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Gnus 5.11 under GNU Emacs and Fedora Linux
Developer(s) Kyle Jones, Wonderworks
Stable release
8.1.1 (April 25, 2010; 7 years ago (2010-04-25)) [±]
Operating system Cross-platform
Type E-mail client
License GPL

VM (short for 'View Mail') is an email client running under GNU Emacs and XEmacs. It supports reading and composing e-mail. It was created by Kyle Jones starting in 1989 and distributed as the recommended email client of XEmacs. It provides multiple mail folders as well as powerful virtual folders, and has facilities for sorting and filtering e-mail. Being part of the Emacs environment, it can be interfaced to a variety of other tools that run under Emacs, including address book look-up, spam filtering, searching etc.


Some VM features:

  • supports the storage of email in multiple mail folders, which can be in Emacs Babyl format or in one of Unix mbox formats.
  • powerful virtual folder facility, by which multiple folders can be combined into one or messages can be filtered using a variety of criteria.
  • ability to inter-operate with other email clients such as Thunderbird.
  • comprehensive support for MIME messages.
  • sophisticated handling of attachments.
  • mail download as well as remote handling of folders on POP and IMAP mail servers.
  • ability to filter incoming mail into multiple folders as well as to archive mail in multiple folders.
  • ability to manage multiple mail identities (using the "VM-Pcrisis" package).
  • powerful customization features, through hooks, plug-ins and scripts.
  • ability to interface to other tools in Emacs and the operating system.

VM interacts with a number of other tools in the Emacs and Unix to provide a rich set of functions for email reading and composition:

  • Emacs/W3M, a web browser in Emacs, is used to display HTML messages.
  • BBDB, an address book application in Emacs, is used to automatically record email addresses and recall them during message composition.
  • Org-mode, a personal information manager in Emacs, is used to track calendar and to-do lists. Its structure-editing facilities can also be used to compose formatted messages.
  • PGG, a Gnu Privacy Guard library in Emacs, is used to sign or encrypt email messages.
  • The ability of Emacs to invoke external programs as subprocesses is used to run Bayesian spam filters such as SpamAssassin.
  • Unix tools like grepmail and Mairix are used to search in large repositories of mail folders with results displayed in VM.

The composition of HTML email messages (as users of more WYSIWYG editors may be used to) is not included by default. However, Org-mode is used to compose structured messages which are converted to HTML format for transmission.


VM was developed by Kyle Jones starting in the spring of 1989. The main motivation was to have a mail client working in Emacs which was able to handle mail stored in the Unix mbox format. (The RMAIL mail client provided with Emacs stored mail in a proprietary Babyl format.) VM handled mail stored in both the formats and, over time, developed the capability to handle other formats as well.

The first public release of VM was Version 4.10, released on May 23, 1989. Virtual folders were implemented in version 5.09, released in early 1991. POP servers were supported in version 5.36 (Dec 14, 1993) and IMAP servers in version 6.54 (July 13, 1998). However, the early support for the mail servers was only for message downloading. The interactive support for IMAP mail folders began in version 7.16 (May 26, 2003).

XEmacs distributed VM as its recommended mail client, starting with version 19.9. Gnu Emacs never distributed it, partly because it had its own RMAIL client and partly because it had the policy of distributing only software copyrighted by the Free Software Foundation.

Following vigorous activity till 2003, Kyle Jones's involvement with the development of VM declined. Robert Widhopf-Fenk maintained an unofficial fork of VM, dubbed 'VMRF', from around this time, and took over the main line of VM from Kyle Jones in 2007. He released Version 8.0.0 on May 31, 2007, and other releases of 8.0.x series followed. Currently, the maintenance of VM is handled by a 'VM development team' consisting of Robert Widhopf-Fenk, Ulrich Mueller and Uday S Reddy.

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