π

Thinking About a notmuch-based Email Setup

Show Sidebar

I just finished watching a video from the early stage of notmuch which made me think of changing my mutt email setup which I am using for many years. Since this video, notmuch has gained cool features and a notable user-base.

A short disclaimer upfront: notmuch and these things are not for non-tech-savvy end-users who want a fully integrated email experience out of the box. It's something for people like me who like to tinker their setup in order to get the best mail experience for their own requirements that lasts probably a decade or more.

Mutt for Email

"A decade or more?" you might sniff at. Yes, I am using my current email setup for over a decade. I do think that I started using mutt ("All mail clients suck. This one just sucks less.") somewhere around 2002.

What software are you using for 14 years or more? To me, org-mode is a candidate that might be one of those tools I never quit. But let us switch back to email.

So far, mutt has not disappointed me. For the outsider, mutt seems to be a hangover from the 70s with its text-only interface and so forth. In contrast to this prejudice, mutt is surprisingly user-friendly, fast, and ultimately flexible. Although my mutt is running in a tmux session on a 24/7-server I only access through ssh, I am able to open URLs on my local machine or open attachments on my local machine. I even created a mechanism which integrates my Org-mode-based contact management to change my own email-address according to the recipient which is by far my most successful blog entry at the moment.

Why Changing My Working Setup?

Well, I am not totally convinced yet. Before I switch over and re-implement my workflows with a different tool, I want to get a decent boost in terms of feature-sets.

Searching emails in a huge pile of mails is very fast and very user-friendly with notmuch.

A very attractive argument is smooth Org-mode integration. The original author of notmuch is using GNU/Emacs.

What Is This Notmuch and What Would Change?

First of all: notmuch is only providing efficient tag, search, and display methods for emails. Composing emails, sending and receiving emails, managing emails has to be done with different tools. So this is a modular approach.

Further more, this is a federated approach since I switch over from a centralized MUA-system (only my ssh-server holds the email system) to a system where each client host I am using has to have access to all emails. Currently, I have approximately 600MB of email per year and I move emails older than a year to an archive I can't access from within mutt. With notmuch, I'd keep more emails for direct access. So this would require more storage space occupied on my laptop and home server. Not a huge issue but it's a considerable factor.

The interface of notmuch offers really great features for tagging, filtering, and advanced searching for emails. You can think of it as your personal Gmail interface without giving away all of your emails to the biggest data-mining company in a country where mass-surveillance without any judicial control is specified by law.

Since notmuch provides "only" query and display mechanisms for mail, the other parts have to be done with tools like offlineimap, mutt or GNU/Emacs, and so forth. Of course, I prefer the GNU/Emacs way since I am striving for an email/Org-mode integration.

You get the idea: with notmuch you have to - or you get the possibility yo - create the optimal email setup which fits your own requirements. So far, I do like the approach of Christian Kruse.

Of course, there would be the possibility to keep my mutt-workflows and implement notmuch and such on my home server only. I am not convinced of this hybrid approach since I'd have some limitations on both sides.

And Now?

As I said: since mutt is doing fine, I still hesitate the migration effort. However, the benefits would be great as well.

What are you thinking?

Do you have experience with notmuch?

Were you in a similar situation?

Drop me a comment via email or Disqus below ...

Comment via email or via Disqus comments below: