Future directions for nmh

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Future directions for nmh

Ken Hornstein-2
So, since my simple question about a new release spawned a whole thread
about the future direction of nmh I wanted to create a distinct thread
to discuess those ideas.  If you're interested in commenting on future
ideas for nmh, this is the place to do it.

I am first going on the assumption that completely redoing the email parser
and making all of the nmh tools MIME-aware is a noncontroversial subject.
If you disagree, please speak up.  Also, if you are unclear what exactly
I mean by that, also speak up.

To address other things brought up recently:

1) I do not think converting and storing incoming messages as UTF-8 is wise.
   In terms of just simplicity alone I think messages should be stored
   (somewhere) in their on-the-wire format; this is more robust and
   would prevent loss of mail if there is an issue with character
   conversion at mail incorporation time.  I'm talking about the default
   here; if you want to convert them to some other form using mhfixmsg
   or some yet-written tool, that's your business.

2) Assuming you agree with 1) (I know Lyndon does not :-) ), then I think
   converting stuff internally to UTF-8 before output would not be a net
   gain; it might make some things easier, but I think in general it would
   make things more complex.  The system we have where character conversion
   happens somewhere after parsing and before display, while a bit
   haphazard, seems to be fine in practice, and it's close to what other
   open source MUAs do when I looked at them.  If we were on Plan 9
   then this would be a different decision, but we've heard from enough
   users that do not use UTF-8 locales that makes me think this is a serious
   concern.

3) Like I said, I am officially neutral on creating a grep(1)able mail
   store; I think it's an exercise in futility, but enough people want
   it that it's clearly not something that is worth dismissing.  As
   Jerrad pointed out, you can probably accomplish most of this today
   with his MIME-Hooks.  Do we include that?  If we do not, we should
   put it in contrib if there isn't a good home for it.  Would that
   be sufficient for people that wanted it?  I just don't feel great
   about having the "exploded" message being the canonical format.
   Maybe Paul Vixie is right about me holding onto this idea that nmh
   should keep the original mail store; maybe that's driven by me still
   using exmh.  I'd make the point that at some point we have to process
   a RFC5322-format message for every piece of email, so that code still
   needs to be written regardless of doing anything else.

4) In terms of alternate mail stores, be they Maildir or IMAP (I think
   those are the two major candidates now, right?), I think those ideas
   are interesting.  The #1 problem with those ideas is how to map MH
   message numbers (which can range 1-MAXINT, with holes) to the internal
   key used by those mail stores; everything else is relatively easy
   to deal with.

   For IMAP ... well, it occurs to me that locally you have a database that
   would map message numbers to IMAP UIDs.  This local database could also
   store annotations, sequences, and maybe something else I'm forgetting.
   If you found a message that wasn't in your database, you'd have a new
   message and add it to your local database; if a message was missing,
   you'd have a hole in the message number sequence.  sort(1)/pack(1) would
   really be about shuffling around this list of message numbers.  This
   would have the disadvantage that if you accessed your IMAP store from
   another system you'd have new message numbers, sequences, and annotations,
   but it would be tons better than what we have now (which is that it
   doesn't work at all).  I have some thoughts on how to create a shareable
   database for that stuff in IMAP, but I'd need to include a trigger
   warning for Lyndon so he could start drinking heavily before he
   read it :-)

   For Maildir, a similar idea, except that you could do annontations
   directly in the message.  Really, none of that seems hard to me.
   Maybe some details to work out, but I don't see any major challenges.
   I'd be interested to hear people tell me if I'm wrong, or if they
   have suggestions or better ideas.

--Ken

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Norman Shapiro-3
Ken Hornstein <[hidden email]> writes:

>
>4) In terms of alternate mail stores, be they Maildir or IMAP (I think
>those are the two major candidates now, right?), I think those ideas
>are interesting.  The #1 problem with those ideas is how to map MH
>message numbers (which can range 1-MAXINT, with holes) to the internal
>key used by those mail stores; everything else is relatively easy
>to deal with.

