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MAIL(1)                            BSD General Commands Manual                            MAIL(1)

     mail, mailx, Mail — send and receive mail

     mail [-dEIinv] [-a header] [-b bcc-addr] [-c cc-addr] [-s subject] to-addr ...
     mail [-dEIiNnv] -f [file]
     mail [-dEIiNnv] [-u user]

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

     The options are as follows:

     -a      Specify additional header fields on the command line such as "X-Loop: foo@bar" etc.
             You have to use quotes if the string contains spaces.  This argument may be speci‐
             fied more than once, the headers will then be concatenated.

     -b bcc-addr
             Send blind carbon copies to bcc-addr.

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

     -d      Causes mail to output all sorts of information useful for debugging mail.

     -E      Don't send messages with an empty body.

     -f      Use an alternate mailbox.  Defaults to the user's mbox if no file is specified.
             When quit, mail writes undeleted messages back to this file.

     -I      Forces mail to run in interactive mode, even when input is not a terminal.  In par‐
             ticular, the special ~ command character, used when sending mail, is only available

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

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

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

     -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).

     -u user
             Equivalent to:

                   $ mail -f /var/mail/user

             except that locking is done.

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

   Startup actions
     At startup time, mail will execute commands in the system command file, /etc/mail.rc, unless
     explicitly told not to by using the -n option.  Next, the commands in the user's personal
     command file ~/.mailrc are executed.  mail then examines its command line options to deter‐
     mine whether the user requested a new message to be sent or existing messages in a mailbox
     to be examined.

   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 mes‐
     sage, followed by a control-D (‘^D’) at the beginning of a line.  The section below,
     Replying to or originating mail, describes some features of mail available to help you com‐
     pose 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 found.  The current message is initially
     set to the first message (numbered 1) and can be printed using the print command (which can
     be abbreviated p).  Moving among the messages is much like moving between lines in ed(1);
     you may use + and - to shift forwards and backwards, or simply enter a message number to
     move directly.

   Disposing of mail
     After examining a message you can delete (d) 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, however, will 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.

     Messages may also be selected using one of the following categories:

           *       all messages
           $       last message
           :d      deleted messages
           :n      new messages
           :o      old messages
           :r      read messages
           :u      unread messages

     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 per‐
     son 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 tilde
     (‘~’) 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 single tab-stop (see the
     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.  Unexam‐
     ined messages go back to the post office (see the -f option above).

   Personal and system wide distribution lists
     It is also possible to create 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 dis‐
     played with the alias command in mail.  System wide distribution lists can be created by
     editing /etc/aliases, (see aliases(5)); 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 an MTA.

   Recipient address specifications
     Recipient addresses (any of the “To”, “Cc” or “Bcc” header fields) are subject to expansion
     when the expandaddr option is set.

     An address may be expanded as follows:

     ·       An address that starts with a pipe (‘|’) character is treated as a command to run.
             The command immediately following the ‘|’ is executed with the message as its stan‐
             dard input.

     ·       An address that starts with a ‘+’ character is treated as a folder.

     ·       An address that contains a ‘/’ character but no ‘!’, ‘%’, or ‘@’ characters is also
             treated as a folder.

     ·       If none of the above apply, the recipient is treated as a local or network mail

     If the expandaddr option is not set (the default), no expansion is performed and the recipi‐
     ent is treated as a local or network mail address.

   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 back‐
     wards, 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 nth
             previous message and prints it.

     ?       Prints a brief summary of commands.

     !       Executes the shell (see sh(1) and csh(1)) command which follows.

     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 direc‐
             tory 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 com‐

     dp      (also dt) Deletes the current message and prints the next message.  If there is no
             next message, mail says “No more messages.”

     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 modifying the user's sys‐
             tem mailbox, his mbox file, or his edit file in -f.

     file    (fi) The same as folder.

     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.

             List the names of the folders in your folder directory.

     from    (f) Takes a list of messages and prints their message headers.

             (h) Lists the current windowful of headers.  To view the next or previous group of
             headers, see the z command.

     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 com‐

     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, including 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.

     list    (l) List the valid mail commands.

