My faithful companion: mutt

Posted on Fri 21 July 2017 in Dispatches • 2 min read

About a month ago, on a whim, I started an experiment where I stopped checking my personal email on my phone, or via the web. Instead, I moved all my personal email activity over to Mutt. Yes, I’m now one of those nerds. The ones that use unnecessarily complex terminal applications for email.

It’s a pretty slick setup. My email syncs automatically via offlineimap in the background, regardless of if I have the application open, and I have full support for threading, integration with contacts, search, PGP encryption, and composing formatted emails using Markdown1. I quite like it.

Disclaimer

Let’s get a few things out of the way. Setting up Mutt is a pain in the ass to do well. It’s impractical for almost anyone that doesn’t already have a technical bent and a love of playing with configuration files. You will spend a lot of time getting it the way you want it the first time, and if you like to tinker, you will almost certainly spend a lot of time tweaking it after the fact to get it just the way you like it.

This is not a guide to installing and configuring Mutt. If you are looking for that, I would recommend Steve Losh’s guide for the basic setup2, and this guide for how to set up better rendering of HTML emails.

The experience

Once you get the hang of the key commands, which is easy, since you configure them yourself, Mutt is really fast. I can process my inbox quickly3, and I haven’t found myself missing any features of a traditional webmail or desktop application. As another plus, Mutt is quiet. By its nature, there are no distractions, so you can read and compose in peace.

And search! Search via Xapian is crazy fast and good at finding relevant emails.

Search inside mutt

Searching inside mutt using a Xapian database. I searched for emails related to Dungeons and Dragons.

As an added plus, due to the demographic of Mutt’s user base, it implements PGP/GPG exceptionally well. In fact, it is the most seamless implementation of encryption I’ve worked with thus far. So, that’s an added plus for privacy buffs.

So happy together

This has been a great experience, and honestly, I have a hard time envisioning myself going back to the way I did email before. Sure, it’s complex, unnecessarily nerdy, and a bit silly, but so am I. So, for the foreseeable future, I’ll stick with my faithful companion.


  1. Via muttdown 

  2. Although I ultimately elected to install offlineimap via Homebrew instead so that I could set it up as a service on my Macs. 

  3. Inbox Zero!!