Understanding Smart Mailboxes in Apple Mail

For a long time I advised users not to use Smart Mailboxes, an endless number of times I had to explain that this is a search command that displays a subset of emails, not a mailbox into which by some magic all emails get moved that match certain criteria. Nuff said, people just got confused by them.

I now have a situation for myself where I will need to quickly see all emails that
were sent to or received from both, JIM or ALFRED, after 1 July 2021.
How do I set this as a Smart Mailbox, or am I using the wrong tool?

I am aware that there are also the RULES, but really, can’t Smart Mailboxes do what I need?

Most confusing is that there is a tick box “Include Messages from SENT”. Why with a tick box and not via one of the criteria?

Yes, you can do this with a smart mailbox. In fact, it’s a great use for it. Just set up the criteria you mentioned. Keep an eye Mail’s activity status to see when it has completed finding the messages (which might take a moment or two, depending on the volume of messages).

Regarding Sent being a checkbox – if it were a parallel criteria you’d be forced to choose matching on “any” criteria, not “all” in order to get both incoming and outgoing, which would severely limit how tightly you can narrow your search.

Thanks Gordon @bb1 for the swift answer. Yes, exactly what I expected, but no luck
The setting shown below finds approx 890 emails, but I expect only under 30. Most of the 890 emails found have nothing to do with Jim or Alfred. The logic is that it finds all mails younger than 1 July. I can change to “match ALL” instead of “match ANY” , but doing so finds nothing.

This set of conditions will show you all emails after January 7, 2021. Because the conditions for a Smart Mailbox can’t contain a combination of ‘any’ and ‘all’ conditions, you need to set up two Smart Mailboxes:

The first one will have the ‘Recipient’ conditions and similar ‘From’ conditions and with the ‘any’ modifier. Call it ‘JAall’. The second one will have two conditions with the ‘all’ modifier. The first one should be ‘Message is in Mailbox JAall’. The second one will be the ‘Date Received’ condition.

Oh! This is helpful to see. I can think of two approaches you might try, perhaps one will work for you.

1 - Use two smart mailboxes. One that gathers all messages for Jim or Alfred, then a second smart mailbox that gathers messages from the first one, based on date. (or just sort the results of the first one based on date and ignore the older messages.)

2 - Define a contact group that contains both Jim and Alfred, then use that group as the recipient criteria, with date received, and specify match All.

Hmm, interesting, thanks to @bb1 and @aforkosh
It worked somehow, I followed @aforkosh precisely. Although, for reasons unknown to man or beast, a handful of emails are not caught by these conditions. I can see them in other views, but the Smart Mailbox can’t. Good enough for the time being.
Thanks again for helping.

On balance I still think Smart Mailboxes are confusing and not easy to use, not exactly Apple’s finest hour. To search for a sender, you need to search for ‘any recipient’, this makes you think you’re doing the opposite of what you want, because a recipient is somebody I send TO, not receive FROM. You think at first you can’t search for “date sent”, but using “date received” does exactly that.
Maybe fine for a computer programmer, normal users don’t use this kind of hyper precise logic.

And finally, the very old ill of Apple MAIL: SENT emails in the lists don’t show who I sent it TO, it shows me that it was me sending it, the least logical display I can think of.

This has been fixed in Big Sur and Monterey.

Well @davbro, you’re right, but unfortunately not in the display I see when I use Smart Mailboxes.

Sorry if I am not understanding, but why not use the display that shows what you want to see?

@davbro A fair and pragmatic question. But I fear Smart Mailboxes can’t help me, apparently.
What I have here is a phase of complex conversations, involving four different organisations over two different countries. It would help so much to see all relevant emails in one place, because “Who said what and when to whom?”. I am trying to make this tedious work quicker and the stuff easier to access.

I will now use either a mailbox in which I manually push all these emails, or use three tabbed views.

Once the effort to make a computer do what you need gets bigger than the comparable manual efforts it’s better to go manual.

From almost the very beginning, Apple has had a very unfortunate habit of poorly naming and poorly explaining things >cough HyperCard<. Heaven knows why they called it Smart Mailboxes instead of something sensible like “Saved Searches”.

