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Using notmuch remotely

Why?

It is hard to keep notmuch tags in sync across multiple instances of notmuch, on multiple computers. Though you can do this with "notmuch dump" and "notmuch restore", it is often preferable to be able to use notmuch on a remote computer as if it were present on a local computer.

The following guidelines show how to accomplished this. It isn't perfect, but it works pretty well, and allows one to access notmuch on one computer, using only an Emacs client, a trivial shell script, and some Emacs and ssh settings on another computer.

What you will need

You will need to have the following items in place:

  1. a working notmuch and sshd on one computer (let's call that computer "server").

  2. a working notmuch emacs interface (of the same version as on the server), bash, and ssh on another computer (let's call that computer "client")

  3. password-free login (public key authentication) from client to server. Here is a good page on how to set it up (3).

  4. a reasonably fast connection. (This isn't really necessary, but if your connection is too slow, this won't be very pleasant to use, and certainly won't seem transparent.)

(3) If you don't want / cannot use password-free login, This page provides yet another alternative.

Configure ssh on the client computer

Add this to your ~/.ssh/config:

Host notmuch
    HostName example.com
    User remoteuser
    ControlMaster auto
    ControlPath ~/.ssh/master-%h@%p:%r
    ControlPersist 15m
    IdentityFile ~/.ssh/example.com.id_rsa

Replace example.com with your server. Replace remoteuser with the username on the server.

The Control* options keep the connection open in the background to not require authentication every time. The ControlPersist option defines the connection timeout. These aren't strictly necessary, but reduce latency.

The IdentityFile option may not be necessary depending on how you set up public key authentication. This assumes you set up a separate key; set the filename accordingly.

Please refer to ssh_config(5) man page for details.

Set up a wrapper shell script on the client computer

Save this to a file, for example remote-notmuch.sh, in your PATH:

#!/bin/bash
printf -v ARGS "%q " "$@"
exec ssh notmuch notmuch ${ARGS}

and give it execute permissons: chmod +x remote-notmuch.sh

Now you can run remote-notmuch.sh new, or other notmuch commands. You can call the script anything you like. (You could also call it notmuch or symlink ~/bin/notmuch to it for transparent usage.)

Configure Emacs on the client computer

Add this to your ~/.emacs to tell the Emacs client to use the wrapper script:

(setq notmuch-command "/path/to/your/remote-notmuch.sh")

If you use Fcc, you may want to do something like this on the client, to Bcc mails to yourself:

(setq notmuch-fcc-dirs nil)
(add-hook 'message-header-setup-hook
    (lambda () (insert (format "Bcc: %s <%s>\n"
                (notmuch-user-name)
                (notmuch-user-primary-email))))))

Problems

Some things probably won't work perfectly, and there might be some unexpected mismatches between normal usage and this sort of usage. If you're using this approach and run into any problems, please feel free to list them here. And, of course, if you improve on any of these approaches, please do edit this page and let people know!

If you have issues, you may want to try the old remote usage instructions or yet another alternative.