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mail(1)                   BSD General Commands Manual                  mail(1)


     mail, mailx -- send and receive mail


     mail [-EiInv] [-s subject] [-c cc-addr] [-b bcc-addr] [-F] to-addr ...
          [-sendmail-option ...]
     mail [-EHiInNv] [-F] -f [name]
     mail [-EHiInNv] [-F] [-u user]
     mail -e [-f name]
     mail [-H]


     The mail utility is an intelligent mail processing system, which has a
     command syntax reminiscent of ed(1) with lines replaced by messages.

     The following options are available:

     -v      Verbose mode.  The details of delivery are displayed on the
             user's terminal.

     -e      Test for the presence of mail in the (by default, system) mail-
             box.  An exit status of 0 is returned if it has mail; otherwise,
             an exit status of 1 is returned.

     -H      Write a header summary only.

     -E      Do not send messages with an empty body.  This is useful for pip-
             ing errors from cron(8) scripts.

     -i      Ignore tty interrupt signals.  This is particularly useful when
             using mail on noisy phone lines.

     -I      Force mail to run in interactive mode even when input is not a
             terminal.  In particular, the `~' special character when sending
             mail is only active in interactive mode.

     -n      Inhibit reading the system-wide mail.rc files upon startup.

     -N      Inhibit the initial display of message headers when reading mail
             or editing a mail folder.

     -s subject
             Specify subject on command line.  (Only the first argument after
             the -s flag is used as a subject; be careful to quote subjects
             containing spaces.)

     -c cc-addr
             Send carbon copies to cc-addr list of users.  The cc-addr argu-
             ment should be a comma-separated list of names.

     -b bcc-addr
             Send blind carbon copies to bcc-addr list of users.  The bcc-addr
             argument should be a comma-separated list of names.

     -f [mbox]
             Read in the contents of your mbox (or the specified file) for
             processing; when you quit, mail writes undeleted messages back to
             this file.

     -F      Record the message in a file named after the first recipient.
             The name is the login-name portion of the address found first on
             the ``To:'' line in the mail header.  Overrides the record vari-
             able, if set.

     -u      Is equivalent to:

                   mail -f /var/mail/user

   Startup Actions
     At startup time mail will execute commands in the system command files
     /usr/share/misc/mail.rc, /usr/local/etc/mail.rc and /etc/mail.rc in
     order, unless explicitly told not to by the use of the -n option.  Next,
     the commands in the user's personal command file ~/.mailrc are executed.
     The mail utility then examines its command line options to determine
     whether a new message is to be sent, or whether an existing mailbox is to
     be read.

   Sending Mail
     To send a message to one or more people, mail can be invoked with argu-
     ments which are the names of people to whom the mail will be sent.  You
     are then expected to type in your message, followed by a <control-D> at
     the beginning of a line.  The section below Replying To or Originating
     Mail, describes some features of mail available to help you compose your

   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 found.
     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(1), 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 forget about the message.  This
     is not irreversible; the message can be undeleted (u) by giving its num-
     ber, 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 messages 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 compos-
     ing a message, mail treats lines beginning with the character `~' spe-
     cially.  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 (see
     indentprefix variable, below).  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.  (See the -f option above).

   Personal and System Wide 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 command in mail.  System wide
     distribution lists can be created by editing /etc/mail/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(8).

   Network Mail (ARPA, UUCP, Berknet)
     See mailaddr(7) for a description of network addresses.

     The mail utility 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 follow-
     ing 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 the command.

     -       Print out the preceding message.  If given a numeric argument n,
             goes to the n'th previous message and prints it.

     #       ignore the remainder of the line as a comment.

     ?       Prints a brief summary of commands.

     !       Executes the shell (see sh(1) and csh(1)) 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 a new alias or changes an old one.

             (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 alternative 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
             login directory.

     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 mes-
             sage.  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 back

     exit    (ex or x) Effects an immediate return to the shell without modi-
             fying the user's system mailbox, his mbox file, or his edit file
             in -f.

     file    (fi) The same as folder.

             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 mail-
             box, ``%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.

             (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  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, includ-
             ing ignored fields.  If ignore is executed with no arguments, it
             lists the current set of ignored fields.

     inc     Incorporate any new messages that have arrived while mail is
             being read.  The new messages are added to the end of the message
             list, and the current message is reset to be the first new mail
             message.  This does not renumber the existing message list, nor
             does it cause any changes made so far to be saved.

