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Fensterbrief is a python script for working with letters based on LaTeX and Markdown.

Project description

fensterbrief is a python script for working with letters based on LaTeX and markdown.

Short introduction

fensterbrief (German for window envelope) is a helper script to manage the creation and archival of LaTeX- and Markdown-based letters. It helps you in managing folders in a structured way and to consistently name files. It helps in creating new letters based on old ones. It tries to make letter writing easy witout adding over-specialised functionality.

fensterbrief does not process metadata beyond file and directory names. It is not a LaTeX editor.

While fensterbrief is more or less OS independent, it currently only supports Unix-style environments.


  • intended to be used via command line

  • maintaining a folder and document structure

  • support for LaTeX and Markdown based letters

  • support for fax transmissions via

  • support for buying postage for the Deutsche Post

  • lookup postal addresses via the Google API


The fensterbrief tool is command line based:

$ fensterbrief --help
usage: fensterbrief [-h] [--list-templates] [--list-letters] [--search STRING]
            [--create-folder] [--adopt FILE] [--edit [FILE]]
            [--render [FILE]] [--show-pdf [FILE]] [--set-folder DIR]
            [--cat FILE] [--mail-simple-fax DEST]
            [--soap-simple-fax DEST] [--buy-stamp [PRODUCT_ID]]
            [--lookup-address STRING] [--keep-folder] [--config FILE]
            [--verbose] [--configure] [--version]

Manage letters via command line

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  --list-templates      List all letter templates
  --list-letters        List all letters
  --search STRING       Search for a string in filenames
  --create-folder       Ask for meta data and create a new folder
  --adopt FILE          Create a new letter based on a previous one
  --edit [FILE]         Edit the current letter or another source file
  --render [FILE]       Render PDF file from current markdown or latex
  --show-pdf [FILE]     Open PDF file in PDF viewer
  --set-folder DIR      Set the working folder
  --cat FILE            Dump content of a letter
  --mail-simple-fax DEST
                        Send a fax via using the e-mail
  --soap-simple-fax DEST
                        Send a fax via using the SOAP interface
  --buy-stamp [PRODUCT_ID]
                        Buy a stamp. Place postage file in current folder or
                        use together with --adopt.
  --lookup-address STRING
                        Search for an address via Google. Can be used together
                        with --adopt.
  --keep-folder         Store the adopted letter in the same folder
  --config FILE         The configuration file to use
  --verbose             Show what is going on
  --configure           Initialize the environment and configure the tool
  --version             Show version

List all archived letters

$ fensterbrief --list-letters
+ Looking up letters in /home/martin/Documents/Vorgaenge/
+ 2010-09-company_X-anmeldung/2010-09-28_anmeldung.tex
+ 2010-09-company_X-anmeldung/2011-05-04-vertragsunterlagen.tex
+ 2014-09-company_Y-guthabenerstattung/2014-09-29-companyY-guthabenerstattung.tex

Search for a string in directory and filenames

$ fensterbrief --search companyX
+ Looking up letters in /home/martin/Documents/Vorgaenge/
+ 2010-09-company_X-anmeldung/2010-09-28_anmeldung.tex
+ 2010-09-company_X-anmeldung/2011-05-04-vertragsunterlagen.tex

Create a new letter based on an old one

Often you already started a letter conversation with a recipient and have a followup letter. You like to adopt the old LaTeX letter, because you inserted reference numbers such as you customer or tax ID or the destination address. To write a new letter, you simply copy the old LaTeX file to a new destination folder. Technically, it makes no difference, whether you adopt an old letter or a template file.

$ fensterbrief --adopt 2014-09-company_X-guthabenerstattung/2014-09-29-company_X-guthabenerstattung.tex
Recipient short name: company X
Folder subject: Klärung Situation X
Letter subject: Klärung Situation X
+ Folder subject: Klarung_Situation_X
+ Letter subject: Klarung_Situation_X
+ Recipient: company_X
+ Creating folder /home/martin/Documents/Vorgaenge/2016-12_company_X-Klarung_Situation_X
+ Copy file /home/martin/Documents/Vorgaenge/2014-09-company_X-guthabenerstattung/2014-09-29-company_X-guthabenerstattung.tex to /home/martin/Documents/Vorgaenge/2016-12_company_X-Klarung_Situation_X/2016-12-14_company_X-Klarung_Situation_X.tex

Afterwards, the fensterbrief script will launch the LaTeX editor that has been configured. Since LaTeX editors usually support a build-in function for rendering and printing, there are no further steps relevant here. If you use a editor that does not support rendering, you can render your letter from command line, too. Please refer to the bext section.

If you write a follow-up letter and want to store this letter in the same directory as the original letter, just add option –keep-folder.

$ fensterbrief --adopt ... --keep-folder

When a letter is created, fensterbrief keeps track of it in a file ${ROOT_DIR}/.working_object.conf. This file references the current letter and simplifies the process of interacting with the letter.

