Linux, musical road-dogging, and daily life by Paul W. Frields
A special pedigree.

A special pedigree.

I don’t usually take a lot of time on my blog to write about apps, but as I was doing some administrative cleanup this morning, I realized I needed to give some props. I’ve been using the mail reader Mutt for about a year now, coupled with the offlineimap utility, and as a result my dealings with email are far more efficient than they were before. I used to be a heavy Evolution user, but a combination of oddities in the way Evo deals with folder refreshing, and its use of memory, prompted me to try other things. Now I use offlineimap to sync my remote IMAP stores to my hard disk, which makes reading email incredibly quick since Mutt now reads from the hard disk and not the remote IMAP server. I can run offlineimap as a one-time process, before I take my laptop on the road, or I can let it run regularly during the day in the background.

When I send email, I pass it back up to my IMAP servers, which tends to cause a delay while I wait for the email to go out. This year, my goal is to get Postfix installed and configured on my laptop to handle sent email, so that delay will be eliminated. Postfix will take care of the actual email delivery in the background while I get on with other things.

Mutt itself is a great email reader to use. There is a very brief delay for very large folders while it reads information off my hard disk, but it’s only a few seconds for a folder with tens of thousands of messages (I have many folders like this). Operations on folders after that are practically instantaneous. My latest favorite toy is the l (that’s the lowercase letter L, or “limit”) command, which lets me show just specific email messages from the folder listing. A very useful limit is ~d DD/MM/YY, where DD/MM/YY is a date input. (The format for the date is obviously a little different than some people use day to day, but it’s easy enough.) I can easily go back to my Sent folders and look through the mail I sent on a particular day.

There are many other limits you can use, like ~f or ~t for locating messages from or to a name or address, or ~s for limiting by subject line, or ~b for finding messages with certain text in the body of the message. Again, the searches are incredibly fast when running off the hard disk, and you can stack them as well, as in ~d 01/06/09 ~t John, which would find email to John sent on 1 June 2009.

Of course there are a ton of other commands available with Mutt. And because it has an extensive set of configuration options, including operation hooks that allow you to reset the environment as you work, there’s almost no end to the usability improvements you can make based on your own habits and mail setup. With or without a pedigree, this dog’s definitely a champion!


  1. Chuck

    After reading one of your posts a few weeks ago where you referenced offlineimap I started looking into it as I want to get back to using Mutt for my mail for various reasons. This week I am planning to configure mutt+offlineimap+msmtp.

    From what you have described here msmtp might be a more elegant solution than postfix for sending your mail. msmtp, from my reading, simply passes sent mail from your machine to your isp’s smtp server.

  2. @Chuck: Hmm, unfortunately msmtp doesn’t do the piece that’s most important to me — holding mail for later delivery in cases when I’m offline. The msmtp reaction is just to whine, “Can’t reach ” and fail, which puts me back where I am now. In actuality, msmtp is really just adding another step in the process that Mutt already handles fine for me — handing off email directly to another SMTP host.

    I’m going to check more into the Postfix solution and if I have any luck, I’ll blog again about it!

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