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mail Linux Command Reference: mail command man page



mail - send and receive mail


mail [-iInv] [-s subject] [-c cc-addr] [-b bcc-addr] to-addr...
mail [-iInNv] -f [name]
mail [-iInNv] [-u user]


Mail is an intelligent mail processing system, which has a command syn-
tax reminiscent of ed(1) with lines replaced by messages.

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

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

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

-n Inhibits reading /etc/mail.rc upon startup.

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

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

-c Send carbon copies to list of users.

-b Send blind carbon copies to list. List should be a comma-sepa-
rated list of names.

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

-u Is equivalent to:

mail -f /var/spool/mail/user

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 an '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 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 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 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 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 fol-
lowing the command word. The command need not be typed in its entirety
- the first command which matches the typed prefix is used. For com-
mands 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 mes-
sages at all, mail types "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.

? 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 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
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 in.

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.

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 mes-
sages 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.

(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 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
system 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 retain 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
message in its entirety. If retain is executed with no argu-
ments, 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. 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 five.

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 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 option

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

~bname ...
Add the given names to the list of carbon copy recipients but do
not make the names visible in the Cc: line ("blind" carbon

~cname ...
Add the given names to the list of carbon copy recipients.

~d Read the file "dead.letter" from your home directory into the

~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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Read the named file into the message.

Cause the named string to become the current subject field.

~tname ...
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.

Write the message onto the named file.

Pipe the message through the command as a filter. If the com-
mand gives no output or terminates abnormally, retain the origi-
nal text of the message. The command fmt(1) is often used as
command to rejustify the message.

Execute the given mail command. Not all commands, however, are

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 are controlled via 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 inter-
est. The binary options include the following:

append Causes messages saved in mbox to be appended to the end rather
than prepended. This should always be set (perhaps in

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.

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.

askbcc Causes you to be prompted for additional blind carbon copy
recipients at the end of each message. Responding with a new-
line indicates your satisfaction with the current list.

Causes the delete command to behave like dp - thus, after delet-
ing 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 informa-
tion 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

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

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.

Setting the option noheader is the same as giving the -N flag on
the command line.

nosave Normally, when you abort a message with two RUBOUT (erase or
delete) mail copies the partial letter to the file "dead.letter"
in your home directory. Setting the binary option nosave pre-
vents this.

Reverses the sense of reply and Reply commands.

quiet Suppresses the printing of the version when first invoked.

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

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.

Option 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.

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

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.

SHELL Pathname of the shell to use in the ! command and the ~!
escape. A default shell is used if this option is not

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. 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)).

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.

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

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

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

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

and MBOX environment variables.


/var/spool/mail/* Post office.
~/mbox User's old mail.
~/.mailrc File giving initial mail commands. Only used if
the owner of the file is the user running this copy
of mail.
/tmp/R* Temporary files.
/usr/lib/mail.*help Help files.
/etc/mail.rc System initialization file.


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

The Mail Reference Manual..


A mail command appeared in Version 6 AT&T UNIX. This man page is
derived from The Mail Reference Manual originally written by Kurt


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

by Margaret Walker on Sat, 07/17/2010 - 20:40

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