getmail documentation

This is the documentation for getmail version 5. Version 5 includes numerous changes from version 3.x; if you are using getmail version 3, please refer to the documentation included with that version of the software.

getmail is Copyright © 1998-2021 Charles Cazabon. <charlesc-getmail @>

getmail is licensed under the GNU General Public License version 2 (only). If you wish to obtain a license to distribute getmail under other terms, please contact me directly.

Note that this license allows you to "fork" getmail. If you do so, please follow open-source/free-software best practices and rename your fork so the package name and executable name do not contain the word "getmail" or anything confusing similar. This helps prevent users mistakenly contacting the wrong people for help. The fork must also remain under the GPLv2 license, and must preserve all existing copyright notices in the code and documentation.

Table of Contents


getmail is a mail retriever designed to allow you to get your mail from one or more mail accounts on various mail servers to your local machine for reading with a minimum of fuss. getmail is designed to be secure, flexible, reliable, and easy-to-use. getmail is designed to replace other mail retrievers such as fetchmail.

getmail version 5 includes the following features:

Differences from previous versions

getmail version 4/5 has been completely rewritten. It is designed to closely mimic the interface and user experience of getmail version 3, but the new architecture necessitates some differences you will notice:

A note on Python 3 compatibility

getmail currently requires Python version 2.x, and is not currently compatible with Python 3. Various Linux/etc distributions have removed Python 2 from their distributions, or disabled it by default, because Python 2 has reached end-of-support.

Using Python 2 with getmail does not constitute a security risk.

To use Python 2.7 with a Linux/etc distribution which has disabled or removed Python 2, you will need to install it using one of these methods:

What about a native Python 3 version?

People ask why getmail isn't already Python 3 compatible. Partly it's because converting it will almost certainly break compatibility with Python 2, which is still in wide use in network appliances and other embedded systems where Python 3 may not be available.

There is also the issue that doing a proper Python 3 conversion of getmail will be a significant amount of work. There is an automated "2to3" converter, but it cannot make all the necessary changes, so there is still a lot of manual fixups to make afterwards, and it results in ugly, hard-to-maintain code. Doing a proper conversion is on my list of things to do - it will be more of a rewrite, leaving getmail v5 around for legacy systems, and cleaning up much of the historical baggage getmail has accumulated over the last 23 years. But the time I have available for Free Software these days is a lot less than it was 23 years ago, so it will be a while before this is complete and ready for use.

What about this "getmail6" version? I heard it supports Python 3?

"getmail6" isn't getmail. I have nothing to do with it, by the choice of its maintainer. In its current state as of this writing, it is actually not in compliance with the GNU GPLv2 license, and is therefore not even legal to distribute.

It's a presumably-hostile fork that someone else did. They ran getmail through the automated 2-to-3 converter program as described above, and then started hacking in fixes until it would run under Python 3. They have not done a good job of this; I started receiving a lot of bug reports and help requests from users who were running this version. Those bugs indicate, among other things, that this maintainer did not properly handle text/unicode vs bytes issues in the conversion. I have no confidence that they have fixed all of the bugs they introduced when they did this conversion. It's possible it corrupts or loses mail, or is otherwise somehow disastrously buggy, and I do not recommend its use by anyone.

Why do I say it's a "hostile" fork? Because I have communicated with the maintainer and indicated I would be thrilled to accept their changes bringing Python 3 compatibility, as long as they were in reviewable condition, so that I could be sure I wasn't introducing bugs into getmail when I merged their changes.

I also asked, nicely, for them to change the name of their fork to something other than "getmail", as that is the polite, best-practice thing to do when forking a Free Software project.

That maintainer has shown precisely zero interest in submitting his changes for me to merge into getmail; he literally ignores every question/request I have made on the subject. On the name change, he outright refuses and claims he has the right to use my project name as much as I do, which is ... distinctly unfriendly. So people run into problems with "getmail6", and they think it's an official version of getmail from me, and that it is buggy, and they seek help from me or the getmail users' mailing list.

