6 minute read

Nitty Gritty

I’ve been using the mutt e-mail client for about two years now. I love mutt. I’m a die hard Linux/BSD guy, and am in the console a lot. I love mutt’s simplicity”1 & power. I love being able to customize it. Mutt’s motto is among the best ever penned:

“All mail clients suck. This one just sucks less.”

It is so fast at e-mail (reading/deleting/sorting/tagging/moving/filtering, etc), that it is hard to use anything else. Yes, I’ve used other Linux (GUI) e-mail clients such as Thunderbird, Evolution, Geary, SeaMonkey & GroupWise (yes, they have a Linux version). I’ve also used proprietary OS/e-mail solutions like Outlook, & Mail.2

I guess the biggest reason I like mutt, is that it adheres to the Unix philosophy of, “doing one thing and doing it well.”3

See my eBook (Updated for 2019) for a very basic setup to get used to it before attempting the following highly advanced configuration.

After reading Steve Losh’s guide to offline imap and mutt, I had to attempt the offline sync functionality he recommended. Normally I would connect over imaps and do everything realtime, but I wanted the offline functionality in the case I didn’t have Internet access, and wanted a local copy for quicker e-mail manipulation.

At first, like Steve, I used offlineimap, but it was too complicated and didn’t work quite like I wanted, so, thanks to Matthias Vogelgesang, I was able to get isync (mbsync) working. Instead of gmail, I set my mutt up for my work account which uses Outlook365.

Also, for passwordless authentication, I’m using gpg, instead of some python scripts. It integrates with Gnome’s keychain, so it will start upon logging in. I’ll leave it up to you to configure gpg, or the authentication method of your choice.

I run Arch linux, so you may need to change some things based on your distribution’s setup.


Install the goods: mutt, isync, msmtp, gpg:

  • pacman -S mutt msmtp gnupg (Or install your preferred version your way)
  • isync needs to be installed from the AUR.


Configure mutt’s ~/.muttrc. Most of mine is exactly like Steve Losh’s, but with some subtle changes. It can take some tinkering to get it exactly to your liking. Be sure to create files/dirs if they don’t already exist. Here’s my config:

    # Paths ----------------------------------------------
    set folder           = ~/mail               # mailbox location
    set alias_file       = ~/.mutt/alias         # where to store aliases
    set header_cache     = ~/.mutt/cache/headers # where to store headers
    set message_cachedir = ~/.mutt/cache/bodies  # where to store bodies
    set certificate_file = ~/.mutt/certificates  # where to store certs
    set mailcap_path     = ~/.mutt/mailcap       # entries for filetypes
    set tmpdir           = ~/.mutt/temp          # where to keep temp files
    set signature        = ~/.mutt/sig           # my signature file

    # Account Settings -----------------------------------
    set spoolfile 		= "+work/Inbox" #Default inbox.
    set mbox      		= "+work/Archive"
    set postponed 		= "+work/Drafts"
    set editor		= "vim -c \"set spell spelllang=en\""
    set trash		= "+work/Deleted\ Items"
    set index_format	="%4C %Z %D %-15.15L (%4l) %s"
    set beep_new		=yes
    set copy		=yes
    set sort		="threads"
    set query_command	="lbdbq '%s'"# how to query the exchange ldap database
    bind editor "\t" complete-query #tab completion over ldap
    # Mailboxes to show in the sidebar.
    mailboxes +work/Inbox \
              +work/Archive \
              +work/Other \
              +work/Deleted\ Items \
    bind index 		"\Ca" 'imap-fetch-mail'
    fcc-hook ~A "+work/Archive" # Saves copies of outgoing mail to         "Archive" folder
    # Sidebar Patch --------------------------------------
    set sidebar_delim   	= '  │'
    color sidebar_new color221 color233
    set sidebar_visible 	= yes
    set sidebar_width   	= 30
    # Bind sidebar navigation to CTRL-n, CTRL-p, and CTRL-o
    bind index \CP sidebar-prev
    bind index \CN sidebar-next
    bind index \CO sidebar-open
    bind pager \CP sidebar-prev
    bind pager \CN sidebar-next
    bind pager \CO sidebar-open
    #Status Bar
    set status_chars  = " *%A"
    set status_format = "───[ Folder: %f ]───[%r%m messages%?n? (%n new)?%?d? (%d to delete)?%?t? (%t tagged)? ]───%>─%?p?( %p postponed )?───"

    # Sending mail ---------------------------------------
    set from		="bfrancom@<domain>.org"
    set realname		="Ben Francom" 
    set use_from		="yes"
    set envelope_from	="yes"
    set sendmail		="/usr/bin/msmtp"

    # Header Options -------------------------------------
    ignore *                                # ignore all headers
    unignore from: to: cc: date: subject:   # show only these
    unhdr_order *                           # some distros order things by default
    hdr_order from: to: cc: date: subject:  # and in this order

