Open source webmail clients for browser-based email

5 open source alternatives to Gmail

Posted 10 Jun 2016 by 

Jason Baker (Red Hat)
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5 open source alternatives to Gmail
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Judith E. Bell. Modified by Opensource.com. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Do you use a webmail client?

Gmail has enjoyed phenomenal success, and regardless of which study you choose to look at for exact numbers, there's no doubt that Gmail is towards the top of the pack when it comes to market share. For certain circles, Gmail has become synonymous with email, or at least with webmail. Many appreciate its clean interface and the simple ability to access their inbox from anywhere.

Open source email clients

For more open source email clients, see our complete collection.

But Gmail is far from the only name in the game when it comes to web-based email clients. In fact, there are a number of open source alternatives available for those who want more freedom, and occasionally, a completely different approach to managing their email without relying on a desktop client.

Let's take a look at just a few of the free, open source webmail clients out there available for you to choose from.

Roundcube

First up on the list is Roundcube. Roundcube is a modern webmail client which will install easily on a standard LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) stack. It features a drag-and-drop interface which generally feels modern and fast, and comes with a slew of features: canned responses, spell checking, translation into over 70 languages, a templating system, tight address book integration, and many more. It also features a pluggable API for creating extensions.

It comes with a comprehensive search tool, and a number of features on the roadmap, from calendaring to a mobile UI to conversation view, all sound promising, but at the moment these missing features do hold it back a bit compared to some other options.

Roundcube is available as open source under the GPLv3.

Roundcube

Roundcube screenshot courtesy of the project's website.

Zimbra

The next client on the list is Zimbra, which I have used extensively for work. Zimbra includes both a webmail client and an email server, so if you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, it may be a good choice.

Zimbra is a well maintained project which has been hosted at a number of different corporate entities through the years, most recently being acquired by a company called Synacore, last month. It features most of the things you’ve come to expect in a modern webmail client, from webmail to folders to contact lists to a number of pluggable extensions, and generally works very well. I have to admit that I'm most familiar with an older version of Zimbra which felt at times slow and clunky, especially on mobile, but it appears that more recent versions have overcome these issues and provide a snappy, clean interface regardless of the device you are using. A desktop client is also available for those who prefer a more native experience. For more on Zimbra, see this article from from Zimbra's Olivier Thierry who shares a good deal more about Zimbra's role in the open source community.

Zimbra's web client is licensed under a Common Public Attribution License, and the server code is available under GPLv2.

Zimbra

Zimbra screenshot courtesy of Clemente under the GNU Free Documentation License.

SquirrelMail

I have to admit, SquirrelMail (self-described as "webmail for nuts") does not have all of the bells and whistles of some more modern email clients, but it’s simple to install and use and therefore has been my go-to webmail tool for many years as I’ve set up various websites and needed a mail client that was easy and "just works." As I am no longer doing client work and shifted towards using forwarders instead of dedicated email accounts for personal projects, I realized it had been awhile since I took a look at SquirrelMail. For better or for worse, it’s exactly where I left it.

SquirrelMail started in 1999 as an early entry into the field of webmail clients, with a focus on low resource consumption on both the server and client side. It requires little in the way of special extensions of technologies to be used, which back in the time it was created was quite important, as browsers had not yet standardized in the way we expect them to be by today’s standards. The flip side of its somewhat dated interface is that it has been tested and used in production environments for many years, and is a good choice for someone who wants a webmail client with few frills but few headaches to administer.

SquirrelMail is written in PHP and is licensed under the GPL.

SquirrelMail

SquirrelMail screenshot courtesy of the project website.

Rainloop

Next up is Rainloop. Rainloop is a very modern entry into the webmail arena, and its interface is definitely closer to what you might expect if you're used to Gmail or another commercial email client. It comes with most features you've come to expect, including email address autocompletion, drag-and-drop and keyboard interfaces, filtering support, and many others, and can easily be extended with additional plugins. It integrates with other online accounts like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Dropbox for a more connected experience, and it also renders HTML emails very well compared to some other clients I've used, which can struggle with complex markup.

It's easy to install, and you can try Rainloop in an online demo to decide if it's a good fit for you.

Rainloop is primarily written in PHP, and the community edition is licensed under the AGPL. You can also check out the source code on GitHub.

Rainloop

Rainloop screenshot by author.

Kite

The next webmail client we look at is Kite, which unlike some of the other webmail clients on our list was designed to go head-to-head with Gmail, and you might even consider it a Gmail clone. While Kite hasn't fully implemented all of Gmail's many features, you will instantly be familiar with the interface. It's easy to test it out with Vagrant in a virtual machine out of the box.

Unfortunately, development on Kite seems to have stalled about a year ago, and no new updates have been made to the project since. However, it's still worth checking out, and perhaps someone will pick up the project and run with it.

Kite is written in Python and is licensed under a BSD license. You can check out the source code on GitHub.

More options

  • HastyMail is an older email client, originating back in 2002, which is written in PHP and GPL-licensed. While no longer maintained, the project's creators have gone on to a new webmail project, Cypht, which also looks promising.
  • Mailpile is an HTML 5 email client, written in Python and available under the AGPL. Currently in beta, Mailpile has a focus on speed and privacy.
  • WebMail Lite is a modern but minimalist option, licensed under the AGPL and written mostly in PHP.
  • There are also a number of groupware solutions, such as Horde, which provide webmail in addition to other collaboration tools.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. What's your favorite open source webmail client?

23 Comments

r3bl

I'm using Roundcube primarily. I got used to it. I can't wait for the v2 to be released (which was successfully crowdfunded a couple of months ago: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/roundcube-next--2#/story )!

