Desktop notifications and modeline display for mu4e
Emacs Lisp
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mu4e alert


Table of contents

What is this?

mu4e-alert is an Emacs extension providing desktop notifications for mu4e, additionally it can display the number of unread emails in the mode-line.


This package requires Emacs v24.1 or above and Mu version v0.9.9.6 or above. It assumes that you have a working mu/mu4e setup.



mu4e-alert is available on MELPA and MELPA Stable. Please follow the instructions on MELPA website to enable it, if you haven’t already.

You can then install mu4e-alert from the package menu. Alternatively install it by doing the following

Refresh the package index

M-x package-refresh-contents RET

And then install it by doing

M-x package-install RET mu4e-alert


mu4e-alert can also be installed using el-get. Assuming you have latest version of el-get installing it by doing something similar to

M-x el-get-install RET mu4e-alert


Desktop notifications for unread emails

To enable desktop notifications manually, use the command mu4e-alert-enable-notifications. To enable notification automatically on Emacs startup add something like the following to your init file

;; Choose the style you prefer for desktop notifications
;; If you are on Linux you can use
;; 1. notifications - Emacs lisp implementation of the Desktop Notifications API
;; 2. libnotify     - Notifications using the `notify-send' program, requires `notify-send' to be in PATH
;; On Mac OSX you can set style to
;; 1. notifier      - Notifications using the `terminal-notifier' program, requires `terminal-notifier' to be in PATH
;; 1. growl         - Notifications using the `growl' program, requires `growlnotify' to be in PATH
(mu4e-alert-set-default-style 'libnotify)
(add-hook 'after-init-hook #'mu4e-alert-enable-notifications)

mu4e-alert uses the value of alert-default-style as the default notification style, which defaults to message, if you want to use different style please add a rule for category “mu4e-alert” using alert’s API or use the function mu4e-alert-set-default-style to customize the value of mu4e-alert-style.

You can disable notifications using the command mu4e-alert-disable-notifications

Mode Line display of unread emails

Display of the unread email count in the mode-line can be enabled using the command mu4e-alert-enable-mode-line-display or adding something like the following to your init file

(add-hook 'after-init-hook #'mu4e-alert-enable-mode-line-display)

After enabling mode-line display the unread emails can be viewed by clicking the mode-line indicator.

Use the command mu4e-alert-disable-mode-line-display to disable mode-line indication of unread emails


mu4e-alert should work with default options, nevertheless it offers the following customizations. Please see the mu4e-alert.el file or do M-x customize-group RET mu4e-alert RET to for documentation of customizable options.

General options

The query used to find unread (read ‘interesting’) emails can be customized using the variable mu4e-alert-interesting-mail-query. So, for example, if you want mu4e-alert to ignore a certain maildir you can customize it to do so. In this example, we ignore a maildir that is located at /[Gmail].All Mail by adding this to the init.el file:

(setq mu4e-alert-interesting-mail-query
       " AND NOT flag:trashed"
       " AND NOT maildir:"
       "\"/[Gmail].All Mail\""))

Customizing the desktop notifications

Customizing the types of notifications displayed

mu4e-alert can display both the count as well subject of unread emails in the desktop notifications. Use the variable mu4e-alert-email-notification-types to customize the type of notifications displayed. It should be set to a list of types of notification you want to receive. Following are the notification types supported for now

  • count - Display the count of unread emails
  • subjects - Display the subject of unread emails

For example, adding the following snippet to your init file, will instruct mu4e-alert to only display the number of unread emails.

(setq mu4e-alert-email-notification-types '(count))

Customizing the notifications for unread emails counts

mu4e-alert allows you to customize the notifications for emails count by setting the following values

VariableAspect customized
mu4e-alert-email-count-titleTitle used for email count notifications
mu4e-alert-email-count-notification-formatterFormatting the message body of the email notification

Customizing the notifications for unread emails subjects

For displaying subjects of unread emails, mu4e-alert groups unread emails according some criteria. Then subjects of the emails in each of the groups are displayed in separate desktop notifications.

The following variables can be used to customize the notifications for subjects

VariableAspect customized
mu4e-alert-mail-grouperFunction used to group unread emails
mu4e-alert-group-byField used to group emails (this is applicable only if mu4e-alert-mail-grouper is set to the default value)
mu4e-alert-grouped-mail-sorterFunction used to sort the groups of unread emails
mu4e-alert-grouped-mail-notification-formatterFunction used to get notification for group of unread emails
mu4e-alert-notify-repeated-mailsIf set to non-nil, mu4e-alert displays notifications for all emails irrespective of whether user has been
notified about the email earlier. By default user is not notified about such repeated emails

Customizing urgency hint

By default mu4e-alert sets the urgency hint for current Emacs frame (or the any mu4e frame if available), you can disable it by setting the variable mu4e-alert-set-window-urgency to nil.

Customizing the mode-line display

The mode-line indicator for unread emails can be customized by setting the value of the variable mu4e-alert-modeline-formatter

Getting desktop notifications

By default the user is notified of unread messages using Emacs’ message function. To get desktop notifications you can instruct mu4e-alert to use an appropriate style provided by the alert library that works on your system.

The easiest way to do this is use the function mu4e-alert-set-default-style, calling it with the style to be used for notifications

The styles available vary according to the OS


The following styles for desktop notifications, are available on Linux


This style uses notifications.el an implementation of the Desktop Notifications API, which ships with Emacs. It requires that Emacs is compiled with DBus support


This style uses the command-line program notify-send to notify the user. The program should be in PATH


The following styles for desktop notifications, are available on Mac OSX. Also see the discussion on the issue Does it works with MacOS X?


This style uses the command-line program growlnotify to notify the user using Growl. The program should be in PATH


This style uses the command-line program terminal-notifier to notify the user. The program should be in PATH

Advanced customizations

mu4e-alert uses the excellent alert library for desktop notifications, more fine-grained customizations to the notifications can be done by using the alert’s API.

As an example the following customization will color the fringe (along with the usual desktop notification) if there are unread messages and the user is visiting one of mu4e-main-view, mu4e-headers-view or viewing an email in mu4e.

(mu4e-alert-set-default-style 'libnotify)
(alert-add-rule :category "mu4e-alert" :style 'fringe :predicate (lambda (_) (string-match-p "^mu4e-" (symbol-name major-mode))) :continue t)