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How to...

Some tips about how to do some useful things with notmuch, and the various "third party" notmuch utilities.

  1. How to...
    1. Debian squeeze packages outdated
    2. Receive mail
    3. Sync notmuch tags and maildir flags
    4. Use notmuch from python
    5. Using notmuch with Mutt
    6. Automatically retagging the database (e.g., when upgrading versions)
    7. Dealing with mbox and other formats
    8. Take advantage of tags that are special to notmuch

Debian squeeze packages outdated

The notmuch package(s) in Debian squeeze are very old (version 0.3). It's better to start off with an up to date version from backports.

Receive mail

Notmuch does not fetch mail for you. For that, you need to use an external mail syncing utility. Some recommended utilities are listed below.

Notmuch requires that every individual message be in it's own file. The well-supported maildir or "mh"-style storage formats are compatible with notmuch. Basically any setup in which each mail is in a file of its own will work. The older mbox mail store formats is not supported, but fortunately it is very easy to convert mbox to maildir . The following utilities support these formats:

See the initial tagging page for more info on initial tagging of messages.

Sync notmuch tags and maildir flags

notmuch has the ability to synchronize maildir flags and respective tags in both directions. For more information on maildir flags see the maildir page, and for the respective tags see your notmuch configuration file. This feature is enabled by default, but if you don't need it, it is simple to disable it with the 'notmuch config' command:

    $ notmuch config set maildir.synchronize_flags false

The maildir flags may, in turn, be synchronized with IMAP flags by another tool, such as offlineimap.

For safety reasons, and because ?notmuch does not support delete operations, notmuch does not sync the "trashed" flag. For discussion on this topic please refer to the mailing list.

Use notmuch from python

Notmuch includes python bindings to the notmuch shared library. Please refer to the nice and extensive notmuch python API documentation.

The bindings are very simple to use. As an example, given you have the python bindings installed (or simply set your PYTHONPATH environment variable to point to the .../bindings/python directory), this snippet will produce a list of mails matching the given expression:

    >>> import notmuch
    >>> db = notmuch.Database()
    >>> query = db.create_query('tag:inbox AND NOT tag:killed')
    >>> list(query.search_messages()) # doctest:+ELLIPSIS

Using notmuch with Mutt

See notmuch-mutt.

Automatically retagging the database (e.g., when upgrading versions)

Certain versions of notmuch include new automatic tags (for example, between 0.3 and 0.10, automatic tagging of signed and encrypted messages was added). However, for users running with databases created in older versions of notmuch, these tags are missing in pre-existing messages and need to be added. One way to do this is as follows:

    $ notmuch dump --output=~/out.nm
    $ mv ~/Mail/.notmuch ~/.notmuch.bak
    $ notmuch new
    $ notmuch tag -inbox -unread '*'
    $ notmuch restore --accumulate --input=~/out.nm

At this point, one should run a sanity check on the tags, and if everything has merged correctly, the ~/.notmuch.bak directory is expendable, as is ~/out.nm.

Dealing with mbox and other formats

notmuch by itself is unable to handle non-maildir mail archives. One tool to solve this is called mb2md. Assuming an mbox in ~/test.mbox and ones mail archives to be in ~/Mail, an invocation would look like

    $ mb2md -s ~/test.mbox -d ~/Mail/mynewmaildirname

Note that specifying the paths for -s and -d is necessary. This will create a new maildir in ~/Mail/mynewmaildirname from the mbox at ~/test.mbox.

Often the formats are more convoluted, however. Many lists provide an almost-but-not-quite-mbox format that mailman produces, as can be seen, for example, here. These files can be converted with some degree of success to mbox using the script found here, and from mbox to maildir as above.

However, many of these lists also have a gmane version, which, where it exists, achieves far better results than dealing with the messy mailman output. Using the instructions from Gmane's site, we can download an mbox file, which we can then convert to maildir using mb2md or other utility.

Please note that mail delivered by Postfix will have envelope headers that may cause notmuch to complain about "single-message mbox files". Removing the first line from the message or passing it through reformail will solve the problem.

Take advantage of tags that are special to notmuch

See tags special to notmuch.