Rmail is an Emacs subsystem for reading and disposing of mail that you receive. Rmail stores mail messages in files called Rmail files. Reading the message in an Rmail file is done in a special major mode, Rmail mode, which redefines most letters to run commands for managing mail.
Using Rmail in the simplest fashion, you have one Rmail file `~/RMAIL' in which all of your mail is saved. It is called your primary Rmail file. The command M-x rmail reads your primary Rmail file, merges new mail in from your inboxes, displays the first message you haven't read yet, and lets you begin reading.
Rmail uses narrowing to hide all but one message in the Rmail file. The message that is shown is called the current message. Rmail mode's special commands can do such things as delete the current message, copy it into another file, send a reply, or move to another message. You can also create multiple Rmail files and use Rmail to move messages between them.
Within the Rmail file, messages are normally arranged sequentially in order of receipt; you can specify other ways to sort them. Messages are assigned consecutive integers as their message numbers. The number of the current message is displayed in Rmail's mode line, followed by the total number of messages in the file. You can move to a message by specifying its message number with the j key (see section Moving Among Messages).
Following the usual conventions of Emacs, changes in an Rmail file
become permanent only when the file is saved. You can save it with
rmail-save), which also expunges deleted messages from
the file first (see section Deleting Messages). To save the file without
expunging, use C-x C-s. Rmail also saves the Rmail file after
merging new mail from an inbox file (see section Rmail Files and Inboxes).
You can exit Rmail with q (
rmail-quit); this expunges and
saves the Rmail file and then switches to another buffer. But there is
no need to `exit' formally. If you switch from Rmail to editing in
other buffers, and never happen to switch back, you have exited. (The
Rmail command b,
rmail-bury, does this for you.) Just make
sure to save the Rmail file eventually (like any other file you have
changed). C-x s is a good enough way to do this
(see section Saving Files).
When Rmail displays a message that does not fit on the screen, you must scroll through it to read the rest. You could do this with C-v, M-v and M-<, but in Rmail scrolling is so frequent that it deserves to be easier to type.
Since the most common thing to do while reading a message is to scroll
through it by screenfuls, Rmail makes SPC and DEL synonyms of
scroll-up) and M-v (
The command . (
rmail-beginning-of-message) scrolls back to the
beginning of the selected message. This is not quite the same as M-<:
for one thing, it does not set the mark; for another, it resets the buffer
boundaries to the current message if you have changed them.
The most basic thing to do with a message is to read it. The way to do this in Rmail is to make the message current. The usual practice is to move sequentially through the file, since this is the order of receipt of messages. When you enter Rmail, you are positioned at the first message that you have not yet made current (that is, the first one that has the `unseen' attribute; see section Labels). Move forward to see the other new messages; move backward to reexamine old messages.
n and p are the usual way of moving among messages in
Rmail. They move through the messages sequentially, but skip over
deleted messages, which is usually what you want to do. Their command
definitions are named
rmail-previous-undeleted-message. If you do not want to skip
deleted messages--for example, if you want to move to a message to
undelete it--use the variants M-n and M-p
numeric argument to any of these commands serves as a repeat
In Rmail, you can specify a numeric argument by typing just the digits. You don't need to type C-u first.
The M-s (
rmail-search) command is Rmail's version of
search. The usual incremental search command C-s works in Rmail,
but it searches only within the current message. The purpose of
M-s is to search for another message. It reads a regular
expression (see section Syntax of Regular Expressions) nonincrementally, then searches starting at
the beginning of the following message for a match. It then selects
that message. If regexp is empty, M-s reuses the regexp
used the previous time.
To search backward in the file for another message, give M-s a negative argument. In Rmail you can do this with - M-s.
It is also possible to search for a message based on labels. See section Labels.
To move to a message specified by absolute message number, use j
rmail-show-message) with the message number as argument. With
no argument, j selects the first message. <
rmail-first-message) also selects the first message. >
rmail-last-message) selects the last message.
When you no longer need to keep a message, you can delete it. This flags it as ignorable, and some Rmail commands pretend it is no longer present; but it still has its place in the Rmail file, and still has its message number.
Expunging the Rmail file actually removes the deleted messages. The remaining messages are renumbered consecutively. Expunging is the only action that changes the message number of any message, except for undigestifying (see section Digest Messages).
