I recently switched from Pine to Gnus. This section explains how to make Gnus behave a little more like Pine (or Alpine FWIW).


First of all, a good news. There is no need to import the Pine mailbox or to create a new mailbox. Gnus can use the existing Pine mailbox and this will of course still be available to Pine. So that actually both email clients can coexist in peace.

Second, the process of sending email from emacs does not really depend on Gnus. Have a look at the MessageMode section, so as to set up message mode in your InitFile. These settings will then be available from Gnus.

Finally, I will only talk about setting an imap connection for reading mail from Gnus. Browse CategoryGnus if you want to read news or use pop connection with Gnus.

Basic configuration

First check that you have correctly set up MessageMode in your .emacs. This is the mode that is used by Gnus for sending mail. It should be noted that sending a mail does not require to start Gnus. Type C-x m and you will start composing in a mail buffer.

The Gnus settings are contained in a file named .gnus.el. Just create that file in your home dir. We need to put a few things in this file before starting Gnus.

Let’s say your name is somebody, your name address is, your imap server is and the name of your incoming mailbox on the server is INBOX. First put in .gnus.el

   (setq gnus-select-method '(nnimap ""))

or, if you want to use gnus also to read news from some nntp server “news.smw”

   (setq gnus-select-method '(nntp "news.smw"))
   (setq gnus-secondary-select-methods '((nnimap "")))

Now, start gnus with M-x gnus. You should be prompted for your imap login and password, then left in the Group buffer. Type ^ to display the servers available. Go to the line mentionning your imap server and type u in front of the mailboxes you want to subscribe to. Go back to the Group buffer. Your imap mailbox should be there. Just type RET in front of one of them to display its contents. Then type q to go back to the Group buffer, or SPC to display a message.

We can now make the Pine mailbox contents appear in the Group buffer by typing, with the Group buffer selected, G f and entering the path to some file contained in the Pine mailbox, e.g. ~/mail/sent-mail. It should now appear in the group buffer. Repeat for all the files in your Pine mail directory.

You now have a working Gnus installation. Its behaviour may be far from what you expect, though. So keep reading.

Options related to Pine

By default, messages already read are not displayed in Gnus. You can force their display by entering the group with C-u RET, or from the summary buffer by typing /o. This is definitely not the behaviour expected from a mail client. Put the following in your .gnus.el file to override this behavior:

  ;; all mails should be always displayed in the mailbox
  (setq gnus-permanently-visible-groups ".*INBOX")
  ;; default Pine ordered header list when displaying mail
  (setq gnus-sorted-header-list '( "^Date:" "^From:" "^To:" "^Followup-To:" "^Cc:" "Bcc:" "^Newsgroups:" "Fcc:" "^Subject:" ))

Note that there is no equivalent to the LCC: header in Gnus.

Now here is how to archive outgoing mails in the Pine mailbox sent-mail file. Let us say that this file is in the ~/mail directory.

  (setq gnus-default-article-saver 'gnus-summary-save-in-mail)
  (setq nnfolder-directory "")
  (setq gnus-message-archive-method
       '(nnfolder "savingmethod"
           (nnfolder-directory "~/mail")
           (nnfolder-active-file "~/mail/.active")
           (nnfolder-nov-is-evil t)
           (nnfolder-get-new-mail nil)))
 (setq gnus-message-archive-group "sent-mail")

We want the Gnus summary buffer to display information the way Pine does. The gnus-article-save-directory is the default directory proposed for saving messages.

  (setq gnus-parameters
      (gnus-show-threads nil)
      (gnus-use-scoring nil)
      (gnus-article-sort-functions '((not gnus-article-sort-by-number)))
               "%*%U%R %2P  %6,6&user-date class="comment">;  %(%-20,20n%) (%4,4k) %S\n")
      (gnus-article-save-directory "~/mail/")
      (display . [not expire]))))

Pine color theme is plain black and white with reverse-video highlighting of the current line in the summary buffer. Don’t use the following if you want a colorful email client.

  (setq gnus-visual nil)
  (add-hook 'gnus-summary-mode-hook (lambda ()
     (hl-line-mode 1)
     (setq cursor-type nil)
     (set-face-attribute 'hl-line nil :background "black" :foreground "white")))

Let us automatically check for new mail every 5 minutes

  (gnus-demon-add-handler 'gnus-group-get-new-news 5 nil)

Finally, we want some confirmation before sending a message. We also want a reminder if it appears that some attachment is missing. This is done by looking for some words that may indicate that some attachment should be included.

