Linking to emails in org-mode (using neomutt)

Update 2018-11-2: Change the URL scheme to message://. See “Other Systems” below.

org-mode is, to me, is one of the most valuable parts of the emacs ecosystem. I use it to take notes, plan projects, manage tasks, and write & publish documents.

Nowadays, a lot of work arrives via email, and so it is helpful to be able to refer to messages directly from my notes or lists of tasks.

The simplest option might be to store URLs pointing to an online inbox such as Fastmail or GMail, but I wanted a solution that was both future proof (i.e., what if I moved my emails to a different provider?) and worked with my terminal-based mail client of choice, neomutt.

I started with a solution provided by Stefano Zacchiroli, and simplified it for my specific use-case.


The solution has two parts: sending email links from neomutt to Emacs, and later opening those links from Emacs by invoking neomutt. The first achieved via org-protocol, the latter via launching neomutt and then simulating keypresses.

When launching neomutt, we have to tell it in which directory the message lives. We therefore use notmuch to find the message file first, based on its Message-ID. maildir-utils would be another way of doing so. Please note that you have to have notmuch or maildir-utils set up already for this scheme to work.

I initially avoided the org-protocol package, because installation looked complicated. That, it turns out, is only the case if you care about web browser integration, which we don’t.

Neomutt configuration

First, we have a Python script that can parse an e-mail and share the Message-ID and Subject with emacs. I call it, and make it executable using chmod +x

#!/usr/bin/env python3

import sys
import email
import subprocess
import urllib.parse

# Parse the email from standard input
message_bytes =
message = email.message_from_bytes(message_bytes)

# Grab the relevant message headers
message_id = urllib.parse.quote(message['message-id'][1:-1])
subject = message['subject']

# Ask emacsclient to save a link to the message

We then configure neomutt (typically in ~/.muttrc) to call the script with a shortcut. I chose Esc-L (the same as Alt-L).

macro index,pager \el "|~/scripts/\n"

Emacs configuration

Using org-protocol, we instruct emacsclient to intercept URLs with the org-protocol:// scheme, as used by our script. We also tell org-mode how to handle special URLs of the form message:// Neomutt needs to know which Maildir folder to open, so we ask notmuch to tell us where the message is located.

In my ~/.emacs file I have:

; Make sure org-protocol is loaded
; Now, org-protocol:// schemas are intercepted.
(require org-protocol)

; Call this function, which spawns neomutt, whenever org-mode
; tries to open a link of the form message://
(defun stefanv/mutt-open-message (message-id)
  "In neomutt, open the email with the the given Message-ID"
      ((message-id (replace-regexp-in-string "^/*" "" message-id))
         "\n$" "" (shell-command-to-string
                   (format "notmuch search --output=files id:%s" message-id))))
       (mail-dir (replace-regexp-in-string "/\\(cur\\|new\\|tmp\\)/$" ""
                                           (file-name-directory mail-file)))
       (process-id (concat "neomutt-" message-id))
       (message-id-escaped (regexp-quote message-id))
        (format "l~i %s\n\n" (shell-quote-argument message-id-escaped)))
       (mutt-command (list "neomutt" "-R" "-f" mail-dir
                           "-e" (format "push '%s'" mutt-keystrokes))))

    (message "Launching neomutt for message %s" message-id)
    (call-process "setsid" nil nil
                   "-f" "gnome-terminal" "--window" "--"
                   "neomutt" "-R" "-f" mail-dir
                   "-e" (format "push '%s'" mutt-keystrokes))))

; Whenever org-mode sees a link starting with `message://`, it
; calls our `mutt-open-message` function
(org-add-link-type "message" 'stefanv/mutt-open-message)

There are a few caveats: if you use maildir-utils, the search command is mu find -f l i:%s instead of notmuch; and if you are not on Linux, then setsid (which we use to launch a detached background process) is not going to work, and you will want to use a different terminal emulator.

Other Systems

Charl Botha mentioned in the comments that, on MacOS, org-mac-link lets you grab hyperlinks from a wide variety of apps. Email messages, specifically, are stored as message://message-id URLs, which MacOS knows how to open. This post has been updated to use the same link schema.


That’s it! I’ve added the code to Please file issues and PRs there, or tell me about your use cases in the comments below.