Configuring Mail

Before you can start using Mail to work with your email, you need to configure the accounts it uses. If you entered account information in the Setup Assistant when you installed Mac OS X, those accounts are configured for you already. For example, if you set up or entered the information for your .Mac account in the Setup Assistant, your .Mac email account is configured in Mail.

If you are like most Mac users, you probably have more than one email address; you can use Mail to access any or all of them.

There are also several other areas that you don't necessarily have to configure before you begin using Mail, but I have included them in the section so that all the configuration information is together for your reference.

Configuring General Mail Preferences

Using the General pane of the Mail preferences dialog box, you can configure the following preferences:

  • Default email application? Use the Default Email Reader pop-up menu to select the email application you will use by default. If you want to use Mail, you don't need to make a selection on this menu. If you want to use another application, choose Select and use the resulting sheet to select the application you want to use instead of Mail.

  • Frequency of mail checking? Use the "Check for new mail" pop-up menu to determine how often Mail checks for new mail. Select Manually to disable automatic checking or the frequency at which you want Mail to check for new email automatically, such as "Every 5 minutes" to have Mail check every 5 minutes.

  • Mail sounds? Mail can play sounds for the following events: new mail received, mail error, and mail sent. You can choose the sound that is played when new mail is received by choosing the sound for that event on the "New mail sound" pop-up menu. To turn this sound off, choose None. To disable the sound for other events, uncheck the "Play sounds for other mail actions" check box.


    You can use custom mail sounds by selecting Add/Remove on the pop-up menu and selecting the custom sound you want to use. Mail will place the sound file your select in the Library/Sounds folder in your Home folder. You can then choose it on the pop-up menu in Mail and other applications, such as iChat.

  • Sounds for other events? If you want Mail to play sounds for all events, check the "Play sounds for other mail actions" check box. If you uncheck this check box, Mail plays a sound only when new email sound is received.

  • Indexing decrypted messages? Using properly configured certificates, Mail can work with encrypted messages. If you configure Mail to do so, check the "Index decrypted messages for searching" check box to enable Mail to search these messages.

Configuring Email Accounts

The most basic configuration for Mail is the email accounts you are going to access it with. Before you get started, gather the following information for each mail account you want to configure in Mail:

  • Account type? There are four types of email accounts with which Mail can work. A .Mac account is one provided by Apple's .Mac servers. A Post Office Protocol (POP) account is provided by most ISPs. An Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) is similar to a POP account but offers additional features, and an Exchange account is provided by an Exchange server, which is used on many business networks.


    When you use a .Mac email account with Mail, it is configured as an IMAP account. In Mail, it is treated as its own category because it is part of your .Mac account.

  • Your email address? This should be self-explanatory.

  • Incoming mail server? This is the address of the server that handles retrieving your email. For POP accounts, it often looks something like

  • Your email username? This is your username for your email account, which might or might not be the same as your username for your Internet account. Typically, this is everything before the @ in your email address.

  • Your email password? This is the password for your email account, which might or might not be the same as that of your Internet access account.

  • Outgoing email server or Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) host? This is the address of the server that handles sending your email.

  • Authentication? You need to know whether your SMTP server uses authentication.

  • SMTP username? This is the username for your SMTP server; it is usually the same as your email username, but it isn't always.

  • SMTP password? Again, this is usually the same as your email password.

To add email accounts to Mail, do the following:

  1. Launch Mail.

  2. Select Mail, Preferences (or press graphics/mac.gif-]-,).

  3. Click the Accounts button to see the Accounts pane of the Preferences window (see Figure 12.10). This pane has three tabs: Account Information, Special Mailboxes, and Advanced. In the left part of the pane is the list of email accounts that are currently configured.

    Figure 12.10. If you configured a .Mac account when you installed Mac OS X, your .Mac email account is configured in Mail automatically.


  4. Click the Add Account button, which is the plus sign at the bottom of the list of accounts. A new account, called New Account, is created on the list of accounts.

  5. Click the Account Information tab. You use this tab to configure the basic settings for the email account.

  6. On the Account Information tab, select the account type from the Account Type pop-up menu.


    Mail helpfully fills in many fields with examples of how the data you should enter probably looks.

  7. Enter a description of the account in the Description field. As you enter this, the name of the account on the list of accounts changes to the text you type.

  8. Enter the rest of the information for the account including the email address (except for .Mac accounts), your full name, the incoming mail server address, your email username, and incoming mail server password.


