The Apache Software Foundation

How to customize mail processing

Mail processing component overview

At the heart of James lies the Mailet container, which allows mail processing. This is splitted into smaller units, with specific responsibilities:

  • Mailets: Are operations performed with the mail: modifying it, performing a side-effect, etc...
  • Matchers: Are per-recipient conditions for mailet executions
  • Processors: Are matcher/mailet pair execution threads

Read this for more explanations of mailet container concepts.

Once we define the mailet container content through the mailetcontailer.xml file. Hence, we can arrange James standard components listed here to achieve basic logic. But what if our goals are more complex? What if we need our own processing components?

This page will propose a 'hands on practice' how-to using James 3.7.3. We will implement a custom mailet and a custom matcher, then deploy it in a James server.

We need to choose our use case. We will, when a mail is delayed over one day, write a mail to the original sender to inform him about the delay, say that we are sorry, and send him a promotion code...

Writing custom mailets and matchers

None of the matchers and mailets available in James allows us to implement what we want. We will have to write our own mailet and matcher in a separated maven project depending on James Mailet API.

We will write a IsDelayedForMoreThan matcher with a configurable delay. If the Sent Date of incoming emails is older than specified delay, then the emails should be matched (return all mail recipients). Otherwise, we just return an empty list of recipients.

To ease our Job, we can rely on the org.apache.james.apache-mailet-base maven project, which provides us a GenericMatcher that we can extend.

Here is the dependency:


The main method of a matcher is the match method:

Collection<MailAddress> match(Mail mail) throws MessagingException;

For us, it becomes, with maxDelay being previously configured:

private final Clock clock;
private Duration maxDelay;

public Collection<MailAddress> match(Mail mail) throws MessagingException {
    Date sentDate = mail.getMessage().getSentDate();

    if (clock.instant().isAfter(sentDate.toInstant().plusMillis(maxDelay.toMillis()))) {
        return ImmutableList.copyOf(mail.getRecipients());
    return ImmutableList.of();

GenericMatcher exposes us the condition that had been configured. We will use it to compute maxDelay. We can do it in the init() method exposed by the generic matcher:

public static final TimeConverter.Unit DEFAULT_UNIT = TimeConverter.Unit.HOURS;

public void init() {
    String condition = getCondition();
    maxDelay = Duration.ofMillis(TimeConverter.getMilliSeconds(condition, DEFAULT_UNIT));

Now, let's take a look at the SendPromotionCode mailet. Of course, we want to write a generic mailet with a configurable reason (why are we sending the promotion code). To keep things simple, only one promotion code will be used, and will be written in the configuration. We can here also simply extend the GenericMailet helper class.

The main method of a mailet is the service method:

void service(Mail mail) throws MessagingException

For us, it becomes, with reason and promotionCode being previously configured:

public static final boolean REPLY_TO_SENDER_ONLY = false;

private String reason;
private String promotionCode;

public void service(Mail mail) throws MessagingException {
    MimeMessage response = (MimeMessage) mail.getMessage()

    response.setText(reason + "\n\n" +
        "Here is the following promotion code that you can use on your next order: " + promotionCode);

    MailAddress sender = getMailetContext().getPostmaster();
    ImmutableList<MailAddress> recipients = ImmutableList.of(mail.getSender());

        .sendMail(sender, recipients, response);

Note that we can interact with the mail server through the mailet context for sending mails, knowing postmaster, etc...

GenericMailet exposes us the 'init parameters' that had been configured for this mailet. We will use it to retrieve reason and promotionCode. We can do it in the init() method exposed by the generic mailet:

public void init() throws MessagingException {
    reason = getInitParameter("reason");
    promotionCode = getInitParameter("promotionCode");

    if (Strings.isNullOrEmpty(reason)) {
        throw new MessagingException("'reason' is compulsory");
    if (Strings.isNullOrEmpty(promotionCode)) {
        throw new MessagingException("'promotionCode' is compulsory");

You can retrieve the sources of this mini-project on GitHub

Loading custom mailets with James

Now is the time we will run James with our awesome matcher and mailet configured.

First, we will need to compile our project with mvn clean install. A jar will be outputted in the target directory.

Then, we will write the mailetcontainer.xml file expressing the logic we want:

<mailetcontainer enableJmx="true">



    <processor state="root" enableJmx="true">
        <mailet match="All" class="PostmasterAlias"/>
        <mailet match="org.apache.james.examples.custom.mailets.IsDelayedForMoreThan=1 day"
            <reason>Your email had been delayed for a long time. Because we are sorry about it, please find the
            following promotion code.</reason>
        <!-- Rest of the configuration -->

    <!-- Other processors -->

Finally, we will start a James server using that. We will rely on docker default image for simplicity. We need to be using the mailetcontainer.xml configuration that we had been writing and position the jar in the extensions-jars folder (specific to guice). This can be achieved with the following command:

docker run -p "25:25" -p "143:143" \
               -v "$PWD/src/main/resources/mailetcontainer.xml:/root/conf/mailetcontainer.xml" \
               -v "$PWD/target/custom-mailets.jar:/root/extensions-jars/custom-mailets.jar" \
        apache/james:memory-latest --generate-keystore