     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.

     more    (mo) Takes a list of messages and invokes the pager on that list.

     next    (n, like + or CR) Goes to the next message in sequence and types
             it.  With an argument list, types the next matching message.

             (pre) A synonym for hold.

     print   (p) Takes a message list and types out each message on the user's

     quit    (q) Terminates the session, saving all undeleted, unsaved mes-
             sages 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 sys-
             tem mailbox.  If new mail has arrived during the session, the
             message ``You have new mail'' is given.  If given while editing 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 com-

     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.

             A synonym for reply.

     retain  Add the list of header fields named to the retained list.  Only
             the header fields in the retained list are shown on your terminal
             when you print a message.  All other header fields are sup-
             pressed.  The type and print commands can be used to print a mes-
             sage 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, followed
             by the line count and character count is echoed on the user's

     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.  Quotation marks may be placed
             around any part of the assignment statement to quote blanks or
             tabs, i.e. ``set indentprefix="->"''

             Saveignore is to save what ignore is to print and type.  Header
             fields thus marked are filtered out when saving a message by save
             or when automatically saving to mbox.

             Saveretain is to save what retain is to print and type.  Header
             fields thus marked are the only ones saved with a message when
             saving by save or when automatically saving to mbox.  Saveretain
             overrides saveignore.

     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  The source command reads 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 5.

     type    (t) A synonym for print.

             Takes a list of names defined by alias commands and discards the
             remembered groups of users.  The group names no longer have any

             (u) Takes a message list and marks each message as not being

     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 val-
             ues; the inverse of set.

     visual  (v) Takes a message list and invokes the display editor on each

     write   (w) Similar to save, except that only the message body (without
             the header) is saved.  Extremely useful for such tasks as sending
             and receiving source program text over the message system.

     xit     (x) A synonym for exit.

     z       The mail utility presents message headers in windowfuls as
             described under the headers command.  You can move mail's atten-
             tion 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 recognized
     at the beginning of lines.  The name ``tilde escape'' is somewhat of a
     misnomer since the actual escape character can be set by the option

     ~a      Inserts the autograph string from the sign= option into the mes-

     ~A      Inserts the autograph string from the Sign= option into the mes-

     ~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 mes-

     ~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 mes-
             sages are specified, read in the current message.  Message head-
             ers currently being ignored (by the ignore or retain command) are
             not included.

     ~F messages
             Identical to ~f, except all message headers are included.

     ~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.

     ~i string
             Inserts the value of the named option into the text of the mes-

     ~m messages
             Read the named messages into the message being sent, indented by
             a tab or by the value of indentprefix.  If no messages are speci-
             fied, read the current message.  Message headers currently being
             ignored (by the ignore or retain command) are not included.

     ~M messages
             Identical to ~m, except all message headers are included.

     ~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, ~r !command

     ~< filename, ~< !command
             Read the named file into the message.  If the argument begins
             with a `!', the rest of the string is taken as an arbitrary sys-
             tem command and is executed, with the standard output inserted
             into the message.

     ~R string
             Use string as the Reply-To field.

     ~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 alternative editor (defined by the VISUAL environment
             variable) on the message collected so far.  Usually, the alterna-
             tive 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.

     ~x      Exits as with ~q, except the message is not saved in dead.letter.

     ~! command
             Execute the indicated shell command, then return to the message.

     ~| command, ~^ 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.

     ~: mail-command, ~_ mail-command
             Execute the given mail command.  Not all commands, however, are

     ~.      Simulate end-of-file on input.

     ~?      Print a summary of the available command escapes.

     ~~ 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.

   Mail Options
     Options can be set with the set command and can be disabled with the
     unset or set noname 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.  If an option is
     not set, mail will look for an environment variable of the same name.
     The available options include the following:

     append  Causes messages saved in mbox to be appended to the end rather
             than prepended.  This should always be set (preferably in one of
             the system-wide mail.rc files).  Default is noappend.

     ask, asksub
             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.  Default is asksub.

     askbcc  Causes you to be prompted for additional blind carbon copy recip-
             ients at the end of each message.  Responding with a newline
             indicates your satisfaction with the current list.  Default is

     askcc   Causes you to be prompted for additional carbon copy recipients
             at the end of each message.  Responding with a newline indicates
             your satisfaction with the current list.  Default is noaskcc.

             Causes new mail to be automatically incorporated when it arrives.
             Setting this is similar to issuing the inc command at each
             prompt, except that the current message is not reset when new
             mail arrives.  Default is noautoinc.