    What you enter in the Full Name field is what appears next to your return email address shown in the Email Address data field. If a recipient uses Mail, he sees your full name instead of your email address.

  9. Open the Outgoing Mail Server (SMTP) pop-up menu and select the outgoing mail server on the list; then skip to step 14. If the server you want to use is not on the list, select Add Server. The SMTP Server Options dialog box opens.

  10. Enter the outgoing mail server address in the Outgoing Mail Server field.

  11. If you need to change the server port for the SMTP server, enter the port number in the Server port box. You need to change this only in rare situations.

  12. If the SMTP server uses Secure Sockets Layer, check the Use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) check box.

  13. If the account uses authentication, select the type of authentication it uses on the Authentication pop-up menu and configure the User Name and Password fields in the dialog box accordingly; the username and password might or might not be the same as those for the incoming mail server. Click OK when you are finished configuring the outgoing mail server.


    If you need to edit the settings for an account's SMTP server, click the Server Settings button. Use the resulting SMTP Server Options dialog box to make changes to the SMTP server settings.

  14. Click the Special Mailboxes tab. This tab provides several controls you can use to control how the account you are configuring behaves. The options you see depend on the type of account you are creating. For example, you see fewer options for a POP account than you do for the other three types. Because .Mac accounts are popular with many Mac users, you see the options you can configure for .Mac accounts in the following list (see Figure 12.11). You can configure the options on this tab for other account types in a similar way, although the specific options you have might be different:

    • Use the check box in the Drafts area to determine whether messages are stored on the .Mac server when you are writing them. This causes email that you are writing saves on the .Mac server as you are writing it. If you write email offline, you don't want to select this. If you use a broadband connection to the Net, you can check the "Store draft messages on the server" check box to have your drafts stored online as you write them.

    • Use the controls in the Sent area to determine whether sent messages are stored on the server and when sent messages are deleted. Usually, you don't want to save sent messages on the server because those messages count against your total storage allowance for your account. If you do want sent messages to be stored on the server, check the "Store sent messages on the server" check box. Then use the "Delete sent messages when" pop-up menu to select how often the sent messages will be deleted. The options are Never, One day old, One week old, One month old, or Quitting Mail.

    • Use the Junk controls to configure how Mail handles messages that are classified as junk. Similar to the first two options, you can select to have junk mail stored on the server; if you select to allow this, use the pop-up menu to determine when junk mail is deleted from the server.

    • Use the Trash controls to configure how trash is handled. If you want deleted messages to be moved to the Trash mail box, check the "Move deleted messages to the Trash mailbox" check box. If you want deleted messages to be stored on the server, check the "Store deleted messages on the server" check box, and to determine when deleted messages are actually erased, use the "Permanently erase deleted message when" pop-up menu. The options are Never, One day old, One week old, One month old, or Quitting Mail.

    Figure 12.11. You can configure these special mailbox actions when using a .Mac mail account.


  15. Click the Advanced tab. Just like the Special Mailboxes tab, the specific controls you see depend on the type of account you are configuring (see Figure 12.12). The rest of these steps assume a .Mac account, but you can configure other account types similarly.

    Figure 12.12. These are the Advanced controls for a .Mac email account.


  16. Use the "Enable this account"" check box to enable or disable the account. If you disable an account, it won't be used.

  17. Check the ""Include when automatically checking for new mail"" check box if you want this account always included when Mail automatically checks for mail. If you uncheck this check box, you must manually check for mail in the account.

  18. Use the "Keep copies of messages for offline viewing" pop-up menu to determine what Mail does with the messages it receives when you are not connected to the Internet. For example, if you select "All messages and their attachments," all your messages and any attachments they contain are downloaded to your Mac so you can view them even if you aren't connected to the Net. If you select "Only message I've read," only the messages you have read are downloaded to your Mac.


    Other options are available at the bottom of the pane, but you aren't likely to use them unless you are specifically directed to do so by the administrator of the email system you are using.

  19. Close the Preferences dialog box. You are prompted to save the account you just created.

IMAP Accounts

One area in which an IMAP account (such as a .Mac account) is significantly different from a POP account is in how email is stored. Under an IMAP account (such as a .Mac email account), mail is always left on the server until you delete it manually. The benefit of this is that you can access that mail from different machines without forwarding it to each machine or having duplicate copies (on the server and in the inbox in your email applications). As you will learn later, when you work with an IMAP account that has a limited amount of storage for email messages, you have to be aware of how full your email storage is and make sure that you keep it under its limit.

