Mail.app's Handy Account Info Window

by Jochen Wolters

For a geek, the second best thing to finding a new solution to an existing computer problem, is finding a new problem to an existing solution. While fiddling around with Mail.app a few weeks ago, I stumbled over the window that pops up if you choose "Get Info" from the action menu at the bottom of the mailboxes column. Its most interesting feature is a list of all the messages stored in the selected email account on the server.



Mail.app's Account Info window

The list conveniently states the size of each message and can also be restricted to those messages that have already been removed from, or downloaded to, your Mac. Messages that have not been downloaded yet, are marked with a blue dot. The thing that makes this list really useful is the "Remove From Server" button: make a selection from the list, hit that button, and you can delete messages right there on the server — no need to download them first. Very neat!



This feature provided a welcome solution to a problem I ran into this week: sometimes when getting new email from my server, the download will stall: the progress bar will freeze, and even clicking on the stop sign in the Activity Viewer to abort the download will not help, either. Unfortunately, force-quiting Mail, relaunching the app, and restarting the download doesn't help much: since Mail apparently hasn't marked the downloaded messages, all downloaded messages are re-downloaded and the download stalls again at the very same message. While I still haven't found the source of the problem, I can at least manually remove the messages I have successfully downloaded thanks to the Account Info window, and then download the rest of the mail as usual.



There are other uses for this feature, as well: if you're traveling and only have access to a slow Internet connection, being able to manually delete very large incoming email messages (especially if you have a colleague who just loves to send you the "hilarious TV ad du-jour"...) may be a God-sent. The thing that baffles me, though, is this: why haven't Mail's programmers included a "Download From Server" button as well? Being able to download only the few messages that you care about, instead of having to remove all the others first, would be so much more efficient.



P.S.: If you have any ideas as to what may cause those email downloads to stall in the first place, please feel free to share them in the comments. Thanks!


22 Comments

matx
2006-07-09 10:03:48
wow. very cool.
toor
2006-07-09 10:40:56
Nifty hint I had forgotten about, thanks!


However, it's "Get Info..." in my copy of Mail ( v.2.1 in OSX 10.4.7 ), and you can also access it w/ the standard "Cmd.-i" for info.

mjmeijer
2006-07-09 12:13:11
Yeah, but the command to delete from server is not useable from either Rules or Applescript. And that is what I would like, have my Mac check the POP server and deleting all non urgent messages immediately based on Rules. Save a lot of expensive airtime when retrieving my mail with the Treo when I'm on the move!
Jochen Wolters
2006-07-09 14:43:11
matx


Glad you like it. ;)



toor


You're absolutely right, the menu item is labeled "Get Info," not "Account Info." Fixed. Thanks for pointing this out.



mjmeijer


In some ways, Mail's support for automating certain tasks is very limited, indeed. Stay tuned for a soon-to-be-published MacDevCenter blog post that will address this very topic.

Delarius
2006-07-09 16:03:42
Regarding the mail download 'stalling' - I've seen this on many occasions and I have yet to discover a reason why they do this. I almost think that it's because the attachments are corrupt somehow - it could well be an issue with the mail server. However, the stalled download thing is was worse with Outlook on a PC - way worse and there's no easy way to delete the offending message (that I know of) like there is with Apple Mail.
pberg
2006-07-09 16:18:39
You could simulate a "Download from Server" button by going to Mail>Preferences>General Tab and setting "Check for new Mail" to manually. (The default is every 5 minutes) I think this would work for POP accounts.
Jochen Wolters
2006-07-09 17:11:41
Delarius:


The odd thing about this stalling problem is that it started only very recently; I've never seen this behavior in Mail before, and I'm not aware of any mail server configuration changes that may have caused it, either. Very odd, this...



pberg:


The manual mail checking you mention will usually download all messages on the server. However, for that "slow Internet access while traveling" scenario it would be great to download only specific, not-too-large emails and leave bigger emails for later downloading when back home or at the office. That's where that "Download From Server" button in the Account Info message list would come in really handy.

Jamie McC
2006-07-10 01:43:49
The stalling problem with PoP3- it's particularly accute with big e-mails, but can happen with any size of message.


As I understand it, TCP packets arrive from the SMTP server out-of-order compared to message order. Your mail client then keeps requesting packet number x, but the server keeps sending packet y.
Because the account update instructions in most mail clients are issued in batches (so it does "Get headers", then "Get messages", then "Mark messages as read", and *then* "Delete messages"), the client never completes the "Get messages" stage so can't move on to marking messages as read or marking for deletion.


