Emacs tools and glue for working with public-inbox archives

Table of Contents

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This manual is for piem version 0.2.0.

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1 Overview

piem is a collection of Emacs libraries for working with public-inbox archives. As much of the hard work here is already done by other Emacs libraries—things like mail clients, news readers, Git interfaces, and even web browsers—piem is mostly about bridging some of these parts for convenience.

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1.1 public-inbox

public-inbox is software for archiving public mailing lists. Archives can be exposed over HTTP. As examples, https://public-inbox.org/meta serves public-inbox’s own mailing list, and https://lore.kernel.org/lists.html hosts the archives of many Linux development mailing lists.

These web archives are good for searching, particularly if you don’t have all of the list’s messages on your local machine, or for linking to a message. On the other hand, the web interface isn’t convenient when you want to follow new activity on a list. To do that, you could of course subscribe to the mailing list, but public-inbox offers a few “pull methods” that you can use instead:

Finally, archives are exposed as one or more Git repositories, facilitating replication (see https://public-inbox.org/reproducibility.html). For example, you can clone the mailing list archives of ‘git.vger.kernel.org’ with

git clone --mirror https://lore.kernel.org/git/0 git/git/0.git

After the initial clone, new messages can be retrieved with git fetch. Unsurprisingly git log is not a pleasant way to read a mailing list; instead this method is useful for mirroring the archive or bulk importing of the messages. (See https://public-inbox.org/clients.html for a list of some tools designed to work with public-inbox archives.)

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2 Getting started

piem-dispatch transient (see https://magit.vc/manual/transient/ ) provides an entry point to piem commands. It’s recommended to bind piem-dispatch to a key. However, before most of those commands do anything useful, you need to register inboxes and activate at least one minor mode.

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2.1 Registering inboxes

A public-inbox archive, referred to as an inbox, is registered by adding an entry to piem-inboxes. Here’s an example entry for the Git project’s mailing list:

 :url "https://lore.kernel.org/git/"
 :address "git@vger.kernel.org"
 :listid "git.vger.kernel.org"
 :coderepo "~/src/git/")

The first element is a name for the inbox and will typically match the name at the end of the :url value. Specifying either :listid or :address is important so that a message in a buffer can be mapped to an inbox in piem-inboxes.

:coderepo points to a local Git repository that contains code related to that archive (in the example above, a local clone of https://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/git/git.git/). This information is required to apply patches from an archive to a local code repository (see Applying patches).

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2.2 Enabling integration libraries

With inboxes defined, the next step is to enable minor modes that teach particular Emacs modes to link a buffer with a registered inbox. piem currently has libraries to support

For example, if you use notmuch.el to read your mail, you can add support for applying patches from a Notmuch message buffer by enabling piem-notmuch-mode (see Applying patches):

(piem-notmuch-mode 1)

Help adding support for other modes, especially other mail clients, is welcome.

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3 Applying patches

With piem-inboxes configured and appropriate integration libraries enabled, a buffer that can be linked to an inbox can be mapped to a code repository. When reading a message in a notmuch-show-mode buffer, for example, the list ID can be used to identify the inbox and thus the associated local code repository.

There are two commands for applying patches:


This command tries to extract a patch from the current Notmuch or Gnus message buffer and can handle an inline patch as well as one or more patch attachments.


This command relies on the b4 command-line tool to do more sophisticated processing of the full thread (e.g., pulling out the latest reroll of a series) to generate an mbox that can be fed to git am. It is only compatible with inline patches.

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3.1 Applying patches contained in a message

M-x piem-am RET branch RET base

Apply the patch or patches in the current buffer to the associated code repository. Before applying, checkout a new branch branch starting at base.

You’ll be queried for the name of the new branch. The default name offered is generated by piem-name-branch-who-what-v, which uses the ‘From:’ and ‘Subject:’ headers to construct branch names like ‘km/b4-short-subj__v3’. To use a different function to generate the completion default, configure piem-default-branch-function.

Next you’ll be queried for the base to use as the starting point for the branch. If the sender specified a base commit for the series, that will be provided as the default completion candidate. Entering an empty base signals to use the current branch of the repository as the base.

Rather than applying the patches directly to the associated code repository, you can create a dedicated worktree by setting piem-am-create-worktree to a non-nil value. Giving a prefix argument to piem-am inverts the meaning of piem-am-create-worktree; that is, by default a prefix argument is useful if you generally prefer to work within the configured code repository but would like to trigger the one-off creation of a worktree for a particular call.

