A Mutt journey: Search mails with notmuch

In the previous installment in the Mutt series, I've talked about my Mutt configuration. In this post, I'll talk about notmuch and how to use it to search through mails.

By default, you can search mails in Mutt by using the / key. By doing that, you can only search in the current folder. This is very fast, but this is not always what you want. When you don't know in which folder the mail you are looking for is, you don't want to test each folder. By default, there are no feature to achieve global searching in Mutt.

That is where notmuch comes to the rescue. notmuch is a very simple tool that allows you to search through your mail. As its name indicates, it does not do much. It doesn't download your mails, you have to have them locally, which is perfect if you use offlineimap. It does not provide a user interface, but you can query it from the command line and it can be used from other tools. It should be available in most of the distributions.


The configuration of notmuch is fairly simple. You can write your .notmuch-config directly or run notmuch setup that will interactively help you to fill the configuration.

Here is my configuration:


name=Baptiste Wicht
[email protected]




It needs of cours the place where your mails are stored. Then, some information about you. The next section is to specify which tags you want to add to new mails. Here, I specified that each new mail must be tagged with inbox. You can add several tags to new mails. In the [search] section, the excluded tags are specified.


Once you have configured notmuch, you can run notmuch new to process all existing mails. The first run may take some time (in minutes, it is still quite fast), but the subsequent runs will be very fast. You should run notmuch after each offlineimap run. I personally run it in a shell script that is run by cron. You could also use one of the hooks of offlineimap to run notmuch.

Once indexing has been done, you can start searching your mails. The first option to search mail is simply to use notmuch search <query> from the command line. This will directly displays the results. Search is instant on my mails.

If you use mutt-kz like me, notmuch support is directly integrated. You can type X, and then type your query like notmuch://?query=X and the results will be displayed as a normal Mutt folder. You can open mails directly from here and you can also edit the mails as if you were in their source folders. This is really practical.

If you use mutt, you can have the same experience, by using the notmuch-mutt patch (here <http://notmuchmail.org/notmuch-mutt/>). In several distributions, there is an option to build it with this support or another package to add the feature.

Another feature of notmuch is its ability to tag mails. It automatically tags new mails and deleted mails. But you can also explicitely tag messages by using notmuch tag. For instance, to tag all messages from the notmuch mailing list:

notmuch tag +notmuch -- tag:new and to:[email protected]

I personally don't use this feature since I use imapfilter and IMAP folders to sort my mail, but it can be very useful. You can run these commands in the cronjob and always have you tags up to date. Tags can then be used in notmuch to search or to create virtual folder in Mutt.


That is already more or less everything that there is to know about notmuch. It does not do a lot of thing, but it does them really well.

That concludes the series of posts on Mutt. If you have any question on my Mutt configuration, I'd be glad to extend on the comments.

Related articles

  • A Mutt Journey: Filter mails with imapfilter
  • A Mutt Journey: Download mails with offlineimap
  • A Mutt journey: Mutt configuration
  • Drag and drop files to Gmail
  • Why and how I completely left Windows for Linux
  • Git Tip : Restore a deleted tag
  • Comments

    Comments powered by Disqus