Textbased mail programs

There are many text-based mail programs for reading, sending, and working with your mail. Many of these programs have been around for a long time, so they are full of features and have been well debugged. As a group, however, they are not very intuitive. The following sections describe some text-based commands.

Tip Most of these programs use the value of your $MAIL environment variable as your local mailbox.

Usually, that location is /var/spool/mail/user, where user is your user name. To set your $MAIL so that it points to your Netscape mailbox (so you can use either Netscape Messenger or a text-based mail program), add the following line to one of your startup files:

export MAIL=$HOME/nsmail/Inbox

If you usually use Netscape for mail, you can set this variable temporarily to try out some of these mail programs. You can do the same thing with your Mozilla Mail Inbox, though it's a bit trickier to locate. The location of that Inbox is something like the following: $HOME/.mozilla/default/*/Mail/servername. (Your actual mailbox name varies depending on your mail server name.) Mail readers and managers

Mail readers described below are text-based and use the entire screen. Although some features are different, menu bars show available options right on the screen.

Mutt mail reader

Note To use the mutt mail reader you must have the mutt software package installed.

The mutt command is a text-based, full-screen mail user agent for reading and sending e-mail. The interface is quick and efficient. Type mutt to start the mail program. Move arrow keys up and down to select from your listed messages. Press Enter to see a mail message and type i to return to the Main menu.

The menu bar indicates how to mark messages for deletion or undelete them, save messages to a directory, or reply to a message. Type m to compose a new message and it opens your default editor (for me, vi) to create the message. If you want to read your mail without having your fingers leave your keyboard, mutt is a nice choice. (It even handles attachments!)

Pine mail reader

Note To use the pine mail reader you must have the pine software package installed.

The pine mail reader is another full-screen mail reader, but it offers many more features than does mutt. With pine, you can manage multiple mail folders. You can also manage newsgroup messages, as well as mail messages. As text-based applications go, pine is quite easy to use. It was developed by a group at the University of Washington for use by students on campus, but has become widely used in UNIX and Linux environments.

Start this mail program by typing pine. The following menu is displayed, from which you can make a selection by typing the associated letter or using up and down arrows and pressing Enter:



Get help using Pine




Compose and send a message




View messages in current folder




Select a folder to view




Update address book



Configure Pine Options



Leave the Pine program

To read your e-mail, select either I or L. Commands are listed along the bottom of the screen and change to suit the content you are viewing. Left (6) and right a) arrow keys let you step backward and forward among the pine screens.

Elm mail reader

This is yet another text-based and form-based mail reader. When you first start elm, it sets up several mail directories and files in your home directory. Then it opens a very basic interface to your incoming mailbox (as set by the $MAIL variable).

On the Mailbox screen, elm identifies your mailbox and shows the headings for the first page of mail messages. Move up and down among the messages with arrow keys (or with j and k keys, as in the vi editor). Press Enter to open the current mail message and press i to return to the index. Other commands are shown at the bottom of the screen.

Mail reader

The mail command was the first mail reader for UNIX. It is text-based, but not screen-oriented. Type mail and you will see the messages in your mailbox. Because mail is not screen-oriented, you just get a prompt after message headings are displayed — you are expected to know what to do next. Type ? to see which commands are available.

While in mail, type h to see your mail headings again. Simply type a message number to see the message. Type d# (replacing # with a message number) to delete a message. To create a new message, type m. To respond to a message, type r# (replacing # with the number to respond to).

Printmail reader

Though printmail isn't strictly a mail reader, it can be used as a part of managing your mail messages. The printmail command formats the mail in any file you give it (either your default mailbox or a saved mail message file) and formats the mail in a nicer form for printing. A command such as printmail | lpr will format the contents of your mailbox and output it to the formatted messages to the printer (printmail assumes plain-text files).

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