MAIL(1) General Commands Manual MAIL(1)
mail - send and receive mail
mail [ -v ] [ -i ] [ -n ] [ -s subject ] [ user ... ]
mail [ -v ] [ -i ] [ -n ] -f [ name ]
mail [ -v ] [ -i ] [ -n ] -u user
Mail is a intelligent mail processing system, which has a command syntax reminiscent of ed with lines replaced by messages.
The -v flag puts mail into verbose mode; the details of delivery are displayed on the users terminal. The -i flag causes tty interrupt
signals to be ignored. This is particularly useful when using mail on noisy phone lines. The -n flag inhibits the reading of /etc/Mail.rc.
Sending mail. To send a message to one or more people, mail can be invoked with arguments which are the names of people to whom the mail
will be sent. You are then expected to type in your message, followed by an EOT (control-D) at the beginning of a line. A subject may be
specified on the command line by using the -s flag. (Only the first argument after the -s flag is used as a subject; be careful to quote
subjects containing spaces.) The section below, labeled Replying to or originating mail, describes some features of mail available to help
you compose your letter.
Reading mail. In normal usage mail is given no arguments and checks your mail out of the post office, then prints out a one line header of
each message there. The current message is initially the first message (numbered 1) and can be printed using the print command (which can
be abbreviated p). You can move among the messages much as you move between lines in ed, with the commands `+' and `-' moving backwards
and forwards, and simple numbers.
Disposing of mail. After examining a message you can delete (d) the message or reply (r) to it. Deletion causes the mail program to for-
get about the message. This is not irreversible; the message can be undeleted (u) by giving its number, or the mail session can be aborted
by giving the exit (x) command. Deleted messages will, however, usually disappear never to be seen again.
Specifying messages. Commands such as print and delete can be given a list of message numbers as arguments to apply to a number of mes-
sages at once. Thus ``delete 1 2'' deletes messages 1 and 2, while ``delete 1-5'' deletes messages 1 through 5. The special name ``*''
addresses all messages, and ``$'' addresses the last message; thus the command top which prints the first few lines of a message could be
used in ``top *'' to print the first few lines of all messages.
Replying to or originating mail. You can use the reply command to set up a response to a message, sending it back to the person who it was
from. Text you then type in, up to an end-of-file, defines the contents of the message. While you are composing a message, mail treats
lines beginning with the character `~' specially. For instance, typing ``~m'' (alone on a line) will place a copy of the current message
into the response right shifting it by a tabstop. Other escapes will set up subject fields, add and delete recipients to the message and
allow you to escape to an editor to revise the message or to a shell to run some commands. (These options are given in the summary below.)
Ending a mail processing session. You can end a mail session with the quit (q) command. Messages which have been examined go to your mbox
file unless they have been deleted in which case they are discarded. Unexamined messages go back to the post office. The -f option causes
mail to read in the contents of your mbox (or the specified file) for processing; when you quit, mail writes undeleted messages back to
this file. The -u flag is a short way of doing "mail -f /usr/spool/mail/user".
Personal and systemwide distribution lists. It is also possible to create a personal distribution lists so that, for instance, you can
send mail to ``cohorts'' and have it go to a group of people. Such lists can be defined by placing a line like
alias cohorts bill ozalp jkf mark kridle@ucbcory
in the file .mailrc in your home directory. The current list of such aliases can be displayed with the alias (a) command in mail. System
wide distribution lists can be created by editing /etc/aliases, see aliases(5) and sendmail(8); these are kept in a different syntax. In
mail you send, personal aliases will be expanded in mail sent to others so that they will be able to reply to the recipients. System wide
aliases are not expanded when the mail is sent, but any reply returned to the machine will have the system wide alias expanded as all mail
goes through sendmail.
Network mail (ARPA, UUCP, Berknet) See mailaddr(7) for a description of network addresses.
Mail has a number of options which can be set in the .mailrc file to alter its behavior; thus ``set askcc'' enables the ``askcc'' feature.
(These options are summarized below.)
(Adapted from the `Mail Reference Manual')
Each command is typed on a line by itself, and may take arguments following the command word. The command need not be typed in its
entirety - the first command which matches the typed prefix is used. For commands which take message lists as arguments, if no message
list is given, then the next message forward which satisfies the command's requirements is used. If there are no messages forward of the
current message, the search proceeds backwards, and if there are no good messages at all, mail types ``No applicable messages'' and aborts
- Goes to the previous message and prints it out. If given a numeric argument n, goes to the n-th previous message and prints
? Prints a brief summary of commands.
! Executes the UNIX shell command which follows.
Print (P) Like print but also prints out ignored header fields. See also print , ignore and retain.
Reply (R) Reply to originator. Does not reply to other recipients of the original message.
