MAIL(1) User Commands MAIL(1)


mail, rmail - read mail or send mail to users


Sending Mail

mail [-tw] [-m message_type] recipient...

rmail [-tw] [-m message_type] recipient...

Reading Mail

mail [-ehpPqr] [-f file]


mail [-x debug_level] [other_mail_options] recipient...


A recipient is usually a domain style address ("user@machine") or a user
name recognized by login(1). When recipients are named, mail assumes a
message is being sent. It reads from the standard input up to an end-of-
file (Control-d) or, if reading from a terminal device, until it reads a
line consisting of just a period. When either of those indicators is
received, mail adds the letter to the mailfile for each recipient.

A letter is composed of some header lines followed by a blank line
followed by the message content. The header lines section of the letter
consists of one or more UNIX postmarks:

From sender date_and_time [remote from remote_system_name]

followed by one or more standardized message header lines of the form:

keyword-name: [printable text]

where keyword-name is comprised of any printable, non-whitespace
characters other than colon (`:'). A MIME-version: header line indicates
that the message is formatted as described in RFC 2045. A Content-Length:
header line, indicating the number of bytes in the message content, is
always present unless the letter consists of only header lines with no
message content. A Content-Type: header line that describes the type of
the message content (such as text/plain, application/octet-stream, and so
on) is also present, unless the letter consists of only header lines with
no message content. Header lines may be continued on the following line
if that line starts with white space.


Sending Mail

The following command-line arguments affect sending mail:

-m message_type
A Message-Type: line is added to the message header
with the value of message_type.

A To: line is added to the message header for each of
the intended recipients.

A letter is sent to a remote recipient without waiting
for the completion of the remote transfer program.

If a letter is found to be undeliverable, it is returned to the sender
with diagnostics that indicate the location and nature of the failure. If
mail is interrupted during input, the message is saved in the file
dead.letter to allow editing and resending. dead.letter is always
appended to, thus preserving any previous contents. The initial attempt
to append to (or create) dead.letter is in the current directory. If this
fails, dead.letter is appended to (or created in) the user's login
directory. If the second attempt also fails, no dead.letter processing is

rmail only permits the sending of mail; uucp(1C) uses rmail as a security
precaution. Any application programs that generate mail messages should
be sure to invoke rmail rather than mail for message transport and/or

If the local system has the Basic Networking Utilities installed, mail
can be sent to a recipient on a remote system. There are numerous ways to
address mail to recipients on remote systems depending on the transport
mechanisms available to the local system. The two most prevalent
addressing schemes are Domain-style and UUCP-style.

Domain-style addressing
Remote recipients are specified by appending
an `@' and domain (and possibly sub-domain)
information to the recipient name (such as (The local system
administrator should be consulted for details
on which addressing conventions are available
on the local system.)

UUCP-style addressing
Remote recipients are specified by prefixing
the recipient name with the remote system name
and an exclamation point, such as sysa!user.
If csh(1) is the default shell, sysa\!user
should be used. A series of system names
separated by exclamation points can be used to
direct a letter through an extended network
(such as sysa!sysb!sysc!user or

Reading Mail

The following command-line arguments affect reading mail:

Test for the presence of mail. mail prints nothing.

An exit status of 0 is returned if the user has mail.
Otherwise, an exit status of 1 is returned.

Similar to -e, but tests only for the presence of new mail.

An exit status of 0 is returned if the user has new
mail to read, an exit status of 1 is returned if the
user has no mail, or an exit status of 2 is returned
if the user has mail which has already been read.

A window of headers are initially displayed rather than the
latest message. The display is followed by the ? prompt.

All messages are printed without prompting for disposition.

All messages are printed with all header lines displayed,
rather than the default selective header line display.

mail terminates after interrupts. Normally an interrupt causes
only the termination of the message being printed.

Messages are printed in first-in, first-out order.

-f file
mail uses file (such as mbox) instead of the default mailfile.

mail, unless otherwise influenced by command-line arguments, prints a
user's mail messages in last-in, first-out order. The default mode for
printing messages is to display only those header lines of immediate
interest. These include, but are not limited to, the UNIX From and >From
postmarks, From:, Date:, Subject:, and Content-Length: header lines, and
any recipient header lines such as To:, Cc:, Bcc:, and so forth. After
the header lines have been displayed, mail displays the contents (body)
of the message only if it contains no unprintable characters. Otherwise,
mail issues a warning statement about the message having binary content
and not display the content. This can be overridden by means of the p

For each message, the user is prompted with a ? and a line is read from
the standard input. The following commands are available to determine the
disposition of the message:

Print the number of the current message.

