i'd like to thank everyone for their contributions to this thread. although none of the responses solved my problem, they did all give me insight into how the os works. the problem was that i was using a tutorial based on redhat 7.1. in that tutorial the guy said to... m4 /etc/mail/sendmail.mc > /etc/sendmail.cf when in fact it should be... m4 /etc/mail/sendmail.mc > /etc/mail/sendmail.cf a friend discovered the misplaced file while i was viewing his session (screen -x). we both knew that the .cf file i had created was in /etc/, so when we saw another sendmail.cf in /etc/mail/, we started thinking. turns out, the file that actually gets used by the os is /etc/mail/ and not just /etc/. he changed one line in there, restarted sendmail, and i was off. after three days of not having this thing working i am pleased to have it working now. (spamassassin works too.) chris.