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mohamaod

goooooooooooooood

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Taco

Why would you want an open source email platform? Do you love being hacked?

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usetheguillotine

Taco, do you like to troll?

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Joseph Morris

I really like Horde's mobile UI, and the mail client was pretty easy to install separate from the rest of it. SquirrelMail and RoundCube are challenging to use on a mobile device. RoundCube has a supposed mobile plugin but I could not get it to work.

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Máirín Duffy

http://kolabnow.com

They are the upstream of Roundcube. The service is excellent and the nominal fee helps support upstream development of Roundcube and other very important open source projects.

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AddersUK

I would recommend Horde, very complete system http://www.horde.org/

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tomo

The title for this article is VERY misleading! It incorrectly implies (or at least one may infer) that you will NOT be using gmail.

Perhaps if it had the word 'client' in it... Better yet, because these 'clients' will work with any email service, leave gmail out of the title, i.e., "5 open source (alternative) email clients" would be much more apt and thus more informative and truthful ('alternative' in parens because not necessary). And I bet these clients are compatible with most other email services as well. Why are you choosing gmail?

Or did you intend that the title be 'click bait' because you needed traffic because you're losing audience..?

Other than that, good and informatve article... Thank you for the research/information

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Alluka

what about openmailbox?

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Zlatko Hristov

RainLoop is awesome :) Very intuitive design

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Jannis

My favorite one is Tutanota: https://tutanota.com

It's the antipode of Gmail as it encrypts all your data. It is not possible to scan my data for advertisement or infringe my privacy in any way. Plus i can get the code from guthub and run the client locally. I'd be very happy to see an article here about Tutanota one day! If we want to get rid of Gmail, built-in encryption is the right way to go.

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Johnjbfan

Fail. Why? Because all of these are fat downloads and none are as easy as going to a webpage like gmail, creating an ID and viola, done! Your ordinary users are not going to download software just because they want email. Duh. Amazing how clueless these software and email client companies are.

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Allan Haverholm

They're not clients... All of these are server software, and by running one on a webserver you will have your own "webpage like gmail". Duh. Yes, it will take longer to set up than writing off your most sensitive information to Google, but you (or rather, an ordinary user with an ounce of patience) will have your mail in an environment that you control.

Amazing how clueless— nah, I'm not going to stoop to that.

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Don Watkins

I set up Squirrel Mail on a laptop server once for a demonstration. It isn't elegant but we were looking for ways to cut costs at our K-12 school district and this was a viable option.

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sgagne

@Johnjbfan
These solutions are hosted solutions AKA you install them on a server and then you can use simply a web browser as you would for gmail and serve as many clients as you wich!

So they are indeed gmail server replacement!... ;-)

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TP

Yeah, OK for the client, but if your mails remain to be handled by the Google's servers, where is the gain ?

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kmnair

Mails need NOT be handled by Googles servers. You can choose any hosting provider you like or host it on an in-house server if you have enough bandwidth and are prepared to set up the security required.

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Zak Rogoff

The Free Software Foundation maintains a list of Webmail serviices that treat users with respect -- readers of this article might find it interesting: https://www.fsf.org/resources/webmail-systems

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deependhulla

Yes there are lots of open source webmail interface in market, which are lot good.

One of them which I use is and recommend is group-office open-source from https://www.group-office.com/ Also Horde Groupware webmail edition is great with support for mobile sync for calandar /contact/task/notes

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rla

I've run Zimbra, Squirrelmail and Round Cube in the best and they all do the front end job just fine - the hard part is the server end of things. Except for Zimbra, you have to either deal with the IMAP server supplied by a hosting company or set up your own (Zimbra includes an IMAP server). The big problem there is spam - filtering it and then trying to either filter more or tweak it to reduce false positives. It's a constant battle of keeping Spam Assassin up to date, RBLs, grey listing, SPF, DKIM, etc. I can't keep up with it just for an email box. Worse is hosting emails for others, now you have to research and explain why email x was put in the spam folder and email y was not. Finally, I caved and went to gmail and haven't looked back. Gmail, Office 365, Yahoo Mail, whatever your poison - all have spam filtering I could not replicate, high availability, ubiquitous clients - I can focus on my actual work instead of dorking around with mail server tweaks, updates, etc.

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Paolo Vecchi

It's true that in the US it's a bit less known but if you want to talk about complete and Enterprise ready Collaboration Platform then you should have a look at Zarafa: http://www.zarafa.com/

It's not just perfect as a MS Exchange replacement which uses a fraction of the resources and costs, it also includes video conferencing, instant messaging, file sharing, email encryption, etc...

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Andreas

Good post.

1.
I used to install Squirrel. Worked allways very good. BUT: development stopped some years (more than 3) ago. Servers were attacked. There are no updates. Even not for security. Old php-versions requiered. So my firm recommendation is to NOT install this any more.

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I switched to Roundcube and Rainloop. Both are stable and working well. You can easily use them in parallel. And I do this because each of them has advantages concerning the usability. Also, roundcube started crowdfunding to reprogram every part using modern frameworks. This will put it more to responsiveness.

These two programs are also perfectly integrated into my server control management.

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magnus919

I used to use Squirrelmail, and then moved on to Roundcube. The problem I've had with these has mainly been that it uses the old folder paradigm (thus also requiring an external system for filtering rules). Sieve scripts are fine for neckbeards but definitely not the sort of experience that most users are going to want. I've not really seen anything yet that uses labels & views with integrated rule policies.

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Jason is passionate about using technology to make the world more open, from software development to bringing sunlight to local governments. He is particularly interested in data visualization/analysis, DIY/maker culture, simulations/modeling, geospatial technologies, and cloud computing, especially OpenStack. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.