Claws Mail setup

Okay, so this little article maybe shouldn’t be referenced on the main page, since the only purpose of it is to explain how I like things done, and it is not… particularly impressive in the news stream.

The reason is that I hands-down completely beyond a shadow of a doubt prefer to use Claws Mail. And not a lot of people get that, since the default look of Claws Mail is… pretty terrible, to be honest (see this article from cyberciti.biz to see the default Claws layout). I find, however, that with a bit of cleanup, it is very good and even pleasant to look at; and it has some very good features to make use of. So this little piece is actually intended as a answer to people who ask me how I can use something as horrible as Claws. It is entirely my opinion, and if I am the only person in the world who has this right, I am also the only person in the world who knows that you  are wrong when you say I am.

Now: Maybe I should just show you the design I am going for, to make it clear:

This is simply a series of settings to be made, none of which are particularly advanced, but make a great difference.
I should also note that part of the reason I am doing this is that I have an aging Thinkpad which will do a resolution of 1024×768. This is adequate for a lot of things, but it means that an application like Thunderbird looks terrible nowadays, because the text spacing and the huge attachment field leave so little space for the actual message. As you see, this setup allows me to use all the information in the email, and though the font is a little smaller, it still allows for comfortable reading.

None of these concepts depend on each other, so the order is of minor importance. The easiest will probably just be to go through it as the options come in the Preferences panel. In other words, start with going to Configuration > Preferences.

  • Receiving – These are sensible defaults to me, but I ask it to check email every 8 minutes. Obviously you can set this as you prefer. I don’t set it to check mail on startup, because I often just want to find a detail in an email, and the interface will get quite unresponsive when fetching mail. On the other hand, it fetches mail quite quickly compared to other mail clients.
  • Sending – Never get into this much, except I ask it never to send return receipts. I hate people asking me for a receipt.
  • Writing – I keep the default setup.
  • Templates – Ah, now there is something for people to get into. I don’t actually use these – I use a signature, which is defined elsewhere – but you will note the Information button at the bottom, which offers a lot of data that could be entered into a template. I have occasionally fiddled with the reply template, because a well-structured reply makes it pleasant, but – this is up to you. Also, as with many other things, Claws will be able to make a user-input template and include information from external applications – which make the customization options quite extensive.
  • Wrapping – I check them all and have it wrap at 72 characters – for when people have mail clients which will keep you text in one very long line, if you don’t make it wrap. So, that’s a wrap.
  • Spell Checking - Well… I kill it. We have too different vocabularies. Actually, now that I am in the States and almost all my email is in English, I might turn it on, but in Danish, spell checking is cr… unsatisfactory.
  • Text Options – Ah, now we get into the meat of it, visually. A lot of what you can see about the email can be defined here, in “Display headers in message view”. These can be quite extensive. I like to be able to see which client the email came from, for one thing. Here, you can also change the distance between the lines. I leave it at the default two pixels, but when I was using an 800×600 machine, I reduced it. And of course, I make it render HTML as text. While it is possible with one of the Claws Mail plugins – more on those later – to have the client render HTML, that is just so wrong in general, that I like to keep it text; and it does a very good job of extracting the text from the HTML.
  • Image Viewer – I let it show images, and reduce them to make them sensible to look at. I allow printing, since I would never print an email unless the point was to get everything in there. Which happens a couple of times a year, so I don’t lose a lot.
  • External programs – Guess how this works. I have set the very nice medit editor as my default, but I have never actually come across anything that opened in this editor, unless I ask Claws mail to use the external editor to compose emails.
  • Colors – The Color Labels tab is very nice, it allows to set the colors to use, though I usually don’t; I do like the second tab, though, discretely named “Other” – this is where you can set the URL color and, for those who do a lot of newsgroups, colors indicating the quotation level. This can be a powertool for some people.
  • Summaries - This is one of the places where the action is, when it comes to clearing up the interface. You see how there are three columns in Claws’ Folder list on the left? They take up quite a lot of space – but you can do it differently. So under “Display message number next to folder name”, choose “Unread and Total messages” and under “Displayed Columns”, press the “Edit” button. In the interface which comes up, remove all but “Folders” in the “Displayed” column.
    If you press OK at this stage and come back to the Claws interface, you can see how those very space-consuming fields have been replaced with a summary next to the folder name.
    A bit down the page is another thing which makes quite a bit of uncluttering difference: Date Format. It is set to display month, day, year, weekday, hour and minutes. If you take the weekday out here – which you usually won’t need when you go back anyway – you get a bit of extra space. Again, the “Information” button will tell you how to get the info you want shown. I use %d/%m-%y %H:%M – which would be a European notation, Americans would go %m/%d/%y %H:%M – this will will keep it neat.
    Here, you can also select which message lidt columns you would want to show. There is a ‘mark’ column and a ‘status’ column. I like to have these – to see what I have replied, forwarded etc. – but if that makes no difference to you, you can take them out. I usually put in the “Size” field as well, and for some that would be enough of an indicator to take out the “Attachment” field.
  • Fonts – This is the other primary place which makes a big deal. In other clients, it is problematic to get it to reduce all the font sizes in the interface. Here, Claws will let you reduce the font size for Folder & Message lists and the message font itself. One of the main problems in the message list is how the data “sneaks up” on the next column. I set “Folder & Message Lists” to Sans 8 and “Message” to a monospaced font size 9 – monospaced because people sometimes drop in ASCII in the emails, and it will look terrible if the font is not Monospaced. I usually use Liberation for that.
    After doing this, you will probably want to adjust the width of the columns in the message list, but you should be able to get decent spacing.
  • Themes - Here is where you get a major facelift – not so much in functionality, just prettier. You can get other themes on the Themes section of Claws-mail.org – I use the one called “elementary” to get some more contemporary icons. Download the tarball, untar it, press “Install new”, navigate to the theme folder and okay the selection – the theme will be installed. As you select it from the list, press “Use this”, and it will be your default afterwards. You will want to go back to the main screen to see how great a difference this actually makes!
  • Toolbars & Other sections I don’t touch. I don’t remove any of the functions from the toolbars.
  • I do, hovewer, change to icon view. In the main interface, I choose View > Show or Hide > Toolbar > Icons Only. Once more, that gives a bit more space to work with. Here, you can also remove column headings – in case you feel confident that you know that the column list is a column list, the date is the date et cetera. I suspect most people would.
  • There is a search field between the message list and the messages. When you need it, you need it – and it is quite powerful – but when you don’t, you don’t. It can be folded up simply by pressing the folder with the magnifying glass. More space.
  • One last thing, which you may notice, or you may not at first. After a while, the vertical scrollbar in the Folder column started annoying me – it is there regardless of whether it is needed or not. I quickly discovered that the frustration is not uncommon for setup fetichists or people with small screens (or those of us who are both), and that this is possible, though in a bizarrely difficult way (okay, not for BASH monkeys, but considering how many things can be done in the Claws interface, it seems strange that they have not included this).
    It seems one has to edit the settings file of Claws Mail manually. So one has to open ~/.claws-mail/clawsrc for editing and look for the line that says “folderview_vscrollbar_policy=0“. If you change the value to 1, it will automatically resize – and disappear if it is not needed.
    Now, there is one thing to be aware of about this: Claws will save the default setting if you make this change while it is still running! So you will want to shut Claws down, then edit the file. When you open the application again,  the scrollbar should be gone.

