My Mailbox Is Full!

24th December 2015

I've been collecting and archiving my e-mail now for nearly 30 years. That's not strictly true: I've been backing up lots of files and junk now for a long time, and a part of this are the e-mail's I've sent and received.

A while back I tried to find an old e-mail and found the task impossible after hours searching through old CDs and DVDs, so I bit the bullet and built an e-mail archive. I have a home-grown tool that extracts mail from various sources (mboxes and IMAP), finds and discards duplicates, and stores into directories and files based on the date, e.g. Mail_archive/2015/12/24.

With the archived mboxes, I run mairix over the Mail_archive directory to build the searchable index over the archive. The index is currently 102M in size. I then have a script that does a specific search with mairix, stores the matching e-mails into a temporary mailbox and opens mutt on the mailbox so that I can read the results.

My first received e-mail in the archive is dated the 23rd March 1988. At uni we had internal TOPS-20 e-mail from 1984 when I started in first year, but this is the first e-mail that I have that came from another system. The university had an ACSnet connection to exchange e-mails from other locations in Australia, and I'd finally worked out how to use it. Within a few years most of the Australian universities had got Internet links and the ACSnet's use dwindled. I wish someone would write a good history on ACSnet and munnari.oz.

Currently I have about 6.8G of mail stored in my archive. Below is a graph of the amount of mail I have archived on a yearly basis. It starts at 1.8M in 1988 and 2015 saw a staggering 1.4G of mail. I had to rescale the graph with a logarithmic y-axis so you could see the data from the early years.

I'm not a fan of facebook, IMs and such, so I expect to be using e-mail (and mutt) for a long time to come. As long as disk space increases at the same rate that my mail storage increases, I'll be good!