Retrieving Email Using Getmail
Updated by Linode
Getmail is a simple mail retriever. In many ways, the software is a response to the complexity of fetchmail. It aims to provide a simple and efficient tool for downloading email from POP and IMAP servers. You can use getmail to download email from your Linode’s mail server powered by Citadel or Courier or you can use getmail on your Linode to download email from one or more third party mail providers (as long as POP or IMAP is supported) and deliver it to a local email gateway.
Before getting started with Getmail, we assume that you have followed our getting started guide. If you’re new to Linux server administration, you may be interested in our introduction to Linux concepts guide, beginner’s guide and the administration basics guide.
Before proceeding, make sure your system is up to date. If you’re using Arch or Gentoo, you’ll want to refresh your repositories. If you’re using Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, or Fedora, you’ll want to update your repositories and upgrade all packages to their latest versions. Select from the following commands, depending on what operating system you’re running:
Debian or Ubuntu:
apt-get update apt-get upgrade --show-upgraded
CentOS or Fedora:
Since getmail is included by default in most distributions’ software repositories, its installation is straightforward. Issue the following command to install getmail on Debian and Ubuntu systems:
apt-get install getmail4
Issue the following command to install getmail on Gentoo systems:
Issue the following command to install getmail on Arch Linux systems:
pacman -S getmail
For CentOS, you will need to install the RPMForge Repo before you can install getmail. Download the rpmforge-release package. Choose either the 32-bit or the 64-bit version:
Install DAG’s GPG key:
rpm --import http://apt.sw.be/RPM-GPG-KEY.dag.txt
Verify the package you have downloaded:
rpm -K rpmforge-release-0.5.2-2.el6.rf.*.rpm
Install the package:
rpm -i rpmforge-release-0.5.2-2.el6.rf.*.rpm
Lastly, install getmail using yum:
yum install getmail
With getmail installed successfully, we can begin to configure mail retrieval at this time.
Basic Getmail Configuration
All getmail configuration occurs in the
.getmail/ folder of the user’s home directory. The configuration is stored in a
getmailrc file. If you need to check multiple accounts, specify each account as a file beneath the
~/.getmail/ directory. Create the required directories and files, and set their permissions with the following commands:
1 2 3
mkdir ~/.getmail/ chmod 700 ~/.getmail/ touch ~/.getmail/getmailrc
The following file provides a basic template for a getmail configuration file:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
[retriever] type = SimplePOP3SSLRetriever server = pop.example.com port = 995 username = foreman password = s1d30fd4nc3r6 [destination] type = Maildir path = ~/mail/ [options] delete = true message_log = ~/.getmail/log-foreman-example
In this example we see the following features:
- Mail is downloaded using the POP3S, or POP3 with SSL method. Consider using the
SimpleIMAPSSLRetriever''" for IMAP with SSL mail accounts. If your mail server does not support SSL, use the "SimplePOP3Retriever
- The mail server, port number, and log in credentials are specified in the
[retriever]directive. In this case, the server is located at
pop.example.comand runs on port
110. The account credentials are for the user
foremanwith the password
The mail will be delivered into a
Maildirformatted mailbox, located at
~/mail/. Note that this will deliver mail into the
mail/directory in the home directory (e.g.
/home/foreman/mail/) of the user that runs
getmail. Ensure that your Maildir exists before running
getmailfor the first time. Issue the following command to create a Maildir in
1 2 3
mkdir -p ~/mail/cur/ mkdir -p ~/mail/new/ mkdir -p ~/mail/tmp/
- The option
delete = truetells getmail to remove the mail from the server after it retrieves messages. If you would like to simply copy the messages from the server and leave them intact on the server set this value to
- A log of getmail operations is logged at
~/.getmail/log-foreman-examplein the home directory of the user who executes getmail.
Modify the required options to suit the needs of your desired deployment. This includes: retriever type, server information, authentication credentials, mailbox destinations, and log locations. When your
~/.getmail/getmailrc configuration is complete, you can run getmail by issuing the following command at a regular user prompt:
Congratulations! You’ve successfully configured getmail in a basic mail delivery setup.
Advanced Getmail Configuration
Getmail is capable of delivering mail in a number of different situations beyond just downloading email from a single mail account. This section provides an overview of a number of more advanced uses of getmail.
Using an External Filtering Utility
If you want to use an external program to filter the email retrieved from getmail, modify the destination configuration options in the
getmailrc file to resemble the following:
1 2 3 4
[destination] type = MDA_external path = /usr/bin/procmail arguments = ("-f", "%(sender)")
In this example, when getmail retrieves mail, it is passed to
procmail for additional filtering rather than delivered directly to a Maildir. Procmail, like other mail delivery agents (MDAs) performs additional filtering after mail has been retrieved and before it is delivered to a users’ mail store. You may use getmail with any MDA of your choice.
Checking Multiple Email Accounts
If you want to retrieve mail from more than one server, create a getmail configuration file for each server that you need to download email from. Then, when you call getmail, issue the command in the following form.
getmail --rcfile getmailrc0 --rcfile getmailrc1 --rcfile /home/foreman/mail/getmailrc
You can specify as many
rcfiles as you like on the command line in this format. If a path is not specified getmail assumes the files are located in the
~/.getmail/ directory. In the above example, the files
getmailrc1 are located in the
~/.getmail/ directory. The final file is located in the
/home/foreman/mail directory and is specified with an absolute path. In this manner you may specify as many accounts as you need, and organize your configuration files with whatever system makes the most sense in context of your deployment.
Checking Email Regularly Using Cron
If you would like your system to check for email regularly, you can run the
getmail command regularly with cron. For a more detailed explanation of cron, you may consider the introduction to cron guide. To add the “cron job”, issue the following command to edit your cronjobs:
Add an entry to poll getmail every five minutes by adding the following line to the crontab:
*/5 * * * * getmail --quiet
Adding this line will cause getmail to retrieve new mail as specified in the
~/.getmail/getmailrc file every five minutes. The
quiet flag suppresses all non-error output, which is desirable when running in a “daemon” mode. You may specify any options for the cronjob that you can specify on the command line, including multiple
getmailrc files. When the crontab is properly configured, save the file. Getmail will now retrieve new mail every five minutes as specified in the appropriate
You may wish to consult the following resources for additional information on this topic. While these are provided in the hope that they will be useful, please note that we cannot vouch for the accuracy or timeliness of externally hosted materials.
This guide is published under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license.