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Notmuch Emacs Interface

One of the more popular Notmuch message reading clients is notmuch.el, or notmuch-emacs, an Emacs major mode for interacting with Notmuch. It is included in the Notmuch package (notmuch-emacs in Debian). The screenshots give a good overview of the mode.

This page is a basic guide for setting up and using Notmuch with Emacs. See also the tips and tricks page for more advanced details.

  1. Notmuch Emacs Interface
    1. Prerequisites
    2. Installation
    3. Setup
    4. Customization
    5. Navigating & reading mails
    6. Sending mail
    7. Attaching files


The Notmuch Emacs interface uses the Notmuch command line interface to interact with the Notmuch database and your mail store. Please make sure you've set up Notmuch first.


Due to the dependency on the command line interface, the Notmuch Emacs interface version must be compatible with the Notmuch version. On Linux, the easiest way to ensure this is to use the package(s) in your distribution's package repository.

If you've installed Notmuch from a git checkout or a source release, Notmuch Emacs is included by default.

It is not recommended to install Notmuch Emacs from the Emacs Lisp Package Archive (ELPA), as the version there is likely not in sync with the command line interface.


First, you need to tell Emacs about Notmuch. Add this to your .emacs rc file:

    (autoload 'notmuch "notmuch" "notmuch mail" t)

or if you always want to load Notmuch when you start Emacs:

    (require 'notmuch)

To start Notmuch Emacs, either run emacs -f notmuch, or execute the command M-x notmuch RET from within a running Emacs. This will bring you to the Notmuch Hello view.


Notmuch Emacs uses the Emacs customization interface extensively for configuration. Execute M-x customize-group RET notmuch RET to get to the Notmuch main customization group.

Notmuch Emacs configuration file

After Notmuch is loaded notmuch-init-file (typically ~/.emacs.d/notmuch-config.el) is checked out. If such file exists it is loaded. Most Emacs lisp based configuration not suitable via customization can be put there instead of ~/.emacs.

Navigating & reading mails

When first starting Notmuch in Emacs, you will be presented with the Notmuch "hello" page. If it exits with an error after writing "Welcome to notmuch. You have" you need to do the basic Notmuch setup first (see above). From here you can do searches, see lists of recent searches, saved searches, message tags, help information, etc.

Executing a search will open a new buffer in notmuch-search-mode displaying the search results. Each line in the search results represents a message thread. Hitting the '?' key will show help for this mode.

In general, the 'q' will kill the current Notmuch buffer and return you to the previous buffer (sort of like a 'pop').

In search mode, navigating to a thread and hitting return will then open a new buffer in notmuch-show-mode, which will show the actual message contents of the thread.

Sending mail

In any Notmuch mode, you can start a new message by hitting the 'm' key. To reply to a message or thread, just hit the 'r' key.

When composing new messages, you will be entered in Emacs's message-mode, which is a powerful mode for composing and sending messages. When in message mode, you can type C-c ? for help.

If you would like to use address autocompletion when composing messages, see address completion.

When you are ready to send a message, type C-c C-c. By default message mode will use your sendmail command to send mail, so make sure that works. One annoying standard configuration of message mode is that it will hide the sent mail in your Emacs frame stack, but it will not close it. If you type several mails in an Emacs session they will accumulate and make switching between buffers more annoying. You can avoid that behavior by adding (setq message-kill-buffer-on-exit t) in your .emacs file (or doing M-x customize-variable<RET>message-kill-buffer-on-exit<RET>) which will really close the mail window after sending it.

Attaching files

Using the M-x mml-attach-file command, you can attach any file to be sent with your mail. By default this command is bound to the menu item Attachments--Attach File with the key binding C-c C-a. The variable mml-dnd-attach-options (M-x customize-variable<RET>mml-dnd-attach-options<RET>) can be set to allow the prompting for various attachment options (such as inline/attachment) if you want to do that.

For those who prefer a more graphical interface, you can also simply drag and drop files from a file manager into a mail composition window to have them attached. In Ubuntu this works without any modifications if files are dragged from the file manager.

And for those who prefer working from command line, the following script opens new Emacs window with empty message and attaches files mentioned as script arguments. (Note: The script expects that you have (server-start) in your .emacs file.)

    while [ $# -gt 0 ]; do
        fullpath=$(readlink --canonicalize "$1")
        attach_cmds="$attach_cmds (mml-attach-file \"$fullpath\")"
    emacsclient -a '' -c -e "(progn (compose-mail) $attach_cmds)"