful that by contacting students with large inboxes, and starting a new policy of cleaning out messages more than two weeks old from trash folders, the condition of the mail server will improve in the future. While not promising anything, Gelfand mentioned that ITS would like to bring back the Horde IMP client at some point due to the features it provides that makes a user’s inbox easier to manage. One possibility would be to bring it back over Winter break, but only if the slowness it generates is resolved before then.

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