There are two Rmail commands for deleting messages. Both delete the
current message and select another message. d (
moves to the following message, skipping messages already deleted, while
rmail-delete-backward) moves to the previous nondeleted message.
If there is no nondeleted message to move to in the specified direction,
the message that was just deleted remains current.
To make all the deleted messages finally vanish from the Rmail file,
type x (
rmail-expunge). Until you do this, you can still
undelete the deleted messages. The undeletion command, u
rmail-undelete-previous-message), is designed to cancel the
effect of a d command in most cases. It undeletes the current
message if the current message is deleted. Otherwise it moves backward
to previous messages until a deleted message is found, and undeletes
You can usually undo a d with a u because the u moves back to and undeletes the message that the d deleted. But this does not work when the d skips a few already-deleted messages that follow the message being deleted; then the u command undeletes the last of the messages that were skipped. There is no clean way to avoid this problem. However, by repeating the u command, you can eventually get back to the message that you intend to undelete. You can also select a particular deleted message with the M-p command, then type u to undelete it.
A deleted message has the `deleted' attribute, and as a result `deleted' appears in the mode line when the current message is deleted. In fact, deleting or undeleting a message is nothing more than adding or removing this attribute. See section Labels.
The operating system places incoming mail for you in a file that we call your inbox. When you start up Rmail, it copies the new messages from your inbox into your primary Rmail file, an Rmail file, which also contains other messages saved from previous Rmail sessions. It is in this file that you actually read the mail with Rmail. This operation is called getting new mail. You can get new mail at any time in Rmail by typing g. The inbox file name is usually `/var/mail/username', `/usr/spool/mail/username', or `/usr/mail/username', depending on your operating system.
There are three reason for having separate Rmail files and inboxes.
When getting new mail, Rmail first copies the new mail from the inbox file to the Rmail file; then it saves the Rmail file; then it truncates the inbox file. This way, a system crash may cause duplication of mail between the inbox and the Rmail file, but cannot lose mail.
Copying mail from an inbox in the system's mailer directory actually puts it in an intermediate file `~/.newmail-inboxname'. The C program that does interlocking with the mailer is designed to write its output into a file. Once this program finishes, Rmail reads that file, merges the new mail, saves the Rmail file, and only then deletes the intermediate file. If there is a crash at the wrong time, this file continues to exist and Rmail will use it again the next time it gets new mail from that inbox.
Rmail operates by default on your primary Rmail file, which is named `~/RMAIL' and receives your incoming mail from your system inbox file. But you can also have other Rmail files and edit them with Rmail. These files can receive mail through their own inboxes, or you can move messages into them with explicit Rmail commands (see section Copying Messages Out to Files).
To run Rmail on a file other than your primary Rmail file, you may use
the i (
rmail-input) command in Rmail. This visits the file
in Rmail mode. You can use M-x rmail-input even when not in
The file you read with i should normally be a valid Rmail file. If it is not, Rmail tries to decompose it into a stream of messages in various known formats. If it succeeds, it converts the whole file to an Rmail file. If you specify a file name that doesn't exist, i initializes a new buffer for creating a new Rmail file.
You can also select an Rmail file from a menu. Choose first the menu
bar Classify item, then from the Classify menu choose the Input Rmail
File item; then choose the Rmail file you want. The variables
rmail-secondary-file-regexp specify which files to offer in the
menu: the first variable says which directory to find them in; the
second says which files in that directory to offer (all those that match
the regular expression). These variables also apply to choosing a file
for output (see section Copying Messages Out to Files).
Each Rmail file can contain a list of inbox file names; you can specify this list with M-x set-rmail-inbox-list RET files RET. The argument can contain any number of file names, separated by commas. It can also be empty, which specifies that this file should have no inboxes. Once a list of inboxes is specified, the Rmail file remembers it permanently until you specify a different list.
As a special exception, if your primary Rmail file does not specify any inbox files, it uses your standard system inbox.
The g command (
rmail-get-new-mail) merges mail into the
current Rmail file from its specified inboxes. If the Rmail file
has no inboxes, g does nothing. The command M-x rmail
also merges new mail into your primary Rmail file.
To merge mail from a file that is not the usual inbox, give the g key a numeric argument, as in C-u g. Then it reads a file name and merges mail from that file. The inbox file is not deleted or changed in any way when g with an argument is used. This is, therefore, a general way of merging one file of messages into another.
These commands copy messages from an Rmail file into another file.
