Last-modified: Thu Nov 12 10:23:46 EST 1998
UNIX EMail Software - a Survey
[and a host of others - thanks]
Copyright 1991, 1992, 1993, Chris Lewis
Redistribution for profit, or in altered content/format
prohibited without permission of the author.
Redistribution via printed book or CDROM expressly
prohibited without consent of the author. Any other
redistribution must include this copyright notice and
Subject: Configuration Issues:
What you need for email connectivity is determined by:
1 What networks you intend to connect to.
The Internet (hence SMTP)? UUCP sites? X.400?
Bitnet? Others? Combinations?
2 What links you have or are willing to install
Internet T1? T2? UUCP? Other? [Details on how to
make your connections is beyond the scope of this FAQ,
but can usually be found out from the provider (other end)
of the link]
3 what user interface you want to use. This is largely
an independent issue, so consult the Specific Package
Subject: Recommended MTA Configurations:
These configurations are based upon my own experience, and the
experience of others. Careful installation of any of these
configurations will result in a solid, reliable mail system
that respects the appropriate "do's and don'ts". Each configuration
represents a compromise of ease of installation and maintenance
versus sophistication and capabilities.
One thing you should consider is what you already have on your
system. You will invariably have "binmail", and will have a good
chance at already having sendmail. Some systems come with
smail (if 2.3, junk it) The configurations shown below are *minimal*
configurations, so you should consider whether you want to use what
you already have or not.
Scenario 1: Only UUCP connections.
Smail 2.5. If you want to set up a routing database of
your own, you will also need pathalias, and unpackmaps or
uuhosts. Instead, though, you can configure smail 2.5 to
smart-host most destinations to a nearby friendly site
who'll do your routing for you without having to run
the routing software. Note further, that you can run
pathalias on just a subset of the full set of maps.
[Unpackmaps makes this particularly easy to do]
Smail 2.5, as shipped, does not support mail-to-pipeline
or mail-to-file aliasing. If you need these, at a minimum,
you should obtain lmail. If you intend more than casual
use of these features, it is recommended that you obtain
deliver or procmail instead of lmail.
Even if you have sendmail already, you can integrate smail 2.5
with it to do your UUCP routing. (though, some later versions
of sendmail can do routing themselves)
If you're a little more demanding of your mail connections, smail 3
is also a good choice, and works particularly well for systems that
are UUCP connected to Internet sites.
Scenario 2: SMTP connections (optionally, some UUCP connections too).
Generally speaking, sendmail will do this for you and you have
a good chance to have it already. However, for the novice, it
is recommended that smail 3 be used instead [see review of
sendmail below]. Smail 3 includes all of the routing software
and can do mail-to-pipeline and mail-to-file, so none of the auxiliary
programs mentioned in scenario 1 are necessary.
Most sendmails don't include UUCP routing mechanisms, so you would
need pathalias and unpackmaps or uuhosts if you wish to set up
a UUCP routing database. Further, most sendmails don't know
how to query a pathalias database directly, so you may have to hack
your own path lookup program into the sendmail.cf (smail 2.5 can
be used for this purpose provided that you will have a UUCP link
to the outside world)
Both MMDF and PP can also be used, but PP is usually overkill.
Deliver or procmail are still quite useful in this configuration
for extended alias facilities.
Scenario 3: Connections to other networks (optionally including
SMTP or UUCP), or very high loading.
Your best bets are MMDF, PP or zmailer.
You can implement other network interfaces with sendmail, but
not only will you probably have to roll your own, but sendmail
can't cope with high loading very well. Ditto smail 3.
There are other configurations. See the Package Reviews to
determine which packages are appropriate.
Subject: Package Reviews
Honesty requires me to point out which software packages were
reviewed by their author (including me ;-). I do so by appending
a "*" to the name of the author. In some cases, the material
has been cribbed from FAQ's or general information blurbs.
It is worth noting, though, that most of these packages are well
known, and have been in operation at many sites for periods of
a year or more. These packages do their job well, and have been
extensively thrashed out in the best debugging laboratory in the
universe (Usenet ;-)
A few packages have been mentioned prior to their release.
(unpackmaps 4, the occasional beta version). It is
recommended that these versions be avoided by novices until they
have had a chance to settle for a little while. This FAQ will
note when such software seems (according to rumour *I* hear) to be
stable enough for general use.
Some of these packages are capable, by various bits of hackery,
of doing a lot more than is claimed for them. But I refrain
on telling you how to "take the covers off". Given the
intended audience, that would be tantamount to trying to
teach preschoolers do-it-yourself brain surgery. Please don't
take this as condescending - I've been working on/in/with email
systems for over 12 years and I *still* won't play with (as
just one example) sendmail.cf's.
