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How can I read macOS Unix Mailspool messages (/var/mail/myuser) in Thunderbird for mac?

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  • 1 has this problem
  • Last reply by sfhowes

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I am running Thunderbird 68.8.0 (up to date) on macOS 10.13.6 High Sierra. At the command prompt, when I run the `mail` command, I see email messages. They are stored in `/var/mail/myuser` (where `myuser` is a placeholder for my user ID). I believe this arrangement is known as "Unix mailspool" or "movemail".

How can I get Thunderbird to let me manipulate those messages? I would like to see these messages in Thunderbird alongside my other email queues. I would like to be able to archive those messages out of the mailspool location and into my main email archive folders. I would like to be able to delete the messages from the mailspool location.

There apparently is or was a way to do this in the Linux version of Thunderbird. See <>. Thunderbird -- Tools -- Account Settings -- "Account Actions" menu (in lower left corner) -- "Add Other Account" -- radio button "Unix Mailspool (movemail)". However, in my copy of Thunderbird on macOS, there is no radio button "Unix Mailspool (movemail)".

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Reading that same mozillazine topic, you might be able to create a POP account, then change it to movemail by changing the preference (right-click in Config. editor, Modify) mail.server.server#.type from pop3 to movemail, and adding two preferences, mail.root.movemail, whose value depends on your folder setup, and mail.root.movemail-rel, which appears to have the value [ProfD]Mail. New preferences can be added to Config. editor (in Preferences/Advanced/General) by right-clicking in the editor, New, (in this case) String.

You may have already tried all this, and I admit it's something I've never tested.


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Hello, @sfhowes:

It worked! That is, by reading your message, then the mozillazine topic, then puzzling my way through creation of a POP3 account that doesn't exist, then puzzling my way through the configuration editor, then quitting and restarting Thunderbird, I was able to set up a Thunderbird account which did in fact read the messages in local system's movemail queue.

The next question is, what to do with these messages? I found that I could drag the messages from the inbox of this movemail account into the archives folders which I used for my other mail. I guess Thunderbird takes care of removing the message from the movemail queue and adding it to the archive folder.

A final question is, what happens to new messages which arrive to the movemail queue? I guess I can provoke the system to send some mail there, and see what happens. And, maybe a better solution is to configure sendmail on my local system, so that it can deliver mail on to my main email address, instead of letting them accumulate in the movemail queue. But that will be beyond the scope of Thunderbird.


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I've no experience with movemail, so I can't say what happens for new messages. Maybe you can create a filter that automatically moves or copies them to a subfolder of Local Folders.


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