Print previous message.

<new-line>,+, or n
Print the next message.

Escape to the shell to do command.

Print message that arrived during the mail session.

d, or dp
Delete the current message and print the next

d n
Delete message number n. Do not go on to next

Delete message and quit mail.

Display a window of headers around current message.

Display a window of headers around message number

h a
Display headers of all messages in the user's

h d
Display headers of messages scheduled for deletion.

m [ persons ]
Mail (and delete) the current message to the named

Print message number n.

Print current message again, overriding any
indications of binary (that is, unprintable)

Override default brief mode and print current
message again, displaying all header lines.

q, or Control-d
Put undeleted mail back in the mailfile and quit

r [ users ]
Reply to the sender, and other users, then delete
the message.

s [ files ]
Save message in the named files (mbox is default)
and delete the message.

u [ n ]
Undelete message number n (default is last read).

w [ files ]
Save message contents, without any header lines, in
the named files (mbox is default) and delete the

Put all mail back in the mailfile unchanged and
exit mail.

y [ files ]
Same as -w option.

Print a command summary.

When a user logs in, the presence of mail, if any, is usually indicated.
Also, notification is made if new mail arrives while using mail.

The permissions of mailfile can be manipulated using chmod(1) in two ways
to alter the function of mail. The other permissions of the file can be
read-write (0666), read-only (0664), or neither read nor write (0660) to
allow different levels of privacy. If changed to other than the default
(mode 0660), the file is preserved even when empty to perpetuate the
desired permissions. (The administrator can override this file
preservation using the DEL_EMPTY_MAILFILE option of mailcnfg.)

The group ID of the mailfile must be mail to allow new messages to be
delivered, and the mailfile must be writable by group mail.


The following command-line arguments cause mail to provide debugging

-x debug_level
mail creates a trace file containing debugging

The -x option causes mail to create a file named /tmp/MLDBGprocess_id
that contains debugging information relating to how mail processed the
current message. The absolute value of debug_level controls the
verboseness of the debug information. 0 implies no debugging. If
debug_level is greater than 0, the debug file is retained only if mail
encountered some problem while processing the message. If debug_level is
less than 0, the debug file is always be retained. The debug_level
specified via -x overrides any specification of DEBUG in
/etc/mail/mailcnfg. The information provided by the -x option is esoteric
and is probably only useful to system administrators.

Delivery Notification

Several forms of notification are available for mail by including one of
the following lines in the message header.

Transport-Options: [ /options ]

Default-Options: [ /options ]

>To: recipient [ /options ]

Where the "/options" can be one or more of the following:

Inform the sender that the message was successfully
delivered to the recipient's mailbox.

Do not inform the sender of successful deliveries.

Do not inform the sender of failed deliveries.

Inform the sender if mail delivery fails. Return the
failed message to the sender.

Same as /return except that the original message is not

The default is /nodelivery/return. If contradictory options are used, the
first is recognized and later, conflicting, terms are ignored.


The following operand is supported for sending mail:

A domain style address ("user@machine") or user login name
recognized by login(1).


See largefile(7) for the description of the behavior of mail and rmail
when encountering files greater than or equal to 2 Gbyte ( 2^31 bytes).


See environ(7) for descriptions of the following environment variables
that affect the execution of mail: LC_CTYPE, LC_MESSAGES, and NLSPATH.

Determine the timezone used with date and time strings.


The following exit values are returned:

Successful completion when the user had mail.

The user had no mail or an initialization error occurred.

An error occurred after initialization.


unmailable text

to identify sender and locate recipients

saved mail

variable containing path name of mailfile

debug trace file

lock for mail directory

directory for holding temp files to prevent loss of
data in the event of a system crash

incoming mail for user; that is, the mailfile

temporary file


chmod(1), csh(1), login(1), mailx(1), vacation(1), write(1), uucp(1C),
uuencode(1C), attributes(7), environ(7), largefile(7)

Solaris Advanced User's Guide


The interpretation and resulting action taken because of the header lines
described in the Delivery Notifications section only occur if this
version of mail is installed on the system where the delivery (or
failure) happens. Earlier versions of mail might not support any types
of delivery notification.

Conditions sometimes result in a failure to remove a lock file.

After an interrupt, the next message might not be printed. Printing can
be forced by typing a p.

illumos May 17, 2020 MAIL(1)