Teaching A Homely Mutt New Tricks

January 19, 2015

About two years ago I read Steve Losh's excellent The Homely Mutt. It's a fantastic how-to on setting up Mutt as your email client. Mostly to see if I could, I set aside a day and managed to get it all working. Having scratched my technology itch I set Mutt aside and continuted on with Mail.app.

About a year ago my employer switched to Office365 for email. While I find the webmail interface to be clunky and difficult to use, getting my mail through Mail.app worked so I wasn't too bothered by the switch. However when I upgraded to Yosemite in October I started having problems with my Office365 mail. The 10.10.1 release did improve things some, but it's still a pain to use.

This past weekend I decided to resurrect my Mutt setup, and see if I could make it work -- not just for one account, but for six accounts. The Homely Mutt (THM) posting describes how to setup Mutt to work with a single GMail account. I have 3 domain accounts, two Gmail accounts, and the afore mentioned Office365 (Exchange) account.

My dotfiles repository had the Mutt configuration I had created in 2013, and I had managed to get that working with multiple accounts. Not having touched it in nearly two years I decided to start over from scratch.

Mutt for Gmail

I reread THM and started in from the top. This allowed me to setup one of my two Gmail accounts. I picked the one with the least amount of mail to reduce the time Offline imap would need to complete the initial download of my mail.

Offlineimap for Multiple Computers

I have three computers that I use on a daily or near daily basis and I want to have my mail available on all three. So I wanted to modify the original offlineimap.py script to work using the current user account, and not a hard coded account as shown in THM. Digging around in Mr. Losh's dotfiles I discoverd his solution was to simply use whoami in place of the hard coded user account name. The resulting script looks like this:


import re, subprocess

def get_keychain_pass(account=None, server=None):
    params = {
        'security': '/usr/bin/security',
        'command': 'find-internet-password',
        'account': account,
        'server': server,
        'keychain': '/Users/`whoami`/Library/Keychains/login.keychain',

    command = "sudo -u `whoami` %(security)s -v %(command)s -g -a %(account)s -s %(server)s %(keychain)s" %params
    output = subprocess.check_output(command, shell=True, stderr=subprocess.STDOUT)
    outtext = [l for l in output.splitlines()
                     if l.startswith('password: ')][0]

    return re.match(r'password: "(.*)"', outtext).group(1)

Mutt with sidebar-patch

On OS X the easiest way to install Mutt is using Homebrew. Unfortunately the formula for Mutt no longer contains the sidebar patch. Having a sidebar where your accounts and their mailboxes are displayed is, in my opinion, essential. A short Google search lead me to how to apply this mutt sidebar patch on StackOverflow. You just edit the Mutt formula and insert the missing option.

$ brew edit mutt

And then, scroll down to a section of commands that all start with "option", sort of like:

option "with-debug", "Build with debug option enabled"
option "with-trash-patch", "Apply trash folder patch"
option "with-s-lang", "Build against slang instead of ncurses"
option "with-ignore-thread-patch", "Apply ignore-thread patch"
option "with-pgp-verbose-mime-patch", "Apply PGP verbose mime patch"
option "with-confirm-attachment-patch", "Apply confirm attachment patch"

Add this line to the bottom of the options:

option "with-sidebar-patch", "Apply sidebar patch"

Scroll down further to the section with all the patches, e.g.

patch do
  url "http://patch-tracker.debian.org/patch/series/dl/mutt/1.5.21-6.2+deb7u1/features/trash-folder"
  sha1 "6c8ce66021d89a063e67975a3730215c20cf2859"
end if build.with? "trash-patch"

And add this block:

patch do
  url "https://raw.github.com/nedos/mutt-sidebar-patch/7ba0d8db829fe54c4940a7471ac2ebc2283ecb15/mutt-sidebar.patch"
  sha1 "1e151d4ff3ce83d635cf794acf0c781e1b748ff1"
end if build.with? "sidebar-patch"

Exit the editor and run

$ brew install mutt --with-sidebar-patch

Multiple Accounts in Mutt

Much of the configuration described in THM still applies for multiple mail accounts. Below I've described where there are differences.


You'll need to add the account identifier for each account to the accounts = line. And you'll need to create new [Account ...], [Repository ...-Local], and [Repository ...-Remote] sections for the new email account as well. I've included a shortened version of my .offlineimaprc file showing two accounts. The complete version is a bit long.