Type (T) Identical to the Print command.
alias (a) With no arguments, prints out all currently-defined aliases. With one argument, prints out that alias. With more than one
argument, creates an new or changes an on old alias.
alternates (alt) The alternates command is useful if you have accounts on several machines. It can be used to inform mail that the listed
addresses are really you. When you reply to messages, mail will not send a copy of the message to any of the addresses listed
on the alternates list. If the alternates command is given with no argument, the current set of alternate names is displayed.
chdir (c) Changes the user's working directory to that specified, if given. If no directory is given, then changes to the user's
copy (co) The copy command does the same thing that save does, except that it does not mark the messages it is used on for deletion
when you quit.
delete (d) Takes a list of messages as argument and marks them all as deleted. Deleted messages will not be saved in mbox, nor will
they be available for most other commands.
dp (also dt) Deletes the current message and prints the next message. If there is no next message, mail says ``at EOF.''
edit (e) Takes a list of messages and points the text editor at each one in turn. On return from the editor, the message is read
exit (ex or x) Effects an immediate return to the Shell without modifying the user's system mailbox, his mbox file, or his edit file
file (fi) The same as folder.
folders List the names of the folders in your folder directory.
folder (fo) The folder command switches to a new mail file or folder. With no arguments, it tells you which file you are currently
reading. If you give it an argument, it will write out changes (such as deletions) you have made in the current file and read
in the new file. Some special conventions are recognized for the name. # means the previous file, % means your system mailbox,
%user means user's system mailbox, & means your /mbox file, and +folder means a file in your folder directory.
from (f) Takes a list of messages and prints their message headers.
headers (h) Lists the current range of headers, which is an 18 message group. If a ``+'' argument is given, then the next 18 message
group is printed, and if a ``-'' argument is given, the previous 18 message group is printed.
help A synonym for ?
hold (ho, also preserve) Takes a message list and marks each message therein to be saved in the user's system mailbox instead of in
mbox. Does not override the delete command.
ignore N.B.: Ignore has been superseded by retain.
Add the list of header fields named to the ignored list. Header fields in the ignore list are not printed on your terminal
when you print a message. This command is very handy for suppression of certain machine-generated header fields. The Type and
Print commands can be used to print a message in its entirety, including ignored fields. If ignore is executed with no argu-
ments, it lists the current set of ignored fields.
mail (m) Takes as argument login names and distribution group names and sends mail to those people.
mbox Indicate that a list of messages be sent to mbox in your home directory when you quit. This is the default action for messages
if you do not have the hold option set.
next (n like + or CR) Goes to the next message in sequence and types it. With an argument list, types the next matching message.
preserve (pre) A synonym for hold.
print (p) Takes a message list and types out each message on the user's terminal.
quit (q) Terminates the session, saving all undeleted, unsaved messages in the user's mbox file in his login directory, preserving
all messages marked with hold or preserve or never referenced in his system mailbox, and removing all other messages from his
system mailbox. If new mail has arrived during the session, the message ``You have new mail'' is given. If given while edit-
ing a mailbox file with the -f flag, then the edit file is rewritten. A return to the Shell is effected, unless the rewrite of
edit file fails, in which case the user can escape with the exit command.
reply (r) Takes a message list and sends mail to the sender and all recipients of the specified message. The default message must
not be deleted.
respond A synonym for reply.
retain Add the list of header fields named to the retained list. Only the header fields in the retain list are shown on your terminal
when you print a message. All other header fields are suppressed. The Type and Print commands can be used to print a message
in its entirety. If retain is executed with no arguments, it lists the current set of retained fields.
save (s) Takes a message list and a filename and appends each message in turn to the end of the file. The filename in quotes, fol-
lowed by the line count and character count is echoed on the user's terminal.
set (se) With no arguments, prints all variable values. Otherwise, sets option. Arguments are of the form ``option=value'' (no
space before or after =) or ``option.''
shell (sh) Invokes an interactive version of the shell.
size Takes a message list and prints out the size in characters of each message.
source (so) The source command reads mail commands from a file.
top Takes a message list and prints the top few lines of each. The number of lines printed is controlled by the variable toplines
and defaults to five.
type (t) A synonym for print.
unalias Takes a list of names defined by alias commands and discards the remembered groups of users. The group names no longer have
undelete (u) Takes a message list and marks each message as not being deleted.
unread (U) Takes a message list and marks each message as not having been read.
unset Takes a list of option names and discards their remembered values; the inverse of set.
visual (v) Takes a message list and invokes the display editor on each message.
write (w) Similar to save, except that only the message body (without the header) is saved. Extremely useful for such tasks as send-
ing and receiving source program text over the message system.
xit (x) A synonym for exit.
z Mail presents message headers in windowfuls as described under the headers command. You can move mail's attention forward to
the next window with the z command. Also, you can move to the previous window by using z-.
