Customizing Your Email

Mail provides many tools you can use to customize various aspects of your mail. These include customizing the Mail window, organizing your email, sorting your email, and automating your mail with rules.

Customizing the Viewer Window

You can customize the Viewer window by using the commands shown in Table 12.1.

Table 12.1. Ways to Customize the Viewer Window


What It Does

View, Columns

Enables you to select the columns displayed in the Viewer window. In addition to the columns shown by default, you can select from many columns, including Attachments, Date Sent, and so on.

View, Sort By

Sorts the Message List pane by the column you select.

View, Hide/Show Mailboxes

Hides/shows the Drawer.

View, Use Small Mailbox Icons

Changes the size of the mailbox icons displayed in the Drawer.

View, Hide/Show Toolbar

Hides/shows the Mail toolbar.

View, Hide/Show Status Bar

Hides/shows the Status bar.


Remember that you can also customize the Message List window by moving the columns to change the order in which they appear, resizing them, changing the column by which the pane is sorted, and so on, just as you can in Finder windows in the List view.

Organizing Your Email

You can create your own mailboxes to organize your messages. The mailboxes you create are shown under the On My Mac folder in the Drawer. You can also create nested mailboxes to create a hierarchy of mailboxes in which you store your messages.

  1. Select Mailbox, New to see the New Mailbox dialog box (see Figure 12.19).

    Figure 12.19. You use the New Mailbox dialog box to create a new mailbox either on your Mac or on a server.


  2. On the Location pop-up menu, select the location of the mailbox you are creating. If you select On My Mac, the folder is created on your computer and appears under the On My Mac folder in the Drawer. If you use an IMAP or .Mac account, you can select that account to create a folder on that account's server; to access the folder, you expand the icon for that account in the Drawer.

    Remember that if you store the folder on a server, the contents of that folder count against your storage quota.

  3. In the New Mailbox dialog box, enter the name of the mailbox you want to create. To create a nested mailbox, enter the name of each mailbox separated by a slash (/). For example, to create a mailbox called "Receipts" within a mailbox called "Mail to Keep," you would enter Mail to Keep/Receipts.

  4. Click OK.

The mailbox is created. If you have created a mailbox that contains other mailboxes, you can use its expansion triangle to expand or collapse it. In Figure 12.20, you can see that I have created a folder called Receipts that is nested within a folder called Mail To Keep. Because these folders are stored on my computer, they are listed under the On My Mac mailbox. You can also see that I have a .Mac account and its folders are shown under the .Mac mailbox, which is next to my .Mac email address. Messages you place in folders stored on a server count against your storage limit on that server, so it is generally a better idea to create folders on your Mac instead.

Figure 12.20. Folders under the On My Mac icon are stored on your computer; folders under a server's icon, such as the .Mac mail account in this figure, are stored on that server.


You can move messages from one mailbox to another in the following ways:

  • Drag and drop a message from the Message List pane to a mailbox.


    If the Drawer is hidden and you drag a message "out" either side of the Mail window, the Drawer pops open so you can place the message in a mailbox.

  • Drag messages from the Message List pane in one Viewer to the Message List pane in another Viewer; this copies the messages in the mailbox shown in the second Viewer window.

  • Select messages and select Message, Move To; then select the mailbox to which you want to transfer the messages.

  • Select messages and select Message, Copy To; then select the mailbox to which you want to create a copy of the selected messages.

  • Select messages and select Message, Move Again to move the selected messages into the same mailbox into which you most recently transferred mail (Option-graphics/mac.gif-T).

  • Open a message's contextual menu and select the Move To, Copy To, Move Again, or Apply Rules command.

  • Select messages and select Message, Apply Rules (Option-graphics/mac.gif-L); then select a rule that transfers the messages.

Configuring and Using Rules for Email

You can automate the handling of your email by configuring and using rules. For example, you might want to create a mailbox for the mail related from a certain person and have that mail automatically transferred into that mailbox. Or, you might have the messages from a mailing list to which you are subscribed placed in a specific mailbox for later reading.

