Articles / Sup: Gmail Meets the Consol…

Sup: Gmail Meets the Console

By now, most of us have received rather a large amount of email in the course of our net.lives. The packrats among us have kept rather a large amount of that large amount, and have occasionally been vindicated by the ability to pull out a 1991 message to prove who really suggested that trip to the cineplex to see "Cool as Ice". But how many failed attempts have we made to organize these decades of data?

The history of email entropy

Like many people who went online in the early 90s, I managed my first email account with my University's default Mail User Agent, Pine. As I amassed an unmanageable inbox, Pine was ready with the great temptation: Take the messages you want to keep and save them in separate files.

Yielding to this great temptation is the beginning of the great madness, years of refining your system of organization, setting up directories, moving messages around, staring into space trying to remember whether the pie recipe is under food, family/aunt_sarah, or things_to_try, trying search systems and mboxgrep scripts, symlinking files that belong in two or more categories, finding years-old files with twenty messages and all the similar ones under some other name you thought up later.

Gmail was a revelation to many. It said, "Computers are good enough to do the work for you now. Just dump everything in a big box. When you want to find something, let the computer search for it."

For many, this is enough, and a welcome outsourcing relief. Others need to be able to read and compose messages while offline, want to work only with their own locally-stored mail collection, or have other reasons for wanting to do it themselves.

Enter Sup

Sup (pronounced "'sup?") fills the gap, incorporating some of Gmail's best features into a console MUA. It presents a unified view of mail from multiple sources, with the capacity to poll mbox files, IMAP folders, POP accounts, and Maildir directories. Once the day's feast has been gathered, messages are grouped into threads by message-id references and, optionally, subject lines. Opening a thread, you can alternate between views of new messages and all messages, with indentation making it easy to follow the conversation. Headers and quoted lines are collapsed by default for quick reading.

Sup displaying a thread

Most actions can be performed on entire threads instead of individual messages, letting you quickly dispatch large chunks of your inbox. As in Gmail, threads can be starred or given any number of labels prior to archiving, pleasing all GTD practitioners.

In addition to recalling messages by their labels, you can make fast and flexible searches on your archive with the Ferret engine.

Results of a search

An addressbook is automatically created from the list of people you've contacted.

Another Google Connection

Sup uses The Google's favorite word -- Beta -- and means it. It's a fast-moving target, with some features missing and others in flux. If you decide to try it, I strongly recommend installing the latest Subversion update and subscribing to the mailing list. In several months of use, it's caused no harm to my mail sources (by default, it even maintains its own state and treats sources as read-only), though it had some bumps in the early days that made me rebuild its index a few times. Treat it carefully and make a regular backup of its index with the provided script.

Also, note that Sup is, to some extent, more a small toolkit than a single executable, and you can use the scripts in bin/ to add new sources and update existing ones based on what's happening. I like this aspect of it, and my Sup wrapper script has developed to perform several email-related tasks in addition to preparing sources for Sup, running it, and cleaning up after it.


I've seen a marked improvement in the speed and ease with which I process my mail with Sup. I let the mail pile up, then Sup lets me dump it all in a single inbox and fly through it with thread-based commands. It's not as customizable as Mutt, but that's been an advantage. I find the defaults reasonable and don't spend time tweaking a hundred settings.

I believe it's on track to remain my next step in email handling. If the Gmail approach appeals to you, it may be yours as well.

Recent comments

05 Jan 2011 22:01 Avatar mishamadison

Sup is a neat little gizmo. It's crazy how much madness can ensue when you get on vacation. If I'm not there tending the inbox, all hell breaks loose. I'm not kidding..

27 Jan 2008 08:23 Avatar jamesgober

Very good article!
This article inspired me to register and bookmark this site, which is normally rare.. Very good read Thank you!

27 Jan 2008 01:45 Avatar Osirion

Sup vs Mutt
I used to use Mutt but after reading this Im thinking of swapping over to Sup :) Thanks!

24 Jan 2008 10:23 Avatar Villa

Got it installed and it works great....

Vacation rentals Linux users welcome!

02 Nov 2007 12:43 Avatar porkrind

Re: ugh... how do you run it???


> Did you at least find the folder?

Ah, I did find it. In Ubuntu, it ends up in /var/lib/gems/1.8/bin


Project Spotlight

Kigo Video Converter Ultimate for Mac

A tool for converting and editing videos.


Project Spotlight


An efficient tagger for MP3, Ogg/Vorbis, and FLAC files.