Getting started with Isotope, an open source webmail client

Getting started with Isotope, an open source webmail client

Read rich-text emails with Isotope, a lightweight email client and the 11th in our series on open source tools that will make you more productive in 2019.

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There seems to be a mad rush at the beginning of every year to find ways to be more productive. New Year's resolutions, the itch to start the year off right, and of course, an "out with the old, in with the new" attitude all contribute to this. And the usual round of recommendations is heavily biased towards closed source and proprietary software. It doesn't have to be that way.

Here's the 11th of my picks for 19 new (or new-to-you) open source tools to help you be more productive in 2019.


As we discussed in the fourth article in this series (about Cypht), we all spend a whole lot of time dealing with email. There are many options for dealing with it, and I've spent hours upon hours trying to find the best email client that works for me. I think that is an important distinction: What works for me doesn't always work for everyone else. And sometimes what works for me is a full client like Thunderbird, sometimes it is a console client like Mutt, and sometimes it's a web-based interface like Gmail or RoundCube.

Isotope is a locally hosted, web-based email client. It is exceptionally lightweight, uses IMAP exclusively, and takes up very little disk space. Unlike Cypht, Isotope has full HTML mail support, which means there are no issues displaying rich-text only emails.

Installing Isotope is very easy if you have Docker installed. You only need to copy the commands from the documentation into a console and press Enter. Point a browser at localhost to get the Isotope login screen, and entering your IMAP server, login name, and password will open the inbox view.

At this point, Isotope functions pretty much as you'd expect. Click a message to view it, click the pencil icon to create a new message, etc. You will note that the user interface (UI) is very minimalistic and doesn't have the typical buttons for things like "move to folder," "copy to folder," and "archive." You move messages around with drag and drop, so you don't really miss the buttons anyway.

Overall, Isotope is clean, fast, and works exceptionally well. Even better, it is under active development (the most recent commit was two hours before I wrote this article), so it is constantly getting improvements. You can check out the code and contribute to it on GitHub.

What to read next

Coffee and laptop

Go For It, the tenth in our series on open source tools that will make you more productive in 2019, builds on the Todo.txt system to help you get more things done.


About the author

Kevin Sonney - Kevin Sonney is a technology professional, media producer, and podcaster. A Linux Sysadmin and Open Source advocate, Kevin has over 25 years in the IT industry, with over 15 years in Open Source. He currently works as an SRE at elastic. Kevin hosts the weekly Productivity Alchemy Podcast. He and his wife, author and illustrator Ursula Vernon, co-host the weekly podcast...