When you use a POP account, the mail you read is actually downloaded to your Mac. So, a copy exists in both places. With POP accounts, you should check the "Remove copy from server after retrieving a message" check box and select a timeframe for messages to be deleted on the pop-up menu. Otherwise, the email you read remains on the server, and you might download it again the next time you check your email.

Using steps similar to these, you can add the rest of your email accounts to Mail to work with them all from the Mail application. As you read previously, the steps for a specific account depend on the type of email account you are adding. Just use the specific configuration information provided for each account and repeat the previous steps.


Mail can't access an AOL email account. However, you should be able to add just about any other email account to it.

Setting Other Mail Preferences

There are various other Mail preferences you might want to set. The general steps you use to set these preferences are shown here:

  1. Select Mail, Preferences to open the Mail Preferences window.

  2. Click the button for the area of preferences you want to set.

  3. Set the preferences.

  4. Set more preferences or close the Preferences window.

In the following sections, you will get an overview of each preference area and a description of some of the more useful preferences you can set.

Setting Junk Mail Preferences

You use the Junk Mail pane to configure Mail's Junk Mail feature.

To learn how to configure and use Mail's junk mail feature, see "Handling Junk Mail," p. 375.

Setting Fonts & Colors Preferences

Use the Fonts & Colors pane of the Mail preferences window to control how text appears in Mail windows:

  • Use the font and size pop-up menus to select the font and size for the Message list font (the pane in which all the messages in a mailbox are listed) and the message font (which is the font used for messages you read).

  • If you prefer a fixed-width font for plain-text messages, check the "Use fixed-width font for plain text messages" check box and use the pop-up menus to select the font and size to be used for plain-text email.

  • If you want different levels of quoted text to use different colors, check the "Color quoted text" check box and select the colors for each level.

Email Formats

Mail enables you to send and read email in two formats: plain text and Rich Text Format (RTF). Plain-text messages contain no formatting, but RTF messages can be formatted. Whether the formatting you apply in an RTF message will be seen or not depends on the email application the recipient of your email uses. Most can interpret RTF messages correctly, but others cannot.

Email purists prefer plain-text format because any email application can handle them and plain-text messages are quicker to compose and read (which is part of the point of email in the first place). Also, proper quoting is much easier with a plain-text message. I prefer plain text myself for these very reasons.

Many mailing lists enable you to select the format in which you receive messages. You often can select between the plain-text or HTML format. Selecting the plain-text format results in much faster performance, although you won't see all the bells and whistles that can be contained in an HTML email message. However, plain-text messages usually contain links to that content on the Web so you can easily view the specific content you want to see.

Setting Viewing Preferences

Using the Viewing pane of the Mail Preferences window, you can control the following viewing options:

  • Use the ""Show header detail"" pop-up menu to determine how much information is shown in the header of email messages you receive. Your choices are Default, None, All, and Custom. If you select Custom, you can select the specific data you want to see in the header of your messages.


    Note that the "Show header detail" pop-up menu affects mail you have already downloaded. For example, you can select an email message to read and then select a level of header detail from the "Show header detail" pop-up menu to change the header information for the mail you are reading.


    You can show all header information in messages by selecting View, Message, Long Headers or by pressing Shift-graphics/mac.gif-H.

  • Check the "Show online buddy status" check box if you want the status of people whom you have designated as being online buddies to be displayed. This helps you know when these people are online so you can chat with them.

  • Uncheck the "Display images and embedded objects in HTML messages" check box if you want only the text portion of HTML messages that you receive to be displayed.



    Mail now uses the Safari HTML rendering engine to display HTML messages. This improves the formatting you see when you view HTML messages and makes HTML messages fully interactive.

  • Check the "Highlight related messages using color" check box, and select a color by using the color button. Threads (a series of messages connected by replies to an original message) in your mailbox are highlighted with the color you select so you can spot them more easily.

Setting Composing Preferences

The Composing pane of the Preferences window controls various composing options, which are the following:

  • Use the "Format" pop-up menu to set the default format for new messages you can create. Your options are Plain Text and Rich Text. You can override your default choice for specific messages.


    For example, if you select Plain Text as your default format, you can create a message in the Rich Text format by creating the message and selecting Format, Make Rich Text (Shift-graphics/mac.gif-T). If you select Rich Text, you can select Format, Make Plain Text (Shift-graphics/mac.gif-T) to create a plain-text message.

  • Check the "Check spelling as I type" check box to have Mail check your spelling as you type messages.

