Many Linux systems store mail for users in /var/mail. Is there some way I can fetch that mail using my preferred email client?

(I use Apple Mail on OS X Lion, but if there's way to do this that works for most clients, please post that—it'll be useful to more people. ^^ )


You haven't told us what your preferred email client is! So there is a limit to what can be answerered.

There is a good answer for Thunderbird in AskUbuntu: https://askubuntu.com/questions/1916/how-can-i-access-system-mail-in-var-mail-via-thunderbird.

Basically, Thunderbird supports /var/mail directly and you can add a folder there as a "Unix Mailspool" when adding a new account.

If you use a different client, let us know so that we can provide a better answer. Please also tell us what OS/Distro you are using.

UPDATE: As mentioned in the comments. The files in /var/mail generally use the MBox format which may help others find suitable clients for their platform that can read them.

Also, as mentioned below, the alternative way to make the mailboxes available to any mail client is to run a mail server such as Dovecot or Courier which will present the files using a standard protocol such as IMAP or POP3.

UPDATE2: @blacklight-shining has updated me and said that there are 1/2 dozen boxes that need monitoring so I've recommended that the best way forward is to use SSHFS (and FUSE for better integration) on one of the boxes to make the folders from the other boxes available in a single place. Then, on that single box (a Debian server), to run up a Dovecot server with just IMAPS (IMAP4 over SSL). No SMTP server is needed as there is no need to send mail only to access the mailboxes which are recieving system mail.

  • I use Apple Mail on OS X Lion. I didn't think that was too relevant, and was asking more in general how to do that so this would be useful to more people. – Blacklight Shining Jul 10 '12 at 9:17
  • Well, it is certainly relevant to a useful answer since Apple Mail is no longer able to access the MBox format mail files found in /var/mail. The generic answer is to use a mail client that does support MBox format files read directly from the file system - such as Thunderbird (cross-platform GUI) or Mutt (command line). – Julian Knight Jul 10 '12 at 14:32
  • The other alternative is to set up a mail server on the Linux machine that reads MBox format mail stores and presents them using a standard protocol such as IMAP or POP3. Something like the popular [Dovecot](dovecot.org) server that I use on my VPS. – Julian Knight Jul 10 '12 at 14:34
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    Since few version, Thunderbird OSX don't include "Unix Mailspool" account type. The workaround it get the file movemail.rdf and install it in Thunderbird.app/Contents/MacOS/isp. Then follow instructions given in Julian Knight's link – mems Feb 4 '14 at 11:25

There are some other options like: https://github.com/elFua/cutepiesmtp#download

You can also try: https://commons.lbl.gov/display/~jwelcher@lbl.gov/Reading+an+mbox+file+with+Thunderbird

That works on Linux, on Mac I wasn't able to get mail to refresh.

One that allows you to reply is alpine, which you can install with:

brew install alpine

Another one is mutt:

brew install mutt

then run with

mutt -f /var/mail/[your_username]

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