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The Mutt Mailer

by Larry Ayers


Michael Elkins is a programmer who at one time was involved in the development of the venerable mail-client, Elm. He had some ideas which he would have liked to include in Elm but for whatever reasons the other Elm developers weren't receptive. So he struck out on his own, creating a text-mode mailer which incorporates features from a variety of other programs. These include other mailers such as Elm and Pine, as well as John Davis's Slrn newsreader. As an indication of the program's hybrid nature he has named it Mutt. Although the mailer began as an amalgamation of features from other programs, it has begun to assume an identity of its own.

Mutt has been in beta-testing for several months now and new versions have been released regularly. Lately I've noticed that binary packages have been appearing in the Sunsite incoming directory, which I take as a sign that the program is now deemed ``suitable for a general audience.'' I have found that it compiles cleanly and works dependably.

Distinguishing Characteristics

The composition of messages has always been a thorn in the side of developers of mail clients. After all, a usable mailer is the goal, not a text editor. The typical approach has been to include a simple message composition editor (such as Pico in Pine) and allow the option of starting an external editor of the user's choice. This has certain drawbacks. If in the middle of a message you need an editing function not included by the internal editor, it can be distracting and awkward to switch boats in midstream, so to speak.

This minor dilemma is neatly side stepped by Mutt; there is no internal editor included. All message composition is done with a familiar editor, preferably a text-mode one so that Mutt can be run at the console as well as under X-windows. As an example, I've set Mutt up to use Vile with a message-specific rc-file (sets word-wrap, etc).

Mutt can be compiled with a feature unusual in text-mode mail clients: it can fetch mail from a POP server, a duty which is more commonly assigned to an external agent such as Popclient. Compile-time support is also available for PGP-encrypted messages, though theoretically this is only available for US citizens.

A few of Mutt's other features include:

Mutt can be run from the command line, if you just want to mail a quick message without having to load your mail-spool file. Incidentally, Mutt uses the mailx (single-file) message format, so the transition from Pine or Elm is painless.

If you've ever used the Jed editor or Slrn the appearance of Mutt will be familiar. Like these programs Mutt is easy on the eyes, and the amount of coloring used is easily controlled. The documentation supplied with Mutt is very complete, but this isn't one of those programs which takes long to learn.

Obtaining Mutt

Binary versions of Mutt are available from the Sunsite archive site, currently in pub/Linux/Incoming. I recommend obtaining the source from the Mutt home site, where the latest versions will first appear. Compiling it yourself allows the program to be tailored to your needs; there are several compile-time options.

The non-export version, which contains PGP/MIME support, is export-controlled; U.S. citizens can read the file README.US-only and follow the directions to access the files. The non-export version has been exported anyway (against the author's wishes), and can be obtained from the following sites:

Why not give it a try? The source file is small, and compilation and installation just takes a few minutes. I think you'll like it.

Larry Ayers
Last modified: Fri Jan 24 18:54:25 CST 1997

Copyright © 1997, Larry Ayers
Published in Issue 14 of the Linux Gazette