vmail is a Vim interface to Gmail. Here are some screenshots:
Why vmail? Because some people love using Vim 1000 times more than using a web browser or a GUI mail program.
- a Gmail account
- a relatively recent version of Vim (vmail is developed against Vim 7.3)
- Ruby with SSL support compiled in (vmail is developed using Ruby 1.9.2)
- RubyGems (if Ruby version is older than 1.9)
lynxtext-only-mode web browser is required to view HTML mail parts in vmail
The current version of vmail assumes a Unix environment. I'll try to make later versions accommodate Windows.
Your Gmail account should be IMAP-enabled.
gem install vmail
Test your installation by typing
vmail -h. You should see vmail's help.
On some systems you may run into a PATH issue, where the system can't find the
vmail command after installation. Please report this if you encounter this
problem, and mention what system you're using. You might want to try
sudo gem install vmail
to see if that puts
vmail on your PATH.
vmail is evolving rapidly. To update to the latest version, simply run the installation command again.
gem install vmail
To run vmail, create a yaml file called
.vmailrc and save it either in the
current directory (the directory from which you launch vmail) or in your home
.vmailrc file should look something like this. Substitute your own values.
username: firstname.lastname@example.org password: password name: Daniel Choi signature: | -- Sent from vmail. http://danielchoi.com/software/vmail.html
This file should be formatted in YAML syntax.
You can omit the password key-value pair if you'd rather not have the password saved in the file. In that case, you'll prompted for the password each time you start vmail.
If you are behind a firewall that blocks IMAP, there are additional configuration options that you can use. See below.
vmail uses Vim autocompletion to help you auto-complete email addresses.
To use this feature, generate a
vmail-contacts.txt file in the current or
home directory. This is a simple list of your email contacts.
Invoking vmail with the
-g option generates this file for you by
collecting all the recipients and cc's from your last 500 sent
emails. You can adjust this number by using
-g with a number argument.
After vmail generates this file for you, you can edit it however and whenever you want, as long as there is one address per line.
Once you've created the configuration file and (optionally) the contacts file, you can start vmail with
This opens the vmail/Vim interface and shows you the last 100 messages in your Gmail inbox.
You can have vmail show messages from any other mailbox (a.k.a. label) on startup by passing in the mailbox name as an argument:
You can also pass in search parameters:
vmail important from email@example.com
On startup, vmail loads 100 messages by default. You can increase or decrease this number by passing in a number after the mailbox name:
vmail inbox 700 subject unix
The first screen vmail shows you is a list of messages. You can view a message by moving the cursor line to it and pressing ENTER. This will split the screen and show the message content in the bottom pane.
To full-screen the message, press SPACE when the cursor is in the message window.
You can also use the standard Vim key sequence
To go back to the split view, press ENTER.
You can full-screen the list window by pressing SPACE while the cursor is in it.
You can also use the standard Vim key sequence
In the split view, you can jump between the two panes by just pressing ENTER
from either window.
You can also use the standard Vim key sequence
You can use
,j from either split window to show the next message.
You can use
,k to show the previous message.
vmail loads a certain number messages at a time, starting with the most recent. If there are more messages that vmail hasn't loaded, you'll see a line at the top of the list that looks something like this:
> Load 100 more messages. 156 remaining.
Put the cursor on this line and press ENTER to load more of these messages.
Unread messages are marked with a
To view the raw RFC822 version of a message, type
,R while viewing the message.
Starring, deleting, archiving, marking spam
To star a message, put the cursor on it and type
,*. (Note that the comma
before the * is part of the key sequence.) Starring a message copies it to the
starred mailbox. Starred messages are marked with a
* symbol and
To delete a message, put the cursor on it and type
,#. Deleting a message
puts it in the
trash mailbox. Deleting a message from the
deletes it permanently.
To archive a message, put the cursor on it and type
,e. Archiving a message
moves it to the
To mark a message spam, put the cursor on it and type
,!. This moves the
message to to the
You can use range selections in the message list when you star, delete, mark as
spam, or archive. Use
<C-v> to start marking a range of lines (the vertical
position of the cursor doesn't matter). Then type any of the above commands to
perform an action on all the messages you selected.