I can't quite tell if by "alternate", you meant optional. I certainly hope
so.

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Ken Hornstein-2
>>4) In terms of alternate mail stores, be they Maildir or IMAP (I think
>>those are the two major candidates now, right?), I think those ideas
>>are interesting.  The #1 problem with those ideas is how to map MH
>>message numbers (which can range 1-MAXINT, with holes) to the internal
>>key used by those mail stores; everything else is relatively easy
>>to deal with.
>
>I can't quite tell if by "alternate", you meant optional. I certainly hope
>so.

I am not proposing that we replace the current MH mailstore with Maildir,
if that's what you mean.  You should still be able to use the traditional
MH mailstore (and we'll keep that the default) for the forseeable future.

I am saying that we have people who want to use the nmh tools with both
IMAP and Maildir mailstores.  So making the nmh tools work with those
mailstores would be useful.

--Ken

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Conrad Hughes
Ken> I am saying that we have people who want to use the nmh tools with both
Ken> IMAP and Maildir mailstores.  So making the nmh tools work with those
Ken> mailstores would be useful.

.. with migration via refile between different store types .. that
sounds cool..

C.

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Andy Bradford-2
In reply to this post by Ken Hornstein-2
Thus said Ken Hornstein on Wed, 09 Mar 2016 10:18:04 -0500:

> 1) I do not think converting and storing incoming messages as UTF-8 is
>    wise. In terms of just simplicity  alone I think messages should be
>    stored (somewhere) in their on-the-wire format;

I too agree with  this position. The email that nmh  writes into my Mail
folder should not differ from the message that my MTA queued on disk.

> 4) In terms of alternate mail stores, be they Maildir or IMAP (I think
>    those  are the  two major  candidates now,  right?), I  think those
>    ideas are  interesting. The #1 problem  with those ideas is  how to
>    map MH  message numbers (which  can range 1-MAXINT, with  holes) to
>    the  internal key  used by  those mail  stores; everything  else is
>    relatively easy to deal with.

What's  wrong with  the  way nmh  does it  today?  Maildir is  certainly
superior for  some of the reasons  detailed below, but nmh's  Mail store
isn't very far off:

http://cr.yp.to/proto/maildir.html

Also, I'm confused why Maildir and  IMAP are both alternate mail stores.
Email is stored  on server in a  Maildir and accessed via  IMAP. I don't
see them as mutually exclusive.

Thanks,

Andy
--
TAI64 timestamp: 4000000056e19411



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Re: Future directions for nmh

Andy Bradford-2
In reply to this post by Ken Hornstein-2
Thus said Ken Hornstein on Wed, 09 Mar 2016 10:44:55 -0500:

> I am  saying that we have  people who want  to use the nmh  tools with
> both IMAP  and Maildir mailstores. So  making the nmh tools  work with
> those mailstores would be useful.

Oh, I misunderstood. So part of my last email is no longer relevant.

Andy
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Re: Future directions for nmh

Paul Vixie-2
In reply to this post by Andy Bradford-2


Andy Bradford wrote:
> What's  wrong with  the  way nmh  does it  today?  Maildir is  certainly
> superior for  some of the reasons  detailed below, but nmh's  Mail store
> isn't very far off:
>
> http://cr.yp.to/proto/maildir.html

some of us have converted to Maildir, but we miss MH's CLI capability.

> Also, I'm confused why Maildir and  IMAP are both alternate mail stores.
> Email is stored  on server in a  Maildir and accessed via  IMAP. I don't
> see them as mutually exclusive.

in IMAP, Maildir is an implementation detail. some IMAP servers use SQL,
BDB, Berkely Mail, or even MMDF format for mail stores. i happen to be
using a Maildir store on Dovecot2, but there are other options.

--
P Vixie

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Jon Steinhart
In reply to this post by Ken Hornstein-2
Howdy.  I want to start by thanking those of you who actually have
time to work on this.  Wish that I had some time to spare.  Here's
my grumpy-don't-break-things opinion.

