bower -

Requirements  Compiling  Configuration  Usage  Views  Index view keys  Thread/pager view keys  Limit command syntax extensions  Search term aliases  Tag modification behaviour  Polling for new messages  Simple address book  Sending mail  Encryption and signing (beta)  Author 

Bower is a curses frontend for the Notmuch ⟨⟩ email system. I wrote it for me, but you might like it, too.

bower is written in Mercury ⟨⟩.

See some screen shots ⟨screenshots⟩.


bower makes use of standard Linux utilities, so will likely require some work to work on other systems.

At compile time:

Mercury compiler (20.06 or later, including release-of-the-day); currently available at ⟨⟩

At run time:


ncurses with wide character support

gpgme (GnuPG Made Easy)

GNU coreutils: base64

SMTP client to send messages (configurable)

file(1) to detect MIME types when adding attachments

To create a man page from this readme, you will need:

pandoc ⟨⟩ universal document converter



Firstly, to install Mercury from source you can follow these steps:

tar xf mercury-srcdist-VERSION.tar.gz
cd mercury-srcdist-VERSION
make install PARALLEL=-j6 LIBGRADES=
export PATH=$PATH:/path/to/mercury/bin

where PARALLEL=-j6 reflects the number of parallel jobs to use.

With Mercury installed and mmc in your PATH, run:

make PARALLEL=-j6

You may want to edit Mercury.options to suit your system. If successful, you will get a binary named bower.

To generate a man page, run:

make man

This will produce bower.1 for installation into your man search path.

Packages are also available in Alpine Linux ⟨⟩, AUR ⟨⟩, Gentoo ⟨−client/bower⟩, GuixRUS ⟨˜whereiseveryone/guixrus⟩, and Nixpkgs ⟨⟩.


You can configure bower by creating a file in one of the following locations, in order of priority:

the path specified in the environment variable BOWER_CONFIG (if set)

the path $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/bower/bower.conf (if the environment variable XDG_CONFIG_HOME is set and non-empty)

the path $HOME/.config/bower/bower.conf (if the environment variable HOME is set)

a path $basedir/bower/bower.conf where $basedir is an element of the colon-separated list given in the environment variable XDG_CONFIG_DIRS (defaults to /etc/xdg)

The details of the configuration file are given in bower.conf.sample.

Bower is designed such that it can be run on the local machine but call out to notmuch on a remote machine (that holds your mail) via ssh. The advantage is that you can start helper programs on the local machine (e.g. a web browser or image viewer), and add or save attachments on the local filesystem, even if your mail archive is stored on a different machine.

Bower also keeps some centralised information in the notmuch configuration file. You may wish to tell bower about your Maildir hierarchy, namely where to place draft and sent messages. The defaults are given here:

drafts_folder = Drafts
sent_folder = Sent

It is recommended that your .notmuch-config file contains at least these search exclusions:



bower [OPTION]... [SEARCH-TERM]...
bower [OPTION]... mailto:MAILTO

Run bower to start, optionally passing a list of initial search terms. If no search terms are provided, bower will use the search string ˜default, where ˜default is a search term alias (see below). By default, ˜default is equivalent to searching for messages from the last week but you are free to change it.

Running bower with a single mailto: argument will go directly to the compose screen.

The only options supported so far are -h, --help and --version.


There are two main views: the index, and the combined thread/pager.

Index view keys

This view shows the notmuch search results for the current query. The keys are:

j, k next, previous thread
g, G first, last thread
[, ] scroll half page up, down
Tab, comma go to next unread thread
Enter open thread
Alt+Enter open thread in obscured mode
l, ˜ change search terms ("limit")
Alt+Key invoke search term alias named by Key
= refresh search results
z toggle authors column

/, ? search for string within results
n skip to next search result
N skip to next search result in opposite direction

U toggle ’unread’ tag on current thread
F toggle ’flagged’ tag on current thread
a toggle ’inbox’, ’unread’ tags on current thread (archive)
d set ’deleted’ tag on current thread
u unset ’deleted’ tag on current thread
$ apply ’+spam -unread’ tags on current thread
+, - add/remove arbitrary tags
t select/unselect thread
T unselect all threads
" same as ’ but retain selections afterwards

m compose new message
r reply to sender
e reply to everyone
L reply to list
R recall postponed message
@ add to address book

| pipe thread IDs to command

q quit

Pressing Alt+Key will treat Key as a single character search alias that is invoked directly without further prompting (see below for search term aliases). This provides a convenient way to switch between frequent queries.

Thread/pager view keys

This view pages through an entire thread. The keys are:

j, k next, previous message
g, G first, last message
b, space previous, next page
\, Enter previous, next line
[, ] previous, next half page
Tab, comma go to next unread message
p go to parent message
S skip quoted text
O toggle ordering of messages (threaded or flat)
M toggle obscuring of unmatched messages
= refresh search results

/, ? search for string
n skip to next search result
N skip to next search result in opposite direction

J mark current message read and go to next message
K mark current message read and go to previous message
U toggle ’unread’ tag on current message
ˆR remove ’unread’ tag on preceding messages
F toggle ’flagged’ tag on current message
a toggle ’inbox’, ’unread’ tags on current message (archive)
d add ’deleted’ tag on current message
u remove ’deleted’ tag on current message
$ apply ’+spam -unread’ tags on current message
+, - add/remove arbitrary tags
t select/unselect message
T unselect all messages
" same as ’ but retain selections afterwards

r reply to sender
e reply to everyone
L reply to list
W forward message
B resend message to another address ("bounce")
E use current message as a template for a new message
R recall postponed message
@ add to address book

v highlight next visible attachment or URL or folded text
V highlight next visible attachment or top of message
s, w save highlighted message/part to file
o open highlighted message/part/URL with external program
z cycle alternative parts / toggle inline display / decrypt
Z toggle inline display of part / decrypt
z, Z expand/collapse folded text
y verify signed part

| pipe thread or message IDs to command

i, q return to index
I return to index, removing ’unread’ tag on all messages
A return to index, removing ’inbox’ and ’unread’ on messages

The ’o’ command, which opens parts and URLs, takes a command using Unix shell quoting syntax. If the command ends with an unquoted ’&’ character then the command will be run in the background.