# vim: ft=rc:

# ui = ttyui
ui = blinkenlights
#ui = quiet
accounts = mark,root
fsync = False

[Account mark]
localrepository = mark-Local
remoterepository = mark-Remote

[Repository mark-Local]
type = Maildir
localfolders = ~/.mail/mark

[Repository mark-Remote]
maxconnections = 3
type = IMAP
remoteuser = mark_zanshin
remotehost = mail.example.com
remoteport = 993
ssl = yes
remotepasseval = get_keychain_pass(account="mark_zanshin", server="mail.webfaction.com")
realdelete = no

[Account root]
localrepository = root-Local
remoterepository = root-Remote

[Repository root-Local]
type = Maildir
localfolders = ~/.mail/root

[Repository root-Remote]
maxconnections = 3
type = IMAP
remoteuser = root_zanshin
remotehost = mail.example.com
remoteport = 993
ssl = yes
remotepasseval = get_keychain_pass(account="root_zanshin", server="mail.webfaction.com")
realdelete = no

You'll also need to visit Keychain Access and create new password entries for incoming (imap) and outoging (smtp) messages. This process is unchanged from THM, you just need to do it for each new account. With all the accounts setup in .offlineimaprc and new Keychain entries I was able to kick off the rather lenghty process of downloading my mail.

.muttrc Changes

Some of the changes to the .muttrc file happen in that file and others I farmed out to a new directory called accounts.

The .muttrc changes are fairly straight forward. You need to edit the list of mailboxes you want to have appear in the sidebar. I've added what amounts to a comment or tag before each new set of mailbaoxes to make identifying which account is which easier.

# Mailboxes to show in the sidebar.
mailboxes "+-- mark ---------------" \
          +mark/INBOX \
          +mark/archive \
          +mark/Drafts \
          +mark/Sent\ Messages \
          "+-- root ---------------" \
          +root/INBOX \
          +root/archive \
          +root/Drafts \
          +root/Sent\ Messages \
          "+-- MarkNichols ----------" \
          +marknichols/INBOX \
          +marknichols/archive \
          +marknichols/drafts \
          +marknichols/sent \
          "+-- CodeProle ----------" \
          +codeprole/INBOX \
          +codeprole/archive \
          +codeprole/drafts \
          "+-- mhn (ksu) ----------" \
          +mhn/INBOX \
          +mhn/Archive \
          +mhn/Drafts \
          +mhn/Sent\ Items \
          +mhn/github \
          +mhn/bugzilla \
          +mhn/ome-dt-l \
          +mhn/Junk\ Email \
          +mhn/Deleted\ Items \\
          "+-- Chef ---------------" \
          +chef/INBOX \
          +chef/archive \
          +chef/Drafts \
          +chef/Sent\ Messages \

Using the folder-hook feature of Mutt I was able to setup account specifc settings, each in their own file. When an account is selected in the sidebar and one of its mailboxes opened the folder hook sources a short chunk of muttrc code to set the account specific values.

Under the .mutt directory I created a new directory called accounts. In accounts I put a file for each email account. Here's an example file:

# Account Settings ------------------------------

set from      = "mark@zanshin.net"
set sendmail  = "/usr/local/bin/msmtp -a mark"

# Default inbox.
set spoolfile = "+mark/INBOX"

# Other special folders.
set mbox      = "+mark/archive"
set postponed = "+mark/drafts"
set record    = "+mark/Sent Messages"

color status yellow default

The folder-hook lines in the .muttrc file look like this:

# Set account specific options on folder change
folder-hook mark/*        source ~/.mutt/accounts/mark
folder-hook root/*        source ~/.mutt/accounts/root
folder-hook chef/*        source ~/.mutt/accounts/chef
folder-hook marknichols/* source ~/.mutt/accounts/marknichols
folder-hook codeprole/*   source ~/.mutt/accounts/codeprole
folder-hook mhn/*         source ~/.mutt/accounts/mhn


The final piece of the puzzle is sending email. Edit the .msmtprc file and add the necessary information for each of the additional accounts. Again, here is a shortened version of my .msmtprc file:

account mark
host smtp.webfaction.com
port 587
protocol smtp
auth on
from mark@zanshin.net
user mark_zanshin
tls on
tls_trust_file ~/.mutt/Equifax_Secure_CA.cert

account root
host smtp.webfaction.com
port 587
protocol smtp
auth on
from root@zanshin.net
user root_zanshin
tls on
tls_trust_file ~/.mutt/Equifax_Secure_CA.cert

Conclusion and Caveats

You can view my complete Mutt setup on Github.

A word of caution applies. Unlike configuring tmux or Vim, making a mistake with Offlineimap or Mutt could potential wipe out some or all of your mail and cause the end of Western civilization. Proceed at your own risk.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.