  (defvar my-message-attachment-regexp
  (defun check-mail ()
  "ask for confirmation before sending a mail. Scan for possible attachment"
     (let ((warning ""))
      (when (and (search-forward-regexp my-message-attachment-regexp nil t nil)
                 (not (search-forward "<#part" nil t nil)))
         (setq warning "No attachment.\n"))
      (goto-char (point-min))
      (unless (message-y-or-n-p (concat warning "Send the message ? ") nil nil)
         (error "Message not sent")))))
  (add-hook 'message-send-hook 'check-mail)

We are left with defining shortcuts.

Pine shortcuts

This section explains how to get the following shortcuts working in the summary buffer

  ;;     n p    go to next or previous article
  ;;     d      delete article, move to next
  ;;     c      compose mail
  ;;     r      reply
  ;;     R      reply with citation
  ;;     s      save article and delete it
  ;;     x      prompt for immediate deletion of the article
  ;;     g      goto other group by specifying its short name
  ;;     u      clear mark, move to next article
  ;;     ?      view help
  ;;     !      tick article as important, move to next article
  ;;     v      view attachment
  ;;     l      exit summary buffer
  ;;     TAB    go to next unread article
  ;;     f      forward mail

For the sake of sorting the summary buffer, $f $a $d $s $z $e sort according to author, default, date, subject, length or score. The default sort shortcuts in Gnus are bound to the prefix C-c C-s . There are no equivalent under Gnus to the Pine shortcuts $o $c $t. Note that the $ sign is used to mark spam in Gnus, so you may not want to rebind that key.

Here are some other shortcuts available by default from the Gnus summary buffer

  ;;     m        compose message
  ;;     q        quit the summary buffer
  ;;     SPC DEL  scroll down or up the article
  ;;     =        toggle display of the article
  ;;     /t       display only recent message
  ;;     /a       display only message from autors specified by a regexp
  ;;     /s       same but from the subject header
  ;;     /x       same but specify the header and regexp
  ;;     M-g      check for new mail
  ;;     h        goto article buffer
  ;;     3 K o    save third attachment

Finally, I didn’t try to bind = - < >. These shortcuts are used in Pine to move around. This is better done using the standard emacs commands in Gnus.

Before defining these shortcuts, we first define a few commands which are not readily available from Gnus.

First a command that asks for the short name of a group, and opens the corresponding summary. This is bound to g in Pine.

  (defun gnus-summary-goto-group (my-group)
  "Prompt for a group short name and open it in summary buffer.
  Default is next group showing in the *Group* buffer with unread articles."
    (interactive (list (read-string
            (format "Go to group (default %s): "
               (if (eq gnus-keep-same-level 'best)
                   (gnus-summary-best-group gnus-newsgroup-name)
                  (gnus-summary-search-group nil gnus-keep-same-level)))))))
    (if (string= my-group "")
      ;; look for group matching the short name, take first match
      (let* ((liste (mapcar 'car gnus-newsrc-alist)) (name))
        (while (and (setq name (pop liste))
                    (not (string-match (concat ":" my-group) name))))
        (setq my-group name))
      (if my-group
          (gnus-summary-read-group my-group t)
        (message "no such group"))))

Second, two commands for replying to mail. If there are several senders and recipients or a CC: field, then you will be prompted whether you want to reply to all.

  (defun gnus-summary-dwim-reply ()
  "reply depending on the CC: header"
       ((not (re-search-forward "^C[Cc]: .\\|^To:.*," nil t))
       ((y-or-n-p "Reply to all ? ")
        (goto-char (point-min))
        (flush-lines "^Cc: $"))
       (t (gnus-summary-reply)))
  (defun gnus-summary-dwim-reply-with-original ()
  "reply, ask all if there is a CC: header or several recipients"
       ((not (re-search-forward "C[Cc]: .\\|To:.*," nil t))
        (gnus-summary-reply-with-original nil))
       ((y-or-n-p "Reply to all ? ")
        ;; or gnus-summary-very-wide-reply-with-original ?
        (gnus-summary-wide-reply-with-original nil)
        (goto-char (point-min))
        (flush-lines "^Cc: $"))
       (t (gnus-summary-reply-with-original nil)))
     ;; replace next by message-goto-body to get cursor before citation

