Matthew Lindfield Seager

Matthew Lindfield Seager

Why Action Mailbox can't be used with Gmail

I’ve seen a few questions today about how to get Rails’ Action Mailbox working with Gmail so you can process Gmail messages in a Rails app. The short answer is:

  • Gmail doesn’t support it
  • Rails doesn’t support it

A longer answer, which I also posted on Stack Overflow in reply to the second question above, follows.

Action Mailbox is built around receiving email from a Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) in real time, not periodically fetching email from a mailbox. That is, it receives mail sent via SMTP, it doesn’t fetch mail (using IMAP or POP3) from another server that has already received it.

For this to work it is dependent on an external (to Rails) SMTP service receiving the email and then delivering the email to Action Mailbox. These external services are called “Ingresses” and, as at the time of writing, there are 5 available ingresses.

Of the five, four are commercial services that will run the required SMTP servers for you and then “deliver” the email to your application (usually as a JSON payload via a webhook).

You could already use those services in a Rails App and handle the webhooks yourself but Action Mailbox builds a standardised set of functionality on top. Almost like a set of rails to guide and speed the process.

In addition, the fifth ingress is the “Relay” ingress. This allows you to run your own supported MTA (SMTP server) on the same machine and for it to relay the received email to Action Mailbox (usually the raw email). The currently supported MTAs are:

To answer the specific questions about Gmail:

  1. How could they integrate that with Action Mailbox?

They couldn’t directly. They would need to also set up one of the 7 MTAs listed above and then somehow deliver the emails to that. The delivery could be accomplished with:

  • Forwarding rules managed by the user at the mailbox level
  • Dual delivery, split delivery or some other advanced routing rule managed by the admin at the domain level
  1. Would one use Gmail’s API, or would that not be appropriate for Action Mailbox?

Even if there were a way to have Gmail fire a webhook on incoming email (I’m not aware of any special delivery options outside the advanced routing rules above), there is currently no way to connect that theoretical webhook to Action Mailbox.

  1. If Gmail doesn’t work, what is different about SendGrid that makes it integrate appropriately?

Sendgrid (to use your example, the others work more or less the same way) offers an inbound mail handling API. Just as importantly, the Rails Team has built an incoming email controller to integrate with that API.

Given the lack of Gmail APIs and the lack of a Rails ingress controller, the only way I can think of that you could connect Action Mailbox to an existing Gmail mailbox would be for some other bit of code to check the mailbox, reformat the fetched email and then pose as one of the supported MTAs to deliver it to Action Mailbox.

It would be an interesting exercise, and would possibly become a popular gem, but it would very much be a kludge. A glorious kludge if done well, but a kludge nonetheless.