    # Index View Options ---------------------------------
    set date_format = "%m/%d %I:%M"
    set sort = threads                         # like gmail
    set sort_aux = reverse-last-date-received  # like gmail
    set uncollapse_jump                        # don't collapse on an         unread message
    set sort_re                                # thread based on regex
    #set reply_regexp = "^(([Rr][Ee]?(\[[0-9]+\])?: *)?(\[[^]]+\] *)?)*"

    # Index Key Bindings ---------------------------------
    bind index gg       first-entry
    bind index G        last-entry
    bind index R        group-reply
    bind index <space>  collapse-thread

    # Sync email
    macro index O "<shell-escape>mbsync work<enter>"           "run mbsync to sync all mail"
    macro index o "<shell-escape>mbsync work<enter>" "run mbsync to sync inbox"

    # Saner copy/move dialogs
    macro index C "<copy-message>?<toggle-mailboxes>" "copy a message to a mailbox"
    macro index M "<save-message>?<toggle-mailboxes>" "move a message to a mailbox"
    macro index,pager A   "<tag-thread><tag-prefix-cond><save-message>+work/Archive<enter>"  "Archive all in thread"
    macro index,pager a   "<save-message>+work/Archive<enter>"                               "Archive message"
    macro index       -   "<limit>all\n"                                                     "show all messages (undo limit)"
    macro index       \C_ "<tag-pattern>~N<enter><tag-prefix-cond>N<untag-pattern>~T<enter>" "mark all as read"

    # Sidebar Navigation ---------------------------------
    bind index,pager <down>   sidebar-next
    bind index,pager <up>     sidebar-prev
    bind index,pager <right>  sidebar-open

    # Pager View Options ---------------------------------
    set pager_index_lines = 10 # number of index lines to show
    set pager_context = 3      # number of context lines to show
    set pager_stop             # don't go to next message automatically
    set menu_scroll            # scroll in menus
    set tilde                  # show tildes like in vim
    unset markers              # no ugly plus signs
    set quote_regexp = "^( {0,4}[>|:#%]| {0,4}[a-z0-9]+[>|]+)+"

    # Pager Key Bindings ---------------------------------
    bind pager k  previous-line
    bind pager j  next-line
    bind pager gg top
    bind pager G  bottom
    bind pager R  group-reply

    # Compose View Options -------------------------------
    set realname = "Ben Francom"          # who am i?
    set envelope_from                    # which from?
    set sig_dashes                       # dashes before sig
    set askcc                            # ask for CC:
    set fcc_attach                       # save attachments with the body
    unset mime_forward                   # forward attachments as part of body
    set forward_format = "Fwd: %s"       # format of subject when forwarding
    set forward_decode                   # decode when forwarding
    set reply_to                         # reply to Reply to: field
    set reverse_name                     # reply as whomever it was to
    set include                          # include message in replies
    set forward_quote                    # include message in forwards
    set indent_str="> "
    set check_new=yes
    set timeout=15
    set mail_check=5


Configure isync’s ~/.mbsyncrc

    IMAPAccount work
    Host outlook.office365.com
    User bfrancom@<domain>.org
    PassCmd "gpg2 -q --for-your-eyes-only --no-tty -d ~/.mailpass.gpg"
    UseIMAPS yes
    CertificateFile /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt
    IMAPStore work-remote
    Account work
    MaildirStore work-local
    Path ~/mail/work/
    Inbox ~/mail/work/Inbox
    Channel work
    Master :work-remote:
    Slave :work-local:
    # Or include everything
    Patterns "INBOX" "Other" "Archive" "Drafts" "Deleted Items"
    # Automatically create missing mailboxes, both locally and on the         server
    Create Both
    Expunge Both
    # Save the synchronization state files in the relevant directory
    SyncState *


Configure msmtp for outgoing e-mail ~/.msmtprc

    account work
    host smtp.office365.com
    port 587
    protocol smtp
    auth on
    from bfrancom@<domain>.org
    user bfrancom@<domain>.org
    passwordeval gpg2 -q --for-your-eyes-only --no-tty -d ~/.mailpass.gpg
    tls on
    tls_starttls on
    tls_trust_file ~/outlook.com.crt

1. Mutt is easy to setup, but if you need to hack it in a way that works best for your workflow, it can take a lot of tweaking. That is why I am writing this article; to help others that may be looking for a similar setup, or for further control.

2. This may suprise some that I was a rabid Apple lover at one point. I’ve run various versions of OS 8,9,X. So yes, I was legit far before most Apple followers of today, and have had several iDevices throughout the years. I did graphic, and video design and have a lot of experience in the Apple ecosystem. However, I grew so tired of the vendor lockin, lack of (or removed functionality), crippled debugging tools, and Apple’s litigious nature that they have left a really bad taste in my mouth…I don’t think I’ll ever be able to un-taste.

3. Wikipedia entry on Unix Philosophy