Save and delete article, bound to d

  (defun gnus-summary-save-and-expire (prefix)
   "save and expire article.
  With a prefix N, save and expire the next N articles"
   (interactive "p")
   (save-excursion (gnus-summary-save-article prefix))
   (gnus-summary-put-mark-as-expirable-next prefix))

Toggle the display of the article, bound to =

  (defun toggle-article-window ()
    (if (get-buffer-window "*Article*" nil)
        (gnus-configure-windows 'summary 'force)
      (gnus-configure-windows 'article 'force)))

Now we activate the bindings:

  (add-hook 'gnus-summary-mode-hook (lambda ()
      (local-set-key (kbd "<tab>") 'gnus-summary-next-unread-article)
      (local-set-key "="  'toggle-article-window)
      (local-set-key "n"  'gnus-summary-next-article)
      (local-set-key "p"  'gnus-summary-prev-article)
      (local-set-key "!"  'gnus-summary-put-mark-as-ticked-next)
      (local-set-key "d"  'gnus-summary-put-mark-as-expirable-next)
      (local-set-key "u"  'gnus-summary-clear-mark-forward)
      (local-set-key "r"  'gnus-summary-dwim-reply)
      (local-set-key "R"  'gnus-summary-dwim-reply-with-original)
      (local-set-key "x"  'gnus-summary-delete-article)
      (local-set-key "g"  'gnus-summary-goto-group)
      (local-set-key "?"  'gnus-info-find-node)
      (local-set-key "l"  'gnus-summary-exit)
      (local-set-key "s"  'gnus-summary-save-and-expire)
      (local-set-key "v"  'gnus-article-view-part)
      (local-set-key "c"  'gnus-summary-mail-other-window)
      (local-set-key "$f" 'gnus-summary-sort-by-author)
      (local-set-key "$a" 'gnus-summary-sort-by-original)
      (local-set-key "$d" 'gnus-summary-sort-by-date)
      (local-set-key "$s" 'gnus-summary-sort-by-subject)
      (local-set-key "$z" 'gnus-summary-sort-by-chars)
      (local-set-key "$e" 'gnus-summary-sort-by-score)
      (if (gnus-news-group-p gnus-newsgroup-name)
             (local-set-key "f"  'gnus-summary-followup)
        (local-set-key "f"  'gnus-summary-mail-forward))))

By default, messages marked for deletion are not really deleted with Gnus. They are instead hidden for a week (expirable is the correct term), then actually deleted after a week. Expired articles can be shown in the summary buffer with the /o command, or by entering the group with C-u RET. These expired articles are not marked with D but with E instead. Let us change that and make expired articles actually deleted as soon as we leave the summary buffer.

  (add-hook 'gnus-summary-mode-hook (lambda ()
      (unless (gnus-news-group-p gnus-newsgroup-name)
        (set (make-local-variable  'gnus-expirable-mark) ?D)
        (set (make-local-variable  'gnus-canceled-mark)  ?X)
        (set (make-local-variable  'gnus-ancient-mark)   ? )
        (set (make-local-variable  'gnus-read-mark)      ? ))))
  (setq nnmail-expiry-wait 0)

Finaly we may want to set some shortcuts for sending mail too. Under Pine, C-x sends the mail, C-c aborts mail composition. This is not a very good choice under emacs, since these are pretty useful prefixes and you certainly want to keep them as they are. So it’s better to use the shortcuts given by MessageMode. If you really want to change that, just put in your .gnus.el (or your .emacs) the following and remove the starting ;

  ;(define-key message-mode-map (kbd "C-j") 'mml-attach-file)
  ;(define-key message-mode-map (kbd "C-o") 'message-dont-send)
  ;(define-key message-mode-map (kbd "C-x") 'message-send-and-exit)
  ;(define-key mml-mode-map (kbd "C-c") nil)
  ;(define-key message-mode-map (kbd "C-c") 'message-kill-buffer)

At that point, we are done and Gnus should behave pretty much like Pine. The next sections list a few other tweaks that may be useful.

