Thunderbird to Mutt migration - tips & tricks


I migrate with my working environment to laptop. My workstation going older and I don’t have time to maintain few systems to keep it clean and in sync. I probably have to improve my work flow but right now I have different problems. Few weeks ago after changing environment to mobile and powerful laptop I also changed OS to Ubuntu and mail client to Thunderbird. I have to admit that both choices were mistake and I want to came back to Debian and Mutt.

This post is about throwing out Thunderbird and a logical continuation of Mutt tutorial (part 1, 2, 3 and 4). So what was wrong with Thunderbrid?

  • Not clear configuration settings - for example I tried to wrap word at 80th character, default value was set to 72 but it seems not work anyway. I try to use few googled hints but nothing works.
  • Setting up Thunderbird to work as a community developer tool was not so obvious.
  • Junk messages was marked but default filter show everything so for some IMAP boxes I get lot of spam and had hard time to find anything out there.
  • Conversation mode should be easily toggled.
  • GUI slow switching between different modes.
  • Lack of my editor of choice. If I decide to use GUI tool for some reason I require from it to be intuitive and most of my options should be available at few clicks. Probably most of my problems I could solve by giving enough effort to google it but if I have to choose hard to configure MUA I will probably be in favor of terminal tool like Mutt. So right now I’m back with Mutt and determination to adjust Mutt to my work flow.

Git and undelete old configuration

I won’t go through whole Mutt tutorial once more time. I remember that there was muttrc in my workspace git repository. So first goolge query returned what needed I found this stackoverflow post. I reverted muttrc and other related files deletion.

Short information

  • In Ubuntu there is no gpg package, to get encryption you can use gpgsm.
  • If your e-mail account provider require user name with @ (at sign), then you can pass it in mutt using below pattern:
    set folder = imaps://[login]@[imap_server]/ # i.e. imaps://
  • You can debug Mutt using -d 5 parameter, this option creates $HOME/.muttdebug0 file with verbose output, debug option can be changed in range 1-5.
  • Use latest-greatest version compiled from source instead version provided by distribution repository. It can help you get rid of problems like tls_socket_read (Decryption has failed.).
  • Some accounts will not work with authenticating method presented in my previous post about gpg (mutt tutorial part 2). To workaround this you can use different format of folder variable:
    set folder = imaps://[login]:[passwd_var]@[imap_server]/ # i.e. imaps://foo:$

Compile Mutt from source

If you looking for latest Mutt version consider compiling mutt by yourself. First, download sources:

hg clone
hg update -C HEAD
hg pull -u

There are lot of options to prepare Mutt compilation, but right now I can suggest this parameters:

cd mutt
./prepare --with-ssl --enable-debug --enable-imap --enable-smtp --enable-pop
-enable-hcache --with-gss --with-gnutls --with-sasl
make && sudo make install

If make will complain about gssapi/gssapi.h: No such file or directory then you need to install libkrb5-dev:

sudo apt-get install libkrb5-dev


That’s all in this post but I’m sure that there will be next in this topic. I hope to improve my whole workflow and write few posts about improving productivity using open source tools.

Piotr Król
Founder of 3mdeb, a passionate advocate for open-source firmware solutions, driven by a belief in transparency, innovation, and trustworthiness. Every day is a new opportunity to embody the company's vision, emphasizing user liberty, simplicity, and privacy. Beyond business, a casual chess and bridge player, finding peace in nature and nourishment in theology, philosophy, and psychology. A person striving to foster a healthy community, grounded in collaboration and shared growth, while nurturing a lifelong curiosity and a desire to deeply understand the world.