So there, a bunch of basic tips there to clean up Claws a bit. After this, it should look better, and all of these changes make it more usable for me.

Just one more thing I do: There is a series of plugins to extend the functionality of Claws – there could be a separate piece on those, except I use only one, and I keep wondering why this one is not included in the Claws Mail main system: The Notification plugin. This plugin will put a small letter icon in the notification area/tray/place where you quick-access stuff which runs in the background; if you right-click this icon, you can instruct it to fetch email or compose an email from an account of You can also instruct it to display a popup using the regular notification sysstem when new emails arrive.

This is what I do to make Claws do what I expect from a mail client. I could also go into the extremely powerful mail filters it has, and how you can use plugins to add GPG, RSS and spam filtering functionality. I may get into that at some point, but for now I will wrap up this article on trimming the Claws.

5 thoughts on “Claws Mail setup

  1. Steven Rosenberg

    Morten, I’ve been using Claws for the first time since I installed the Fedora 13 Xfce spin about a month or so ago. I’d pretty much given up on traditional mail clients, and I haven’t wanted to set up Thunderbird with about 3 GB of mail I probably won’t miss.

    So I’ve been using Claws with IMAP for a couple of small accounts, and so far I really like the speed and basic functionality. Not a bad client at all …

  2. Nathan Smith

    Claws has been my favorite mail reader on Linux for quite some time, though I’ve predominantly been reading mail in a web interface these days. I like your write-up, though.

  3. Curtis

    So I know this article is old, but I just discovered how amazing Arch Linux is and decided to use Claws on a decidedly light system. I am disappointed that I have not discovered this MUA earlier… especially since it is cross-platform. I could have been using this years ago.

    In any case, its mid 2012 and all these tips are still relevant and entirely correct in version 3.8.0.

    Now if only I could figure out a decent way to set up a unified inbox…

  4. mjjzf Post author

    Yes, I do pretty much the same now as when I wrote that article.
    I am keeping an eye on Geary, another nice lightweight mail client intended for Elementary; but for the time being, Claws does what I need it to.

  5. Mark

    Claws is great, but can drive a person crazy. I’m in the 3-pane layout that you use. Even with Clawsker, I can’t determine how to adjust pixel height for the message list pane. Clawsker doesn’t even use the term “message list” in its windows tab. Have you any ideas?

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