Markdown-based letters

Adopting a Markdown letter isn’t much different from creating a LaTeX-based letter. The source file of a Markdown-based letter looks like this:

Sample Markdown letter

Usually, you likely use a more general editor that may not support LaTeX/pandoc directly. Therefore, you may want to render your letters explicitly as shown below:

$ fensterbrief --render

Afterwards you can open the rendered PDF file in a PDF viewer, check the output and print the document:

$ fensterbrief --show-pdf

If you want to make further changes to your letter, you can run the editor again:

$ fensterbrief --edit

Commands can be chained, for example:

$ fensterbrief --edit --render --show-pdf

To render PDF files from Markdown via LaTeX, fensterbrief uses pandoc with this LaTeX template:

LaTeX letter template used as pandoc template

Sending a letter

Usually, you will print your letter from the LaTex editor and close the editor afterwards. However, sometimes a letter should not be sent via snail mail, instead it should be sent via Fax. Because I use the prepaid service from, fensterbrief supports this service provider. supports fax sending via a SOAP-based web API. However, this interface lacks support for a transmission confirmation. The simple-fax interface will call you back on your own web interface for status tracking, but you have to setup your status handler and you will not get a fancy transmission confirmation.

Therefore, I prefer the mail interface, because their e-mail interface sends status messages, a transmission confirmation PDF including the first page of your fax message, and you will have everything archived in your mail user agent. To send your letter fensterbrief will invoke your mail client.

$ fensterbrief --mail-simple-fax <faxnum>

It will launch a prefilled ‘new mail’ dialog. Currently, only Thunderbird is supported. If you work with multiple e-mail accounts or e-mail identities, please make sure, the correct ‘from’ address is selected. The ~/.fensterbrief.conf configuration file has a setting for this (mail_from in section mail_to_simple_fax_de). For some reason, an index such as id2 must be specified to select the ‘from’ address instead of using just an ordinary e-mail address.

Buying postage

fensterbrief uses the tool frank to buy stamps for the Deutsche Post. These stamps are named “Internetmarke” or “1C4A” for “1Click4Applikation”. Once, frank is set up, you can buy stamps in two modes.

Buying postage, when creating a letter:

$ fensterbrief --adopt 2014-09-company_X-guthabenerstattung/2014-09-29-company_X-guthabenerstattung.tex --buy-stamp

Buying postage for the current letter:

$ fensterbrief --buy-stamp

The later approach works, because fensterbrief stores the path and filenames of the current folder and letter.

Lookup an address

When adopting a Markdown-based letter, you can lookup a postal address via Google and the address is used in the letter as destination address:

$ fensterbrief --adopt _templates/ --keep-folder --lookup-address 'rathaus mitte, berlin'

If there are multiple matches, a list of matches is shown and you select an index.

This operation requires a Google API key.


Technical installation of the tool itself

Install dependencies:

$ sudo apt-get install texlive texlive-lang-german \
    texlive-fonts-extra texlive-latex-extra texlive-generic-recommended \
    python3-pip pandoc \

Install fensterbrief:

$ sudo pip3 install fensterbrief

Setup the environment

After installing the tool, the configuration file must be created. A wizzard mode asks for certain configuration points as shown below.

$ fensterbrief --configure
+ Root directory, where letters should be stored
  Default value: /home/martin/Documents/letters/
  Current value: /home/martin/Documents/Vorgaenge/
  Enter: keep current configuration, 'd': use default configuration
+ Use value: /home/martin/Documents/Vorgaenge/

+ Template directory, where template letters are stored
  Default value: ${ROOT_DIR}/_templates/
  Current value: /home/martin/Documents/Vorgaenge//_templates/
  Enter: keep current configuration, 'd': use default configuration
  > d
+ Use value: ${ROOT_DIR}/_templates/


It is possible to use text makros such as the ${ROOT_DIR}.

Update the installation

To upgrade fensterbrief, use the following commands:

$ sudo pip3 install fensterbrief --upgrade
$ fensterbrief --configure

If --configure is used and there is already a configuration file, fensterbrief will ask whether you want to use the default value or an existing configuration entry or a new value.

Customize templates

The wizzard copys template files to the user’s template directory. These templates should be customized in a last step.

You can use your own LaTeX templates. They can be based on the LaTeX g-brief, on scrlttr2 or on any other letter class. The templates that are shipped in this package are based on scrlttr2. There are plenty of template examples on the Internet, which you can adjust to your needs. My templates look like this:

When running --configure, .lco files are copied to the ~/texmf/tex/latex/fensterbrief/ directory and texhash is run afterwards.

Sample configuration file

Example configuration file ~/.fensterbrief.conf:

root_dir = /home/martin/Documents/Vorgaenge/
template_dir = ${ROOT_DIR}/_templates/
tex_editor = texmaker
md_editor = emacs -nw

program = pandoc
template = ${template_dir}/template-pandoc.tex

program = latex

api_key = xxxx

mail_client = thunderbird
mail_from = id3

user =
password = secret

program = /home/martin/Development/frank/
product = 1

Setup frank to buy stamps

fensterbrief uses the tool frank to buy stamps, which itself is based on the python module python-inema.

Setting up frank is a bit complex, because it requires manual interactions aka. sending mails to the system operator. To use frank, please refer to the instructions on the github page of frank.

Create a signature file

Sometimes it is useful to have a digital version of one’s signature to include it in a letter, when it is sent as fax via an Internet service. This is more convinient than printing a letter, placing a signature, scan it as PDF file.

A step-by-step guide to achieve this is describe in a stackoverflow article.

Obtain a Google API key

You need a Google API key in order to use this feature. You can get an API key from Google, which requires a Google account.

It may also be possible to find API keys at Github

Project details

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