Therefore, I restrict myself largely to "out-of-the-box" functionality,
"fill-in-the-blank" configurability, and normal documented installation
procedures. Beyond that, you're on your own.
binmail is usually really called "mail". On System V prior to
Release 4, it is a really simple UA that does dual duty as the
TA. It's pretty awful because it doesn't know how to set up
headers properly, doesn't even know what a "Subject:" line is,
and there's no way to do any kind of aliases.
On BSD, binmail invokes sendmail to do the MTA function. On
System V prior to Release 4, you really do want to replace binmail's
MTA functionality with something else. However, you should not
replace it in its "mail" (UA) functionality, because many
system-level administration mechanisms will break. Any new UA
should be installed as a different name than "mail".
Beginning with System V Release 4, "binmail"'s transfer agent
capabilities were considerably enhanced to have similar capabilities
to Smail 3 and sendmail. There is usually no need to replace it with
another mail agent. (See SVR4 mail discussion below)
Binmail stores mail in "mbox" format.
binmail's TA functionality is implemented by linking mail
to rmail. It's rmail that you'd want to replace with smail 2.5
The original BSD UA. It can support local profiles, aliases, folders,
header previewing, out-going mail recording and all sorts of good stuff.
An "okay" UA. Available from BSD "freed-sources" archives.
Mail stores mail in "mbox" format.
AT&T's answer to BSD "Mail", from which it is descended. Some versions,
such as the 3b1 one, should be avoided because of a buggy port. Not
available in source form (it's proprietary but ubiquitous enough to be
Mailx stores mail in "mbox" format.
mush: author Dan Heller* <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The "Mail User's Shell" is a "shell" for mail users. That is, it
has its own environment where you can configure not only the user
interface, but the actual internal mechanisms. Internally, mush
has a csh-like scripting language, altho it's not as powerful as
csh. It has command-line aliases, file completion, if-else state-
ments, command piping, and so on. Because you can build your own
commands, you can virtually build your own library of email features.
Mush has two tty-based interfaces: the standard tty-mode (ala BSD
Mail or sys-v mailx) and the fullscreen/curses mode (ala vi, emacs
or even Elm). You can set up key bindings that execute one or more
mush commands, personalized commands or even UNIX commands. You
can even emulate keyboard input with keyboard macros and mappings.
Mush also has a SunView interface that is more powerful than Sun's
Mailtool, yet backwards compatible with most versions. Most sunview
users (if there are any left these days) prefer MushView over Mailtool.
The current version of Mush is 7.2.5. All three interfaces are
available in one runtime binary. Except for the MushView interface
(which is only available on for suns), Mush is portable to
everything that runs UNIX. There is also a DOS port available for
PCs and can run on most 286 machines. An older version of Mush
(6.5) can run on as little as 640 of RAM. (Mush-PC is typically
used with UUPC.)
The "next generation" of Mush is a commercial product called Z-Mail
from Z-Code Software (mail email@example.com for details). All aspects
of Mush are retained, yet it has grown to be far more powerful. It
runs under X windows with either a Motif or Open Look interface
and also supports multi-media, user "functions" and a suite of new
Mush stores its messages in "mbox" format, or MMDF format if you're
using MMDF as your MTA.
The newsgroup comp.mail.mush is dedicated to it.
[Note: Z-Mail is not related at all to Zmailer. Zmailer is a MTA]
elm: coordinator Bill Pemberton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(cribbed from comp.mail.elm FAQ)
Elm is designed to run with "sendmail" or "/bin/rmail"
(according to what's on your system) and is a full
replacement of programs like "/bin/mail" and "mailx". The
system is more than just a single program, however, and
includes programs like "frm" to list a 'table of contents'
of your mail, "printmail" to quickly paginate mail files (to
allow 'clean' printouts), and "autoreply", a systemwide
daemon that can autoanswer mail for people while they're on
vacation without having multiple copies spawned on the
The most significant difference between Elm and most other
mail systems is that Elm is screen-oriented. Upon further
use, however, users will find that Elm is also quite a bit
easier to use, and quite a bit more "intelligent" about
sending mail and so on.