To create and implement rules, you use the Rules pane of the Mail Preferences window:

  1. Open the Mail Preferences window and click the Rules icon to open the Rules pane. Some rules are installed by default.

  2. Click Add Rule to open a Rule sheet to define the rule you are creating.

  3. Name the rule by entering a description.

  4. Use the If pop-up menu to determine whether at least one criterion (select any) or all the criteria (select all) in the rule must be met for the actions in the rule to be taken.

  5. Use the first condition pop-up menu to select the first criterion on which the rule will act. You can select any of the fields in a mail message. You can also select from various criteria, such as whether the sender is in your Address Book.

  6. Use the Contains pop-up menu to select how the criteria will relate to the value you enter (such as Contains, "Is equal to," and so on).

  7. Enter the value for which the rule will be implemented, if applicable, or use a pop-up menu to select a value. (Some conditions, such as "Sender is in my Address Book," don't require any values.)

  8. To add more criteria, click the Add button (+) and repeat steps 5 and 6 to create additional conditions for the rule.

  9. Use the Action area to select the actions that will be performed by the rule by making a choice from the first pop-up menu and making other choices from the other pop-up menus or fields related to that choice.

    The actions you can select are Move Message, Copy Message, Set Color of Message, Play Sound, Bounce Icon in Dock, Reply to Message, Forward Message, Redirect Message, Delete Message, Mark as Read, Mark as Flagged, Run AppleScript, or Stop evaluating rules. You can include multiple actions in the same rule.

  10. Click the Add button next to the action and repeat step 9 to create and configure additional actions. When you are done, review the rule you have created. For example, the rule shown in Figure 12.21 checks to see whether a message is from me, the subject contains Special Edition Using Mac OS X, or is from my email address; if any of these conditions is true, the message is moved to the Trash and the Frog sound plays.

    Figure 12.21. Hopefully, you won't want to create a rule like this one!



    You can remove conditions or actions by clicking the Remove button (?).

  11. Click OK to see the rule you created in the Rules pane.

  12. Create more rules or close the Preferences window.


If you apply a color in a rule, that rule appears in that color in the Rules pane. Messages already in a mailbox that meet the rule's criteria are also shown in the color applied by the rule.

You can use the Edit and Duplicate buttons to edit or duplicate rules and the Remove button to delete rules.

Any future messages you receive that meet the criteria for a rule are acted upon by that rule. You can also manually apply rules to messages by selecting messages and selecting Message, Apply Rules (Option-graphics/mac.gif-L).


Manually applying rules is a good way to test your rules to ensure that they do what you intended.

Handling Junk Mail

Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are with your email address, it might eventually get on a junk mail list. And after it gets on one such list, it will get on many, and your inbox will overflow with junk mail. Fortunately, Mail includes some built-in tools for dealing with junk mail.


Although Mail's Junk mail feature is a good way to deal with spam, it doesn't eliminate spam. See the sidebar at the end of this section for recommendations about how to deal with spam more effectively.

You can configure Mail's Junk feature via the Junk Mail pane of the Mail preferences dialog box (see Figure 12.22).

Figure 12.22. Use the Junk Mail pane to configure Mail's junk feature.


The Junk feature has three modes.

In the Disabled mode, the Junk Feature is inactive and doesn't do anything. You can disable this feature by unchecking the "Enable Junk Mail filtering" check box on the Junk Mail pane of the preferences dialog box.

In the Training mode (which is the default mode), Mail applies its Junk rules to your messages. This causes Mail to color the message brown or gold (depending on your color perception), indicating that Mail thinks the message is junk. You use this mode to fine-tune the Junk Mail feature so it correctly filters your messages to identify the junk. When you view a message that has been correctly identified as junk, don't do anything. When a message has been identified as junk but it isn't, click the Not Junk button. If you find a message that is junk, but Mail has not identified it as such, click the Junk button on the toolbar. You can place the Junk Mail feature in the Training mode by clicking the "Leave it in my inbox, but indicate it is junk mail (Training)" radio button.

