"XYZ is not a mailbox" or "has no messages", what does this mean?

In mbox-format this means the folder you are about to access doesn't conform to the RFC2822 specification. Either it really is not meant to be a mailbox, or the folder has been corrupted. Typical corruption is incorrect 1st line, which should look like this:

 From user@domain date

(note the missing ":" after "From") or missing empty line between header & body (empty == not even blanks, absolutely no characters).

For maildir-format this typically results from missing required subdirs. See FolderFormat for how they should be setup correctly!

Some people mistakenly create folders of one format (for example by procmail) and try to use some other format in mutt. Example:

  • bad procmail-config: creating regular flat-file mbox instead of maildir, the trailing "/" makes the difference, "man procmailrc"!!!
  • bad muttrc: specifying an explicit trailing "/"; mutt auto-detects the right format when reading a folder, it chokes on trailing "/".

So make sure you create & use the same folder format: drop the "/" in muttrc, choose the right one for procmail!!!

In case it's a missing "From "-line, solutions to fix new mail vary by program(s) used to get new mail:

  • procmail: have a look at the procmail manpage and check out the "-f" option.
  • fetchmail: see its manpage to create the From-line for you, \ or how to invoke your MDA (typically procmail) properly, see above.
  • getmail: it is likely you do not have the unixfrom variable set in your getmailrc.
    • In ~/.getmail/getmailrc under [destination] set unixfrom to yes; e.g.,

 type = MDA_external
 path = /usr/bin/procmail
 unixfrom = yes

You can add missing "From " lines of already delivered emails by means of piping them through formail like

cat mailbox | formail -b > new_mailbox

Depending on how broken the mailbox is, may or may not work. In doubt add 'From ' lines manually.

Some mailing-list archives corrupt the original "From " lines to make them less useful for spammer bots. If you're lucky, then a simple replace-function can "fix" this so you can use it with mutt again. See "man sed",

sed -e '/^From / s, at ,@,' < source-file > other-file

Sometimes people forget to specify some important MuttGuide/Folders and wonder why mutt complains about something not existing or working properly of which they never heard before. Make sure you're not missing something, too! Go back and check.

Why are "new" flags of mbox folders wrong in folder-list view?

As indicated in the manual.txt, flags are determined by comparing the timestamps of last access and modification. This can get messed up if the folders are "touched" by other programs than mutt, like "biff" or backup software.

There is also some issue with the "noatime" flag for mounting filesystems (most often used on laptops). If "noatime" is activated, no timestamp is updated for the last folder access, i.e. Mutt cannot determine if the folder has received new mail since last visited. For mutt before version 1.5.15, you can recompile it with the --enable-buffy-size option to "configure"; for mutt 1.5.15 or later see the $check_mbox_size option. Mutt will then use the folder size instead of the access times. (This is only a workaround and might give suboptimal results; another option is to use the MaildirFormat.)

How to make mutt open a specific folder on startup?

For casual use consider

 mutt -f path/folder

To do it every time rtfm


Note for both: $folder can help you shorten the paths you have to specify, and lookout for the many other useful folder shortcuts.

How to save copies of outgoing/sent eMails?

RTFM $copy, $record for more. By default NONE is saved anywhere, make sure you set them before you need them.

How to save copies of outgoing/sent eMails to the current folder?

You need the current_shortcut patch (see PatchList). With that patch, "^" points to the current folder. You can use that folder in folder-hooks etc.

 folder-hook . 'set record="^"'

Note: Make sure you have at least current_shortcut.2. Version 1 is broken.

I can't modify my inbox folder, Mutt claims it's read-only, but permissions are ok?

Often this happens due to locking problems. To manipulate folders the access has to be exclusive to avoid corruptions by concurrent write operations. Chances are that for the directory containing the folder causing trouble the permissions are disallowing write access or that your


either doesn't point to a suitable filelock-program, or the permissons for the lock-programm are not correct. Normally it should look like this:

               user    group     filename
 -r-xr-sr-x    bin      mail     mutt_dotlock
 drwxrws--x    root     mail     /var/mail

The important bit is that mutt_dotlock's group must match /var/mail's, and mutt_dotlock's sgid-bit is set. Only the admin can

 $ sudo chgrp mail mutt_dotlock; sudo chmod g+s mutt_dotlock

If it's not your own system, ask the sysadmins to install mutt_dotlock correctly.

