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The mysterious case of Mail’s vanishing Rules actions

I have used OS X’s built-in Mail program for nearly 15 years. I use it for both personal and work emails, and as such, I rely on rules to sort my mail—I have 75 separate rules. (Note to Apple’s Mail team: If you would allow boolean logic in rules, I could slash this number to about 10. Please?)

Recently we changed the Many Tricks store, and as a result, I needed to modify about 30 of my rules. As I was working on these changes, which requires editing and testing each modified rule, I noticed a most-frustrating Mail bug: The “Perform the following actions” section for all rules would slowly vanish as I edited my rules.

Needless to say, editing a rule when you can’t see the Actions section is impossible.

Here’s a before (top) and after (bottom), showing how this glitch manifests itself:

This happens slowly: Each click on the Edit button eats a bit more of the space reserved for the Actions section. After about 25 clicks on Edit, the Actions section will be completely gone. (I have verified this on three machines, including a fully-stock El Capitan installation, so I don’t think it’s something on my end.)

At this point, the only fix is to quit and relaunch Mail—this will restore the Actions section, at least for another 25 clicks.

To demonstrate the problem in my RADAR, I created this very brief (thanks to sped up video) movie:

In the video, I click the Edit button for the same rule, just for ease of demonstration. But it doesn’t matter which rule you edit—even if you move from rule to rule, you’ll lose the Actions section after about 25 clicks.

Hopefully this is fixed in 10.11.3—it’s not fixed in the 10.11.2 beta.

Updated: Mar 3 '17 — 11:59 pm


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  1. That bug has been around for many generations of the OS. Mail is _always_ broken when a new (main) version of the OS is released, and takes forever to get fixed. It’s highly frustrating, especially for such a strategically important app.

  2. yes that bug is there, and it’s been there since Mavericks, so don’t get your hopes up for a fix…. Apple doesn’t seem to try to fix anything for two years now atleast, they are more interested in making everything “new” again…. which breaks even more stuff, so the number of bugs is critical now…. maybe someone with sense will finally enter the picture in that area someday in some not too distant future.

    but heck this bug pales in comparison to the fact that the rules don’t actually work in many situations. try turning off Junk mail too… and watch as mail continues to go to your junk folder….

  3. Thanks, Rob! I’d noticed this as well. What app(s) did you use to create & edit the screen capture video? I’ve got a few bugs I need to file as well.

  4. I’ve written bug reports on precisely this for the last two iterations. They know but it’s not important enough to fix at this point. Sigh.

    1. So incredibly annoying…”well, we’re replacing Mail in a year anyway, so I guess we’ll just let this one sit. Maybe it’ll fix itself in the new version.”

      Well, it hasn’t, and it makes rule editing a major PitA.


  5. I too got frustrated with the disappearing input boxes as I added more rules. I found a solution though that is working. Instead of adding multiple rules, for each rule, click the + sign within each rule to add another rule. Make sure that your logic is right (i.e.: if filtering for junk and simply deleting, make sure “any” is selected and not “all”) because Mail will go through all the conditions to perform an action on each email.

    This worked for me for sorting my emails into folders as well as long as I grouped the conditions together under each rule (i.e.: if…from…list email addresses here…move to this folder).

    I hope this makes sense and helps any frustrated users!


  6. I really appreciate this article. It confirmed what I’ve experienced in just two sessions with Mail in El Capitan. I jumped from Snow Leeopard, where I never saw this problem.The article, comments, and some things I’ve been reading about changes to OS X inspired me to contact Apple support where I just spent about an hour going through the process of explaining the issue. We did the usual, which is to set up a test user account, where I just had my iCloud emails to work with to set up rules. Even though the kinds of Rules I threw together were a lot less complex than the real ones that I’ve tried to do with my actual user account, sure enough, about 4 rules in, the vanishing act starts.

    It took some explaining and several screenshots, but the Apple chat tech finally “got it”. I was afraid I was going to have to set up a half dozen more dummy rules to convince her/him that this disappearing act really happens. The Mail tech people are going to call me tomorrow.

    My whole goal here is to help push this into a bug fix and I’ll be interested to see how this is handled.

    I do wonder if what’s going on with these kinds of bugs is that people don’t actually ever report the problem to Apple, or at least only a very small number ever do, especially if they are capable or (like Rob) are really savvy. Although I’ve had Apple products since 2007, I’ve only contacted tech support once before. I tend to Google and contrive a work around or use another program.

    I’ve read some articles that have stated the “push for new” and what I call “dumbing down” (removing some controls and advanced features) of OS X is caused by tons of calls from people who are…shall we say…the opposite of very savvy.

    Finally, I’ve got to say, I’m really frustrated with the lack of changes to Mail, especially regarding Rules, since Snow Leopard. I was REALLY hoping for some improvements, as Rob pointed out, and, how about a search function? When you have 75 or 125 rules…scrolling through is a total pain. I guess I need to look at a third party app? *sigh*

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