Needle in a Haystack

Tutorials – Attachment Extraction

Article from Issue 216/2018
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If your inbox is full of email messages with important attachments, retrieving those attachments manually can be a tedious task. The script presented in this article does this task automatically and can even save the email as a plain text file.

Do you ever find yourself urgently searching for a file that you know you received as an email attachment but do not remember who sent it or when? Has your company saved all the important documents received via email somewhere easily retrievable? Would you like to save the content of all your email messages automatically as separate, plain text files?

Being able to copy automatically, into one folder and as separate files, all the email attachments and message bodies hidden in your email archives might save your day in situations like these. This tutorial explains how to do it with one relatively simple shell script and tools available from the standard repositories of most Linux distributions. Only basic knowledge of shell scripts is necessary. Additionally, patching the script to make it save just the attachment is also very easy.

MIME and Mailbox Formats

To process email messages, you need to know how files are attached to email and how email messages are archived inside digital mailboxes. To extract attachments from one email message, you need a MIME-aware processor that can split all the email's parts into separate files. Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) [1] is the open standard that describes how to:

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