Note: forward (W) and edit-as-new (E) currently will not create a proper message template for messages that are manually decrypted in the thread view. A workaround is to set crypto.decrypt_by_default = true in the bower configuration so that encrypted messages are automatically decrypted upon opening a thread.

In "obscured" mode, messages unmatched by the search query in the index view will be displayed in a different colour, and ignored by navigation keys (e.g. j, k, and string search). The mode can be toggled with the ’M’ key.

Limit command syntax extensions

The l (limit) command in the index view slightly extends the notmuch search term syntax with these macros:

˜A disable default cap on number of search results
˜F tag:flagged
˜U tag:unread
˜D tag:deleted
˜d DATE..
˜d ..DATE

By default, a maximum of 300 search results will be displayed. Add ˜A to the search string to get all results.

The ˜d syntax passes dates through to notmuch as a "date:" range; see notmuch-search-terms(7) for the date range syntax. You may use curly brackets to surround date strings containing spaces. The single date form ˜d DATE is equivalent to ˜d DATE..DATE.

Some examples:

˜d 2011-06-01..
˜d {2 weeks ago}..{last week}
˜d yesterday

Search term aliases

In addition to the built-in macros, bower will try to expand tokens of the form ˜NAME in two ways:

if there is a search term alias called NAME then the token will be replaced with its expansion

if there is a notmuch named query called NAME then the token will be replaced with query:NAME

Search term aliases are defined in the notmuch config file in a section called [bower:search_alias]. Expansions may make use of other (non-recursive) expansions. For example:

default = ˜lw
lw = ˜d {last week}..
2w = ˜d {2 weeks ago}..
lm = ˜d {last month}..
ly = ˜d {last year}..
notmuch = to:notmuch
bower = ˜notmuch AND bower
bower_recent = ˜lm ˜bower

As mentioned earlier, the ˜default alias sets the initial search query if you run bower without command-line arguments.

The differences between search term aliases and notmuch named queries are:

search term aliases are specific to bower

search term aliases may use bower-specific syntax, and refer to other search term aliases

named queries are stored in the notmuch database instead of the notmuch config file

You can tab complete search term aliases and notmuch named queries.

Tag modification behaviour

Tag modifications in the index view are (mostly) performed asynchronously to minimise stutter. Remember to quit properly using ’q’ to ensure all tag modifications are completed before exiting. Tag modifications will be retried a limited number of times on failure, e.g. because the notmuch database is locked (this was a problem with old notmuch versions).

Unlike the index view, tag modifications in the thread/pager view will only applied upon returning to the index view. If bower is terminated before returning to the index view then any tag modifications made in the thread view will be lost.

Polling for new messages

By default, bower will call notmuch count every 60 seconds in both the index and thread views in order to notify you of new unread messages matching the search terms in the index, or new messages in the current thread. You can change the polling frequency or disable it with the configuration option ui.poll_period_secs.

You can also configure a command to run when new messages are found using the command.poll_notify option.

Simple address book

Bower can use notmuch address command to look up email addresses where required, e.g. when composing a new message. Only addresses that appear in the From header of messages from the last year will be considered; this restriction improves performance and avoids finding stale email addresses.

Address aliases can also be kept in the notmuch config file in a section called [bower:addressbook]. For example:

someone = Someone <[email protected]>
someoneelse = [email protected]

You can add to the address book using ’@’ in the index or thread views.

Tab completion will prefer address aliases over addresses found by notmuch address.

Sending mail

You can send mail through one or more accounts defined in bower.conf. An account is selected by matching the From address on the message to the address on the account. Bower performs two steps when sending a message:


Run the configured sendmail command with the message on standard input. The command should pass the message onto an SMTP server. If the sendmail command fails (exits with non-zero status) then the message is considered not sent, and the next step does not run.


Run the "post-sendmail" step.The default behaviour (if post_sendmail is not set) is to use notmuch insert to add the message to the mail store, and to the database with the sent tag and without the unread tag.Otherwise, if post_sendmail is set to a non-empty command then the command is run with the message on standard input.Otherwise, if post_sendmail is set to the empty string then no command is run.

If both the sendmail and post_sendmail commands will run on the same remote server then there is a slight inefficiency because a single message would need to be transferred to the remote server twice. If that is a concern, you could combine the two steps into a single script to be run at the sendmail step, and disable the post_sendmail command.

Encryption and signing (beta)

Bower can produce encrypted and/or signed PGP/MIME messages through GnuPG. Message decryption and signature verification are performed by notmuch. It is up to the user to configure GnuPG on the machines running bower or notmuch.


Peter Wang [email protected] ⟨mailto:[email protected]

Feel free to contact me with feedback or suggestions.

Updated 2024-01-29 - |