Current release is Elm 2.4 PL25. Information on access is
available from the server at DSI.COM:
send mail to archive-server@DSI.COM
send elm index
[Ed: elm is particularly good for novices. The only drawback
that I've heard is that elm is a bit less user configurable than,
MM: Contact Joseph Brennan* <email@example.com>
Columbia University in the City of New York
(cribbed from MM man page.)
mm is a powerful electronic mail system which allows you to send, read,
edit and manage messages quickly and easily. It is designed to have the
same interface as the MM program written and developed for DEC20s over a
period of many years.
mm was written using the CCMD package developed at Columbia. Thus, it
has copious internal help, completion of partially typed commands on use
of the TAB key, and help on partial commands when ? is typed.
mm can read several mail-file formats. Its default is mbox, the same
format used by unix mail. It also can read babyl, used by emacs rmail,
and mtxt and MH. It can copy messages from one file type to another.
MM is a Freeware MUA copyright by Columbia University (as is this
MM is available by anonymous ftp from cunixf.cc.columbia.edu, directory mm.
The file mm-intro.txt there is a longer description of how it was developed.
[Ed: MM also appears to be a good UA for novices. From the examples
in the manual page, it handholds extensively and is not screen oriented.]
MH: Maintainer John Romine <Bug-MH@ics.uci.edu>
The big difference between MH and most other "mail user agents" is
that you can use MH from a UNIX shell prompt. In MH, each command
is a separate program, and the shell is used as an interpreter. So,
all the power of UNIX shells (pipes, redirection, history, aliases,
and so on) works with MH--you don't have to learn a new interface.
other mail agents have their own command interpreter for their
individual mail commands (although the mush mail agent simulates a
UNIX shell). Mail messages are stored in individual files.
The current version of MH is 6.8.3 and supports MIME. MH comes
standard with Ultrix 4.0 and later, and AIX 3.1 and later.
via anonymous ftp:
ftp.ics.uci.edu [126.96.36.199] pub/mh/mh-6.8.tar.Z 1.6MB
louie.udel.edu [188.8.131.52] portal/mh-6.8.tar.Z 1.6MB
comp.mail.mh discusses MH, and contains a FAQ article.
Jerry Peek wrote a book about MH called "MH & xmh: E-mail for Users &
Programmers", ISBN 1-56592-027-9, published by O'Reilly and Associates,
second edition, September 1992.
XMH: <extracted from the manual page>
The xmh program provides a graphical user interface to the
MH Message Handling System. To actually do things with your
mail, it makes calls to the MH package. Electronic mail
messages may be composed, sent, received, replied to, for-
warded, sorted, and stored in folders. xmh provides exten-
sive mechanism for customization of the user interface.
xmh is part of the standard X distribution from the X Consortium.
EXMH: Author Brent Welch* <Brent.Welch@sun.com>
exmh is an X interface to the MH mail system. It is written in John
Ousterhout's Tcl/Tk language system and requires that you have both
Tcl/Tk and MH installed. If you have metamail installed, exmh
As well as providing the usual layer on top of MH commands, exmh
has a number of other features:
MIME support! Displays richtext and enriched directly. Parses
multipart messages. Displays hot buttons that invoke external viewers
(metamail) for things not directly supported. Built-in editor allows
simple composition of text/enriched format.
Color feedback in the scan listing so you can easily identify
unseen messages (blue), the current message (red), deleted
messages (gray background), and moved messages (yellow background).
Xresources control these color choices.
A folder display with one label per folder. Color highlights
indicate the current folder (red), folders with unseen messages
in them (blue), and the target folder for moves (yellow background).
Nested folders are highlighted by a shadow box. A cache of
recently visted folder buttons is also maintained. Monochrome
highlights are reverse video for the current folder, bold box
for folders with unseen messages, and stippled box for the
target of move operations.
Clever scan caching. MH users know that scan is slow, so
exmh tries hard to cache the current state of the folder to
avoid scanning. Moves and deletes within exmh do not
invalidate the cache, and background incs that add new messages
are handled by merging them into the scan listing. The
scan cache is compatible with xmh.
Numerous other features, such as "facesaver" display, backgrounds,
dialog-box interface to MH "pick", folder searching and listing,
designed for inclusion of user "hooks" and interfaces etc.
GNU Emacs Rmail:
Rmail is an Emacs subsystem for reading and disposing of mail. Rmail
stores mail messages in Rmail files in BABYL format (originally used
under the ITS operating system), although it can incorporate new mail
from MMDF and Unix format files, or mixed-format files. Reading the
messages in an Rmail file is done in a special major mode, Rmail mode,
which redefines most letters to run commands for managing mail.
Rmail can do the standard things such as displaying, deleting, filing,
or replying to messages. Replying uses another Emacs subsystem, Mail
mode. Messages can be saved in either BABYL or Unix format. Rmail
maintains per-message attributes and user-defined labels. Rmail can
burst message digests.
