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Using notmuch remotely

(the "old" page, see also new page)


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 I have accomplished this. It isn't perfect, but it works pretty well, and allows me to access notmuch on my home computer, using only an emacs client on my netbook or work computer, a trivial shell script, a few settings in my .emacs, and a couple of common unix utilities (ssh and dtach).

What you will need

You will need to have the following items in place:

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

  2. a working notmuch emacs interface on another computer (let's call that computer "client")

  3. ssh and dtach on your client computer. (TODO: Make dtach optional, or allow screen or tmux to be used instead. Here is a version that does not require dtach.)

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

  5. 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.)

Write a wrapper shell script

Now we will need to write a simple shell script that does two things:

  1. replaces the call to the notmuch binary with a call to notmuch over ssh.

  2. sets up a running, detached, ssh connection to the server, so that future calls can reuse the socket.

      #!/usr/bin/env bash
      SOCKET_DIR="/tmp/notmuch_$(id -u)"
      check_for_socket_dir ()
          [ -d "${SOCKET_DIR}" ]
      check_socket_dir_owner_and_perm ()
          [ "$(stat -c %U ${SOCKET_DIR})" = "$(whoami)" ] &&
          [ "$(stat -c %a ${SOCKET_DIR})" = "700" ]
      create_socket_dir ()
          mkdir "${SOCKET_DIR}"
          chmod 700 "${SOCKET_DIR}"
      check_for_socket ()
          [ -S "${SSH_SOCKET}" ]
      start_socket ()
          dtach_command="${DTACH} -n ${DTACH_SOCKET} ${SSH_BIN} -M -S ${SSH_SOCKET} ${USER}@${SSH_HOST}"
          command -v ${DTACH} &>/dev/null && ${dtach_command}
      notmuch_run ()
          if check_for_socket_dir; then
              if check_socket_dir_owner_and_perm; then
                  if ! check_for_socket; then
              else echo "Wrong permissions of ${SOCKET_DIR}" >&2
                  exit 1
          elif create_socket_dir; then
              exit 1
          printf -v ARGS "%q " "$@"
      notmuch_run "$@"

Save this to a file, "", in your path.

Now you can run " new". You can call the script anything you like. I actually have $HOME/bin/notmuch linked to that script, so I can have transparent usage.

Configure your emacs client

The only thing you need to do is tell your emacs client to use the script. Add the following to your .emacs (this is on your client machine):

(setq notmuch-command "/path/to/your/")


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!