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I want to store e-mails as single files directly in the file system (in directories together with the other files which belong to the same "project").

What I need:

  • the e-mail-files have to be searchable (content of mail full text and also content of attachments, if they exist)
  • platform-independant: the e-mails can be opened in Windows XP (and 7), MacOS X and Linux

Is this possible?

  • Which file format could be used and
  • which applications would be necessary to open/display the e-mail on OS X, Windows or Linux?
  • Can attachments stay within the file and be also searchable by their title and full text content?
  • How could I store/export one or several selected messages from within MS Outlook XP or MS Entourage or Apple Mail (in OS 10.6) in this format at a distinct location on hard disk?

Background of the question:
I'm working on a PC (running Windows XP at the moment, but maybe Windows 7 or Linux soon) and on a Mac (OS X 10.6.8), which are in a LAN. I'm using Entourage 2004 and Outlook XP at the Moment for e-mails, but I'm considering to switch to Apple Mail on the Mac and some free alternative on the PC. E-Mails often belong to a "project" which also has other files and I'd like to have them all in one place instead of having to search for mails in the e-mail client and for other files in the project directory. Another benefit of storing the mails directly in the file system would be to have them available on both computers (while at the moment I can not access all e-mails from both computers as they use different mail accounts).

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Thunderbird should work for you. Its available on all 3 platforms.

You can bulk export to save emails as individual .eml files. (.eml files are searchable on all 3 platforms)

(I am not sure, but i dont think you can save as the current copy in inbox as individual, you probably will have to bulk export the folder)

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Thanks for your answer. So you'd suggest the .EML format? Maybe the wording of my question was not precise enough - I tried to edit it: would attachments be searchable by their full text content in .eml format? I don't want to switch my e-mail application necessarily. – MostlyHarmless Dec 24 '12 at 11:28
yes attachments are searchable – daya Dec 24 '12 at 12:18

You can use getmail to download emails and store them in maildir format, which is basically a file per email in plain text.

A .getmailrc like this one would do what you are after, it will copy every email on your imap server onto your c: drive. if you schedule getmail you can have it backing up your email for searching forever:

type = SimpleIMAPSSLRetriever
server =
username = myusername
password = mypassword
mailboxes = ("INBOX", )

type = Maildir
path = c:\Maildir

You can run getmail on Windows using cygwin.

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Thanks for your answer. I already have thousands of e-mails on my computers in Entourage 2004 and Outlook XP, so I can not download them form the server. Maybe the wording of my question was not precise enough. What happens to attachments? Would they be searchable by their full text content in maildir format? As the mails exist already, I'd need to have a way to export them from within Entourage/AppleMail/Outlook to this format... – MostlyHarmless Dec 24 '12 at 11:30
As you are using Windows Search, then the other answer is probably going to work better, as I understand Windows search can search eml files and their attachments. – Paul Dec 24 '12 at 22:57

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