I am trying to recover the attachments in an email file that was recovered from my harddisk crash. The file is essentially a concatenation of messages, including the attachments in base-64 encoding.

One search here suggested the munpack could be used to convert a block of text to the relevant file and in a test that worked fine. But it cannot seem to take the entire mess of a file and go through it, extracting blocks as it comes across them. That is what I want to figure out how to do.

This post Extract text between two specific lines seemed to suggest a way to pull out relevant blocks of base-64 encoded text and put them in a file.

My attempt was to use this line cat test.txt | sed -n "/Content-Type: image/,/--=/p" > test2.txt and then to run munpack on test2.txt

Depending on the trailing delimiter I use (-- or --= or --=_) I either get only the first image in the file or just a duplicate of test2.txt

Other searches here have turned up nothing, as well as Google searches.

I would think someone else has come across this problem before. Can anyone point me to the solution?

TIA, Matt

PS I tried importing the file into Thunderbird and it comes in as only one message. So that approach has already been tried and fails miserably.

Update 1: This is a kludge, admittedly, but it kinda-sorta works:

cat test.txt | sed -n '/^Content-Type: image/,/--.*/ p' > test1.txt
cat test1.txt | sed 's/--.*/--_31415927/' > test2.txt
cat emailfmt2.eml test2.txt > test_images.eml

Where: test.txt is the original text file with emails embedded, "_31415927" is a customized boundary, emailfmt2.eml is the header of an email:

Date: Sun, 01 Jul 2027 00:00:00 +0000
Subject: Test format
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Content-Type: multipart/mixed; boundary="_31415927"

Content-Type: text/plain; charset="UTF-8"; format=flowed; delsp=yes

test format...


So what I'm doing here is (ideally) collecting everything between "image" tags and then replacing the different boundary markers with my customized one. That result is then appended to a template for an email (emailfmt2.eml).

When the resulting .eml file is brought into Thunderbird, it automatically parses everything into attachments. Which I can at least deal with in T-bird. (As an aside, it looks like T-bird doesnt' display GIF files. Or at least I don't have it set up to deal with them nicely).

I haven't tried figuring out how munpack (could?) work, but it's a start.

Update 2: Minor edits/typos fixed in above. Also, it looks like the delimiter I need to test for is


as some messages had boundaries such as "--Boundary[...]".

A test on a 10MB file seems to show Thunderbird able to handle the non-GIF code. I.e. the resulting imported faux-email message had JPEGs, PDFs and a .XPI file all correctly imported.

Unless I can figure out how to get munpack to process all this from the command line (saving off each file as it comes across it), I think I am left with a process that involves putting symbolic links to all .txt files in one folder, running the above cat/sed commands on all of those files to create one enormous "email" and then seeing if Thunderbird can import it. Or break it out into a number of "emails" that can be imported.

I'd still like to know if this can all be done on the command line to save the attachments, without having to invoke Thunderbird

  • Can you share what the file looks like? Maybe a small example? Jul 3, 2017 at 0:00
  • I've tried to figure out how to upload a small file that is basically base_64, but it turns into a mess. Even the sample email header I just laid out is malformed. Apologies - I'm new to posting here.
    – mconsidine
    Jul 3, 2017 at 1:02
  • If you indent everything 4 spaces, the line breaks will be maintained. Easiest is to paste into editor, then highlight, then either Ctril-K or hit the {} button at the top of the editor. Jul 3, 2017 at 1:09
  • Thanks for the pointer. I've tried to clean up my initial request. And I will later try to get a sample uploaded.
    – mconsidine
    Jul 3, 2017 at 14:02

1 Answer 1


Looks like what I needed was uudeview, run something like this in an empty folder on each of the text files:

for file in $(find /path/to/drive -iname "*.txt"); do
  uudeview -i -a -d +o "$file"

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