DIY Gmail With Sup

I’ve been a Gmail user for my entire adult life. Ever since I abandoned my old AOL inbox on the family PC, Gmail has simply been email. I’ve never used folders, only labels. I’ve never deleted old messages to save space, but archived everything. I’ve always expected full-text search, aggressive spam filtering, and continuous access from any device.

As I’ve archived year after year of new messages, I’ve become less comfortable storing my entire indexed email history on someone else’s servers, where they can be scanned and searched at will. And yet in practice , I’ve always traded off privacy against convention and convenience.

In part, this is because it’s long been a discontinuous decision: even a small amount of extra control or privacy required giving up all the modern conveniences of webmail at once. No desktop client came close to the features of Gmail, so I never made the switch. But now that I spend most of my time in a terminal, I’ve finally found a client that provides a pretty good compromise: sup.

Sup is not something I’d set up for my Mom, but Rubyists and Unix geeks will feel right at home. It’s a curses based mail client written in Ruby with excellent full text search out of the box. In addition to offering archiving, labels, and search, it’s built on top of extensible tools like offlineimap, msmtp, and gpg, and scriptable in Ruby.

The official docs are very good (and thus don’t need to be repeated), but these are the sections I found most helpful in order:

For now, sup doesn’t do two-way IMAP syncing, so messages I archive stay on my machine. In my case this is a feature, not a bug: I now have a permanent searchable archive stored locally that won’t change if I delete messages from my Gmail account. I can keep the last few weeks of mail on the Gmail server, accessible from my phone and the web (and seriously, when was the last time you looked at an email more than a month old?), and everything else securely archived on my own drive.

It would be a mistake to consider my sup setup much more private than plain Gmail. My messages still travel across the internet in cleartext and pile up in my correspondents’ inboxes. (Sup integrates nicely with GPG for ad hoc encryption). They’re probably still stored in Google backups and no doubt snarfed and sent off to Bluffdale. I am probably not paranoid enough, but I believe Google’s claims that they really do erase deleted messages, and keeping my own archive raises the cost of compromising or reconstructing my entire history by a little bit, without sacrificing the features I’ve become so dependent upon.