Mac Mail Rules Woes

I like Mac Mail - in general it does the things that I want it to do in a way that is generally in tune with the way I like to work, and I’ve not yet found any other Mail client of which I can say that (and I’ve tried a few!). It’s not perfect, but it’s just about good enough most of the time - though it regularly falls out of that “good enough” category for a spell until they fix the latest bug (or, more annoyingly, the latest reversion!). We seem, currently, bo be in just such a spell!

Two new reversions:

  1. Mail rules work sometimes, but sometimes don’t.

All incoming mail is meant to be subject to my list of mail rules, which are there to catch spam and other unwanted mail. Depending on the reason for rejection, my rules ma move messages to the spam bucket, or outright delete them.

Recently, I’ve been finding many (but not all!) messages that should have been so rejected have actually been accepted, so I find them in with my good mail. Selecting such a message and running the “apply rules” command to it will usually get rid of it - but sometimes it needs 2 or 3 attempts before the message finally disappears. Very, very, odd!

  1. Some spam messages can’t be moved or deleted

This is very likely entangled with the previous one. As part of my mail filtering rules, mentioned above, I mark as spam and change the colour of the text or the background of messages to be deleted or placed in the spam bucket. This is to help me identify which rule caught any given message - a helpful debugging aid. Even rules that delete the messages they catch mark as spam and change the colour before deletion - this is because initially, when developing the rules-set, no rules deleted messages, they were all put in spam, and I only amended them to delete messages once I was satisfied that each rule generated no false positives.

The symptoms of this are odd. In the last couple of weeks I have been finding, mixed in with my good mail, messages that are marked as spam and have had the appropriate rules-based colour change applied to them, but they haven’t been deleted or moved to the spam-bucket! These messages are impervious to re-application of the rules, and in fact if manually deleted or moved to the spam-bucket, they disappear briefly, but then re-appear in the in-box a moment later. Indeed, there seems to be nothing I can do to remove them but wait a day or so, and they eventually seem to disappear of their own accord.

I can login to ISP and view my messages via webmail, but these rogue messages .have apparently been deleted from my ISP’s server before I find them - yet they still will not delete from Mac Mail’s mailbox!

I have encountered similar behaviour in past versions of Mail - the bug(s) appeared, and then disappeared, apparently randomly.

Has anyone else noticed these or similar symptoms? And any ideas how these messages might be resurrecting themselves each time they are deleted or moved?

I do not (nor would not) use Mail rules for eliminating Spam, when there’s the gold-standard in spam filtering available with SpamSieve. I have used SpamSieve for years, it is easy to set up, easy to train, and easy to zap the rare emails that escape its filters.


I’m not a huge fan of Mac Mail but I do consider it a reliable basic mail client. So your problems make me wonder if the problem is actually

Have you considered temporarily turning off your rules and using another email client, like Thunderbird, to see if things improve or remain unstable?

Yeah, good point. Mozilla Thunderbird is a great (and completely free) alternative to the built-in email client. It’s been my default email client for a while now. I used to use the built-in email client, but it became too buggy after a while.

I just wish that Mozilla Thunderbird had a mobile version…

I too use SpamSieve, but for me it’s nowhere near a gold standard - too many false positives, and even more false negatives.

Such an interesting opinion. Thank you.