Why I Use Mutt

Written by Mark Sanborn: Aug 1, 2008

Mutt is a console based email client and have been using it heavily the last few weeks. Now that I have everything setup the way I like I think it is the best email client I have ever used. I use Gmail for my email but ever since they allowed IMAP I have been looking for an email client that can provide, productivity and simplicity.

After trying Thunderbird and other GUI applications I was put off by the complexity and actually found my productivity decreasing. These GUI programs would often have memory leaks and would use mass amounts of memory. Something I thought was unnecessary when simply reading text emails. I even found that the Gmail’s web-interface was actually a lot faster than using a mail application. That is until I found the mutt.

The reasons why I love mutt

  • Its faster than anything I have ever used. Mutt tries to group tasks and commands before sending them to the IMAP server. For example when you want to delete a bunch of emails you flag them as deleted in mutt and then when you are ready you hit, ‘$’. And all those emails will be deleted in one swoop. This also happens when you move/archive emails. So you are never waiting (even for a second) when you archive an email.

  • Emails can be downloaded while you are reading. This is especially helpful when on a slower connection.

  • It is extremely customizable. For example 90% of my emails are sorted into two folders. These folders are @NextAction and @WaitingFor. Why the @ symbol? Because characters come before the letter ‘a’ in alpha-numeric sorting. I can then configure mutt to place an email into the respected folder by binding a key to a macro that moves that email to the that folder. In Gmail’s interface I would have to click a drop down and select the folder. This is about the most simple macro I could think of. Mutt can be configured to do almost anything you could imagine. If you want to get rid of a yes/no prompt or automatically fill a certain field in every time you can easily do that.

  • Console based. This means it doesn’t need to load up graphics and cause lots of memory to be used. It also forces the user to use the keyboard which makes managing email much faster when you learn to stop grabing that darn mouse. It comes with every distro of Linux/FreeBSD that I have ever used and can be configured in minutes. Best part is if you save your config file you can transfer your settings from computer to computer without clicking all over in a GUI system checking check boxes filling out forms and going through endlesss amounts of wizards to get things configured properly.

  • Shortcuts that makes sense. The mutt shortcuts all revolve around keeping your hands on the home row. Like Vim, your movement keys are ‘j’ and ‘k’. If you are familiar with vim you will already feel right at home with mutt.

  • Compose messages with your favorite editor. Speaking of Vim. Mutt allows you to compose messages with your favorite editor. So if you are already effecient with Vim you will be able to use it without learning different shortcuts and commands.

  • Great support for mailing lists. I have found that mailing lists are where the experts communicate on their specific topics. I have learned a lot by subscribing to mailing lists and reading them daily. I find that the quality of content in mailing lists surpasses most forums. The problem with them however is that they can clog your inbox with unimportant emails. Also they can be hard to read if there are lots of replys. Mutt allows you to configure which emails are from mailing lists and it will treat them differently. It also displays them in a threaded hiarachy so it is easy to keep track of them.

  • Support for attachments. You can configure mutt to open html emails with any type of text browser such as, lynx, links, w3m, or links2. You can open word/pdf documents with a console converter or have your terminal launch Open Office. Although most email clients will do this I like having the option of opening word documents in plain text for speed reasons.

  • Regular expressions. Although Gmail’s search function for emails might never be matched mutt provides regular expressions. So you can easily search through hundreds of emails in seconds. You can also use regular expressions to automatically filter, delete, flag, write, or move emails.

  • Macros. Ok I know macros are kind of an advanced or scary thing, but mutt makes them worth learning. For example if you started to recieve common questions in your email you could set up a macro and bind it to a key for fast replys. The macro would compose a message and automatically include the person’s name and custom message based on their question.

  • Security. Although must clients support gpg/pgp, mutt makes is easy to setup and send encrypted emails. You also don’t have to worry about code being executed or images tracking your email behavior.

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