             Causes the delete command to behave like dp; thus, after deleting
             a message, the next one will be typed automatically.  Default is

     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.  If crt
             is set without a value, then the height of the terminal screen
             stored in the system is used to compute the threshold (see
             stty(1)).  Default is nocrt.

     debug   Setting the binary option debug is the same as specifying -d on
             the command line and causes mail to output all sorts of informa-
             tion useful for debugging mail.  Default is nodebug.

     dot     The binary option dot causes mail to interpret a period alone on
             a line as the terminator of a message you are sending.  Default
             is nodot.

     escape  If defined, the first character of this option gives the charac-
             ter to use in place of `~' to denote escapes.

     flipr   Reverses the sense of reply and Reply commands.  Default is

     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 abso-
             lute pathname; otherwise, the folder directory is found relative
             to your home directory.

     header  If defined, initially display message headers when reading mail
             or editing a mail folder.  Default is header.  This option can be
             disabled by giving the -N flag on the command line.

     hold    This option is used to hold messages in the system mailbox by
             default.  Default is nohold.

     ignore  Causes interrupt signals from your terminal to be ignored and
             echoed as @'s. Default is noignore.

             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.  Default is noignoreeof.

             String used by the ~m tilde escape for indenting messages, in
             place of the normal tab character (^I).  Be sure to quote the
             value if it contains spaces or tabs.

     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.  Default is nometoo.

     quiet   Suppresses the printing of the version when first invoked.
             Default is noquiet.

     record  If defined, gives the pathname of the file used to record all
             outgoing mail.  If not defined, outgoing mail is not saved.
             Default is norecord.

             Reverses the sense of reply and Reply commands.  Default is

     save    If this option is set, and you abort a message with two RUBOUT
             (erase or delete), mail will copy the partial letter to the file
             dead.letter in your home directory.  Default is save.

             If this option is set, then a message-list specifier in the form
             ``/x:y'' will expand to all messages containing the substring y
             in the header field x.  The string search is case insensitive.
             If x is omitted, it will default to the ``Subject'' header field.
             The form ``/to:y'' is a special case, and will expand to all mes-
             sages containing the substring y in the ``To'', ``Cc'' or ``Bcc''
             header fields.  The check for "to" is case sensitive, so that
             ``/To:y'' can be used to limit the search for y to just the
             ``To:'' field.  Default is nosearchheaders.

             If defined, gives the number of lines of a message to be printed
             out with the top command; normally, the first five lines are

             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 the user's terminal.
             Default is noverbose.


     DEAD     Pathname of the file to save partial messages to in case of
              interrupts or delivery errors.  Default is ~/dead.letter.

     EDITOR   Pathname of the text editor to use in the edit command and ~e
              escape.  If not defined, then a default editor is used.

     HOME     Pathname of the user's home directory.

     LISTER   Pathname of the directory lister to use in the folders command.
              Default is /bin/ls.

     MAIL     Location of the user's mailbox.  Default is /var/mail.

     MAILRC   Pathname of file containing initial mail commands.  Default is

     MBOX     The name of the mailbox file.  It can be the name of a folder.
              The default is mbox in the user's home directory.

     PAGER    Pathname of the program to use in the more command or when crt
              variable is set.  The default paginator more(1) is used if this
              option is not defined.

     REPLYTO  If set, will be used to initialize the Reply-To field for outgo-
              ing messages.

     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

     USER     Login name of the user executing mail.


     /var/mail/*                 Post office.
     ~/mbox                      User's old mail.
     ~/.mailrc                   File giving initial mail commands.  This can
                                 be overridden by setting the MAILRC environ-
                                 ment variable.
     /tmp/R*                     Temporary files.
     /usr/share/misc/mail.*help  Help files.

     /etc/mail.rc                System-wide initialization files.  Each file
                                 will be sourced, in order, if it exists.


     fmt(1), newaliases(1), vacation(1), aliases(5), mailaddr(7), sendmail(8)

     The Mail Reference Manual.


     A mail command appeared in Version 1 AT&T UNIX.  This man page is derived
     from The Mail Reference Manual originally written by Kurt Shoens.


     There are some flags that are not documented here.  Most are not useful
     to the general user.

     Usually, mail is just a link to Mail and mailx, which can be confusing.

     The name of the alternates list is incorrect English (it should be
     ``alternatives''), but is retained for compatibility.

BSD                            February 29, 2004                           BSD

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