Using E-Mail


This page tells you how to use your qcunix1 account to send and receive electronic mail. You can use e-mail to interact your instructor without the constraint scheduling a meeting during regular office hours. In addition, we will use e-mail to make announcements to the entire class, so be sure to read you e-mail regularly.

The program you will use read, compose, and send e-mail messages is called pine. There are several such programs available for Unix, but pine is relatively easy to use, has a lot of good features, and is a command line program, which means you don't have to be using the X Window System to use it. (Besides, the X Window program that is available doesn't have as many features.)

To become familiar with the e-mail system, you should use it to send mail to yourself a few times and to read the messages you sent.

E-mail Addresses

Your e-mail address consists of two parts separated by the '@' character. The first part is your Unix account ID, and the second part is the Internet hostname for the computer where you have your account, namely Anyone in the world who knows your e-mail address and has access to the Internet can send you e-mail, and vice-versa.

When you send e-mail to someone else who has an account on, you can use just the user's account name without the '@' or the hostname.

You might encounter the phrase, "Fully Qualified Domain Name" (FQDM). It just means the hostname with all the dotted parts in place. Your account is on the host qcunix1, which is in the Academic Computer Center (acc) domain in the Queens College (qc) domain in the Educational Institution (edu) domain. The FQDM for the computer in Dr. Vickery's office is The host is named babbage, and it is in the Computer Science Department (cs) domain of Queens College (qc) in the edu domain.

Starting Pine

Start pine by typing pine and the shell prompt. The screen will clear, some information will be displayed, and there will be a menu of command characters at the bottom of the screen. The first time you run pine, you will be asked if you would like to get e-mail telling you how to configure the program. It's a good idea to say yes.

Because of the variety of ways you can configure pine, we won't describe what you will see on the screen because it won't be the same for everyone. Instead, we will just tell you what command to use to perform various operations.

Sending Mail

Use the Compose command to create a message. (Type 'c'.) The top part of the screen will show the headers for the message, which include lines for "To:" and "Subject:". Type the address of the person to whom you want to send the mail on the "To:" line, and a brief statement of what the message is about in the "Subject:" line. Do not send mail messages without a meaningful Subject: line because it makes it harder for the recipient to process incoming messages. It is especially important to remember this when sending messages to the person who is going to assign you a grade in the course!

There may be other lines displayed in the Header section of your message, but you may safely ignore them all. (There is configuration option that makes them not show up.)

Use the arrow key to move below the Header section into the "Message Text" section and type in the message you want to send. If you look, you will see that the menu choices at the bottom of the screen change when you go into the Message Text section because you will have entered a text editor. Unless you configure pine differently, the editor you will be using to compose messages will be pico, which is the same editor your can invoke directly from a command line prompt to edit your program files if you wish.

When you finish composing your message, type '^X' (That's the character 'X' while holding the Ctrl key.) Pine will ask you to confirm that you want to send the message, which you do by typing 'Y' or 'y.' (Unlike the rest of the Unix world, pine commands are not case sensitive.)

When you send a message, a copy of it will be made in a file named sent-mail in your ~/Mail directory. Pine will create this directory for you the first time you run it, and it will create the sent-mail file the first time you send a message. This feature means that there is no need for you to mail yourself a copy of the messages that you send to others. You will see how to get back to these saved messages below.

Receiving Mail

When someone sends you mail, the system puts it into your "incoming mailbox," which is a file in the /var/spool/mail directory with the same name as your User ID. When you start up pine you will see a list of all the mail messages that are in your incoming mailbox. If you don't see the list, you will have to type the 'l' command to display it. (You can configure pine to do this automatically when it starts up by configuring the "initial-keystroke-list" option.)

Use the up and down arrow keys to select the message you want to read, and press 'Enter' to see the contents of the message.

The secret to using e-mail effectively is figuring out what to do with a message after you have read it. There are several options available to you, which are not all mutually exclusive. You can select any of these options either while you are looking at the message itself or while it is selected in your list of messages.

D - Delete the message.
The message doesn't really go away until you exit pine, so you can do other things with it after marking it for deletion.
U - Undelete the message.
In case you didn't mean to press 'D'.
R - Reply to the message.
This is a quick way to compose a message with the To: and Subject: headers all filled in for you. The original message will be copied into your reply for reference purposes. It's a good idea to delete the irrelevant parts of the original message so the other person can figure out what part of it your reply pertains to.
S - Save the message.
If you don't save or delete the message it stays in your incoming mailbox. This is fine until you get a bunch of old messages sitting in there and it makes spotting the new ones difficult. When you save a message, pine asks you for the name of a "folder," and you type in the name of a file where you want to save that message. The file will be created in your ~/Mail directory (if it does not already exist), along with your sent-mail folder. You can create different folders for mail from different people, or whatever scheme you like. When you want to look at the messages in a folder, use ...
G - Go to folder
Use this to select a folder of messages to work with. If you want a list of your folders, use the '^T' command after you type 'g'.
E - Extract the message
Use this command to copy the message to a file in your home directory instead of (or in addition to) into one of the folders in your Mail directory. This option is useful for saving messages that you want to look at some other way than by using pine. An example would be the message that pine mails to you telling you how to configure pine.

Exiting Pine

Exit pine by typing 'q'.

Menus and Help

You can type commands that don't appear at the bottom of the screen. You can cycle through all the commands that are available with the 'o' command. You can always get help by typing '?'.

Configuring Pine

If you said "yes" when pine asked about sending you information about itself, you will receive an e-mail message that tells you about the various configuration options that are available. This is a good document to have if you want to change pine's behavior in any way.

You configure pine by going to the Main menu (type 'm') and selecting "Setup." From there you select "Config" and set or change the configuration options you want. Even without the documentation that gets sent to you, you can probably figure out what most of the options do from their names. Don't be afraid to experiment.

Christopher Vickery
Queens College of CUNY
Home Page