  • Check the "Always Cc: myself" check box to include yourself in the Cc block of every message you send. If you prefer to include yourself on the address list for a message but hide your address from the other recipients, select Bcc: on the pop-up menu.

  • Check the "Automatically complete addresses" check box to have Mail look up addresses in your Address Book or on specific LDAP servers. Then click the Configure LDAP button and use the resulting sheet to configure the servers on which you want Mail to look up addresses.

  • Check the "When sending to a group, show all member addresses" check box to list members of a group by their names in an email that you send to a group (rather than listing just the group name).

  • If you want to highlight email addresses when you are sending them outside of "safe" domains, check the "Mark addresses not in this domain" check box and enter the domain you want Mail to consider safe in the box. For example, you might want to be careful about sending messages outside your work domain. In that case, you would check the box and enter your company's domain (such as in the box. Whenever you address messages to someplace other than that domain, the address is highlighted in red.

  • Use the controls in the Responding area to configure how Mail handles reply messages. To use the same mail format as the original message (such as plain text), check the "Use the same message format as the original" check box. If you don't check this, your reply uses your default format. To include the original message's text in your reply (which is a good idea so you can use quoting), check the "Quote the text of the original message" check box. Check the "Increase quote level" box to have Mail indent each message's text by one level; this makes an email conversation clearer because you can more easily see the flow of the mail threads. If you select to use quoting (which you should), use the radio buttons to determine whether the entire message is quoted or only the selected part. The second option is preferable because, if you don't select any text in the original message when you reply to it, the entire text is quoted, which is the same thing the "Include all" option does anyway. However, if you want to reply only to a specific part of a message, you can select it and only that part is included in the message. This provides better context for your reply.

Setting Signature Preferences

You can configure signatures to be attached to your email messages. You can have as many signatures as you would like, and you can select a default signature or select one each time you compose a new message:

  1. Click the Signatures icon to open the Signatures pane of the Mail Preferences window.

  2. Click Add Signature.

  3. Name the signature in the Description field of the resulting Signature sheet.

  4. Enter the signature in the sheet.

  5. Click OK to return to the Signatures pane which shows the signature you just created.

  6. Create other signatures you want to use.

  7. Use the Automatically Insert Signature pop-up menu to select the signature that is used by default on email messages you create and send. You can select any of the signatures you have created or use the same signature for all your messages?select None to never add a signature to messages you write, In Random Order to select a random signature from those you have created, or In Sequential Order to select a signature in the order they are listed on the pane.

  8. If you want to select a signature each time you compose mail, check the "Show signature menu on compose window" check box. When you compose a message, you can select the signature you want to use on the Signature pop-up menu.

  9. Check the "Place signature above quoted text" check box, and your signature is placed above any text that is quoted when you reply to a message. Signatures appear at the bottom of a message by default. When you use quoting, this can be odd because your signature appears after the quoted text instead of after the part you wrote. Use this check box to ensure that your signature appears after what you write and above the quoted text.

Here are a few more signature tips:

  • Change signatures? To change a signature, select it and click Edit. Use the resulting sheet to make changes to the signature.

  • Copy a signature? You can make a copy of a signature by selecting it and clicking Duplicate. This is useful if you want to base a new signature on one you have previously created.

  • Delete a signature? You can delete a signature by selecting it and clicking Remove.

Setting Rules

You use the Rules pane to set up automated mail rules.

To learn how to create rules for your email, see "Configuring and Using Rules for Email," p. 373.

Configuring the Mail Toolbar

As with the Finder toolbar and other Mac OS X toolbars, you can configure Mail's toolbar to be more compatible with the way you work:

  • Use the Hide Toolbar or the Show Toolbar command on the View menu to hide or show Mail's toolbar. You can use the Show/Hide toolbar button in the Mail title bar as well.

  • Select View, Customize Toolbar to add buttons to, remove buttons from, and reorganize the toolbar. Just like other toolbars, you can drag icons onto the toolbar to add them to it or drag them off it to remove them. You can also select how the buttons are displayed and their size.

  • Select View, Hide Status Bar to hide the status bar that appears just below the toolbar. If you want to show the status bar again, select View, Show Status Bar. You can toggle the status bar by pressing Option-graphics/mac.gif-S.


Hold down the graphics/mac.gif key and click the Hide/Show Toolbar button to cycle through various views, such as large icons, text only, and so on.

    Part I: Mac OS X: Exploring the Core
    Part III: Mac OS X: Living the Digital Life