18.6 The LHS

The LHS of any rule is compared to the current contents of the workspace to determine whether the two match. Table 18-1 displays a variety of special operators offered by sendmail that make comparisons easier and more versatile.

Table 18-1. LHS operators



Description or Use



Match zero or more tokens



Match one or more tokens



Match exactly one token



Match exactly zero tokens (V8 only)


Section 22.2.1

Match any tokens in a class[6]


Section 22.2.2

Match any single token not in a class



Match a literal $#



Match a literal $|


Section 21.5.3

Delay macro expansion until runtime

[6] Class matches either a single token or multiple tokens, depending on the version of sendmail (Section 22.2).

The first three operators in Table 18-1 are wildcard operators, which can be used to match arbitrary sequences of tokens in the workspace. Consider the following rule, which employs the $- operator (match any single token):

R $-     fred.local

Here, a match is found only if the workspace contains a single token (such as tom). If the workspace contains multiple tokens (such as tom@host), the LHS does not match. A match causes the workspace to be rewritten by the RHS to become fred.local. The rewritten workspace is then compared again to the $-, but this time there is no match because the workspace contains three tokens (fred, a dot (.), and local). Because there is no match, the current workspace (fred.local) is carried down to the next rule (if there is one).

The $@ operator (introduced in V8 sendmail) matches an empty workspace. Merely omitting the LHS won't work:

RtabRHS won't work 
R $@tabRHS will work 

If you merely omit the LHS in a mistaken attempt to match an empty LHS, you will see the following error when sendmail starts up:

configfile: line number: R line: null LHS 

Note that all comparisons of tokens in the LHS to tokens in the workspace are done in a case-insensitive manner. That is, tom in the LHS matches TOM, Tom, and even ToM in the workspace.

18.6.1 Minimum Matching

When a pattern-matching operator can match multiple tokens ($+ and $+), sendmail performs minimum matching. For example, consider a workspace of xxx.yyy.zzz and an LHS of:


The first $+ matches only a single token (xxx), but the second $+ matches three (yyy, a dot, and zzz). This is because the first $+ matches the minimum number of tokens that it can while still allowing the whole LHS to match the workspace. Shortly, when we discuss the RHS, we'll show why this is important.

18.6.2 Backup and Retry

Multiple token-matching operators, such as $*, always try to match the fewest number of tokens that they can. Such a simple-minded approach could lead to problems in matching (or not matching) classes in the LHS. For example, consider the following five tokens in the workspace:

A . B . C

given the following LHS rule:

R $+ . $=X $*

Because the $+ tries to match the minimum number of tokens, it first matches only the A in the workspace. The $=X then tries to match the B to the class X. If this match fails, sendmail backs up and tries again.

The third time through, the $+ matches the A.B, and the $=X tries to match the C in the workspace. If C is not in the class X, the entire LHS fails.

The ability of the sendmail program to back up and retry LHS matches eliminates much of the ambiguity from rule design. The multitoken matching operators try to match the minimum but match more if necessary for the whole LHS to match.

    Part I: Build and Install
    Part II: Administration
    Part III: The Configuration File
    Chapter 21. The D (Define a Macro) Configuration Command
    Chapter 24. The O (Options) Configuration Command