Kaizen #2: Email in Emacs with mu4e and offlineimap

April 22, 2020

mu4e and offlineimap or mbsync?

A few days ago on the subreddit r/emacs, I read that the new version 1.4 of mu/mu4e has been released. The release notes contained enough improvements to get me try it once again.

I skimmed the update manual on the mu/mu4e website and I got even more excited that this time it might work when I saw a dedicated page for Gmail configuration.

This helped me to decide against using mbsync despite having read that mbsync is much faster than offlineimap.

Only Minor Problems with Standard Gmail

The installation via yay -S mu and yay -S offlineimap went without any hiccup on my system.

Configure offlineimap

One of my upcoming Kaizen tasks is to tidy up my home directory and organize it according to the XDG Base Directory Specification. That’s why it was really nice to read that the latest mu4e version supports this specification.

After getting an overview of the possible configuration settings in the file /usr/share/offlineimap/offlineimap.conf, I copied the much smaller /usr/share/offlineimap/offline.conf.minimal file to the newly created ~/.config/offlineimap/ directory and renamed it to just config.

I followed the Gmail settings instructions from the page mentioned above and… yeah right, it didn’t work. But I was determined to not give up too early. Since I tried to set up email on Emacs several years ago, I’ve learned a lot about Emacs and I’ve gained much more confidence that I would be able to handle the possible obstacles on the way.

Unless the Gmail account is not setup to allow ‘Less secure’ apps, the offlineimap configuration didn’t work. Furthermore, I had to add sslcacertfile = /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt to the remote repository section. But with this in place I successfully downloaded my emails from some standard gmail accounts to my machine.

Getting mu4e Up and Running

This part worked pretty much according to the documentation:

  • Initializing the message store with mu init --maildir=~/Mails
  • Check the settings with mu info
  • Indexing the messages with mu index
  • Adding additional mu4e settings to the Emacs configuration
(add-to-list 'load-path "/usr/share/emacs/site-lisp/mu4e/mu4e")
(require 'mu4e)

;; save attachment to my desktop (this can also be a function)
(setq mu4e-attachment-dir "~/Desktop")

;; attempt to show images when viewing messages
(setq mu4e-view-show-images t)

;; I have my "default" parameters from Gmail
(setq mu4e-sent-folder "/[Gmail].Sent Mail"
	;; mu4e-sent-messages-behavior 'delete ;; Unsure how this should be configured
	mu4e-drafts-folder "/[Gmail].Drafts"
	mu4e-trash-folder "/[Gmail].Trash"
	user-mail-address "<user>"
	smtpmail-default-smtp-server ""
	smtpmail-smtp-server ""
	smtpmail-smtp-service 587)

;; Now I set a list of 
(defvar my-mu4e-account-alist
     (mu4e-sent-folder "/<user>[Gmail].Sent Mail")
     (user-mail-address "<user>")
     (smtpmail-smtp-user "<user>")
     (smtpmail-local-domain "")
     (smtpmail-default-smtp-server "")
     (smtpmail-smtp-server "")
     (smtpmail-smtp-service 587)
    ;; Include any other accounts here ...

(defun my-mu4e-set-account ()
  "Set the account for composing a message.
   This function is taken from:"
  (let* ((account
    (if mu4e-compose-parent-message
	  (let ((maildir (mu4e-message-field mu4e-compose-parent-message :maildir)))
    (string-match "/\\(.*?\\)/" maildir)
    (match-string 1 maildir))
	(completing-read (format "Compose with account: (%s) "
	       (mapconcat #'(lambda (var) (car var))
	      my-mu4e-account-alist "/"))
	     (mapcar #'(lambda (var) (car var)) my-mu4e-account-alist)
	     nil t nil nil (caar my-mu4e-account-alist))))
   (account-vars (cdr (assoc account my-mu4e-account-alist))))
    (if account-vars
  (mapc #'(lambda (var)
	(set (car var) (cadr var)))
	(error "No email account found"))))
(add-hook 'mu4e-compose-pre-hook 'my-mu4e-set-account)

No Luck with Custom Domain Gmail Accounts

For some email addresses I use for professional purposes, I have custom domain Gmail accounts that don’t have end with I tried several things in different settings combinations… Conclusion: It doesn’t work.

Finding a Workaround to Make it Work

While trying to get it work with an app password (which I eventually used for the standard Gmail accounts), I lost the patience to find a possible solution and I started to check for a workaround that’s good enough.


The minimum functionality I wanted was

  • All the emails from both, standard and custom domain email accounts in mu4e
  • Being able to send and reply emails from mu4e

My Current Working Configuration

In my offlineimap config file, I have my standard Gmail accounts configured using the app passwords. Using GPG passwords is a task for later.

Forwarding Emails from Custom Domain Accounts

In the Gmail settings for a custom domain account in the tab ‘Forwarding and POP/IMAP’, add ‘Forwarding a copy…’ to one of the standard Gmail accounts.

Configure ‘Send Email As’

In order to be able to send and reply as a sender of a custom domain email address go to the standard Gmail account settings and add the custom domain emails in the tab ‘Accounts and Import’.

During the configuration process, uncheck the “Treat it as an alias” checkbox and for the account credentials, use the app password for the standard Gmail account.

Don’t forget to add the custom domain email addresses to your mu initialization (mu init --my-address=<address1> --my-address=<address2> etc.)

Automated Recurring Email Sync

I installed cronie from the Arch repository and started the service with systemctl enable cronie and systemctl start cronie.

The crontab (edit with crontab -e, display it with crontab -l) for a sync every 5 minutes looks like this: */5 * * * * offlineimap -u quiet.


I’m really happy that I finally made it! Using email in Emacs! And it’s already such a better experience than Thunderbird which I used until now.

I guess it’s possible to create contexts to separate the standard and custom domain emails but that’s something for later.

One thing that I have to manually change when I reply to an email received with a custom domain account: The ‘From’ and ‘To’ addresses need to be swapped. Also something to fix later. I can live with it at the moment and just enjoy the new email experience.


May 2020

There’s a problem when an email subject line in the inbox contains (certain) emojis. So far, I can say it’s reproducable with the checkmark emoji. The problem is quite severe because when trying to access such an email, Emacs just crashes and has to be restarted.

In order to use mu4e again, the email culprit has to be removed first. I currently do that by launching Emacs in terminal mode with emacs -nw but this can’t be a sustainable solution. Luckily, so far it happens only very occasionally but it needs to be rectified sooner or later.