I see many threads on Reddit and blog posts about using email inside Emacs. I mean, I already have
org-mode which organizing my whole digital life. But then all my work email is provided through outlook, which does not allow me to fetch email with anything other then their proprietary software.
Microsoft outlooked was designed to be used by people writing marketing emails, not people talking about code. There is no way to distinguish what is code from what is text, or call our programming symbols from the rest of the prose. Emacs
org-mode on the other hand, was built for working in a technical environment.
Thankfully org makes it easy to export any heading to HTML. The hard part is getting that HTML into outlook. Most of the ideas presented here were taken this post, and then expanded on.
The process I use to write my email with
org-mode is as follows
- write the email in an org capture buffer
- Use a custom function to copy the exported HTML to the clipboard
- go to outlook and use a custom VBA function to insert the HTML from the clipboard as formatted text
Setting up Emacs
Using an org capture buffer
Using an org capture buffer is perfect for writing email, because I can save it as a draft if needed, or export the contents and then throw the buffer away. Also, most of the time, the content of interest is what I am working on that moment, so I have everything at hand. Here is the simple template that I use to write emails.
Exporting from org-mode
Normally if you wanted to export an org header as HTML, you would use
C-c C-e to open the export menu.
hH will open a dedicated buffer with the HTML contents of your org file. From there you can copy the whole buffer. However I find it much faster to use this helper function (bound to
Better CSS for export
The default HTML exported by org is spartan to say the least. Thankfully it is pretty easy to define some custom to CSS that looks prettier and plays nicer with outlooks HTML rendering engine. The outlook compatible HTML I use is located here. The function below adds my CSS to
org-html-head. It is called by
export-org-email from the previous section.
As you can see in the function below, I have this CSS at the local path
~/org/org-html-themes/styles/email/css/email.css. You will need to change this to where ever you keep the CSS file.
setting up outlook
Getting the HTML into outlook
This is the tricky part. outlook does not make it easy to insert HTML inline. I had to learn some VBA and use the outlook code editor. I hope I never have to do that again.
To add a function to outlook
Alt-F11to bring up the VBA editor.
- You should see the default project. Change this project name to something more appropriate. Note that the Project name MUST NOT be the name of the function (
PrependClipboardHTML) so name it something else.
- Right click on the project to add a new module and copy in the function from below
Sub PrependClipboardHTML() Dim email As Outlook.MailItem Dim cBoard As DataObject Set email = Application.ActiveInspector.CurrentItem Set cBoard = New DataObject cBoard.GetFromClipboard email.HTMLBody = cBoard.GetText + email.HTMLBody Set cBoard = Nothing Set email = Nothing End Sub
Fix object library
This step may not apply to everyone, but in order to get this to work, I also had to add the
Microsoft Forms 2.0 Object Library to the References. I figured this out by looking at this Reddit thread.
- Click on
Toolsin the menu bar (or use
- Browse to
C:\Windows\System32\FM20.DLLand select open
Add to Quick Access Toolbar
This function only makes sense in context of an email. To enable it there, add it to the quick access toolbar at the top.
Ctrl-nto open up a new email.
- Select the little down arrow at the very top for the
Customize Quick Access Toolbarmenu.
- In the drop down for
choose commands from:select
Macros. You should see the
PrependClipboardHTMLmacro you created here.
- Add it to the right hand side pane with the
- Click on
Modify...to change the icon and display name. You can also use the arrow to change the ordering in the
Quick Access Toolbar
Now clicking on that button will copy clipboard contents into the email as HTML. Our raw HTML exported from Org mode gets inserted nicely and we gain the formatting desired.
The other bonus (or maybe the main point) is that now you can also use a built-in shorcut for the Quick Access Toolbar commands to run this one. By pressing
Alt, you can see a number by your command.
Matching the default font in Outlook
It is nice sometimes to have the default font in outlook match what you are exporting from org mode. To make this happen, do the following steps in Outlook.
- On the
Compose messages, choose
Stationery and Fonts.
- On the
Personal Stationerytab, under
New mail messagesor
Replying or forwarding messages, choose Font.
- In the
Fontbox, choose the font, style, size, and color that you want to use. You can see a preview of your changes as you make them.
OKthree times to return to Outlook.
Here are a few more ideas that are not necessary for this workflow but are useful to me.
More advanced VBA
PrependClipboardHTML function I showed above is not actually the version I use. But I chose to mention present it as the solution because it is simple and works well. This more advanced version has two differences
- Works with inline email replies
- If the subject line is empty, the HTML header at the start of the body is used as the subject line. This allows you add the subject line in org-mode and have it automatcially inserted.
Sub PrependClipboardHTML() Dim email As Outlook.MailItem Dim cBoard As DataObject Set email = GetCurrentItem() Set cBoard = New DataObject cBoard.GetFromClipboard Dim sText As String Dim headerStart As Integer Dim headerStartClose As Integer Dim HTMLPre As String Dim HTMLPost As String Dim subject As String Dim paragraphStart As Integer Dim headerEndStr As String Const titleText = "<h1 class=""title"">" headerEndStr = "</h1>" headerStart = Len(titleText) sText = cBoard.GetText HTMLPre = sText headerStart = InStr(sText, titleText) If Not headerStart > 0 Then ' if no title text, we use the starting header headerStart = InStr(sText, "<h2 id=") headerEndStr = "</h2>" End If ' we use the first header as the subject line if the subject line is empty If headerStart > 0 Then headerStartClose = InStr(headerStart, sText, ">") + 1 Dim headerEnd As Integer headerEnd = InStr(headerStartClose, sText, headerEndStr) If headerEnd > 0 Then subject = Mid(sText, _ headerStartClose, _ headerEnd - headerStartClose) HTMLPre = Mid(sText, 1, headerStart - 1) ' arrays start at 1... HTMLPost = Mid(sText, headerEnd + Len(headerEndStr)) End If End If email.HTMLBody = HTMLPre + HTMLPost + email.HTMLBody ' only use the HTML subject if an email subject is absent If Len(email.subject) = 0 Then email.subject = subject End If ' deallocate objects Set cBoard = Nothing Set email = Nothing End Sub ' Get either the active email item or the current window Function GetCurrentItem() As Object Dim objApp As Outlook.Application Set objApp = Application On Error Resume Next Select Case TypeName(objApp.ActiveWindow) Case "Explorer" Set GetCurrentItem = objApp.ActiveExplorer.ActiveInlineResponse Case "Inspector" Set GetCurrentItem = objApp.activeInspector.CurrentItem End Select Set objApp = Nothing End Function
Normalize outlook formatting
Unless you disable it, outlook will try and “prettify” some characters as you type with non ascii-compatible versions. This means that you will often encounter errors when copying code out of outlook and trying to paste into a shell or source file. The following function takes the last paste normalizes it to be ascii compatible.
(defun normalize-text (beg end) "normalize characters used in Microsoft formatting" (let* ((orig-text (buffer-substring beg end)) (normalized-text (thread-last orig-text (replace-regexp-in-string "–" "--") (replace-regexp-in-string (rx (char "‘’")) "'") (replace-regexp-in-string (rx (char "“”")) "\"")))) (unless (equal orig-text normalized-text) (save-excursion (goto-char beg) (delete-region beg end) (insert normalized-text))))) (defun normalize-region (beg end) "normalize the last paste, or if region is selected, normalize that region." (interactive "r") (if (region-active-p) (progn (normalize-text beg end) (deactivate-mark)) (apply #'normalize-text (cl-sort (list (point) (mark t)) '<))))
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