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Re: [Nmh-workers] Should I learn nmh or GNU mailutils?

From: Ken Hornstein
Subject: Re: [Nmh-workers] Should I learn nmh or GNU mailutils?
Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2014 18:53:01 -0500

>I have decided to learn the MH system and use it for all my 
>(non-professional) email needs.
> From what I understand, there are two different modern-day incarnations 
>of MH: nmh and GNU mailutils.
>I need your advice because I can't make up my mind on which to choose. 
>Since I have to learn from scratch, and it will entail some serious 
>investment of time, I would like to be sure I make the right choice.

So, this is a bit of an awkward question, because we're kind of
competitors.  Our relationship with the GNU Mailutils people is ...
well, I wouldn't call it "friendly" competition, because mostly we don't
interact.  This isn't out of any animosity (at least not on our end, and
AFAICT on Sergey's end).  We're all busy, these are part-time projects,
and I personally think it's a dick move to go and trash your competitor
in public.  I never see any messages from Sergey trashing nmh, so I'm
assuming he feels the same way.  I'd rather people look at the projects
objectively and make their own decision based on their needs and
requirements.  Obviously the developers of a project are biased toward
the implementation they're working on.  So I would say our stance toward
each other is "polite awareness".

Yes, we're aware of each other; I occasionally look at GNU Mailutils to
see what it supports, and I'm assuming Sergey does the same with nmh.
Our biggest overlap is within the MH-E community; there are a number of
MH-E users who use GNU Mailutils as their backend.  There are a number
that use nmh as their backend as well (some of the MH-E developers are
members of this mailing list), and AFAIK both implementations work
equally well with MH-E.  I believe Sergey interacts directly with the MH-E
people on their mailing list; I don't, I rely on the MH-E developers
who are also on this list to keep me abreast of anything relevant.  But
I don't think we're hostile to the MH-E people; we added a feature they
asked for a few months ago.

So, that being said ... I will try to answer your question as objectively
as possible.  I would encourage you to get some opinions from the GNU
Mailutils people as well for alternate viewpoints.  I hope you will
forgive me if I talk more about nmh than I do about Mailutils; I would
rather not give you incorrect information, and I obviously know more
about nmh than I do about Mailutils.

Project History:

- Nmh is a direct descendant of the old MH project; it was converted from
  the original MH at UCI by Richard Coleman, and then managed by a succession
  of people; right now I've done the last two releases and will probably
  do the next one.

  The code has been reorganized a LOT since MH 6.8.5, but except for some
  ancient features that we garbage collected we are essentially "MH plus
  a lot of extra stuff".  Our biggest weakness is in MIME handling, but
  1.5 made some important steps forward and I think 1.6 will solve some
  of the remaining warts (there will still be plenty more, but I think
  it will be loads better). One downside to being a descendant of MH is
  that there is still a lot of old cruft in there; we're been working on
  cleaning it up, but sometimes it's slow going.

- GNU Mailutils is a clean-room implementation of a library to support
  a mail client, and it has MH commands implemented on top of that library.
  On the positive side that means a lot of the original MH warts don't
  exist.  On the negative side that means that not every MH feature that
  nmh supports exists (I don't have a comprehensive list; I would encourage
  you to check out the documentation for the respective projects).

Regarding features, the two biggest things that Mailutils supports that
nmh does NOT support are IMAP and Sieve (a mail filtering language).
Those are things that I would love to get to at some point, but they're
low on my personal priority list and if they are requirements for you
unfortunately nmh would not be a good choice.  There are options where
you could use something like fetchmail to retrieve messages from an IMAP
server and then incorporate them into nmh, but it's not integrated.

Now, regarding support; the main nmh community participates on this
mailing list.  In terms of documentation, we have the man pages that come
with nmh (which I feel are reasonably complete, but lack some overall
guidance for a beginner) and we have the O'Reilly MH book, which can be
found at:


It mentions nmh briefly, but nearly everything in there should still
apply to nmh.

I hope this helps, and if you have further questions about nmh please
don't hesitate to post them here.


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