I support redoing the email parser and making everything MIME-aware.

As you might guess if you've been on this mailing list forever, I'd
really like to see a better user interface for reading attachments.
In short, I'd like to keep track of the "current part", and have
"next part" and "previous part" options to show.  There should be
a flag that allows switching to the next/prev message if next/prev part
runs out of parts.  To me, this would be so much better than having to
do a mhlist and then type part numbers.  I looked at doing this years
ago and got stopped by dealing with the parsing stuff.  There should
also be an option to scan that lists the parts in messages.  So if the
parser is redone maybe it will be done in such a way to support this.

I think that we should keep the mail store as is.  I agree that the MIME
and character set stuff has made it less grep-able than it used to be,
but it's still useful.

I am emboldened by David's posting regarding add-hook, etc.  Didn't know
that anybody actually used that stuff other than me.  The hook stuff was
an expedient hack on my part, and it's not really as robust as it could
be.  I would like to see it made more of an integral part of nmh as
opposed to the add-on hack that I did.

The reason that having a solid hooks implementation is important is that
it allows users to have whatever alternate mail stores suit them without
having to make them part of nmh.

The way that I manage my mail here is to have hooks that mirror my mail
folders in ElasticSearch.  I have some additional commands (gpick/gscan)
that work just like pick/scan but are very fast by comparison.

I wrote a mail parser years ago that makes this work.  It's pretty out of
date now.  It has a feature that would be nice to support, which is that
it allows (in a manner similar to stuff in mh_profile) external helper
programs to be specified so that text can be extracted from non-ASCII
attachments.  For example, it can pipe a PDF attachment through pdftotext.
It also has the ability to control what header fields get indexed.

So I guess my opinion is that improving the parser is a great thing, and
improving the way that external stuff can work with nmh is preferable to
changing the way that nmh works as far as mail directories, etc.  And, of
course, I'd like a better ui for part handling.

Jon

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Paul Vixie-2


Jon Steinhart wrote:
> ...
> I think that we should keep the mail store as is.  I agree that the MIME
> and character set stuff has made it less grep-able than it used to be,
> but it's still useful.

useful for what? i have no remaining use cases of my own.

> I am emboldened by David's posting regarding add-hook, etc.  Didn't know
> that anybody actually used that stuff other than me.  The hook stuff was
> an expedient hack on my part, and it's not really as robust as it could
> be.  I would like to see it made more of an integral part of nmh as
> opposed to the add-on hack that I did.

i love your hooks. used them in mhdb:

http://family.redbarn.org/~vixie/mhdb.shar

> The reason that having a solid hooks implementation is important is that
> it allows users to have whatever alternate mail stores suit them without
> having to make them part of nmh.

my situation is the opposite. i'd like multiple mail store types inside
NMH, or a pluggable hooks-style interface allowing the creation of same,
so that i can use NMH command line tools to attack my Maildir store as
created for me by Dovecot.

a mail store that i can only reach by the command line isn't maximally
useful.

a mail store that i can't reach by the command line isn't maximally
useful, either.

--
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Re: Future directions for nmh

Jon Steinhart
Paul Vixie writes:
> Jon Steinhart wrote:
> > ...
> > I think that we should keep the mail store as is.  I agree that the MIME
> > and character set stuff has made it less grep-able than it used to be,
> > but it's still useful.
>
> useful for what? i have no remaining use cases of my own.

All of the email about which I care has ASCII subject lines.
Also, I often grep for a particular attachment name.
 
> > I am emboldened by David's posting regarding add-hook, etc.  Didn't know
> > that anybody actually used that stuff other than me.  The hook stuff was
> > an expedient hack on my part, and it's not really as robust as it could
> > be.  I would like to see it made more of an integral part of nmh as
> > opposed to the add-on hack that I did.
>
> i love your hooks. used them in mhdb:
>
> http://family.redbarn.org/~vixie/mhdb.shar

Glad to hear it.  Never got any feedback on 'em so it's cool to hear that
people are using them.
 

