Fast CLI Tools: gmail

I have been using commandline tools to interact email for quite a while now. Basically there were two reasons:

  • I wanted to use GnuPG
  • gmail’s web interface became too slow

The former should be obvious; attempting to have secure communications in the context of a web browser is laughable.

The latter often surprises people. I think that if you pay a little more attention you’ll notice that gmail is clearly slower than local options. Not all local options, but the ones I’ll be discussing. 😄

For example, just loading gmail fresh takes 10s. Loading mutt takes less than 0.5s. In my email, searching for “station” takes 4s on the web interface. Using notmuch locally takes less than 2s, and of course since it’s a local machine, the second search is in a cache and thus is less than half that. On top of all of that, unlike modern web browsers, mutt never ends up taking up gigs of my memory.

Here are the tools that I use:

🔗 OfflineIMAP

My OfflineIMAP setup is fairly complex, because I’ve found that OfflineIMAP is a little bit buggy. You can read more about that on my OfflineIMAP Docker page. I’m very proud of this setup, but it still has a way to go before it’s as good as I want it to be.

🔗 Mutt

The main thing I’m pleased about with mutt, aside from the fact that I can and do trivialy use vim as my editor, is the integration with notmuch. This mostly replaces all of the stuff I “lose” when not using gmail. So for example I can press F8 to search directly from within mutt and get a threaded view of the results. Similarly, if I press F9 I get a complete thread of the current email. To be clear, if I archive some of the messages in mutt, the thread will be incomplete or even broken, and almost never will my messages be shown. This resolves that “lack.”

🔗 notmuch

I mostly went over what notmuch buys you in the Mutt section. I am a huge fan of notmuch. People need to factor out simple tools like this more often. Good job notmuch humans, I love your work.

🔗 Contact Sync Tools

This set of tools is actually why I’m writing this post. Before today, I would either use goobook integrated with mutt, or addrlookup (via my addrlookup-compat) on the console. First off: goobook is slow. If you reload your contacts (which happens automatically at least every 24h) you will be waiting for about 4s in a “tab complete.” 4s is too long for anything interactive. On top of that addrlookup can be similarly slow and even more: using two separate tools is annoying! Even searching, locally mind you, in my 150 entry address book with goobook query takes more than a second. Python programmers: do better.

So today I resolved these speed issues. First off, I just use an hourly cronjob (could likely be daily but my computer is rarely on all day and this isn’t resource intensive so it seemed easier) to export all of the contacts addrlookup finds and then concatenate the contacts that goobook lists into a flat file. I wrote the smallest tool ever to filter that file; basically it’s just grep though.

It’s of course super fast; currently taking 5ms for a query. That’s well within my requirements.

Oh, and because goobook is not packaged for ubuntu, I made a nice docker container for it. This container is the first that I’ve made which uses Alpine Linux, and I am impressed. The Ubuntu version would have been 300M, where the Alpine version is a mere 60M.

So that’s that! I have well integrated, very fast, commandline tools for all of my email needs. I can use all of these tools while disconnected from the internet and they are faster than what google can provide. I hope this helps you in your speedy endevours.

🔗 colophon

This article was written in Santa Monica with vim and the excellent Goyo plugin.

Posted Sun, Nov 1, 2015