Hack and / - Mutt Tweaks for System Administrators

If digging through your server e-mail bogs you down, use these tips to organize and tweak your mutt configuration and cut through that mailbox like a letter opener through an envelope.
Read Important Messages First

Once I had colorized all my e-mail, it was great—I would browse through output and more critical e-mail would jump to my attention. As the number of messages started to grow though, I noticed I would spend a lot of time reading the less-important messages before I found the important ones. My solution was to use the limit feature in mutt. When you are in the index view in mutt (where mutt shows you only the From and the Subject lines), you can tell mutt to limit (the l key by default) the headers you currently can see based on a pattern.

For instance, if I wanted to see only all the headers that said Bob, I could type l and then Bob <Enter>. Then, to see all the headers again, I could type l and then all <Enter> to show all messages. You also can have mutt search within the body of messages, so I created a mutt macro that I bound to the F3 key, so that when I see the full list of headers and press F3, it limits the view only to new messages that contained error or fail in them. I could read those messages first and then change the limit back to all and tab through the rest. Here is the extra line in my .muttrc to create the macro:

macro index <F3> "l~N ~b \"([\^nN][\^oO].error|[Ff][Aa][Ii][Ll])\"<enter>"

I constantly am surprised with how far you can extend mutt. It is definitely one of those programs that gives your time back in gained productivity as you learn more about its configuration options. If you use your e-mail to remember things, or dig through a large stack of server e-mail every day (or even if you don't), mutt is an invaluable e-mail companion that always has new tricks.

Kyle Rankin is a Senior Systems Administrator in the San Francisco Bay Area and the author of a number of books, including Knoppix Hacks and Ubuntu Hacks for O'Reilly Media. He is currently the president of the North Bay Linux Users' Group.


Kyle Rankin is SVP of Security and Infrastructure at Zero, the author of many books including Linux Hardening in Hostile Networks, DevOps Troubleshooting and The Official Ubuntu Server Book, and a columnist for Linux Journal. Follow him @kylerankin