     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

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

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

             (pre) A synonym for hold.

     Print   (P) Like print but also prints out ignored header fields.  See also print, ignore,
             and retain.

     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 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) Reply to originator.  Does not reply to other recipients of the original mes‐

     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 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 cur‐
             rent 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 terminal.

             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.

     set     (se) With no arguments, prints all variable values.  Otherwise, sets option.  Argu‐
             ments are of the form option=value (no space before or after =) or option.  Quota‐
             tion marks may be placed around any part of the assignment statement to quote blanks
             or tabs, i.e., set indentprefix="->".

     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) Identical to the Print command.

     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 significance.

             (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

     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 sending 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 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 escape.

     ~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 copy).

     ~cname ...
             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.

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

             Read the named messages into the message being sent.  If no messages are specified,
             read in the current message.  Message headers currently being ignored (by the ignore
             or retain command) are not 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.

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

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

     ~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 direc‐
             tory if save is set.
             Use string as the Reply-To field.

             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.

     ~x      Abort the message being sent.  No message is copied to ~/dead.letter, even if save
             is set.

     ~?      Prints a brief summary of tilde escapes.

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

             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.

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

             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

     ~.      Simulate end of file on input.

   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 interest.  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 /etc/mail.rc).

     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.

     askbcc  Causes you to be prompted for additional blind carbon copy recipients at the end of
             each message.  Responding with a newline indicates your satisfaction with the cur‐
             rent list.

     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

             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.

             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 ter‐
             minator of a message you are sending.

             Causes mail to expand message recipient addresses, as explained in the section
             Recipient address specifications.

     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.

             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.

     keep    Setting this option causes mail to truncate your system mailbox instead of deleting
             it when it's empty.

             Messages saved with the save command are not normally saved in mbox at quit time.
             Use this option to retain those messages.

     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

             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 interrupt characters (usually control-
             C), mail copies the partial letter to the file dead.letter in your home directory.
             Setting the binary option nosave prevents this.

     quiet   Suppresses the printing of the version when first invoked.

             Reverses the sense of reply and Reply commands.

             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 messages
             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.

             Don't send messages with an empty body.

             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, /usr/bin/ex is used.

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

     MBOX          The name of the mbox 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 the 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 outgoing 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.

     TMPDIR        Directory in which temporary files are stored.

     VISUAL        Pathname of the text editor to use in the visual command and ~v escape.  If
                   not defined, /usr/bin/vi is used.

     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; other‐
                   wise, the folder directory is found relative to your home directory.

     indentprefix  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.

     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.

     screen        Size of window of message headers for z.

     sendmail      Pathname to an alternative mail delivery system.

     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.

     MAIL, MAILRC, and MBOX environment variables.

     If the MAIL environment variable is set, its value is used as the path to the user's mail

     /var/mail/*                      post office (unless overridden by the MAIL environment
     ~/mbox                           user's old mail
     ~/.mailrc                        file giving initial mail commands; can be overridden by
                                      setting the MAILRC environment variable
     /tmp/R*                          temporary files
     /usr/share/bsd-mailx/mail.*help  help files
     /etc/mail.rc                     system initialization file

     The mail utility exits 0 on success, and >0 if an error occurs.

     fmt(1), newaliases(1), vacation(1), aliases(5), mailaddr(7), mail.local(8), newaliases(8),
     sendmail(8), smtpd(8)

     The mailx utility is compliant with the IEEE Std 1003.1-2008 (“POSIX.1”) specification.

     The flags [-iNnu] are marked by IEEE Std 1003.1-2008 (“POSIX.1”) as being optional.

     The flags [-eFH] are marked by IEEE Std 1003.1-2008 (“POSIX.1”) as being optional, and are
     not supported by this implementation of mailx.

     The flags [-abcdEIv] are extensions to the specification.

     A mail command appeared in Version 3 AT&T UNIX.  This man page is derived from the Mail
     Reference Manual originally written by Kurt Shoens.

     Usually, Mail and mailx are just links to mail, which can be confusing.

BSD                                       June 13, 2024                                       BSD

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