The commands o and C-o copy the current message into a specified file. This file may be an Rmail file or it may be in system inbox format; the output commands ascertain the file's format and write the copied message in that format.
The o and C-o commands differ in two ways: each has its own separate default file name, and each specifies a choice of format to use when the file does not already exist. The o command uses Rmail format when it creates a new file, while C-o uses system inbox format for a new file. The default file name for o is the file name used last with o, and the default file name for C-o is the file name used last with C-o.
If the output file is an Rmail file currently visited in an Emacs buffer, the output commands copy the message into that buffer. It is up to you to save the buffer eventually in its file.
You can also output a message to an Rmail file chosen with a menu.
Choose first the menu bar Classify item, then from the Classify menu
choose the Output Rmail Menu item; then choose the Rmail file you want.
This outputs the current message to that file, like the o command.
rmail-secondary-file-regexp specify which files to offer in the
menu: the first variable says which directory to find them in; the
second says which files in that directory to offer (all those that match
the regular expression).
Copying a message gives the original copy of the message the
`filed' attribute, so that `filed' appears in the mode line
when such a message is current. If you like to keep just a single copy
of every mail message, set the variable
t; then the o and C-o commands delete the original
message after copying it. (You can undelete the original afterward if
Copying messages into files in system inbox format uses the header fields that are displayed in Rmail at the time. Thus, if you use the t command to view the entire header and then copy the message, the entire header is copied. See section Display of Messages.
rmail-output-file-alist lets you specify
intelligent defaults for the output file, based on the contents of the
current message. The value should be a list whose elements have this
(regexp . name-exp)
If there's a match for regexp in the current message, then the
default file name for output is name-exp. If multiple elements
match the message, the first matching element decides the default file
name. The subexpression name-exp may be a string constant giving
the file name to use, or more generally it may be any Lisp expression
that returns a file name as a string.
applies to both o and C-o.
Each message can have various labels assigned to it as a means of classification. Each label has a name; different names are different labels. Any given label is either present or absent on a particular message. A few label names have standard meanings and are given to messages automatically by Rmail when appropriate; these special labels are called attributes. All other labels are assigned only by users.
The a (
rmail-add-label) and k
rmail-kill-label) commands allow you to assign or remove any
label on the current message. If the label argument is empty, it
means to assign or remove the same label most recently assigned or
Once you have given messages labels to classify them as you wish, there are two ways to use the labels: in moving and in summaries.
The command C-M-n labels RET
rmail-next-labeled-message) moves to the next message that has
one of the labels labels. The argument labels specifies one
or more label names, separated by commas. C-M-p
rmail-previous-labeled-message) is similar, but moves backwards
to previous messages. A numeric argument to either command serves as a
The command C-M-l labels RET
rmail-summary-by-labels) displays a summary containing only the
messages that have at least one of a specified set of messages. The
argument labels is one or more label names, separated by commas.
See section Summaries, for information on summaries.
If the labels argument to C-M-n, C-M-p or C-M-l is empty, it means to use the last set of labels specified for any of these commands.
Some labels such as `deleted' and `filed' have built-in meanings and are assigned to or removed from messages automatically at appropriate times; these labels are called attributes. Here is a list of Rmail attributes:
rmail-reply). See section Sending Replies.
rmail-forward). See section Sending Replies.
All other labels are assigned or removed only by the user, and have no standard meaning.
Rmail has several commands that use Mail mode to send outgoing mail. See section Sending Mail, for information on using Mail mode. What are documented here are the special commands of Rmail for entering Mail mode. Note that the usual keys for sending mail---C-x m, C-x 4 m, and C-x 5 m---are available in Rmail mode and work just as they usually do.
The most common reason to send a message while in Rmail is to reply to
the message you are reading. To do this, type r
rmail-reply). This displays the `*mail*' buffer in another
window, much like C-x 4 m, but preinitializes the `Subject',
`To', `CC' and `In-reply-to' header fields based on the
message you are replying to. The `To' field starts out as the
address of the person who sent the message you received, and the
`CC' field starts out with all the other recipients of that
You can exclude certain recipients from being placed automatically in
the `CC', using the variable
value should be a regular expression (as a string); any recipient that
the regular expression matches, is excluded from the `CC' field.
The default value matches your own name, and any name starting with
`info-'. (Those names are excluded because there is a convention
of using them for large mailing lists to broadcast announcements.)
