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In Gmail, if I click on "Inbox", I see all the messages in my Inbox, but none show the "inbox" label. If I search for "in:inbox", I see the same messages, but now each shows the "inbox" label. If I click on "All Mail", the messages in my inbox are included in the results, and each has an "inbox" label. If I click on a message (regardless of whether it's in my Inbox) and select the Labels drop-down menu, there's no "inbox" label for me to choose. Why is the "inbox" label only sometimes visible?

I find the "read" label especially confusing. Searching for "label:read" shows all my read mail, but none of the messages has a "read" label on it. There's no "Read" label listed in the left-hand navigation area, but if I try to create a label named "Read", I'm told "Sorry, you can't create a label named "read" (it's a reserved system label)." As is the case with "inbox", the Labels dropdown doesn't offer a "read" option. What's the story with the seemingly-invisible "read" label?

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Inbox, read, and unread are not labels but are special pseudo-labels that you interact with by archiving/unarchiving or reading (or marking read/unread), rather than using label operations, and have their own display quirks.

  • Inbox is always shown in the labels list for messages in the Inbox, except on the Inbox page (e.g. https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox) that you get when you click Inbox on the left side nav bar, for instance.
  • Read/Unread is indicated by the background colour of the message line item, and is not shown in the labels list

Display of regular labels in Gmail listings is quirky to begin with:

  • When you're looking at search results page for a label, that label is not shown in the message line items, provided that the case of the label matches exactly and the search had no other search terms

  • Clicking on a label from the left side nav bar is the same as doing a search for the label with the exact case

  • Label keys in the search (label:Foo) get converted to lower case in the search box even though the URL and the search result behaviour reflects the case that was originally entered. So, if the labels are currently not showing up in the line items but the label name contains any upper case characters, just going to the search box and pressing Enter again will make them show up.

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