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A ruby library for reading & writing messages in the maildir format
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A ruby library for reading and writing messages in the maildir format.

What's so great about the maildir format

See and

“Two words: no locks.” – Daniel J. Berstein

The maildir format allows multiple processes to read and write arbitrary messages without file locks.

New messages are initially written to a “tmp” directory with an automatically-generated unique filename. After the message is written, it's moved to the “new” directory where other processes may read it.

While the maildir format was created for email, it works well for arbitrary data. This library can read & write email messages or arbitrary data. See Pluggable serializers for more.


gem install maildir


Create a maildir in /home/aaron/mail

require 'maildir'
maildir ="/home/aaron/mail") # creates tmp, new, and cur dirs
# call"/home/aaron/mail", false) to skip directory creation.

Add a new message. This creates a new file with the contents “Hello World!”; returns the path fragment to the file. Messages are written to the tmp dir then moved to new.

message = maildir.add("Hello World!")

List new messages

maildir.list(:new) # => [message]

Move the message from “new” to “cur” to indicate that some process has retrieved the message.


Indeed, the message is in cur, not new.

maildir.list(:new) # => []
maildir.list(:cur) # => [message]

Add some flags to the message to indicate state. See “What can I put in info” at for flag conventions.

message.add_flag("S") # Mark the message as "seen"
message.add_flag("F") # Mark the message as "flagged"
message.remove_flag("F") # unflag the message
message.add_flag("T") # Mark the message as "trashed"

Get a key to uniquely identify the message

key = message.key

Load the contents of the message

data =

Find the message based using the key

message_copy = maildir.get(key)
message == message_copy # => true

Delete the message from disk

message.destroy # => returns the frozen message
maildir.list(:cur) # => []

Cleaning up from orphaned messages

An expected (though rare) behavior is for partially-written messages to be orphaned in the tmp folder (when clients fail before fully writing a message).

Find messages in tmp that haven't been changed in 36 hours:


Clean them up:

maildir.get_stale_tmp.each{|msg| msg.destroy}

Pluggable serializers

By default, message data are written and read from disk as a string. It's often desirable to process the string into a useful object. Maildir supports configurable serializers to convert message data into a useful object.

The following serializers are included:

  • Maildir::Serializer::Base (default)

  • Maildir::Serializer::Mail

  • Maildir::Serializer::Marshal

  • Maildir::Serializer::JSON

  • Maildir::Serializer::YAML

Maildir::Serializer::Base simply reads and writes strings to disk.

`Maildir.serializer` and `Maildir.serializer=` allow you to set default serializer.

Maildir.serializer # => (default)
message = maildir.add("Hello World!") # writes "Hello World!" to disk # => "Hello World!"

You can also set the serializer per maildir:

maildir = 'Maildir'
maildir.serializer =

As of version 1.0.0, the Maildir::Serializer::Base can write IO streams as well as strings. For example:


This will use Ruby 1.9's more efficient IO.copy_stream method if available, and degrade gracefully in Ruby 1.8.

As of version 1.0.2, serializers are autoloaded. Thus it is no longer necessary to manually require them.

The Mail serializer takes a ruby Mail object ( and writes RFC2822 email messages.

maildir.serializer =
mail =
message = maildir.add(mail) # writes an RFC2822 message to disk == mail # => true; data is parsed as a Mail object

The Marshal, JSON, and YAML serializers work similarly. E.g.:

maildir.serializer =
my_data = {"foo" => nil, "my_array" => [1,2,3]}
message = maildir.add(my_data) # writes {"foo":null,"my_array":[1,2,3]} == my_data # => true

It's trivial to create a custom serializer. Implement the following two methods:

dump(data, path)



Copyright © 2010 Aaron Suggs. See LICENSE for details.

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