> > The reason that having a solid hooks implementation is important is that
> > it allows users to have whatever alternate mail stores suit them without
> > having to make them part of nmh.
>
> my situation is the opposite. i'd like multiple mail store types inside
> NMH, or a pluggable hooks-style interface allowing the creation of same,
> so that i can use NMH command line tools to attack my Maildir store as
> created for me by Dovecot.
>
> a mail store that i can only reach by the command line isn't maximally
> useful.
>
> a mail store that i can't reach by the command line isn't maximally
> useful, either.

I'm a bit confused here.  I use nmh because I can reach the command store
via the command line.  What other way is their to use it?  And other
programs can operate on the mail store, which is part of what makes it
great.

Are you saying that you'd like to see the nmh cli abstracted to the point
where it could work on different flavors of mail store?  If so, that seems
like a big change.  Sort of like the hooks, but with a DLL interface
instead of the shell?

Jon

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Paul Vixie-2


Jon Steinhart wrote:
> ...
> Are you saying that you'd like to see the nmh cli abstracted to the point
> where it could work on different flavors of mail store?  If so, that seems
> like a big change.  Sort of like the hooks, but with a DLL interface
> instead of the shell?

yes.

--
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Re: Future directions for nmh

Ken Hornstein-2
In reply to this post by Jon Steinhart
>All of the email about which I care has ASCII subject lines.
>Also, I often grep for a particular attachment name.

Right or wrong, I get subject lines that are encoded using RFC 2047
rules.  I know you think of those as 'foreign languages', but that is
wrong; they are just 'characters'.  Also, if you talk to anyone younger
than 25 you're going to be getting a fair number of emoji.  It's fair to
say that you don't care about that stuff, but I think as younger people
get older they are going to consider things like emoji as 'normal', and
it's something that we have to deal with.  Again, it's fine if you want
to just send and receive email between old farts, but I would kindly
suggest that's not appropriate for everyone.

>Glad to hear it.  Never got any feedback on 'em so it's cool to hear that
>people are using them.

We had a big discussion about them based on Jarrad's work with his
MIME hooks (we had never really laid down how locking was supposed to
work with them).

>I'm a bit confused here.  I use nmh because I can reach the command store
>via the command line.  What other way is their to use it?  And other
>programs can operate on the mail store, which is part of what makes it
>great.

I believe Paul is saying that he wants to have the command-line power of
nmh work on mail stores he shares with other MUAs.  To me, that is
an admirable goal.

It is KIND of true that a subset of MUAs can sort-of operate on a MH
mail store, but that's only true if basically you disregard any sort
of support for sequences and locking.  And I don't see that support
becoming more common, as MH/nmh isn't getting many new adherents because
of (among other things) lousy MIME support.  From where I'm sitting, the
two major mailstores in use today are Maildir and IMAP.  Paul would be
happy with either, since he has access to his IMAP mailserver which
uses Maildir as it's backend storage, but I think it would be great
if we could do both.

I understand this may have no particular interest to you; that is fine,
but in my mind there is a clear need.

--Ken

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Jon Steinhart
In reply to this post by Paul Vixie-2
Paul Vixie writes:
>
> Jon Steinhart wrote:
> > ...
> > Are you saying that you'd like to see the nmh cli abstracted to the point
> > where it could work on different flavors of mail store?  If so, that seems
> > like a big change.  Sort of like the hooks, but with a DLL interface
> > instead of the shell?
>
> yes.