Unfortunately, some Linux distributions have dropped getmail packages and included "getmail6" packages when they deprecated Python 2.7 and stopped installing it by default. So some users have had getmail replaced out from underneath them without even a notice or warning; they don't even know they're now running "getmail6" instead of getmail. So I've spent a lot of time walking people through problems and bug reports, only to find later that they're not actually running getmail, and the problem is in this other package.

Debian has apparently agreed to remove the "getmail6" package, and it should happen soon. I originally suggested they keep distributing it, but simply rename the package and executable, given that its maintainer outright refuses to do so. But apparently they'd rather drop it.

I have not yet made the effort to find all distributions that have silently "upgraded" users from getmail to "getmail6". If any getmail users would care to discuss this issue with their distribution's maintainers, I would be happy to participate in the discussion.


getmail version 5 requires Python version 2.3.3 or later. If you have only an earlier version of Python available, you can install the latest version without disturbing your current version, or use getmail version 3, which requires only Python version 1.5.2 or later.

At the time of this writing, the current stable version of Python is 2.3.4. You can download that version from the page at . Binary packages are available for RPM-based Linux systems, or building Python from source is typically as easy as unpacking the source tarball, and running the following commands:

make install

Since the above was written, Python 2.4 has been released. getmail 5 will work with that version of Python as well.

getmail 5 also requires that servers uniquely identify the messages they provide (via the UIDL command) to getmail for full functionality. Certain very old or broken POP3 servers may not be capable of this (I have had only one report of such problems from among the tens of thousands of people who have downloaded getmail 5 from my website and from other archives), or may not implement the UIDL command at all, and limited support is available for such servers via the BrokenUIDLPOP3Retriever and BrokenUIDLPOP3SSLRetriever retriever classes.

Obtaining getmail

Download getmail 5 from the official website main page at .

Installing getmail

For the impatient

Installing getmail is very easy; just download the tarball distribution, unpack it, change into the directory it unpacks into, and run this command:

$ python install

That's all there is to it. 99.9% of users don't need a special package/port/etc. If you'd like more details on install options, keep reading.

Full installation instructions

Once you have downloaded or otherwise obtained getmail, unpack it. On GNU-ish Unix-like systems, this means:

$ tar xzf getmail-version.tar.gz

On Macintosh systems, use a Zip-type archiver program to unpack the tarball.

On SystemV-like Unix systems, you may instead need to break this down into two steps:

$ gunzip getmail-version.tar.gz
$ tar xf getmail-version.tar

Then, change into the extracted getmail directory and start the build process. The easiest installation method is to use the included Python distutils script to build and install getmail directly. Alternatively, you can build a binary package (i.e., an RPM or similar managed software package) for your system from the source package and install the resulting package, but the Python distutils support for this is spotty at present.

Installing from the RPM

If you downloaded the RPM, you should be able to install it with the following command:

$ rpm -ihv getmail-version-release.noarch.rpm

Installing directly from the source

To build and install directly from the included source, follow these steps.

$ cd getmail-version
$ python build

When that completes in a few seconds, become root and then install the software. You can install in the default location, or specify an alternate location to install the software, or specify alternate directories for only part of the package.

Installing in the default location

To install in the default location, become user root and install with the following commands:

$ su
enter root password
# python install

This will, by default, install files into subdirectories under the directory prefix, which is the directory that your Python installation was configured to install under (typically /usr/local/ or /usr/, but other values are sometimes used):

You can see a list of the default installation locations by running:

# python install --show-default-install-dirs

Installing under an alternate prefix directory

You can specify an alternate prefix directory by supplying the --prefix option to the install command, like this:

# python install --prefix=path

This will install the various parts of the package in subdirectories like in the default installation (see the section Installing in the default location above), but under your specified prefix directory. These alternate installations allow you to install the software without root privileges (say, by installing under $HOME/). Note, however, that the getmailcore package will not be in the default Python module search path if you do this; see the section Installing the getmailcore package in a non-standard location if you use this option.