VM: Author Kyle Jones* <firstname.lastname@example.org>
VM (View Mail) is a GNU Emacs subsystem that allows UNIX mail to be read
and disposed of within Emacs. Commands exist to do the normal things
expected of a mail user agent, such as generating replies, saving
messages to folders, deleting messages and so on. There are other more
advanced commands that do tasks like bursting and creating digests,
message forwarding, and organizing message presentation according to
The current version of VM is VM 4.41.
VM is discussed in gnu.emacs.vm.info, or by mailing list by sending
an e-mail request to email@example.com.
MH-E: Maintainer: Stephen Gildea <firstname.lastname@example.org>
MH-E is the GNU Emacs front end for MH. It offers all the
functionality of MH, the visual orientation and simplicity of use
of xmh, and full integration with Emacs, including thorough
configurability. The command set is similar to that of rmail (the
Emacs front end for BSD mail) and BSD mail itself. On-line help is
Mh-e allows one to read and process mail very quickly: commands are
single characters and completion and defaults are available for
file and folder names. During a reply, the original message is
displayed simultaneously in another window for easy reference where
a mh-e command can quickly incorporate and format this text into
With mh-e you compose outgoing messages in Emacs. This is a big
plus for Emacs users, but it has been known for non-Emacs users to
be able use mh-e after only learning the most basic cursor motion
commands. Mh-e is easily configured via the Emacs edit-options
menu, and people familiar with Emacs Lisp will be able to further
reconfigure mh-e beyond recognition.
The mh-e system is part of the standard GNU Emacs distribution.
The latest version can be found at
[Above shamelessly stolen from Bill Wohler's comp.mail.mh faq]
C-Client: Author Mark Crispin <email@example.com>
C-client is a general library useful for creating MUA's. It provides
a high level logical interface for retrieving and manipulating
mail messages. It supports the latest draft of MIME (proposed
Internet standard for multipart, multimedia, typed electronic mail).
It is driver based, and easily ported to new platforms and MTA's,
already supports BSD, SysV, DOS, Macintosh and TOPS-20(!),
and supports present mail and mailbox formats.
Just the thing if you want to write a new MUA.
The package also contains a very fine IMAP and POP server.
Metamail: Author N. Borenstein
[Described by Paul Eggert, firstname.lastname@example.org]
Metamail is a software implementation of Mime, designed for easy
integration with traditional mail-reading interfaces -- typically,
users do not invoke metamail directly. Ideally, extending the local
email or news system to handle a new media format is a simple matter
of adding a line to a mailcap file. Mailcap files are described in
RFC 1343: N Borenstein, ``A user agent configuration mechanism for
multimedia mail format information'' (June 1992). The source code
for metamail can be found in ftp.uu.net:mail/metamail/mm.tar.Z.
To join its mailing list, write email@example.com.
MailManager: Author Mark Crispin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A MUA implemented using C-Client for NeXT computers.
MMail: Martin R. Raskovsky* <email@example.com>
A WYSIWYG, text composition, visualization and MIME mailer. Text
organised in different fonts. Inline images. Shareware: Free, full
functionality 30 days evaluation. Academic Institutions: Free.
Pine: Authors Lundblade, Seibel, and Crispin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Pine is a mailer developed by the University of Washington Office of
Computing and Communications. It has been designed for ease-of-use and
with the novice computer user in mind. It is based on Internet mail
protocols (e.g. RFC-822, SMTP, IMAP, and MIME) and currently runs on
a variety of UNIX platforms, and a version is apparently available for
The guiding principles for achieving ease-of-use in Pine were:
careful limitation of features, one-character mnemonic commands,
always-present command menus, immediate user feedback, and high
tolerance for user mistakes. It is intended that Pine can be learned
by exploration rather than reading manuals.
A stand-alone version of Pico, Pine's message composition editor, is also
included. It is a very simple and easy to use text editor with text
justification and a spelling checker.
- Mail index showing a message summary which includes the status,
sender, size, date and subject of messages.
- View and process mail with the following commands: forward, reply,
save, export, print, delete, capture address and search.
- Address book for saving long complex addresses and personal
distribution lists under a nickname.
- Multiple folders and folder management screen for filing messages.
- Message composer with easy-to-use editor and spelling checker.
The message composer also assists entering and formatting
addresses and provides direct access to the address book.
- Online help specific to each screen and context.
- Supports access to remote mail repositories via the IMAP2 protocol
defined in RFC-1176.
