notmuch-sexp-queries - Man Page

s-expression syntax for notmuch queries


notmuch subcommand --query=sexp [option ...]  -- '(and (to santa) (date december))'


Notmuch supports an alternative query syntax based on S-expressions . It can be selected with the command line --query=sexp or with the appropriate option to the library function notmuch_query_create_with_syntax(). Support for this syntax is currently optional, you can test if your build of notmuch supports it with

$ notmuch config get built_with.sexp_queries


An s-expression is either an atom, or list of whitespace delimited s-expressions inside parentheses. Atoms are either

basic value

A basic value is an unquoted string containing no whitespace, double quotes, or parentheses.

quoted string

Double quotes (") delimit strings possibly containing whitespace or parentheses. These can contain double quote characters by escaping with backslash. E.g. "this is a quote \"".

S-Expression Queries

An s-expression query is either an atom, the empty list, or a compound query consisting of a prefix atom (first element) defining a field, logical operation, or modifier, and 0 or more subqueries.


"*" matches any non-empty string in the current field.


The empty list matches all messages


Match all messages containing term, possibly after stemming or phrase splitting. For discussion of stemming in notmuch see notmuch-search-terms. Stemming only applies to unquoted terms (basic values) in s-expression queries.  For information on phrase splitting see Fields.

( field q1 q2 ... qn )

Restrict the queries q1 to qn to field, and combine with and (for most fields) or or. See Fields for more information.

( operator q1 q2 ... qn )

Combine queries q1 to qn. Currently supported operators are and, or, and not. (not q1 ... qn ) is equivalent to (and (not q1 ) ... (not qn )).

( modifier q1 q2 ... qn )

Combine queries q1 to qn, and reinterpret the result (e.g. as a regular expression). See Modifiers for more information.

(macro ( p1 ... pn ) body)

Define saved query with parameter substitution. The syntax is recognized only in saved s-expression queries (see squery.* in notmuch-config). Parameter names in body must be prefixed with , to be expanded (see Macro Examples). Macros may refer to other macros, but only to their own parameters [1].


Fields [2] correspond to attributes of mail messages. Some are inherent (and immutable) like subject, while others tag and property are settable by the user.  Each concrete field in the table below is discussed further under "Search prefixes" in notmuch-search-terms. The row user refers to user defined fields, described in notmuch-config.

Most fields are either phrase fields [3] (which match sequences of words), or term fields [4] (which match exact strings). Phrase splitting breaks the term (basic value or quoted string) into words, ignore punctuation. Phrase splitting is applied to terms in phrase (probabilistic) fields. Both phrase splitting and stemming apply only in phrase fields.

Each term or phrase field has an associated combining operator (and or or) used to combine the queries from each element of the tail of the list. This is generally or for those fields where a message has one such attribute, and and otherwise.

Term or phrase fields can contain arbitrarily complex queries made up from terms, operators, and modifiers, but not other fields.

Range fields take one or two arguments specifying lower and upper bounds.  One argument is interpreted as identical upper and lower bounds. Either upper or lower bound may be specified as "" or * to specify the lowest possible lower bound or highest possible upper bound.

lastmod ranges support negative arguments, interpreted relative to the most recent database revision (see count --lastmod).

Fields with supported modifiers



Modifiers refer to any prefixes (first elements of compound queries) that are neither operators nor fields.

(infix atom )

Interpret atom as an infix notmuch query (see notmuch-search-terms). Not supported inside fields.

(matching q1 q2 ... qn ) (of q1 q2 ... qn  )

Match all messages have the same values of the current field as those matching all of q1 ... qn. Supported in most term [7] or phrase fields. Most commonly used in the thread field.

(query atom )

Expand to the saved query named by atom. See notmuch-config for more. Note that the saved query must be in infix syntax (notmuch-search-terms). Not supported inside fields.

(regex atom ) (rx atom )

Interpret atom as a POSIX.2 regular expression (see regex(7)). This applies in term fields and a subset [5] of phrase fields (see Fields with supported modifiers).

(starts-with subword )

Matches any term starting with subword.  This applies in either phrase or term fields, or outside of fields [6]. Note that a starts-with query cannot be part of a phrase. The atom * is a synonym for (starts-with "").



Match all messages containing the word "wizard", ignoring case.


Match all messages containing "added", but also those containing "add", "additional", "Additional", "adds", etc... via stemming.

(and Bob Marley)

Match messages containing words "Bob" and "Marley", or their stems The words need not be adjacent.

(not Bob Marley)

Match messages containing neither "Bob" nor "Marley", nor their stems.

"quick fox" quick-fox quick@fox

Match the phrase "quick" followed by "fox" in phrase fields (or outside a field). Match the literal string in a term field.

(folder (of (id 1234@invalid)))

Match any message in the same folder as the one with Message-Id "1234@invalid".

(id 1234@invalid blah@test)

Matches Message-Id "1234@invalid" or Message-Id "blah@test".

(and (infix "date:2009-11-18..2009-11-18") (tag unread))

Match messages in the given date range with tag unread.

(and (date 2009-11-18 2009-11-18) (tag unread))

Match messages in the given date range with tag unread.

(and (date 2009-11-18 *) (tag unread))

Match messages from 2009-11-18 or later with tag unread.

(and (date * 2009-11-18) (tag unread))

Match messages from 2009-11-18 or earlier with tag unread.

(starts-with prelim)

Match any words starting with "prelim".

(subject quick "brown fox")

Match messages whose subject contains "quick" (anywhere, stemmed) and the phrase "brown fox".

(subject (starts-with prelim))

Matches any word starting with "prelim", inside a message subject.

(subject (starts-with quick) "brown fox")

Match messages whose subject contains "quick brown fox", but also "brown fox quicksand".

(thread (of (id 1234@invalid)))

Match any message in the same thread as the one with Message-Id "1234@invalid".

(thread (matching (from (to

Match any (messages in) a thread containing a message from "" and a (possibly distinct) message to "".

(to (or (or (to (to

Match in the "To" or "Cc" headers, "", "", and also "" since it contains the adjacent triple "bob", "example", "com".

(not (to *))

Match messages with an empty or invalid 'To' and 'Cc' field.

(List *)

Match messages with a non-empty List-Id header, assuming configuration index.header.List=List-Id.

Macro Examples

A macro that takes two parameters and applies different fields to them.

$ notmuch config set squery.TagSubject '(macro (tagname subj) (and (tag ,tagname) (subject ,subj)))'
$ notmuch search --query=sexp '(TagSubject inbox maildir)'

Nested macros are allowed.

$ notmuch config set squery.Inner '(macro (x) (subject ,x))'
$ notmuch config set squery.Outer  '(macro (x y) (and (tag ,x) (Inner ,y)))'
$ notmuch search --query=sexp '(Outer inbox maildir)'

Parameters can be re-used to reduce boilerplate. Any field, including user defined fields is permitted within a macro.

$ notmuch config set squery.About '(macro (name) (or (subject ,name) (List ,name)))'
$ notmuch search --query=sexp '(About notmuch)'



Technically macros implement lazy evaluation and lexical scope. There is one top level scope containing all macro definitions, but all parameter definitions are local to a given macro.


a.k.a. prefixes


a.k.a. probabilistic prefixes


a.k.a. boolean prefixes


Due to the implementation of phrase fields in Xapian, regex queries could only match individual words.


Due to the way body is implemented in notmuch, this modifier is not supported in the body field.


Due to the way recursive path queries are implemented in notmuch, this modifier is not supported in the path field.


Carl Worth and many others


Apr 16, 2024 0.38.3 notmuch