When piem loads, it detects whether Magit is loaded and sets piem-use-magit accordingly. If that option is non-nil, piem uses Magit for some operations, particularly those that are user-facing. This includes jumping to the Magit status buffer for a code repository after applying a patch.

Note that the piem-am command works only for buffers from which piem-am-ready-mbox can generate an am-ready mbox, which depends on the enabled integration libraries. Currently piem-notmuch and piem-gnus implement the necessary functionality.

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3.2 Using b4 to apply patches

b4 is a command-line tool for interacting with public-inbox archives. While useful for public-inbox archives in general, it is written for Linux kernel development and focuses on the public-inbox archives hosted at https://lore.kernel.org.

It’s a fast moving target at the moment, but some of its current capabilities include

The second item is the focus for piem, though at least some degree of support for all of the above features will likely be added. The entry point to applying patches with b4 is the piem-b4-am transient. (See https://magit.vc/manual/transient/ for more information on using Transient.)

piem-b4-am offers the following actions:

M-x piem-b4-am-from-mid

Generate or download a thread’s mbox for the current buffer’s message ID, process it into an am-ready mbox with b4, and then feed it to git am called within an associated Git repository. If a message ID of the current buffer is not known (i.e. piem-mid returns nil), one is read from the caller. The caller is also queried for the branch name and base, as described for piem-am (see Applying patches contained in a message). And, as with piem-am, a worktree can be created by configuring piem-am-create-worktree to a non-nil value or by giving a prefix argument.

To generate the input thread, first any functions in piem-mid-to-thread-functions are tried. This allows for a thread to be retrieved from a local store (e.g., the Notmuch database). If that fails, the thread is downloaded from the public-inbox URL associated with the current buffer. Finally, if an inbox’s entry in piem-inboxes doesn’t specify a URL, b4 am is called without a local mbox, letting it download the thread according to its own configuration.

M-x piem-b4-am-ready-from-mid

Call b4 am with a given message ID. This differs from piem-b4-am-from-mid in that it is a direct wrapper around a command-line call to b4 am. The caller is always queried for the message ID, and the final product is an am-ready mbox. b4 is responsible for downloading the thread, so the caller must point b4’s configuration option b4.midmask to the appropriate public-inbox URL.

M-x piem-b4-am-ready-from-mbox

Like piem-b4-am-ready-from-mid, but process a local mbox rather than identifying the thread based on the specified message ID.

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3.3 Applying patches without a public-inbox archive

Much of the functionality described in the previous sections can work even if messages aren’t available in a public-inbox archive. piem-am and piem-b4-am-from-mid try to generate the am-ready mbox from a local source (e.g., via Notmuch or Gnus) before falling back to downloading the thread from a public-inbox archive.

Also, for those not working with public-inbox archives, it’s worth checking out mailscripts, a nice set of Debian-focused tools by Sean Whitton that provides, among other things, functionality for applying patch series, including b4-inspired patch extraction.

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4 Miscellaneous functionality

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4.1 Injecting messages into a Maildir directory

public-inbox allows you to follow lists through several mechanisms (see public-inbox). You may prefer different methods for different projects depending on things like how actively you are following the development and how high traffic the list is. For a project you maintain, perhaps you want to receive every message as regular mail. For a project you actively follow and occasionally contribute to, you may prefer to not clutter your local mail store and instead follow via read-only NNTP or IMAP in Gnus (which may or may not be your MUA). And for a project you’re new to or are digging into for a particular reason, HTTP via EWW may be all you need.

Depending on your mail setup, a problem with this approach is that it can be inconvenient to start participating in a thread that you aren’t reading in your regular MUA (e.g., if you use notmuch.el to read your regular mail but are following a project via NNTP in Gnus). In this case, you can use the command piem-inject-thread-into-maildir to move the thread’s messages into a local Maildir directory (piem-maildir-directory). By default the command downloads the entire thread for the message ID associated with the current buffer. A prefix argument restricts the download to only the message.

After the messages are injected, each function in piem-after-mail-injection-functions is called with the message ID that was used to identify the thread. This can be used to pop to the message in your mail client. For example, Notmuch users may want something like this:

(defun my/notmuch-new-and-show (mid)
  (message "Running notmuch new")
  (call-process notmuch-command nil nil nil "new")
  (notmuch-show (concat "id:"  mid)))

(add-hook 'piem-after-mail-injection-functions

To prevent duplicate messages from being written on subsequent calls to piem-inject-thread-into-maildir, you can set piem-mail-injection-skipif-predicate to a function that returns non-nil if a message ID is known and should be skipped. For Notmuch, piem-notmuch provides a function that works for this purpose, piem-notmuch-known-mid-p:

(setq piem-mail-injection-skipif-predicate

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4.2 Copying public-inbox URLs

When referring to a message from a public-inbox archive, a common format to use is a URL that points to a specific archive and ends with /$INBOX/$MESSAGE_ID, e.g., https://public-inbox.org/meta/20190108015420.GA28903@dcvr. Calling piem-copy-mid-url (available in the piem-dispatch transient) constructs such a URL, using the message ID and inbox asscociated with the current buffer, and then copies the URL to the kill ring. When a prefix agument is given, browse-url is called after copying the URL.

