Using JavaMail to read and extract attachments


Recently I had to create a JavaMail-based e-mail client that polled an IMAP server for incoming e-mail messages. The client needed to read each message, find any attachments, and save those attachments to a directory on the application server. I had never had a need to do this with the JavaMail API before, so I did the first thing that many developers do when they’re venturing into unknown territory, and Google’d for an example. I found lots of examples of sending attachments, but not many of receiving them. The few examples that I did find of receiving mail with the JavaMail API were too simple. So I had to figure out how to do it by (gasp) reading the documentation. Fortunately, it wasn’t very difficult, but I thought I’d share it for the next programmer that turns to Google for a solution.

In my application, I used the Quartz library to periodically call a method named receive, which does the grunt work of pulling stuff off the server. This code is similar to other examples you might find out there Google’ing, and it’s pretty mundane stuff. The MailReceiveException is a catch-all Exception class that I wrote:

public Message[] receive(String server, String user,
                         String password, String directory)
                 throws MailReceiveException {
  Message[] msgs;
  Store store = null;
  Folder folder = null;
  try {
    store = session.getStore("imap");
    store.connect(server, user, password);
    folder = store.getDefaultFolder();
    if (folder == null) {
      throw new MailReceiveException("No default folder");
    folder = folder.getFolder("INBOX");
    if (folder == null) {
      throw new MailReceiveException("No IMAP INBOX");
    msgs = folder.getMessages();
    for (int i=; i<msgs.length; ++i) {
      Message msg = msgs[i];
      // don't fetch messages that we've already processed
      if (!msg.isSet(Flags.Flag.SEEN)) {
        String from = "unknown";
        if (msg.getReplyTo().length >= 1) {
          from = msg.getReplyTo()[].toString();
        } else if (msg.getFrom().length >= 1) {
          from = msg.getFrom()[].toString();
        String subject = msg.getSubject();
        String filename = directory + "/" + from + ": " + subject;
        // This is where the real work will get done.
        this.saveParts(msg.getContent(), filename);
      } else {
        // Delete anything that is more than sixty days old.
        Date receivedOn = msg.getReceivedDate();
        GregorianCalendar cal = new GregorianCalendar();
        if (receivedOn.before(cal.getTime())) {
          msg.setFlag(Flags.Flag.DELETED, true);
    // Rats' nest of catch blocks omitted... make sure you close
    // the folder and the mail store in a finally block, as well
    // as expunge any messages that have been marked for deletion.
  return msgs;

There’s one small detail that I had to learn the hard way, and that is that the “Parts” within Multipart MIME messages can themselves contain other Parts. So you have a nifty opportunity to use some of that fancy recursion stuff that you learned about in your “Intro to Programming” course!

public void saveParts(Object content,
                       String filename)
             throws MailReceiveException {
  OutputStream out = null;
  InputStream in = null;
  try {
    if (content instanceof Multipart) {
      Multipart multi = ((Multipart)content);
      int parts = multi.getCount();
      for (int j=; j<parts; ++j) {
        MimeBodyPart part = (MimeBodyPart)multi.getBodyPart(j);
        if (part.getContent() instanceof Multipart) {
          // part-within-a-part, do some recursion...
          this.saveParts(part.getContent(), filename);
        } else {
          String type = part.getContentType();
          String extension = "";
          if (part.isMimeType("text/html")) {
            extension = "html";
          } else {
            if (part.isMimeType("text/plain")) {
              extension = "txt";
            } else {
              // Try to make a reasonable guess about the
              // extension from the MIME type.
              int end = type.indexOf(';');
              if (end < ) {
                end = type.length();
              extension = type.substring(type.indexOf('/')+1,end);
            filename = filename + "." + extension;
            out = new FileOutputStream(new File(filename));
            in = part.getInputStream();
            int k;
            while ((k = != -1) {
  } catch (MessagingException e1) {
    log.error("Messaging Exception", e1);
    throw new MailReceiveException("Error fetching e-mail");
  } catch (IOException e2) {
    log.error("Caught IOException reading e-mail.", e2);
    throw new MailReceiveException("Error fetching e-mail");
  } finally {
    if (in != null) {
      try {
      } catch (IOException e6) {
        log.error("Unable to close input stream");
    if (out != null) {
      try {
      } catch (IOException e7) {
        log.error("Unable to close output stream.");

All of this work was done using JavaMail 1.3. I believe newer versions of the API have a savePart method, so you don’t need to write out the parts to a FileOutputStream byte-by-byte as I have above.

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