MH & nmh: Email for Users & Programmers

May, 2006

by Brent Welch

Here are a collection of tips that may make exmh work better for you. While there are lots of choices in the way you can use exmh, a few features seem to work pretty well and are worth emphasizing. Some other features may not be worth using because they slow things down too much.

Background Processing

You can set up exmh to periodically incorporate mail (run inc) for you. If you already do this via a filtering system, you should have exmh periodically check for new mail in your folders. This is called the flist action.

The folder highlighting and icon feedback work best with inc and flist. Instead of flist, exmh can periodically run msgchk or count messages in your system mailbox. The disadvantage of running msgchk is that there's no audible or icon feedback when new mail is waiting in your mailbox. There is only a status message that you might not notice.

Choose the background action and how frequently it's done with the Background Processing preferences section.

Scan Caches

exmh maintains a cache of the scan output for each folder. If you run MH programs from outside of exmh, the cache may get out of date. You can manually update the cache with the Rescan Folder operation under the Folder More... menu. There are also menu entries that update scan caches for all your folders. These run in the background so the user interface can remain active. The scan cache is compatible with xmh.

Optimizing Message Display

If you want message display to go as fast as possible, do three things:

  1. Disable the X-Face pipeline command so exmh won't try to decompress X-Face: header fields.
  2. Disable the facesaver database. (This is different than the X-Face pipeline.)

    Actually, the database is slow only for the first message you receive from a new email address. The pathname of the bitmap image that corresponds to that address is cached. Caching avoids time-consuming lookup when you view another message from that address.

  3. Disable the Graphic Separator in the MIME preferences. That uses a 3D line of text instead of a blank line; it takes a bit longer to display.

More Keyboard Stuff

If you really like using the keyboard instead of the mouse, you can change folders, set the target folder, and select messages by number with keyboard commands. When you type plus (+), focus warps to the status line so you can type in the name of a folder. In this mode,

If you start by typing a number (not +), the message is selected, but it isn't displayed until you press <Return>.

Large Folders

exmh does not handle very large folders well. If a folder grows to have more than 500 messages or so, you will notice a slowdown in the time it takes to change in and out of that folder. Take this as a hint to clean up by moving old messages into subfolders. (The Figure A subfolder shows a folder and subfolder.) Every three months or so I move old messages into subfolders with names like 94Q2, 94Q3, and so on.