OK.  That's a really cool idea.  One could even contemplate using gmail as a
mail store to make it easier for the NSA to read your mail.  Maybe the hooks
should be replaced by one of the DLLs.  This sounds like a huge change in
the codebase, so hopefully someone is up for it.  Being geezer-ish, I would
like to avoid as much as possible the modern plague of having a program
spend more time loading libraries than doing anything else.  I forsee some
heated API design discussions :-)

Jon

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Ken Hornstein-2
>OK.  That's a really cool idea.  One could even contemplate using gmail as a
>mail store to make it easier for the NSA to read your mail.  Maybe the hooks
>should be replaced by one of the DLLs.  This sounds like a huge change in
>the codebase, so hopefully someone is up for it.  Being geezer-ish, I would
>like to avoid as much as possible the modern plague of having a program
>spend more time loading libraries than doing anything else.  I forsee some
>heated API design discussions :-)

I wasn't actually planning on doing DLLs for that; I mean, I don't see the
point.  I don't forsee people writing third-party plugins for nmh mailstores.
And the API?  Well, I think a significant amount of the details of that
behavior has been hashed out already on the list; not specific function
names and arguments, but a broad brush outline of how to deal with
messages.

--Ken

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Jon Steinhart
In reply to this post by Ken Hornstein-2
Ken Hornstein writes:

> >All of the email about which I care has ASCII subject lines.
> >Also, I often grep for a particular attachment name.
>
> Right or wrong, I get subject lines that are encoded using RFC 2047
> rules.  I know you think of those as 'foreign languages', but that is
> wrong; they are just 'characters'.  Also, if you talk to anyone younger
> than 25 you're going to be getting a fair number of emoji.  It's fair to
> say that you don't care about that stuff, but I think as younger people
> get older they are going to consider things like emoji as 'normal', and
> it's something that we have to deal with.  Again, it's fine if you want
> to just send and receive email between old farts, but I would kindly
> suggest that's not appropriate for everyone.

I do have teenagers.  It's not an issue, because email is a last resort
for them.  Maybe we need support for instagram as a mail store :-)

> >Glad to hear it.  Never got any feedback on 'em so it's cool to hear that
> >people are using them.
>
> We had a big discussion about them based on Jarrad's work with his
> MIME hooks (we had never really laid down how locking was supposed to
> work with them).

Must have missed that.  But in any case, it sounds like it supports my
request that the hooks be made more robust.
 
> >I'm a bit confused here.  I use nmh because I can reach the command store
> >via the command line.  What other way is their to use it?  And other
> >programs can operate on the mail store, which is part of what makes it
> >great.
>
> I believe Paul is saying that he wants to have the command-line power of
> nmh work on mail stores he shares with other MUAs.  To me, that is
> an admirable goal.

Yes, I get it now that Paul has clarified it.

> It is KIND of true that a subset of MUAs can sort-of operate on a MH
> mail store, but that's only true if basically you disregard any sort
> of support for sequences and locking.  And I don't see that support
> becoming more common, as MH/nmh isn't getting many new adherents because
> of (among other things) lousy MIME support.  From where I'm sitting, the
> two major mailstores in use today are Maildir and IMAP.  Paul would be
> happy with either, since he has access to his IMAP mailserver which
> uses Maildir as it's backend storage, but I think it would be great
> if we could do both.
>
> I understand this may have no particular interest to you; that is fine,
> but in my mind there is a clear need.

No problem.  I was just stating what I'd like.  The only time that I'm
likely to object to something that someone else wants is when it breaks
things.

Jon

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Paul Vixie-2
In reply to this post by Jon Steinhart


Jon Steinhart wrote:
> OK.  That's a really cool idea.  One could even contemplate using gmail as a
> mail store to make it easier for the NSA to read your mail.  Maybe the hooks
> should be replaced by one of the DLLs.  This sounds like a huge change in
> the codebase, so hopefully someone is up for it.  Being geezer-ish, I would
> like to avoid as much as possible the modern plague of having a program
> spend more time loading libraries than doing anything else.  I forsee some
> heated API design discussions :-)

i believe that the gnu team has an MH-like tool set that's designed this
way. if so then we might just tell people like me to go use that.

--
P Vixie

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Ken Hornstein-2
>i believe that the gnu team has an MH-like tool set that's designed this
>way. if so then we might just tell people like me to go use that.