This functionality in Mail is a real boon- the other options would be to try to use webmail to fix it (delete the out-of-order message), or to telnet in on the PoP3 port and issue the command to delete the offending message manually.



kirkmc
2006-07-10 02:58:32
The stalled message generally occurs with mal-formed messages - it usually happens to me when a particularly wonky spam message is coming in. This said, it hasn't happened in a very long time. Pre-Tiger, when I used Entourage, it was common - say once a month. Since I switched to Mail under Tiger, I haven't seen it at all.
Jochen Wolters
2006-07-10 04:25:50
Jamie McC, kirkmc:


Thanks for your comments. Next this happens, I'll only delete the one message whose subject is displayed in Activity Viewer when the download stalls, and see if that fixes it.

FARfetched
2006-07-10 11:17:14
I found this feature a couple of weeks ago -- or perhaps I should say it found me -- when I was trying to mark a message unread (Cmd-Shift-U) in the dark and hit Cmd-Ctrl-I by mistake.


mjmeijer, you might want to have a look at Mailfilter at http://mailfilter.sf.net/ -- you can use it to delete mail based on matching mail headers to regular expressions. Kind of geeky (it's a CLI tool), but it might do what you need.

Dave
2006-07-10 18:05:09
I noticed a pretty bad hanging issue recently that seems to be caused by MailTags and fixed by the recent update. If you are using MailTags, make sure you are using MailTags. If you aren't... you should. I can't imagine using mail without MailTags and Act-On.


No. I am not associated with either of the aforementioned products, I just love them.
Dave

Marcel Weiher
2006-07-11 07:00:01
Useful tip! I've had those stalls as well, they seem to be related to junk filtering, removing the LSSMap2 file fixed it for me all the time. Of course, this will also remove all your junk filter training data, so you are starting from scratch again. A better option is to find an LSSMap2 file that can handle it and copy that over, if that file's filtering works for you.
steve
2006-07-12 16:35:21
POP Servers are usually set with a timeout of 5 mins per message.
On dialup this pretty much means an email of about 2MiB in size.
If the message isnt downloaded within this timeframe the server timeouts and your mail packet download isnt completed.
[Insert Endless Loop Here]


Options include attempting to download the attachemnt via webmail, purging from the server via webmail or the Account Info Tab or simply a unix command line util such as pine.

Jochen Wolters
2006-07-13 11:14:21
steve:


Thanks for this interesting tidbit. However, the stall even happens on a 6MB DSL line, so I guess the problem will be more than "just" a server time-out.

Maxx Daymon
2006-07-15 02:35:51
I periodically have to manually delete a malformed spam message from my at&t POP3 server. I have confirmed on many occasions that retrieving the malformed spam causes the session to crash.


To see if this is the problem you are having, log in to the server on port 110 using telnet and issue the commands to retrieve the message directly to the POP3 server. If the session crashes, your POP3 server in combination with malformed mail is the likely problem.

Grant Hutchinson
2007-01-04 11:19:31
Just out of curiosity, has anyone submitted the "stalling" issue as a bug to Apple? I run into this issue at least once a week, latest Tiger build (10.4.8 8L127) included. When it happens, there is some related messaging written to the console.log. I don't have an example handy, but will post one here if it helps.
Jochen Wolters
2007-01-05 14:36:10
Grant


It's been a long time since I encontered the email download stall problem, and I have not found out more about possible causes since posting this article, either. Have you tried posting this issue on the Apple Discussion Forums?

tylermacman
2007-04-04 13:42:42
Also, in Mail's "Advanced" Account tab ("Account Options" if you're using an early version of Mail) you can type a number into the "Prompt me to skip messages over xx KB" box. When a larger message appears you will be prompted to authorize download. This would be a handy feature for Road Warriors and dial-uppers.
Jochen Wolters
2007-04-07 03:05:07
tylermacman


Thank you for pointing to this option, which nicely complements what you can do in the Account Info window.

steve Simon
2008-02-03 09:07:13
I went over what is written here, but still don't see an answer to the problem. In my instance, the mail activity gets to 12 of 724 and stalls. I can see which email in the activity window it is, i delete it from my pop server Yahoo, but when i force quit mail it just stalls again at another message. I'm thinking it has something to do with Leopard and iphone, since i'm getting my mail messages on the iphone. I'm hoping the fix will come on the leopard upgrade, but if anyone can help, i would appreciate it.
Jochen Wolters
2008-02-03 09:21:25
steve


Here are two more things you might want to try to hunt down the cause of your email woes:


* In Mail's preferences, select the Accounts prefs pane, choose the Advanced tab, and click "Remove now". This will remove any unread messages from the server.


* If the size of the email that stalls the download is higher than most other emails on the server (as listed in the Account Info window), set the "Prompt me to skip messages over ___ KB" pref in the account's Advanced pane accordingly.


After that, try getting new mail again.