To omit the `CC' field completely for a particular reply, enter the reply command with a numeric argument: C-u r or 1 r.
Once the `*mail*' buffer has been initialized, editing and sending the mail goes as usual (see section Sending Mail). You can edit the presupplied header fields if they are not right for you. You can also use the commands of Mail mode, including C-c C-y to yank in the message that you are replying to, and C-c C-q to fill what was thus yanked. You can also switch to the Rmail buffer, select a different message, switch back, and yank the new current message.
Sometimes a message does not reach its destination. Mailers usually
send the failed message back to you, enclosed in a failure
message. The Rmail command M-m (
prepares to send the same message a second time: it sets up a
`*mail*' buffer with the same text and header fields as before. If
you type C-c C-c right away, you send the message again exactly
the same as the first time. Alternatively, you can edit the text or
headers and then send it.
Another frequent reason to send mail in Rmail is to forward the
current message to other users. f (
this easy by preinitializing the `*mail*' buffer with the current
message as the text, and a subject designating a forwarded message. All
you have to do is fill in the recipients and send. When you forward a
message, recipients get a message which is "from" you, and which has
the original message in its contents.
Resending is an alternative similar to forwarding; the
difference is that resending sends a message that is "from" the
original sender, just as it reached you--with a few added header fields
`Resent-from' and `Resent-to' to indicate that it came via
you. To resend a message in Rmail, use C-u f. (f runs
rmail-forward, which is programmed to invoke
if you provide a numeric argument.)
The m (
rmail-mail) command is used to start editing an
outgoing message that is not a reply. It leaves the header fields empty.
Its only difference from C-x 4 m is that it makes the Rmail buffer
accessible for C-c C-y, just as r does. Thus, m can be
used to reply to or forward a message; it can do anything r or f
The c (
rmail-continue) command resumes editing the
`*mail*' buffer, to finish editing an outgoing message you were
already composing, or to alter a message you have sent.
If you set the variable
rmail-mail-new-frame to a
nil value, then all the Rmail commands to start sending a
message create a new frame to edit it in. This frame is deleted when
you send the message, or when you use the `Don't Send' item in the
A summary is a buffer containing one line per message to give you an overview of the mail in an Rmail file. Each line shows the message number, the sender, the labels, and the subject. Almost all Rmail commands are valid in the summary buffer also; these apply to the message described by the current line of the summary. Moving point in the summary buffer selects messages as you move to their summary lines.
A summary buffer applies to a single Rmail file only; if you are editing multiple Rmail files, each one can have its own summary buffer. The summary buffer name is made by appending `-summary' to the Rmail buffer's name. Normally only one summary buffer is displayed at a time.
Here are the commands to create a summary for the current Rmail file. Once the Rmail file has a summary buffer, changes in the Rmail file (such as deleting or expunging messages, and getting new mail) automatically update the summary.
The h or C-M-h (
rmail-summary) command fills the summary buffer
for the current Rmail file with a summary of all the messages in the file.
It then displays and selects the summary buffer in another window.
C-M-l labels RET (
a partial summary mentioning only the messages that have one or more of the
labels labels. labels should contain label names separated by
C-M-r rcpts RET (
makes a partial summary mentioning only the messages that have one or more
of the recipients rcpts. rcpts should contain mailing
addresses separated by commas.
C-M-t topic RET (
makes a partial summary mentioning only the messages whose subjects have
a match for the regular expression topic.
Note that there is only one summary buffer for any Rmail file; making one kind of summary discards any previously made summary.
rmail-summary-window-size says how many lines
to use for the summary window.
You can use the Rmail summary buffer to do almost anything you can do in the Rmail buffer itself. In fact, once you have a summary buffer, there's no need to switch back to the Rmail buffer.
You can select and display various messages in the Rmail buffer, from the summary buffer, just by moving point in the summary buffer to different lines. It doesn't matter what Emacs command you use to move point; whichever line point is on at the end of the command, that message is selected in the Rmail buffer.
Almost all Rmail commands work in the summary buffer as well as in the Rmail buffer. Thus, d in the summary buffer deletes the current message, u undeletes, and x expunges. o and C-o output the current message to a file; r starts a reply to it. You can scroll the current message while remaining in the summary buffer using SPC and DEL.
