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A personal, threaded, search-centric email server.

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Heliotrope is a personal email server. It provides all the functionality you want in a modern email client:

  • proper message threading
  • labels
  • fast, full-text search over all messages with a complete query language
  • support for signed and encrypted email
  • an extensible JSON-over-HTTP API

Heliotrope is a backend service against which email clients / MUAs can be written. To use it, you must use a client. For an example client, see Turnsole:


Because IMAP is terrible and you want all those features listed above.


Heliotrope is written in a mixture of Ruby and C. You will need a working C compiler, and a modern Ruby. 1.8.7 or 1.9.2 are good choices. Ruby 1.9.2 will give you better performance and better i18n support.

Heliotrope uses html2text to generate text from HTML attachments. You will need this or some reasonable alternative.


  1. Find your happy place.
  2. Install html2text. On Debian-based Linux distros, it's
    install html2text
    . On OS X,
    port install html2text
    brew install
    have both been known to work.
  3. Install a modern Ruby. I recommend 1.9.3. On Debian-based Linux distros, you can try the ruby1.9.1 package. You can also download and compile it from For Debian-based Linux distros, make sure you have the libreadline-dev and zlib1g-dev packages installed.
  4. Run
    gem install trollop whistlepig rest-client sinatra rmail leveldb-ruby locale lrucache curb


Once Heliotrope is more stable, you will be able to install it via rubygems. For you, you should run this:

git clone


Decide where you want to store everything. Call this directory . Now run

ruby -Ilib bin/heliotrope-server -d 

Heliotrope exposes a simple debugging HTML interface. If you point your browser to http://localhost:8042/, you should see your empty mailstore. Congrats! You're running Heliotrope.


To bulk import mail, use heltrope-import. You must stop your server first.

To add a pre-existing mbox: ruby -Ilib bin/heliotrope-import -m -d

To add a pre-existing maildir: ruby -Ilib bin/heliotrope-import -a -d

To add a pre-existing Gmail account: ruby -Ilib bin/heliotrope-import -g -d

To add a pre-existing, non-Gmail IMAP account: ruby -Ilib bin/heliotrope-import -i -d

For testing purposes, you may want to limit the number of emails added by using the --num-messages option. If you additionally use the --state-file option to save state, successive invocations of heliotrope-import will resume where the stopped.

After import, start the server again. You should see stuff at http://localhost:8042/.

For a full client, see


Once the server is running, you can use heliotrope-add to add individual emails as they arrive. Unlike heliotrope-import, heliotrope-add talks to your running server.

To add a single email: cat email.txt | ruby -Ilib bin/heliotrope-add

To add messages from existing GMail, IMAP, mbox or maildir sources, use the same arguments as to heliotrope-import above. Note that if you specify --state-file, every run of heliotrope-add will pull in any new messages from the source. This makes it easy to mirror an existing account.

For example, the following bash script:

while true; do ruby -Ilib bin/heliotrope-import -g -d sleep 300 done

will mirror mail from a GMail account into Heliotrope with a 5-minute poll time.


Heliotrope features an complete JSON-over-HTTP API. Documentation coming soon! For now, you can reverse engineer lib/heliotrope-client.rb.

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