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3.7 movemail — Moves Mail from the User Maildrop to the Local File

The purpose of movemail, as its name implies, is to move mail from one location to another. For example, the following invocation:

movemail /var/mail/smith INBOX

moves messages from file /var/mail/smith to file INBOX.

The program was initially intended as a replacement for movemail from GNU Emacs. The movemail program is run by Emacs Rmail module. See Rmail in Reading Mail with Rmail, for detailed description of Rmail interface.

Mailutils version of movemail is fully backward-compatible with its Emacs predecessor, so it should run flawlessly with older versions of Emacs. Emacs versions starting from 22.1 contain improved Rmail interface and are able to take advantage of all new features mailutils movemail provides.

Apart from that use, movemail proved to be a useful tool for incorporating mail from remote mailboxes into the local one. See Fetching Mail with Movemail, for a detailed discussion with usage recipes.

3.7.1 Movemail Configuration

The following configuration file statements affect the behavior of movemail:

Movemail Config: preserve bool

If bool is ‘true’, do not remove messages from the source mailbox.

Movemail Config: reverse bool

If bool is ‘true’, reverse message sorting order.

Movemail Config: emacs bool

If bool is ‘true’, output information used by Emacs rmail interface.

Movemail Config: ignore-errors bool

Continue moving messages after errors. By default, mailfromd exits immediately if it cannot copy a message.

Movemail Config: program-id fmt

Set program identifier, i.e. a string which will prefix all diagnostic messages issued by the program. By default, program name is used.

The fmt is a format string that may contain references to the following variables (see Variables):


The program name.


URL of the source mailbox.


User part of the source mailbox URL.


Host part of the source mailbox URL.


Path part of the source mailbox URL.


URL of the destination mailbox


User part of the destination mailbox URL.


Host part of the destination mailbox URL.


Path part of the destination mailbox URL.

Setting program-id may be necessary if several movemail instances are run simultaneously (e.g. invoked from a script) to discern between the instances. For example:

program-id "${progname}: ${source} => ${dest}"
Movemail Config: uidl bool

Avoid copying the message if a message with the same UIDL already exists in the destination mailbox.

Movemail Config: verbose level

Set verbosity level.

Movemail Config: mailbox-ownership method-list

Define list of methods for setting ownership of the destination mailbox. The method-list argument can contain the following elements:


Copy owner UID and GID from the source mailbox. This method works only with local mailboxes, i.e.: ‘mbox’ (UNIX mailbox), ‘maildir’ and ‘mh’.


Get owner name from the source mailbox URL and obtain UID and GID for this user using mailutils authorization methods.


Set supplied uid and gid. If gid is not supplied, it is read from the /etc/passwd record for this UID.


Make destination mailbox owned by user.

Movemail Config: max-messages count

Defines upper limit on the number of moved messages. Movemail will stop after transferring count messages.

By default, the number of messages is not limited.

Movemail Config: onerror actions

Defines what to do if an error occurs when transferring a message. actions is a list of one or more of the following keywords:


Abort the transfer and terminate the program. This is the default action.


Skip to the next message.


Delete the affected message.


Count this message as processed.

Each keyword can be prefixed with ‘no’ to reverse its meaning.

The following standard Mailutils statements are supported:

debugSee debug statement.
tlsSee tls statement.
mailboxSee mailbox statement.
lockingSee locking statement.
pamSee pam statement.
sqlSee sql statement.
virtdomainSee virtdomain statement.
radiusSee radius statement.
ldapSee ldap statement.
authSee auth statement.

3.7.2 Setting Destination Mailbox Ownership

Editor’s note:

The information in this node may be obsolete or otherwise inaccurate. This message will disappear, once this node revised.

3.7.3 Movemail Usage Summary

movemail [option...] inbox destfile [password]

The first argument, inbox, is the url (see Mailbox) of the source mailbox. The second argument, destfile, traditionally means destination file, i.e. the UNIX mailbox to copy messages to. However, mailutils movemail extends the meaning of this parameter. You may actually specify any valid url as destfile parameter.3.

For compatibility with older implementations of movemail, the source argument can also have the form:


where pop-server is the IP address or hostname of a POP3 server to connect to and username is the name of the user on that server. The password is then supplied by the third argument.

It is equivalent to the following URL:


In fact, whenever source refers to a remote mailbox, the password argument can be used to pass the password. However, the safer ticket method is of course preferred.

Options are one or more of the following:


Output information used by Emacs rmail interface.


Try to continue after errors.


Process at most count messages.


Enable biff notification.


What to do on errors. See onerror statement, for a description of kw.

-P modelist

Control mailbox ownership. modelist is a comma-separated list of one or more ownership change methods. See mailbox-ownership-methods, for a description of available methods.

This option is useful only when running movemail as root.


Don’t remove transferred messages from the source mailbox.


Set program identifier for diagnostics (default: the program name). See movemail-program-id, for a description of its argument.


Reverse the order of retrieved messages.


Use UIDLs to avoid downloading the same message twice.


Increase verbosity level.

The common options are also understood (see Common Options).



Rmail does not use this feature

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