Here is a summary of the tilde escapes, which are used when composing messages to perform special functions. Tilde escapes are only recog-
nized at the beginning of lines. The name ``tilde escape'' is somewhat of a misnomer since the actual escape character can be set by the
~!command Execute the indicated shell command, then return to the message.
~b name ... Add the given names to the list of carbon copy recipients but do not make the names visible in the Cc: line ("blind" carbon
~c name ... Add the given names to the list of carbon copy recipients.
~d Read the file ``dead.letter'' from your home directory into the message.
~e Invoke the text editor on the message collected so far. After the editing session is finished, you may continue appending text
to the message.
~f messages Read the named messages into the message being sent. If no messages are specified, read in the current message.
~h Edit the message header fields by typing each one in turn and allowing the user to append text to the end or modify the field
by using the current terminal erase and kill characters.
~m messages Read the named messages into the message being sent, shifted right one tab. If no messages are specified, read the current
~p Print out the message collected so far, prefaced by the message header fields.
~q Abort the message being sent, copying the message to ``dead.letter'' in your home directory if save is set.
~r filename Read the named file into the message.
~s string Cause the named string to become the current subject field.
~t name ... Add the given names to the direct recipient list.
~v Invoke an alternate editor (defined by the VISUAL option) on the message collected so far. Usually, the alternate editor will
be a screen editor. After you quit the editor, you may resume appending text to the end of your message.
~w filename Write the message onto the named file.
~|command Pipe the message through the command as a filter. If the command gives no output or terminates abnormally, retain the original
text of the message. The command fmt(1) is often used as command to rejustify the message.
~~string Insert the string of text in the message prefaced by a single ~. If you have changed the escape character, then you should
double that character in order to send it.
Options are controlled via the set and unset commands. Options may be either binary, in which case it is only significant to see whether
they are set or not; or string, in which case the actual value is of interest. The binary options include the following:
append Causes messages saved in mbox to be appended to the end rather than prepended. (This is set in /etc/Mail.rc on 2.11BSD sys-
ask Causes mail to prompt you for the subject of each message you send. If you respond with simply a newline, no subject field
will be sent.
askcc Causes you to be prompted for additional carbon copy recipients at the end of each message. Responding with a newline indi-
cates your satisfaction with the current list.
autoprint Causes the delete command to behave like dp - thus, after deleting a message, the next one will be typed automatically.
debug Setting the binary option debug is the same as specifying -d on the command line and causes mail to output all sorts of
information useful for debugging mail.
dot The binary option dot causes mail to interpret a period alone on a line as the terminator of a message you are sending.
hold This option is used to hold messages in the system mailbox by default.
ignore Causes interrupt signals from your terminal to be ignored and echoed as @'s.
ignoreeof An option related to dot is ignoreeof which makes mail refuse to accept a control-d as the end of a message. Ignoreeof also
applies to mail command mode.
metoo Usually, when a group is expanded that contains the sender, the sender is removed from the expansion. Setting this option
causes the sender to be included in the group.
nosave Normally, when you abort a message with two RUBOUT, mail copies the partial letter to the file ``dead.letter'' in your home
directory. Setting the binary option nosave prevents this.
Replyall Reverses the sense of reply and Reply commands.
quiet Suppresses the printing of the version when first invoked.
verbose Setting the option verbose is the same as using the -v flag on the command line. When mail runs in verbose mode, the actual
delivery of messages is displayed on he users terminal.
The following options have string values:
EDITOR Pathname of the text editor to use in the edit command and ~e escape. If not defined, then a default editor is used.
PAGER Pathname of the program to use in the more command or when crt variable is set. A default paginator is used if this option
is not defined.
SHELL Pathname of the shell to use in the ! command and the ~! escape. A default shell is used if this option is not defined.
VISUAL Pathname of the text editor to use in the visual command and ~v escape.
crt The valued option crt is used as a threshold to determine how long a message must be before PAGER is used to read it.
escape If defined, the first character of this option gives the character to use in the place of ~ to denote escapes.
folder The name of the directory to use for storing folders of messages. If this name begins with a `/', mail considers it to be an
absolute pathname; otherwise, the folder directory is found relative to your home directory.
record If defined, gives the pathname of the file used to record all outgoing mail. If not defined, then outgoing mail is not so
toplines If defined, gives the number of lines of a message to be printed out with the top command; normally, the first five lines
/usr/spool/mail/* post office
~/mbox your old mail
~/.mailrc file giving initial mail commands
/tmp/R# temporary for editor escape
/etc/Mail.rc system initialization file
Message* temporary for editing messages
binmail(1), fmt(1), newaliases(1), aliases(5),
`The Mail Reference Manual'
There are many flags that are not documented here. Most are not useful to the general user.
Usually, mail is just a link to Mail, which can be confusing.
4th Berkeley Distribution October 22, 1996 MAIL(1)