- Soon to support multi-part mail conforming to proposed MIME Internet
standard, allowing sending of sounds, graphics such as GIF and TIFF
files, and binary files such as spreadsheets.
Pine, including source code, is freely available via anonymous FTP from
ftp.cac.washington.edu on the Internet. Other provisions for distribution
have not been made. From the Internet, you may try out Pine and leave
comments by telneting to "demo.cac.washington.edu" and logging in as
"pinedemo". To join the Pine mailing list for announcements send a
email request to "email@example.com" with body
Pine is very portable and runs on a variety of UNIX machines including
DECstations, NeXTs, VAX's and Suns. Pine was originally based on Elm,
but it has evolved much since, ("Pine Is No-longer Elm").
For further information send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Pine is
the work of Mike Siebel, Mark Crispin, and Laurence Lundblade at the
University of Washington.
Ream: Author: Paul Dourish* <email@example.com>
Ream is a curses-based mail user agent for a variety of UNIX flavours;
at one time or another, it's run on everything from a PC running Linux
to a Cray Y/MP running UNICOS. It was originally written at the
University of Edinburgh, and has spread not least through the
subsequent geographical distribution of alumni. It remains minimally
supported by its author (Paul Dourish <firstname.lastname@example.org>).
Ream is similar to elm in a number of ways, but considerably smaller
and with a stronger separation between MUA and MTA behaviours. It runs
over sendmail, mmdf and PP. It is available by anonymous ftp from
parcftp.xerox.com, in pub/europarc/reamXXX.tar.Z, where XXX is a
slowly incrementing version number.
ML: Author: Mike Macgirvin <Mike_Macgirvin@CAMIS.Stanford.EDU>
Current version 1.2.3. ML is a mail reader for the X window system,
using Motif and the IMAP protocol. It provides active filtering of
mail into user-defined views using a simple but powerful filter
language. For example:
"from john and since yesterday and undeleted"
defines a "view" of your mailbox containing only those messages. It
also has many features common to most modern mail systems,
including MIME attachments and USENET news support; the ability to
work with multiple open mailboxes, various sort options, spell
checking, address book, etc.
International support is more extensive than many mail programs;
although currently limited to 8-bit left-to-right languages.
International header and text encodings are invisibly handled so
users may work in their native language. Current work will extend
this support further.
ML is freely available via anonymous FTP to FTP-CAMIS.Stanford.EDU
in the directory "/pub/ml". Source code is available as well as
binary releases for several common system types. For more
information please see:
Z-Mail: Z-code Software Corp, Barbara Tallent* <email@example.com>
Z-Mail, a UNIX World Magazine "Product of the Year" winner for
1991, is a complete electronic mail system for workstations, PCs,
ASCII terminals and Macs. Z-Mail provides Motif and Open Look
graphical user interfaces, as well as two character modes. The
software has been ported to nearly every system that runs UNIX, and
it works with all standard UNIX mail transport agents including
sendmail, binmail, smail, MMDF and X.400 gateways. Z-Mail can
replace or coexist with standard mail user agents on the system,
including BSD Mail, AT&T mailx, Sun Mail Tool, Elm or Mush. Most
anyone can use Z-Mail "off the shelf" and immediately benefit from
its simple interface and advanced features.
The 'fullscreen' character mode has become its own product, Z-Mail Lite.
It's available immediately.
Z-Mail also includes Z-Script, a powerful scripting language that
enables users to customize and extend Z-Mail's capabilities. Z-Mail's
multi-media capabilities allow easy integration with best-of-class
products including spreadsheets, desk-top publishing, graphics, fax,
voice, and video. For example, when users receive a spreadsheet file,
Z-Mail can be configured to automatically launch the associated
application and load the the attachment automatically and transparently
to the user. Z-Mail understands MIME-format documents and is also
compatible with Sun's multimedia Mailtool.
For more information on Z-Mail, contact:
Z-Code Software Division
Network Computing Devices, Inc.
101 Rowland Way, Suite 300
Novato, CA 94945
tel: (415) 898-8649
fax: (415) 898-8299
You can obtain a demo copy of Z-Mail from ftp.z-code.ncd.com in the
directory pub/z-code/zmail/3.2 for assorted UNIX versions. The file
is named zm32.XXX.tar.Z where XXX is your type of machine. Windows
and Macintosh versions are also available for FTP in the directories
pub/z-code/zmail/zm-win and pub/z-code/zmail/zm-mac.
Contact <firstname.lastname@example.org> for an activation key after downloading your
[As mentioned previously, Z-Mail is the commercial variant of mush. Ed]