An updated email config, 2 offlineimap, mutt, and dovecot ftw!

Since joining the Launchpad team my email has been flooded. I’ve always been pretty careful to keep my email clean and I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with all the new mailing lists. There are a bunch of people working on things, as you can imagine. So the email never stops. I’m still working on figuring out what I need to know, what I can ignore, and what should be filed away for later.

Another thing I’m finding is that I’ve got emails in both of my accounts around a single topic. For instance, I have to do some traveling. I’ve got emails on both my Gmail (personal) and Canonical (work) accounts that I really want to keep together in a single travel bucket.

I currently have offlineimap pull both of work and personal accounts down into a single folder on my machine ~/.email/. So I’ve got a ~/.email/work and a ~/.email/personal. I use mutt then to open the root there and to work through email. It works pretty well. Since I really wanted a global "travel" folder, I figured I’d just created one. So that works. I end up with a directory structure like:

  • personal
  • travel
  • work

The problem

Of course the issue here is that when offlineimap runs again it sees the email is no longer in the personal or work accounts and removes them from the server. And the travel folder isn’t a part of any server side account so it’s not backed up or synced anywhere. This means Gmail no longer sees things, my phone no longer sees them, and I’ve got no backups. Oops!

Solution start

So to fix that, my new directory structure needs to become an account. So I setup dovecot on my colo server. This way I could have an imap account that I could do whatever with. To get my email into there, I setup offlineimap on my colo to pull personal and work down as I had on my laptop. So I still have things in a ~/.email that’s from the accounts and then dovecot is keeping all of my email in ~/email (not a hidden dir). To get my email into there, I symlinked the ~/.email/personal/INBOX to ~/email/personal and did the same with the work account. Now the two accounts are just extra folders in my dovecot setup.

So there we go, colo is pulling my email, and I changed my laptop to offlineimap sync with the new dovecot server. In this way, I’ve got a single combined email account on my laptop using mutt. I then also setup my phone with an imap client to talk directly to the dovecot server. Sweet, this is getting closer to what I really want.

Issues start, who am I

Of course, once this started working I realized I had to find a way to make sure I sent email as the right person. I’d previously just told mutt if I was in the personal account to use that address and if in the work account use that one. Fortunately, we can help make mutt a bit more intelligent about things.

First, we want to have mutt check the To/CC headers to determine who this email was to, if it was me, then use that address as a From during replies.

mutt config:

# I have to set these defaults because when you first startup mutt
# it's not running folder hooks. It just starts in a folder
set from="rharding@mitechie.com"
# Reply with the address used in the TO/CC header
set reverse_name=yes
alternates "rick.stuff@canonical.com|deuce868@gmail.com"

This is a start, but it fails when sending new email. It’s not sure who I should be still. So I want a way to manually switch who the active From use is. These macros give me the ability to swap using the keybindings Alt-1 and Alt-2.

mutt config:

macro index,pager \e1 ":set from=rharding@mitechie.com\n:set status_format=\"-%r-rharding@mitechie.com: %f [Msgs:%?M?%M/?%m%?n? New:%n?%?o? Old:%o?%?d? Del:%d?%?F? Flag:%F?%?t? Tag:%t?%?p? Post:%p?%?b? Inc:%b?%?l? %l?]---(%s/%S)-%>-(%P)---\"\n" "Switch to rharding@mitechie.com"
macro index,pager \e2 ":set from=rick.stuff@canonical.com\n:set status_format=\"-%r-rick.stuff@canonical.com: %f [Msgs:%?M?%M/?%m%?n? New:%n?%?o? Old:%o?%?d? Del:%d?%?F? Flag:%F?%?t? Tag:%t?%?p? Post:%p?%?b? Inc:%b?%?l? %l?]---(%s/%S)-%>-(%P)---\"\n" "Switch to rick.stuff@canonical.com"

That’s kind of cool, and it shows in the top of my window who I am set to. Hmm, even that fails if I’ve started an email and want to switch who I am on the fly. There is a way to change that though, so another macro to the rescue, this time for the compose ui in mutt.

mutt config:

macro compose \e1 "<esc>f ^U Rick Harding <rharding@mitechie.com>\n"
macro compose \e2 "<esc>f ^U Rick Harding <rick.stuff@canonical.com>\n"

There, now even if I’m in the middle of creating an email I can switch who it’s sent as. It’s not perfect, and I know I’ll screw up at some point, but hopefully this is close enough.

Firming up with folder hooks

Finally, if I know the folder I’m in is ONLY for one account or the other, I can use folder hooks to fix that up for me.

mutt config:

folder-hook +personal.* set from="rharding@mitechie.com"
folder-hook +personal.* set signature=$HOME/.mutt/signature-mitechie
folder-hook +personal.* set query_command='"goobook query \'%s\'"'

So there, if I’m in my personal account, set the from, the signature, and change mutt to complete my addresses from goobook instead of the ldap completion I use for work addresses.

Not all roses

There are still a few issues. I lose webmail. After all, mail goes into my Gmail Inbox and then from there into various folders of my dovecot server. Honestly though, I don’t think this will be an issue. I tend to use my phone more and more for email management so as long as that works, I can get at things.

I also lose Gmail search for a large portion of my email. Again, it’s not killer. On my laptop I’ve been using notmuch (Xapian backed) for fulltext search and it’s been doing a pretty good job for me. However, I can’t run that on my phone. So searching for mail on there is going to get harder. Hopefully having a decent folder structure will help though.

I’ve also noticed that the K-9 mail client is a bit flaky with syncing changes up on things. Gmail, mutt, and I’ve also setup Thunderbird all seem to sync up ok without issue, so I think this is K-9 specific.

That brings up the issue of creating new folders. Offlineimap won’t pick up new folders I create from within mutt. It won’t push those up as new imap folders for some reason. I have to first create them using thunderbird, which sets up the folder server side for me. Then everything works ok. It’s a PITA, but hopefully I can find a better way to do this. Maybe even a Python script to hook into a mutt macro or something.

Wrap Up

So there we are. Next up is to setup imapfilter to help me pre-filter the email as it comes in. Now that all email is in one place that should be nice and easy. I can run that on my colo server and it’ll be quick.

This is obviously more trouble than most people want to go through to setup email, but hey, maybe someone will find this interesting or have some of their own ideas to share.

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