Note that EWW works nicely with public-inbox’s HTTP interface. If you’d prefer it to be invoked even though it’s not your default browser (as configured by browse-url-browser-function), you can set piem-browse-url-browser-function to eww-browse-url.

For notmuch.el users, there’s an additional entry point for copying public-inbox URLs: enabling piem-notmuch-mode adds a “piem” candidate to archives offered by notmuch-show-stash-mlarchive-link and notmuch-show-stash-mlarchive-link-and-go.

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5 Contributing

Patches, bug reports, and other feedback are welcome. Please send a plain-text email to piem@inbox.kyleam.com. Messages that include this address are public and available as public-inbox archives at https://inbox.kyleam.com/piem. Note that this is not a mailing list. Updates can be followed through one of public-inbox’s pull methods (see public-inbox). This means it is particularly important to not drop participants when replying.

You can, unsurprisingly, use piem to work on piem by adding an entry like this to piem-inboxes.

 :coderepo "<path/to/local/clone>"
 :address "piem@inbox.kyleam.com"
 :url "https://inbox.kyleam.com/piem/")

The source repository is available at https://git.kyleam.com/piem. Here are some guidelines for sending patches:

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6 Related projects and tools

Here’s a (short and incomplete) list of tools that you, as someone that cared to look at piem’s manual, may be interested in—things that either have some connection to public-inbox or to using an email-based development workflow in Emacs. Corrections and additions are welcome.

A list of more public-inbox-related tools is at https://public-inbox.org/clients.txt.

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Key Index

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Variable Index

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Index Entry  Section

piem-after-mail-injection-functions: Injecting messages into a Maildir directory
piem-am-create-worktree: Applying patches contained in a message
piem-am-create-worktree: Using b4 to apply patches
piem-am-read-worktree-function: Applying patches contained in a message
piem-am-read-worktree-function: Using b4 to apply patches
piem-browse-url-browser-function: Copying public-inbox URLs
piem-default-branch-function: Applying patches contained in a message
piem-inboxes: Registering inboxes
piem-mail-injection-skipif-predicate: Injecting messages into a Maildir directory
piem-maildir-directory: Injecting messages into a Maildir directory
piem-use-magit: Applying patches contained in a message

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Function Index

Jump to:   P  
Index Entry  Section

piem-am: Applying patches
piem-am: Applying patches contained in a message
piem-am-ready-mbox: Applying patches contained in a message
piem-b4-am: Applying patches
piem-b4-am: Using b4 to apply patches
piem-b4-am-from-mid: Using b4 to apply patches
piem-b4-am-ready-from-mbox: Using b4 to apply patches
piem-b4-am-ready-from-mid: Using b4 to apply patches
piem-copy-mid-url: Copying public-inbox URLs
piem-dispatch: Getting started
piem-elfeed-mode: Enabling integration libraries
piem-eww-mode: Enabling integration libraries
piem-gnus-mode: Enabling integration libraries
piem-inject-thread-into-maildir: Injecting messages into a Maildir directory
piem-mid: Using b4 to apply patches
piem-mid-to-thread-functions: Using b4 to apply patches
piem-name-branch-who-what-v: Applying patches contained in a message
piem-notmuch-known-mid-p: Injecting messages into a Maildir directory
piem-notmuch-mode: Enabling integration libraries
piem-notmuch-mode: Copying public-inbox URLs
piem-notmuch-show-get-public-inbox-link: Copying public-inbox URLs

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Concept Index

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Index Entry  Section

am-ready mbox: Applying patches
applying patches: Applying patches

b4: Using b4 to apply patches

coderepo: Registering inboxes

git-am: Applying patches

inbox: Registering inboxes

lore: public-inbox
lore: Using b4 to apply patches

magit: Applying patches contained in a message
magit: Related projects and tools
Maildir: Injecting messages into a Maildir directory
mailscripts: Applying patches without a public-inbox archive
mailscripts: Related projects and tools

public-inbox: public-inbox
pull methods: public-inbox

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