Checking for new messages
To check for new messages in the current mailbox, press
u in normal mode and
watch the status line.
Switching mailboxes, moving messages, copying messages to another mailbox
To switch mailboxes, type
,m. You'll see an autocomplete window appear at the top.
The standard Vim autocomplete keystrokes apply:
C-nmove you up and down the match list
C-ecloses the match list and lets you continue typing
C-u: when the match list is active, cycles forward through the match list and what you've typed so far; when the match list is inactive, erases what you've typed.
C-x C-ufinds matches for what you've typed so far (when the match list window is closed)
C-yselects the highlighted match without triggering ENTER
- ENTER selects the highlighted match from the match list
Tip: start typing the first 1-3 characters of the mailbox name, then press
C-p until you highlight the right match, and finally press ENTER to
To move a message to another mailbox, put the cursor on the message in the
message list, and type
,b. You'll be prompted to select the target mailbox.
To copy a message to another mailbox, put the cursor on the message in the
message list, and type
,B. You'll be prompted to select the target mailbox.
If you type in the name of a target mailbox that doesn't exist yet, vmail will create it for you before performing a move or copy.
To start writing a new a email message, type
,c. That's a comma followed by
the character 'c'.
To reply to a message, type
To reply-all to a message, type
To forward a message, type
All these commands open a message composition window. At the top, you will see mail headers like this:
from: Daniel Choi <firstname.lastname@example.org> to: subject:
from: field will be pre-filled from your
You're responsible for filling in the
to: and the
You can add a
bcc: field if you want.
When you fill in the recipient addresses, you can use Vim autocompletion if you
vmail-contacts.txt file. Start typing a name or email address,
C-x C-u to invoke autocompletion.
C-y instead of ENTER to select a match. This will prevent you from
creating a blank line in the middle of the email headers.
Make sure your email addresses are separated by commas and that they all ultimately appear on the same, unbroken line for each field. Vim will probably break long lines automatically as you type them, so for now (pending a future enhancement), you'll have to rejoin the lines if breaks get inserted.
After you fill in the headers, write your message. Make sure there is a blank line between the headers and the body of your message.
When you're done writing, send the message by typing
,vs in normal mode.
While you're composing a message in the composition window, you can save a
draft to a local file with the standard Vim
Make sure you append *.txt to the filename, or else vmail won't recognize it as a potential email when you reload it.
Make sure you don't use
:wq unless you mean to quit vmail immediately. After
you save the draft to a file, you can go back to the message list by typing
in normal mode.
To resume writing the draft later, just type
:e my_draft_filename.txt to load
the draft email into a buffer. (Use
:e! if you're already in the message
composition window. You can also use
:sp if you want to open the draft email file in a
split window, etc.) Resume editing. Send by typing
At any point, you can quit the composition window by typing
q in normal mode.
The current version of vmail can handle attachments to a certain extent.
When you're viewing a message with attachments, you'll see something like this at the top of the message window:
INBOX 2113 4 kb - image/png; name=canada.png - image/gif; name=arrow_right.gif --------------------------------------- from: Daniel Choi <email@example.com> date: Sun, Dec 12 08:39 AM -05:00 2010 to: Daniel Choi <firstname.lastname@example.org> subject: attachment test see attached
To download these attachments to a local directory, type
,A. You'll be
prompted for a directory path. Then vmail will save all the attachments in the
message to this directory, creating the directory if necessary.
To send attachments, add something like this to your new message in the message composition window:
from: Daniel Choi <email@example.com> to: firstname.lastname@example.org subject: look at this! attach: - images/middle-east-map.png - images/policypaper.pdf - docs/ I think you'll find this stuff interesting.
attach: block is a YAML list. The items are paths (either relative or
absolute) to the files you want to attach to your message. Note that you can
also specify a directory, in which case vmail attaches every file it finds in
One thing vmail doesn't do yet is let you forward a message with all its attachments intact. This feature will be implemented in the near future.
Printing messages to a file
,vp from the message list prints (appends) the text content of all the selected
messages to a file.
Invoking your web browser
When you're reading a message,
,o opens the first hyperlink in the document
on or after the cursor in your normal web browser.
