Some previous posts talked about desktop notifications via the X11 urgency hint. Here I talk specifically about how I handle mail notifications specifically.

I use mu4e to read mail in Emacs. This is great for reading mail, but it leaves some tasks to external tools (I consider this a good thing):

  • interacting with mail servers instead of a local maildir
  • automatically receiving mail

The former is generally done with offlineimap or mbsync. For the latter, everybody seems to do something different.

To handle main receiving and notifications I use the IMAP IDLE command to handle event-based (not timer-based) receiving of mail, and I use the X11 UrgencyHint (described for instance here: X11 urgency hint and notifications) to notify me of incoming messages. As any other UrgencyHint-based system, support from one's window manager is crucial. I use notion as my WM, which has fantastic support for this, so this all works really well for me.

If I want event-based notifications, I run this script:

use strict;
use warnings;
use feature qw(say);

use Mail::IMAPClient;
use IO::Stty;
use X11::Protocol;
use X11::Protocol::WM;
use X11::WindowHierarchy;
use IO::Socket::SSL 'SSL_VERIFY_PEER';

use Getopt::Euclid;

use autodie;

use Parallel::ForkManager;

my $passwd = getPassword();

my %imapOptions    =
  ( Server         => '',
    User           => 'USERNAME',
    Password       => $passwd,
    Ssl            => 1,
    Socketargs     => [SSL_verify_mode => SSL_VERIFY_PEER],
    Debug          => 0,
    Uid            => 1,
    Keepalive      => 1,
    Reconnectretry => 3,

my $folders = getFolders( \%imapOptions );

say STDERR "Got folder list. Idling on each";

my $pm = new Parallel::ForkManager(1000);
for my $folder (@$folders)
  my $pid = $pm->start and next;

  my $imap = Mail::IMAPClient->new(%imapOptions) or die "Couldn't connect to imap for folder '$folder'";
  $imap->select($folder)                         or die "Couldn't select '$folder'";

  my %ids_saw;
    my @unseen = $imap->unseen;
    my @newsubjects;
    for my $id( @unseen )
      next if $ids_saw{$id};
      $ids_saw{$id} = 1;
      push @newsubjects, $imap->subject($id);

    if( @newsubjects )
      my $date = `date`;
      chomp $date;
      say "$date; Pid $pid Saw unread email in '$folder':";
      print join('', map {$_ //= ""; "  $_\n"} @newsubjects);

      sleep(60*$ARGV{'--min'}) if $ARGV{'--min'};

    my $IDLEtag     = $imap->idle           or die "idle failed: $@ for folder '$folder'\n";
    my $idle_result = $imap->idle_data(250) or die "idle_data failed: $@ for folder '$folder'\n";
    $imap->done($IDLEtag)                   or die "idle done failed: $@ for folder '$folder'\n";;


sub getPassword
  say "Enter password: ";

  my $stty_old = IO::Stty::stty(\*STDIN,'-g');
  $passwd = <>;

  chomp $passwd;

  return $passwd;

sub getFolders
  my $opts = shift;

  my $imap = Mail::IMAPClient->new(%$opts) or die "Couldn't connect to imap";
  say STDERR "Connected. Getting folder list.";

  my $folders = $imap->folders
    or die "List folders error: ", $imap->LastError, "\n";

  return $folders;

sub alert
  # I got mail! Alert the user

  # I try to set urgency on a mu4e window if there is one. Otherwise, I set the
  # urgency on the mailalert window itself

  my $x = X11::Protocol->new()
    or die "Couldn't open X11 display";

  # by default, set it to the mailalert ID
  my $xid = $ENV{WINDOWID};

  my @mu4e = x11_filter_hierarchy( filter => qr/emacs.*mu4e/ );
  if( @mu4e )
    # found some mu4e windows. Alert the first one
    $xid = $mu4e[0]{id};

    # there's a mu4e window already. Get the mail
    system(qw(emacsclient -a '' -e), '(when (get-buffer "*mu4e-main*") (mu4e-update-mail-and-index t))');

  X11::Protocol::WM::change_wm_hints( $x, $xid,
                                      urgency => 1 );


=head1 NAME - IMAP IDLE mail checker


 ... sits there until mail comes in


This tool uses IMAP IDLE to wait for new email without polling. When a message
comes in, it tries to find the mail window and set the urgency hint on it



=item --min <minimum_interval>

If given, do not alert the user more often than this many minutes.

=for Euclid:
  minimum_interval.type: int > 0


=head1 AUTHOR

Dima Kogan, C<< <> >>

This is (clearly) a perl script; all the dependencies are available in Debian:

  • libgetopt-euclid-perl
  • libmail-imapclient-perl
  • libio-stty-perl
  • libx11-protocol-perl
  • libx11-protocol-other-perl
  • libx11-windowhierarchy-perl

To use it, fill in the IMAP server and username details. The script then queries one for the password when it is executed. This script connects to the IMAP server, and waits for new mail on all folders. When new mail arrives to any folder, it calls alert(), which does 2 things:

  • Finds the mu4e Emacs window, and sets the UrgencyHint on it
  • Tells Emacs to contact the server and download, reindex the mail

The server operations are handled by evaluating

(mu4e-update-mail-and-index t)

as Emacs Lisp. This is a mu4e function that carries out the obvious operations. Mu4e is told how to receive the mail by a bit of configuration the Emacs init files. In my case:

(setq mu4e-get-mail-command "offlineimap -q")

This works for me. The only real downside is that due to the way IMAP is implemented, only a single folder can be monitored for updates at a time. The script above thus makes a connection to the server for each folder that exists. If you have a lot of folders, this is quite a few simultaneous connections! A consequence of this is that my script is silly, and looks at each folder in a separate fork, with the forks not talking to each other. Thus if mail arrives to more than one folder at the same time (as happens often when you initially start the script), multiple (mu4e-update-mail-and-index t) are made at the same time. Fortunately, this simply generates a warning, and doesn't do anything bad, so my script can remain silly, and I can get on with my life.