If you're talking about GNU mailutils, then yes.  I mean, it does
include a MH-compatibility layer and works with IMAP; I do not know how
full-featured it is.  I do know that the major target of that is MH-E.
I'd still rather bring us up to snuff.

--Ken

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Paul Vixie-2


Ken Hornstein wrote:
>> i believe that the gnu team has an MH-like tool set that's designed this
>> way. if so then we might just tell people like me to go use that.
>
> If you're talking about GNU mailutils, then yes.  I mean, it does
> include a MH-compatibility layer and works with IMAP; I do not know how
> full-featured it is.  I do know that the major target of that is MH-E.
> I'd still rather bring us up to snuff.

well, since it's from the era i grew up in, i'd likewise rather bring
nmh up to snuff. sign me up for difficult api discussions,
implementation, and testing.

--
P Vixie

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Laura Creighton
In reply to this post by Jon Steinhart
I'd just like to mention that I am still getting lots of use out of
the mh mail storage.  A lot of the mail that I receive is code checkins.
Perhaps when everybody on the planet has moved all of their code to
github (as seems to be happening whenever I turn around) I won't need
my tools to find out exactly who made the checkin that makes the tests
fail, but I would be seriously inconvenienced if mh directory mail store
went away.

Laura

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Re: Future directions for nmh

Ken Hornstein-2
In reply to this post by Jon Steinhart
>As you might guess if you've been on this mailing list forever, I'd
>really like to see a better user interface for reading attachments.
>In short, I'd like to keep track of the "current part", and have
>"next part" and "previous part" options to show.  There should be
>a flag that allows switching to the next/prev message if next/prev part
>runs out of parts.  To me, this would be so much better than having to
>do a mhlist and then type part numbers.  I looked at doing this years
>ago and got stopped by dealing with the parsing stuff.  There should
>also be an option to scan that lists the parts in messages.  So if the
>parser is redone maybe it will be done in such a way to support this.

So I think those things would be possible.  The current thinking is that
the message parser would be 'lazy', in that any time a message is opened
you're going to get the complete headers, and then parse the body if you
ask for it via the API.  I'm not convinced 'scan' is the right tool to
list message parts; we'd have to think about how that would work.  I would
also caution you that to completely parse a message's MIME structure you
need to read the whole thing; maybe this wouldn't be so bad on IMAP since
you could simply ask the IMAP server for the message's MIME structure
(hopefully once it built the structure it would be cached on the server).
My point is that you had a scan format that showed MIME structure, the
performance would probably be significantly impacted.

But I have to ask about the idea of going from one MIME part to another;
do you really want to do that?  I can only go on how I interact with
messages; almost always, I want to read the text part, and then interact
in some other way with non-text parts (generally save them or open them
with another tool).  'Stepping' through MIME parts is just not something
that makes sense to me.  Sure, I want to make it as flexible as possible
and just because something doesn't make sense to me doesn't mean it shouldn't
be possible!  But I do want to understand the usage case completely.  It
occurs to me that if we do it right we could make it easy to accomplish
this via scripts, which strikes me as more of the 'MH way' (basically,
provide the tools to interrogate the MIME structure of a message and then
go to the "next" MIME part).

>I am emboldened by David's posting regarding add-hook, etc.  Didn't know
>that anybody actually used that stuff other than me.  The hook stuff was
>an expedient hack on my part, and it's not really as robust as it could
>be.  I would like to see it made more of an integral part of nmh as
>opposed to the add-on hack that I did.

Well ... do you have any thoughts there?  I mean, seems like it's integrated
pretty well now.  Probably the two things that are lacking is a man page
and tests for the test suite (more people might know about it if the
various commands had pointers saying which hooks were invoked).

The bottom line is that all of this is a large amount to bite off at once.
My first thought is to do the MIME parser, but keep the rest of everything
as close to the same as possible.  Then we can talk about different mailstores

--Ken

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