Installing parts of the package to alternate directories

If you only want to change the directory for some of the components, use the following options:

For example, if your Python installation is located under /usr/ because it was installed as part of your OS, but you would like the getmail scripts installed into /usr/local/bin/ instead of /usr/bin/, while still letting the getmailcore package be installed under /usr/lib/python-python-version/site-packages/, and the documentation and man pages under /usr/doc/ and /usr/man/ you could use this command to install:

# python --install-scripts=/usr/local/bin/

If you also wanted to locate the documentation and man pages under /usr/local/ but still install the getmailcore package in the default /usr/lib/python-python-version/site-packages/, you would instead use this command to install:

# python --install-scripts=/usr/local/bin/ --install-data=/usr/local/

Installing the getmailcore package in a non-standard location

Note: if you use one of the above methods to install the getmailcore package into a directory other than the default, the four scripts (getmail, getmail_fetch, getmail_maildir, and getmail_mbox) will almost certainly be unable to locate the required files from the getmailcore package, because they will not be in a directory in the standard Python module search path. You will need to do one of the following to make those files available to the scripts:

Building a binary package from the source

To build a binary package from the included source, run the following command from inside the unpacked getmail source.

$ cd getmail-version
$ python bdist --format=package-format

The useful allowed values for package-format are:

Ideally, if you use this method, it will result in a "built distribution" binary package in a subdirectory named dist which can then be installed using the appropriate system-specific tool. If you have problems with this process, please do not ask me for assistance; ask your OS vendor or the comp.lang.python newsgroup. The install-directory-from-source process above is the only one I can support, and it should work on all platforms.

You can discuss issues with building binary packages on the getmail users' mailing list.

getmail mailing lists

getmail-users' mailing list

A mailing list has been set up to discuss getmail. Only subscribers may post to the list.

The list is available for free getmail support from me and other users, for discussions of bugs, configuration issues, documentation, and other technical issues related to getmail.

How to subscribe

To subscribe to the list, send a blank email to <getmail-subscribe @> and follow the instructions in the message you receive. Read and save the "welcome" message you receive when you subscribe; it contains valuable instructions about how to use the list.

How to unsubscribe

To un-subscribe from the list, send a blank email from the same address you subscribed with to <getmail-unsubscribe @> and follow the instructions in the message you receive.

How to post

Once you have subscribed to the list, you may post messages to the list by sending them to <getmail @>. Complete instructions for using the list are sent to you when you subscribe.

The list allows plaintext message bodies and plaintext attachments. Do not attempt to send binary files (gzip, etc), HTML, or other types, as they will be stripped from your message.

Note: please ensure you have read the documentation and Frequently Asked Questions, and browsed/searched the mailing list archives before posting a question to the mailing list.

Archives of the getmail-users' mailing list

There are browsable archives of the list at and . The GMANE getmail users' archive is also available via NNTP if you prefer to read it with a newsreader, rather than a web browser.

Notes on the getmail-users' mailing list

When subscribing to the getmail users' mailing list, please note the following:

Announcements List

If you only want to be notified of new releases of getmail, an announce-only list has been set up. The list is very low-volume; you can expect to receive only a small number of messages per month.

All announcements are sent to both lists, so there is no need to subscribe to the announcements list if you are on the discussion list.

How to subscribe

To subscribe to the list, send a blank email to <getmail-announce-subscribe @> and follow the instructions in the message you receive. Read and save the "welcome" message you receive when you subscribe; it contains valuable instructions about how to use the list.

How to unsubscribe

To un-subscribe from the list, send a blank email from the same address you subscribed with to <getmail-announce-unsubscribe @> and follow the instructions in the message you receive.

How to post

You cannot post messages directly to the announcements list. If you feel you have an announcement regarding getmail which should be distributed, send it to me and request that I send it to the announcements list.

Archives of the getmail announcements mailing list

There is an archive of the announcements list at . The GMANE getmail announcements archive is also available via NNTP if you prefer to read it with a newsreader, rather than a web browser.