Hmm. Your date appears to be Jan. 7, 2021, not July 1.
Also, shouldn’t they have to match ALL conditions. You want both the date and the addressees to be true.

well spotted @rbononno I am in the UK, we write dd/mm/YYYY.
In my example an ALL condition would mean that only mail that came from JIM and ALFRED is matched, not from either JIM or ALFRED.
Apple’s choice of words is confusing, it doesn’t mean ALL from JIM or ALFRED.
There is no way how you can say, with just one set of rules:
Mail from (jim OR alfred) AND [required date range]

As Smart Mailboxes are somewhat underdeveloped, I have given up using them.

I’ve been using Smart Mailboxes for many years. They are actually very powerful and approximately a zillion times better than manually organising mail in folders. :blush: You’re correct that it would be very nice if Apple were to take them a step further by making the UI more accessible and it would be nice if they could do the same for Smart Folders in the Finder while they’re at it. They are indeed pretty arcane. But nevertheless, the power remains, which is really excellent.

The lightbulb moment for me, transitioning to Smart Mailboxes (and Smart Folders in the Finder) was when I realised they can be boolean. In fact, you can build seriously complex ‘Finds’, which is of course, what they actually are. I did need quite a shove, to actually spend the time working them out and that shove was dealing with the overwhelming quantity of spam I was receiving at the time. I simply couldn’t have done it without the boolean options of Smart Mailboxes.

I will need to quickly see all emails that
were sent to or received from both, JIM or ALFRED, after 1 July 2021.

Understanding that: when you say ‘both’, you don’t mean AND…

So… you need two Smart Mailboxes. First to get mail from Jim AND/OR Alfred. Second, to limit the date range. The nice thing about this, is that you can change the date range in seconds, whenever you want. Not bad compared to moving stuff around manually. :blush:

The one you view, is the 2nd of the two. The first one just sits quietly in the background somewhere. (N.B. Any/All)


I’m not sure if this is the right thread, but Monterey (new mbp 14) no longer shows all the deleted mail in one location as it has done in the past.

I have six email accounts and if I want to have a general look at my trash, I need to refer to six seperate locations. I don’t know if it is possible to re-instate this feature. I might be able to create a smart mailbox but that would not be available on my iOS devices (I think).

I believe that Monterey no longer shows the consolidated mailboxes (All Inboxes, All Drafts, All Sent, All Junk, All Trash, and All Archives) by default. However, you can easily get them to show up in the Favorites pseudo account.

  1. If there appear to be no mailboxes showing below the Favorites header in the sidebar, hover the cursor just inside the right edge of the line with Favorites on it, and tap the carat to show all current Favorite mailboxes.

  2. If the consolidated mailbox you wish to see is not visible, tap the circled ‘+’ icon and select one of the consolidated mailboxes. Continue until all the consolidated mailboxes you wish to be visible are selected.

  3. Note that these mailboxes also appear in the Favorites bar near the top of the Mail window if you haven’t hidden it via the View Menu dropdown. The order will be the same as the order in the sidebar. Note that the order can be changed for both by either grabbing the sidebar icon or Favorites bar description and moving it to the selected position. Hiding the Favorites items in the sidebar (by tapping the carat on the Favorites header line) will not affect the Favorites bar at the top of the window. If you want more information on working with Mac Mail Favorites, see here.


Thank you muchly. Should have seen the pattern - as I do use that facility on my individual accounts.

Does Mail allow nested criteria in smart mailboxes? I don’t use Mail, but iTunes/Music allows this for smart playlists. For example:

To create a nested group of criteria, hold the Option key and the “+” button will change to a “…” button, which will add a group at the location where you clicked.

Update: As answered by others (below), the answer is “no”. Mail doesn’t support this. :slightly_frowning_face:

The ability to use nested criteria appears to be unique to Music and iTunes. The option-’+’ trick doesn’t appear to work for creating Smart collections in either Apple Mail or Apple Photos.

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Does Mail allow nested criteria in smart mailboxes?

No. Unless it’s very cleverly hidden, I’ve never seen that. It would certainly be nice if we could compose the criteria in a single Smart Mailbox.

Personally though, I only very rarely have the Sidebar showing, so apart from the initial extra steps, it makes no difference to me once set up.

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