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Using Mu to manage e-mails

May 31, 2013

Yet another attempt at installing mu to store my Gmail account locally and get better search features than Apple Spotlight. does not use open standard formats

Apple has stopped a long time ago to use standard plain text format for storing archives of mails. Instead, now relies on the elmx format and sqlite is used as a backend to manage its database. I’m quite happy with, even if I tried some other software. I think MailMate is actually the best possible alternative, although I gave it a try for a very short time. Anyway, I happen to work most of the time in a browser since internet access is restricted to certain applications in my office. Even if there are some possibilities to use text-based search commands, like to:, from:, subject: and restricting the search to e.g., a specific month, it lacks several options, IMO. I also learned that there is an org library org-mac-message.el to work with directly from within Emacs, but what I really want to have is a direct access to my messages in plain text mode, with a full-featured search engine.

The Maildir format is one possibility for saving messages in plain text, and contrary to the mbox format, which is the default used by the mail program on OS X, messages are saved in separate files on the disk. Messages are organized in separate folders, basically cur, new and tmp, which speak for themselves but are fully explained on this man page. As one would have suspected, these different formats cannot be mixed. cannot readily manage a Maildir (altough I believe we can import messages archived in Maildir format), and the mail program cannot be used to work with a local Maildir.

Installing mu

In order to install mu, it is necessary to have a recent version of Glib. The one I have on my system is pretty old (2.18), and it is mainly there for R and Ggobi. So I grabbed the GTK 2.24.17 framework from the R for Mac OS X Developer’s Page.1 We also need the GMime library and I chose the latest version available on their website (gmime 2.6.15). For some unknown reason, it doesn’t install the gmime.pc file. I had to manually copy it to /usr/local/lib/pkgconfig. Later, the configure program complained that it still wasn’t able to find it:

checking for GMIME... yes
Package gmime-2.6 was not found in the pkg-config search path.
Perhaps you should add the directory containing `gmime-2.6.pc'
to the PKG_CONFIG_PATH environment variable
No package 'gmime-2.6' found

I ended up adding a symlink gmime.pc -> gmime-2.6.pc in /usr/local/lib/pkgconfig. Next, I was told that I also need the Xapian toolkit:

configure: error:
   *** xapian could not be found; please install it
   *** e.g., in debian/ubuntu the package would be 'libxapian-dev'
   *** If you compiled it yourself, you should ensure that xapian-config
   *** is in your PATH.

Let’s go for a new download/configure/make with xapian core 1.2.15. Hopefully, everything went fine this time, and I got the following:

mu configuration is complete.
mu version                           :

Xapian version                       : 1.2.15
GLib version                         : 2.36.0
GMime version                        : 2.6.15

Have wordexp                         : yes
Build mu4e emacs frontend            : no
Build crypto support (gmime >= 2.6)  : yes
Build 'mug' toy-ui (gtk+/webkit)     : no
McCabe's Cyclomatic Complexity tool  : yes

Have direntry->d_ino                 : yes
Have direntry->d_type                : yes

As can be seen, Emacs support has not been taken into account although I tried several options during configure. Anyway, I managed to put all *.el file in a dedicated folder under my ~/.emacs.d directory and add

(add-to-list 'load-path "/Users/chl/.emacs.d/lib/mu4e")

to my .emacs. I’m not so much interested in the Emacs UI for the moment, but I may return to it later.

Once mu has been installed, we have to select a program that can synchronize with IMAP or POP3 accounts. We could use Fetchmail but I decided to try offlineimap, which appears to be the preferred method with mu:

% git clone git://
% cd offlineimap
% make
% sudo python install

I created a basic .offlineimaprc based on the default template, but note that with Gmail we have to add information regarding certificates. This is basically a single line to add in the [Repository Remote] section of the .offlineimaprc file:

cert_fingerprint = f3043dd689a2e7dddfbef82703a6c65ea9b634c1

We can then fetch all messages:

 % offlineimap
 OfflineIMAP 6.5.5-rc2
   Licensed under the GNU GPL v2+ (v2 or any later version)
 Account sync Gmail:
  *** Processing account Gmail
  Establishing connection to
  Creating folder [Gmail].All Mail[Local]
  Creating folder [Gmail].Drafts[Local]
  Creating folder INBOX[Local]
  Creating folder [Gmail].Starred[Local]
  Creating folder [Gmail].Trash[Local]
 Folder [Gmail]/All Mail [acc: Gmail]:
  Syncing [Gmail]/All Mail: IMAP -> Maildir
 Folder [Gmail]/Drafts [acc: Gmail]:
  Syncing [Gmail]/Drafts: IMAP -> Maildir
  Establishing connection to
 Folder [Gmail]/Starred [acc: Gmail]:
  Syncing [Gmail]/Starred: IMAP -> Maildir
  Establishing connection to
 Folder [Gmail]/Trash [acc: Gmail]:
  Syncing [Gmail]/Trash: IMAP -> Maildir
 Folder INBOX [acc: Gmail]:
  Syncing INBOX: IMAP -> Maildir
 Folder [Gmail]/Trash [acc: Gmail]:
  Establishing connection to
 Folder INBOX [acc: Gmail]:
  Establishing connection to
 Folder [Gmail]/Starred [acc: Gmail]:
  Copy message 643 (1 of 39) Remote:[Gmail]/Starred -> Local
  Copy message 261 (2 of 39) Remote:[Gmail]/Starred -> Local
  Copy message 787 (3 of 39) Remote:[Gmail]/Starred -> Local
  Copy message 918 (4 of 39) Remote:[Gmail]/Starred -> Local

 (-- %< --)

 Account sync Gmail:
  *** Finished account 'Gmail' in 145:49

So, it took less than 3 hours to get all messages from my Gmail accounts. Then, we can ask mu to index our Maildir:

% mu index
indexing messages under /Users/chl/Maildir [/Users/chl/.mu/xapian]
\ processing mail; processed: 39300; updated/new: 39300, cleaned-up: 0
cleaning up messages [/Users/chl/.mu/xapian]
| processing mail; processed: 39369; updated/new: 0, cleaned-up: 0
elapsed: 1 second(s), ~ 39369 msg/s
/ processing mail; processed: 39369; updated/new: 0, cleaned-up: 0
elapsed: 233 second(s), ~ 168 msg/s

As can be seen, that’s pretty fast!

Useful options for using mu find are -u to avoid returning duplicate messages (because the Gmail fake IMAP format just sucks some time). But see man mu-find to learn more on how to write specific queries. For example, the following query will match all messages between 3 and 5 Mo, sent during the year, and including a PDF file. Results will be sorted by date and include the link to the local file in the Maildir.

% mu find -u size:3M..5M mime:application/pdf \
  --fields "d f l" --sortfield=date

Of course, this can be piped to other programs, and we can do whatever text mining we want in our Maildir.


Incidentally, I came across other projects that ought to provide similar functionalities, e.g., sup and notmuch, but I haven’t investigate them thus far.

  1. It just introduced a splendid mess in every GTK-based applications on my Mac afterwards! This apparently is due to a problem with the Pango library. So I just replaced the symlinks in /Library/Frameworks/GTK+.framework to point to my older libraries. ↩︎

See Also

» Textmate 2 » Alternative mail reader for Mac OS X » Backup Strategy » ODBC drivers on Mac OS X » Visualizing results from SQL queries