The Rmail commands to move between messages also work in the summary buffer, but with a twist: they move through the set of messages included in the summary. They also ensure the Rmail buffer appears on the screen (unlike cursor motion commands, which update the contents of the Rmail buffer but don't display it in a window unless it already appears). Here is a list of these commands:
Deletion, undeletion, and getting new mail, and even selection of a
different message all update the summary buffer when you do them in the
Rmail buffer. If the variable
nil, these actions also bring the summary buffer back onto
When you are finished using the summary, type w
rmail-summary-wipe) to kill the summary buffer's window. You
can also exit Rmail while in the summary. q
rmail-summary-quit) kills the summary window, then saves the
Rmail file and switches to another buffer.
The Rmail sort commands perform a stable sort: if there is no
reason to prefer either one of two messages, their order remains
unchanged. You can use this to sort by more than one criterion. For
example, if you use
rmail-sort-by-date and then
rmail-sort-by-author, messages from the same author appear in
order by date.
With a numeric argument, all these commands reverse the order of comparison. This means they sort messages from newest to oldest, from biggest to smallest, or in reverse alphabetical order.
Rmail reformats the header of each message before displaying it for the first time. Reformatting hides uninteresting header fields to reduce clutter. You can use the t command to show the entire header or to repeat the header reformatting operation.
Reformatting the header involves deleting most header fields, on the
grounds that they are not interesting. The variable
rmail-ignored-headers holds a regular expression that specifies
which header fields to hide in this way--if it matches the beginning of
a header field, that whole field is hidden.
Rmail saves the complete original header before reformatting; to see
it, use the t command (
discards the reformatted headers of the current message and displays it
with the original header. Repeating t reformats the message
again. Selecting the message again also reformats.
When used with a window system that supports multiple fonts, Rmail
highlights certain header fields that are especially interesting--by
default, the `From' and `Subject' fields. The variable
rmail-highlighted-headers holds a regular expression that
specifies the header fields to highlight; if it matches the beginning of
a header field, that whole field is highlighted.
If you specify unusual colors for your text foreground and background,
the colors used for highlighting may not go well with them. If so,
specify different colors for the
highlight face. That is worth
doing because the
highlight face is used for other kinds of
highlighting as well. See section Using Multiple Typefaces, for how to do this.
To turn off highlighting entirely in Rmail, set
Most of the usual Emacs commands are available in Rmail mode, though a few, such as C-M-n and C-M-h, are redefined by Rmail for other purposes. However, the Rmail buffer is normally read only, and most of the letters are redefined as Rmail commands. If you want to edit the text of a message, you must use the Rmail command e.
The e command (
rmail-edit-current-message) switches from
Rmail mode into Rmail Edit mode, another major mode which is nearly the
same as Text mode. The mode line indicates this change.
In Rmail Edit mode, letters insert themselves as usual and the Rmail commands are not available. When you are finished editing the message and are ready to go back to Rmail, type C-c C-c, which switches back to Rmail mode. Alternatively, you can return to Rmail mode but cancel all the editing that you have done, by typing C-c C-].
Entering Rmail Edit mode runs the hook
text-mode-hook; then it
runs the hook
rmail-edit-mode-hook (see section Hooks). It adds the
attribute `edited' to the message.
A digest message is a message which exists to contain and carry several other messages. Digests are used on some moderated mailing lists; all the messages that arrive for the list during a period of time such as one day are put inside a single digest which is then sent to the subscribers. Transmitting the single digest uses much less computer time than transmitting the individual messages even though the total size is the same, because the per-message overhead in network mail transmission is considerable.
When you receive a digest message, the most convenient way to read it is to undigestify it: to turn it back into many individual messages. Then you can read and delete the individual messages as it suits you.
To do this, select the digest message and type the command M-x undigestify-rmail-message. This extracts the submessages as separate Rmail messages, and inserts them following the digest. The digest message itself is flagged as deleted.
The command M-x unrmail converts a file in Rmail format to inbox format (also known as the system mailbox format), so that you can use it with other mail-editing tools. You must specify two arguments, the name of the Rmail file and the name to use for the converted file. M-x unrmail does not alter the Rmail file itself.
Mailing list messages that might offend some readers are sometimes encoded in a simple code called rot13---so named because it rotates the alphabet by 13 letters. This code is not for secrecy, as it provides none; rather, it enables those who might be offended to avoid ever seeing the real text of the message.
To view a buffer using the rot13 code, use the command M-x rot13-other-window. This displays the current buffer in another window which applies the code when displaying the text.