A better search command

The mail search functions in Pine and Gnus (bound to w and M-s respectively) are not very good, in my opinion. Coming from a standard emacs buffer where C-s my-word C-s C-r C-s … make you fly over the buffer, the M-s command may seem to be a bit slow. So let’s redefine it, so as to be able to do M-s regexp RET M-s M-r M-s … During a search, M-r goes backward and M-g aborts the search, returning point at its starting position.

  (defun gnus-summary-my-search-forward (regexp)
    "a better way to handle gnus regexp search in articles"
   (interactive (list (read-string
         (format "Search article forward (regexp%s): "
                 (if gnus-last-search-regexp
                     (concat ", default " gnus-last-search-regexp)
  (let ((original-article (gnus-summary-article-number)))
     (if (string-equal regexp "")
         (setq regexp (or gnus-last-search-regexp ""))
       (setq gnus-last-search-regexp regexp)
       (setq gnus-article-before-search gnus-current-article))
     (push ?\M-s unread-command-events)
     (let (key (echo-keystrokes 0))
      (while (progn
       (setq key (read-event))
       (let ((gnus-article-if-fail gnus-current-article)
             (point-if-fail (with-current-buffer gnus-article-buffer (point))))
         ((equal key ?\M-g)            ;; C-g is intercepted
          (gnus-summary-goto-subject original-article)
          (setq key ?g)                ;; show the article
       ((or (equal key ?\M-s) (equal key ?\M-r))
          (if (gnus-summary-search-article regexp (equal key ?\M-r))
            (gnus-summary-goto-subject gnus-article-if-fail)
            (gnus-summary-show-article t)
            (with-selected-window (get-buffer-window gnus-article-buffer)
              (goto-char (- point-if-fail 1)) ;; off by one for some reason
              (recenter 0))
            (message "No other match for %s !" regexp)
         (t nil)))))
      (push key unread-command-events))))
  (add-hook 'gnus-summary-mode-hook (lambda ()
      (local-set-key (kbd "M-s") 'gnus-summary-my-search-forward)))

More customize options

First a few options you may be interested in.

  (setq gnus-inhibit-startup-message      t    ;; no startup message
        gnus-treat-display-smileys        nil  ;; no smileys
        gnus-treat-strip-cr               t    ;; no carriage returns
        message-kill-buffer-on-exit       t    ;; no hanging mail buffers
        gnus-thread-hide-subtree          t    ;; no threads in summary
        gnus-prompt-before-saving         t    ;; better than default
        message-send-mail-partially-limit nil  ;; size of sent messages
        gnus-large-newsgroup              1000)

Here is the meaning of this last option: all messages will be displayed when entering a group, if the group contains less than 1000 messages. Otherwise, you will be prompted for the number of messages to be displayed.

If you want new mail to be displayed on top of the summary buffer

  (setq gnus-thread-sort-functions '((not gnus-thread-sort-by-number)))

The following will allow to order your groups in the Group buffer by topics. See GnusTutorial for more details.

  (add-hook 'gnus-group-mode-hook 'gnus-topic-mode)

If you are not interested by email using wide characters (e.g. chinese), the following will provide a speedup

  (setq gnus-use-correct-string-widths nil)

And if you are not interested in reading newsgroup, you can speedup things with

  (setq gnus-nntp-server nil
        gnus-read-active-file nil
        gnus-save-newsrc-file nil
        gnus-read-newsrc-file nil
        gnus-check-new-newsgroups nil)

The following tries to display html mail as plain text

  (setq mm-discouraged-alternatives '("text/html" "text/richtext"))

Images attachments displayed inline

  (setq mm-attachment-override-types '("image/.*"))

When replying to mail, the cited part is displayed in bright red. Put the following in your .emacs for a less flashy citation. You can also use this hook to specify which application you want to use to display, say, pdf attachments.

  (add-hook 'message-mode-hook (lambda ()
      (mailcap-add "application/pdf" "xpdf %s")
      (set-face-attribute 'message-cited-text nil :foreground "SaddleBrown")))

A shortcut for saving attachments from the summary buffer

  (add-hook 'gnus-summary-mode-hook (lambda ()
    (local-set-key (kbd "C-a") 'gnus-summary-save-parts)))


implement the remaining sorts

provides bindings for handling attachments

display number of attachments in summary buffer

Add a screenshot of what it would look like ☺