When you're reading a message with an html mail part,
,h saves that part to a
local file (
vmail-htmlpart.html) and opens it in your normal web browser.
By default, the vmail uses the command
open to launch your web browser. In OS X,
this opens URLs and HTML files in the default web browser. You can change the
browser vmail invokes by setting the VMAIL_BROWSER environmental variable
before you start vmail, e.g.:
vmail can generate a message list by performing an IMAP search on the current mailbox.
From the message list window, type
,s. This will prompt you for a search query.
The search query is an optional number specifying the number of messages to return,
followed by a valid IMAP search query.
Here are some example search queries.
# the default 100 all # all messages from thematrix.com domain from thematrix.com # all messages from this person from email@example.com # you can also omit the host part of the email address from barackobama # you can also search by the full name, first name, or last name associated # with an email; use double quotes to enclose multiple words cc "David Fisher" # subject field search; use double quotes to enclose multiple words subject "unix philosophy" # message body search; use double quotes to enclose multiple words body "unix philosophy" # example of date range and multiple conditions before 30-Nov-2010 since 1-Nov-2010 from prx.org
Tip: When you're entering your search query,
<C-u> clears the query line.
Power-Tip: When you're at the search query prompt,
<C-f> opens a mini-editor
that contains the current query plus a history of previous vmail search
queries. You can edit any line in this mini-editor and press ENTER to perform
the query on that line.
,? to load all these vmail pointers and tips into a Vim window.
Using vmail with MacVim
vmail uses standard Vim by default, but vmail also works with MacVim, but not perfectly. In particular, there seems to be a bug in MacVim that prevents vmail's status line activity messages from appearing properly. Nonetheless, most of vmail is functional in MacVim.
To use MacVim as your vmail Vim engine,
export VMAIL_VIM=mvim before starting
Note that when vmail uses MacVim, the terminal window in which you invoke vmail will show vmail's logging output while MacVim is running. To quit vmail in MacVim mode, you will have to press CTRL-c in this window to stop the vmail process in after quitting the MacVim app.
vmail file byproducts
vmail generates a few file byproducts when it is running. It generates a
vmailbuffer file in the current directory to hold the message
list. This should get deleted automatically when vmail quits.
vmail also creates a
compose_message.txt file if you save the buffer for a
new message. vmail creates a
vmail-htmlpart.html file in the current
directory if you open an HTML mail part from vmail.
Finally, vmail logs output to a
vmail.log file which it creates in the
current directory. You can tail this file in a separate terminal window to see
what's going on behind the scenes as you use vmail.
Is my Gmail password secure?
In short, yes. vmail uses TLS (Transport Layer Security) to perform IMAP and SMTP authentication. So vmail transmits your password securely over the network.
You can also be sure that the vmail code doesn't do anything nefarious with your Gmail password because vmail is open source. Anyone can inspect the source code of the copy of vmail that runs on your computer and inspect the latest vmail code at the github repository and at rubygems.org (where the vmail gem is downloaded from).
Additional configuration options
The default IMAP server vmail uses is
imap.gmail.com and the default port is
993. If you want to change these values, e.g, because you are behind a
firewall which blocks IMAP, you can change these values by adding two lines in
your .vmailrc, like so:
server: localhost port: 2999
Then you can create an SSH tunnel, e.g.
ssh -f firstname.lastname@example.org -L 2999:imap.gmail.com:993 -N
(Thanks to Dave Bolton for this patch.)
By default, vmail highlights starred messages in bold green against a black background. You can customize this setting by adding a line to your ~/.vimrc file like so:
let g:vmail_flagged_color = "ctermfg=yellow ctermbg=black cterm=bold"
:help highlight-args in Vim for more details.
Bug reports, feature requests, user community
Please file bug reports and feature requests in the vmail github issue tracker.
vmail is very young and in beta, so there are bound to be bugs and issues. But in a few weeks, with your help, vmail will become stable.
And if you have any tips or troubleshooting advice you want to share with other vmail users, please add them to the vmail wiki.
How to contact the developer
My name is Daniel Choi. I am based in Cambridge, MA, and you can email me at email@example.com.