Alternatively you can try to use MaildirFormat (remember to have the MDA as well as the MUA use the same format). It has no locking issues, but the individual messages are organized differently than classical MBOX-format.

How to make mutt check for new mail more often? What's the difference between $timeout and $mail_check?

After every keyboard input mutt updates the status of all folders. To receive "New mail in ..." notifications even without needing to press a key, set $timeout == time to wait for idle mutt (no key pressed) before the status is updated again as if a key were pressed. To avoid too frequent folder access (bad connections via NFS or IMAP), set $mail_check == minium time between 2 scans for new mail (external changes to folders) in case of high keyboard activity.

$mail_check < $timeout : scan on next update $timeout < $mail_check : update before scan

This means $mail_check < $timeout is more useful, because by the time mutt will update, it will also scan for external changes to incorporate them in the update.

How to get informed about new mail?

When new mail arrives, an automatic (no key pressed) "New mail in ..." notification is shown at the screen bottom. This happens only in the index menu. For manual checking, you can use the buffy-list function which works in the pager, index and folder browser. It prints a list of folders with new mail. However, it will display an up-to-date list only when the index menu is focused. Additionally, you can invoke check-new in the folder browser which updates the display ('N' flag for folders with new mail) and also buffy-lists folder list.

Stop asking to "move read messages to mbox"!

RTFM "move", i.e. "set move=no"

How to create new folders?

Just copy or save (see /Action) to the folder you want. If it doesn't exist, mutt will create it for you with the FolderFormat you specify.

How to use the "trash" folder?

Mutt doesn't provide a "trash" system by itself. A reason might be that people forget to purge it from time to time. Anyway, if you really want to use such a thing, there exist MacroSamples. There is also a trash folder patch (see PatchList), here's an example setup that automatically selects different trash and record folders depending on the current mailbox (the is from the current_shortcut patch):

 folder-hook .         'set record="!" trash="=trash/trash"'
 folder-hook IN/.      'set record="^" trash="^.trash"'
 folder-hook \.trash$  'unset trash'

How to import messages from pine, thunderbird, kmail, evilution, ...?

Mutt understands some standard FolderFormat""s. Find out what format the other MUA uses, and when it's compatible, just copy them over to a place for mutt to find them (and configure it per MuttGuide/Folders). If it's a proprietary format, either use the MUAs own export function, or search the web for external tools which can convert to a mutt-usable format, and proceed as before with configuring mutt to find them.

I left off a trailing '/' in my .procmailrc, and procmail delivered many emails to a Maildir folder in MH format. How do I fix this?

Install the nmh program on your system, e.g. via your system's package manager.

Then set up $HOME/.mh_profile as follows:

 Path:                $HOME/$MAIL
 Inbox:               $HOME/$INBOX
 Unseen-Sequence:     unseen


  • $MAIL is the path to a folder that can be used as the default mail folder for nmh; the Path: option is required by the nmh suite of programs.
  • $INBOX is the path to the folder in which you'd like to view the MH emails.
  • The Unseen-Sequence option will mark the messages as unread.

Change to the directory which contains the MH messages you want to be able to view, and type the following on the command line, assuming the bash shell:

 for msg in *; do cat $msg | $RCVSTOREPATH/rcvstore -unseen; done

where $RCVSTORE is the location of the rcvstore program (perhaps /usr/lib/nmh/).

You should now be able to view the messages in Mutt. (If not, you may need to do a touch .mh_sequences in the $INBOX directory and/or temporarily move the cur, new and tmp folders to another location, so that Mutt regards $INBOX as a MH folder.) You can then use Mutt to move the messages to one or more Maildir folders temporarily; remove the .mh_sequences file from the $INBOX directory and move the cur, new and tmp folders back to $INBOX if necessary, so that Mutt will again regard $INBOX as a Maildir folder; and then use move the messages from their temporary location back to $INBOX.

What's the difference between '+' and '='?

Technically NONE, it's just for convenience not to need SHIFT to type it depending on keyboard layout (DE, EN).

Last modified 4 years ago Last modified on Feb 8, 2014 12:57:05 PM