MAIL(1) General Commands Manual MAIL(1)
mail, mailx – send and receive mail
mail [-EiInv] [-s subject] [-c cc-addr] [-b bcc-addr] [-F] to-addr ...
mail [-EHiInNv] [-F] -f [name]
mail [-EHiInNv] [-F] [-u user]
mail -e [-f name]
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
-e Test for the presence of mail in the (by default, system) mailbox.
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 piping
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.
Specify subject on command line. (Only the first argument after
the -s flag is used as a subject; be careful to quote subjects
Send carbon copies to cc-addr list of users. The cc-addr argument
should be a comma-separated list of names.
Send blind carbon copies to bcc-addr list of users. The bcc-addr
argument should be a comma-separated list of names.
-f Use an alternate mailbox. Defaults to the user's mbox if no file
is specified. When quit, mail writes undeleted messages back to
-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 variable, if
-u Is equivalent to:
mail -f /var/mail/user
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.
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 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 letter.
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.
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 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 (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).
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 standard 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 address.
If the expandaddr option is not set (the default), no expansion is
performed and the recipient is treated as a local or network mail address.
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 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 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
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
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
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 back in.
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 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 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.
(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, 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.
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 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 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
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 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, 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
shell (sh) Invokes an interactive version of the shell.
size Takes a message list and prints out the size in characters of each
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
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
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 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.
~a Inserts the autograph string from the sign= option into the
~A Inserts the autograph string from the Sign= option into the
~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 copy).
~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
~e Invoke the text editor on the message collected so far. After the
editing session is finished, you may continue appending text to the
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.
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.
Inserts the value of the named option into the text of the message.
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 included.
Identical to ~m, except all message headers are included.
~p Print out the message collected so far, prefaced by the message
~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 system
command and is executed, with the standard output inserted into the
Use string as the Reply-To field.
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
alternative 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 Exits as with ~q, except the message is not saved in dead.letter.
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.
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 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.
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
recipients 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
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. 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
escape If defined, the first character of this option gives the character
to use in place of ‘~’ to denote escapes.
Causes mail to expand message recipient addresses, as explained in
the section Recipient address specifications.
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 absolute
pathname; otherwise, the folder directory is found relative to your
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
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 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. Default
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
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
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
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
/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
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.
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.
macOS 12.1 February 29, 2004 macOS 12.1