How To Power Up Your Email Search With Rocketbox

I’m just getting to the end of my sixteenth year of using email. In this time, I’ve used around twenty different email addresses and have usually operated several accounts at once. Email accumulates incredibly quickly and I, as I’m sure many of you to, have many thousands of email messages on my MacBook.

For years I did what most of us do: stored messages in various well-pruned folders. I then moved to rely on Gmail’s labels and its awesome search capabilities. Eventually I moved on from Gmail to FastMail, started using Mailtags, and took the step of tagging my messages, getting rid of folders, and dumping everything into a single archive. Sadly, Mailtags hasn’t quite made the jump to Snow Leopard yet (and I’ve had problems with the beta), so I’m waiting for a full and final update to be released. Until that happy day, I’ve been pleased to spend the last week experimenting with Rocketbox, and I can see this little app becoming a fixture in my email workflow.

Getting Started

Rocketbox installs as an add-on to OS X’s built in Mail client, and you really wouldn’t know it was there unless you looked quite closely. See how there are stripes added to the standard search box?

Your New Search Box

Your New Search Box

That’s it. That’s the sign that Rocketbox is installed and in use.

You can turn Rocketbox off if you ever want to use Mail’s built-in, Spotlight-supported search: just click on View and then untick ‘Use Rocketbox’, and the stripes, and the features, will disappear.

The first time you run Mail after installing Rocketbox, it will index all of the messages on your computer. It can’t reach up and index messages on your email account’s server, so you need to have selected to download a copy of all your messages for offline viewing – check the setting for the account you want to be able to search in Mail’s Preferences, in the Advanced Tab under Accounts. The indexing may take a few minutes; the time it takes of course depends on the number of messages you have on your machine.



When the process is done, you’ll be left looking at Rocketbox’s main window. But let’s not start there…


As soon as you start interacting with that now-striped search box in Mail, you will see that there’s more going on…

A Basic Search

A Basic Search

That’s one of Rocketbox’s headline features, auto-suggested search-by-person. It’s a great way of getting a quick overview of exchanges with a particular contact, wherever those messages are hidden among your store. Say I selected the first name on the list: that would bring back Rocketbox’s main window, displaying a list of all the messages I’ve exchanged with our esteemed editor.

Search Results

Search Results

You will see that, down the left hand side, there are three sections: ‘Flags’, ‘Accounts’, and ‘Mailboxes’, and there’s a count beside each different kind of Flag, or in each Mailbox or folder in which messages were found that match the criteria. Clicking in the tick-box to the left of any of these items will narrow the range of results shown.

Most of the window is taken up with previews that show the headers and first few lines of each message. It would be great if Quick Look worked in this list of results, but as yet it doesn’t – please, Mr Developer, add this soon… For now, you have to double-click on any message you want to read, and it will be displayed as usual in Mail.



In the top bar you can perform another search or refine your current one, choose whether results are displayed in order of Date or Relevance, and select from a pull-down menu the period for which results are shown.

This is all extremely straightforward, and likely to be familiar to anybody who’s ever searched in Mail.

Added Power

Where Rocketbox comes into its own (though I must say, “You had me at ‘auto-suggested search-by-person’!”) is with the range of queries that it supports. These allow you to fine tune your search and will make the job of finding particular messages in that vast email haystack much, much easier. Here’s a clip from the app’s website showing the different kinds of search operators available:

Search Operators

Search Operators

A quick search for…

…instantly brought up exactly the same results as previously. Adding ‘body:rocketbox’ narrowed the search down to just three messages.

Running the same search without using Rocketbox took about 8 seconds longer, and returned – of course – no results, because Mail doesn’t support search queries of this kind.

Equivalent Results in Search

Equivalent Results in Search

A fairly specious comparison, I know, but it does demonstrate the greater power of searching with Rocketbox.


For the past several months, I have been using Postbox to manage my email. I’ve particularly liked its Topics, which of course are tags by another name. Recently, I’ve felt frustrated by the amount of memory it uses, so I decided I would come back to Mail for a while. That more or less coincided with the arrival of Rocketbox.

As I said before, Mailtags isn’t quite ready for Snow Leopard yet, so I was a bit worried, making the switch back to Mail, that I would struggle to find and keep track of messages. Rocketbox adds enough power to Mail that I’m willing to trust to it – as I trusted Gmail’s search back in the day.

This is a small application, focused on a single task, but it adds a whole lot of search power to Mail. It’s very speedy, and adding the ability to search with various operators makes it much easier to track down precisely what you’re after.


Add Yours
  • So I’m guessing this doesn’t work with IMAP?

  • Hey L1,

    The developer of Rocketbox here. In fact Rocketbox works will all account types including IMAP, POP3 and even Exchange.


  • looks like an interesting one. I’ll try it tonight

  • Does it work with Thunderbird?
    I hate the Mail app.

  • an extra programm for mail searching, thats very iunhandy. i found everything i need with spotlight or the build in “mail” search!

  • Rocketbox won’t search through any of the email “On My Mac.” I HAVE to put the bulk of my email into the ‘On My Mac” folders, because they won’t let us keep so much on the OWA (IMAP) exchange server here.

    Following your hints, I did go to preferences — accounts — advanced,
    but the only relevant option I saw there was to add another email account.

    RocketBox is really great for the things which it DOES search, better than I expected from the early reviews, and I was about to recommend it to colleagues… but if I/we/you can’t find a way to fix THIS problem, that will be the end of that. (I bought Rocketbox when it was clear that Spotlight was not good enough… the Smart Mailboxes backdoor way to search was OK except for the huge time it takes… but maybe I’ll have to go back to that.)

    • My apologies for writing too soon. Frustration can do that.
      When I couldn’t find a message I was looking for, and all I saw
      on the left was “inbox” and “sent”, I drew the wrong conclusion.
      Rocketbox really does go quickly into everything I have, inbox
      and on my mac. But I still don’t know why it didn’t find the
      message I was looking for. Maybe there are conventions
      about what’s in body and what’s in subject I should have paid
      more attention to, to send the right search string. I have bookmarked the rocketbox page on search string options..

  • Is Rocketbox able to search through email addresses?