After some time has passed and you are confident that Mail's Junk filter is working properly, you can move into Junk Mail's Automatic mode. When you do so, Mail creates a Junk folder in the Drawer and prompts you to ask whether it should move all the identified junk mail to this folder. Click Yes. You move into the Automatic mode by clicking the "Move it to the Junk mailbox (Automatic)" radio button.

When the Junk feature is in the Automatic mode, it moves all the messages it identifies as junk into the Junk folder. You should review the contents of this folder periodically to ensure that no messages you want are in this folder by mistake. If there are messages you want to keep, move them to a different folder. Then delete all the messages in the Junk folder.

By checking the related check box on the Junk Mail pane of the preferences dialog box, you can exempt email messages from the Junk Mail filter in the following situations:

  • The sender of a message is in your Address Book.

  • The sender of a message is on the list of previous recipients.

  • The message is addressed to your full name (most spam uses an email address).

If your Internet service provider (ISP) provides junk mail headers that attempt to identify junk mail by its own rules and you want Mail to recognize and use those headers, check the "Trust Junk Mail headers set by your Internet Service Provider" check box.

If you click the Advanced button, you move to a Rules sheet and the default Junk rules are ready to edit. (Mail's Junk Mail feature is actually just a special mail rule.) You can change this mail rule just like any rule you create on the Rule pane to change how Mail handles junk mail. If you open the Junk rule, you see that this is simply a rule that acts on any messages that are from people who are not in your Address Book, are not on your Previous Recipient list, are not addressed to your full name, or are marked as Junk. If the Training mode, this rule changes only the color of the messages. In the Automatic mode, it moves the messages to the Junk folder.

If you click the Reset button, the Junk Mail feature is returned to its default state. This also removes any learning the filter has done so you have to repeat the training process.

The End of Spam

With all due respect to Mail's Junk feature, there are certain circumstances in which providing your email address is likely to result in your address being obtained by a spammer. And after it gets into one spammer's hands, it will get into lots of spammers' hands and you will start receiving dozens or even hundreds of spam messages every day. The only real way to stop spam is to stop using the email address that has been spammed. Junk mail filters, such as Mail's Junk feature, are really only a way to make dealing with spam easier; they don't eliminate the spam from your life.

Several situations should be considered to have high risk of your address being spammed. One is public discussion forums, such as on Web sites, in newsgroups, in chat rooms, and so on; in fact, getting spammed from these locations is guaranteed. Another is when you are shopping online; many online retailers have valid privacy policies that allow you to opt out of your address being provided to others, but some don't have such policies. Another is any time you are asked for an email address, such as when you are taking a survey, registering for a "free" prize, and so on. Providing an email address in any of the situations will likely get you spammed.

If that happens and you use an email address for work or to keep in touch with people, you aren't likely to want to change the address you use.

There is a solution to this dilemma: You can create "disposable" email accounts for use in the situations that are more likely to result in an addressed getting spammed. If that happens, you can simply stop using the spammed email account and create another disposable account to use in the high spam risk situations.

Meanwhile, you can keep your permanent email address close the vest by providing it only to people you know or to companies that you are sure are legit and won't sell your address to spammers.

There are many sources of good disposable email accounts, including the following:

  • Yahoo Mail (

  • MSN Hotmail (

  • Other similar sites that enable you to create and use email accounts at no cost.

  • Your own Internet access account. Many ISP accounts provide multiple email accounts under your access account. Even better, most of the time you can create and delete your own sub-accounts, which is the ideal situation. Keep your base email account private; never use it in any circumstance. Then create an email account as your permanent address and provide that to the people with whom you really want to communicate. Finally, create your disposable address and use that in high spam risk situations. If that address gets spammed, just delete it and create another one.


You might have noticed that I provide my email address in this book, which is I like to receive email from readers, and spammers aren't likely to read a book to get a single address. So, even exposing an email address in a public place like a book isn't all that risky. However, I use the practice described in the last bullet in the previous list to manage my own email. For example, I have an email address for personal email and another disposable address I use when shopping online (mostly Mac stuff and DVDs). If that address ever gets spammed, I can just delete it and create a replacement.

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