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Using Alpine on the central Linux server

PLEASE NOTE that Pine has been replaced by Alpine on the new IT Services Linux server (Napier) following decommissioning of the old Unix server (Keeler).


Features of Alpine

Alpine is an email client program for use on Unix and Linux systems when using plain text command interpreters (known as shells). Alpine is recommended if you are reading or sending email directly on the IT Services central Linux system.

Nearly everything you tell Alpine to do is by means of typing simple, single-letter commands. These are shown on context-sensitive menus which change according to what it is you are doing.

Alpine has a comprehensive list of configurable options to suit your personal preferences. Alpine uses a simple built-in text editor for composing messages. This is also equipped with a contextual menu and help facility.

Although Alpine can handle attachments, its ability to do so is limited by its text-only mode of operation. It can, however, save attachments and it can also send them. In order to view most attachments you will probably need to use Windows-based email application.

Mouse operation

Please note that the mouse on a PC cannot normally be used with Alpine because it does not normally support mouse operation, or mouse support may be limited. All instructions to Alpine must normally be given as keyboard commands. However, you may find that you can select Setup options by clicking on a given option in the menus. It may also be possible to use the mouse to cut and paste text in the window in which Alpine is being used.

Starting Alpine

To start the Alpine program in a Unix session, all you need to do is to enter the command:


The first ever time you start Alpine, a greeting like the following will be shown.  Note that colours etc will probably be different:

Alpine display when first used

  • Only press Return, as invited, if you want to register anonymously as an Alpine user. Otherwise, type E to exit the greeting screen.
  • You will then have to enter your username and password before your INBOX (that is your central mailbox) can be opened.
  • The greeting screen is only shown once: every subsequent time you start Alpine, you will just be asked to enter your username and password.

When you have logged in, a menu screen will be shown:

 Alpine main menu screen

Setting Alpine to use the correct server

Before you can use Alpine for email, you must configure it to use the appropriate Sussex mail server.

IMPORTANT: following recent changes to the Sussex mail server infrastructure, you need to configure the SMTP server to include your username, so that you can be prompted for a password. For example, if your username is ano23, the SMTP server setting should be "" (without the quotes).  This is detailed below:

  1. Type S to enter the Setup menu.
  2. Type C to enter the Config menu.
  3. Using the down-arrow key on your keyboard, select SMTP Server (for sending) in the list of options:

    Alpine SMTP setting

  4. Type C to change this option.
  5. You will be prompted to 'Enter the replacement text'.  Enter, replacing username with your own username, for example if your username is ano23.  Then press Enter.
  6. Use the down-arrow key again, to select Inbox Path in the list of options:

    Inbox path option

  7. Now type C to Change this option.
  8. You will be asked to enter the name of the Inbox server, and will be offered:

    Inbox server name

    If you are an undergraduate or taught postgraduate student, leave this setting as it is and press Enter.
    If you are a member of staff or a PhD student, replace the given setting with   then press Enter.
  9. You will be asked to specify the Folder on "server" to use for INBOX, where server is the setting you made in step 8.  Just press Enter to accept this setting as it is.
  10. Type E to exit the Config menu.   You will be asked to 'Commit changes'.  Type Y (for Yes) to save the changes you made earlier.
  11. You must also set up the correct location for your mail folders:
    Type S to re-enter the Setup menu.
    In the Setup menu, you will see an option for specifying collectionLists:

    Collection List option

    Type L to select this option.
  12. Type C to change the setting.
  13. Use your down-arrow key to select the Server option, and correct the setting to be the same server name as you chose in step 8 above.
  14. Select the Path option and remove any setting that is there: for example, if Mail. is shown, and use your arrow keys and Backspace key to remove it.
  15. When both changes are complete, enter CTRL-X (hold down the CTRL key while you type X) to exit and save.  If any changes have been made, you will need to type Y to confirm.
  16. Type E to exit the Setup menu.

To view your Inbox, type I at the main menu.

An index of your messages (if any) will be shown on the screen, and a menu of available commands is shown at the bottom. Alpine shows a commentary of its responses to your commands and other actions, on a highlighted line just above the command menu. A typical example is shown below:

Pine main display

Stopping Alpine

To quit Alpine,  type the letter Q.  You will be asked Really quite Alpine? - just type Y to confirm.
Note that Alpine will not accept the Q command if it is given in the wrong context, for example while you're composing a new message.

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Using Alpine’s command menus

The menu shown at the bottom of the window will vary according to what it is you are doing. Keep an eye on the menu so as to learn the different commands. Remember also that as the menus change according to context, the same command letter may be used for a different command in a particular context. For example, in Alpine's main menu, the command letter R is used to see Release Notes, whereas in the message display menu it is used to start a Reply. This can be seen in two of the above illustrations.

Most commands are indicated in the menus by a single highlighted letter and a brief description of what it does, for example N NextMsg means that you can type N to see the next message in the list. However, some commands are indicated by (for example) ^X instead of just a single letter. This is called a Control letter. In this particular example you have to hold down the Ctrl key while you type X. As there are usually more commands than will fit on the menu all at once, you can type O to see other commands (as indicated in the menu by O OTHER CMDS).

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Sending messages

Type C to start composing a message. Alpine will provide text fields for you to fill in the addresses and subject, and the message text window is shown underneath. The menu at the bottom of the screen shows you what you can type when editing your message, and what to do when you are ready to send it.

You can move between the message text window and the message header window as and when you wish (the menu changes each time). To send the message, you type ^X (hold down the Ctrl key while you type X). Also, Help is available as with other activities, by typing ?.

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Reading messages

There are a number of ways of navigating around your message index:

  • You can use the arrow keys to move the message pointer up or down
  • You can go back or forward through pages of the index by typing a hyphen (-) or a space, respectively.
  • You can also jump to a message by typing its number and then pressing the Return key.

The current message is highlighted on the index. To read it, just press the Return key. Use the menu shown, to see what commands you can use when reading a message.

Sending Replies

You can reply to a message when you are reading it or when it is highlighted on the message index. All you need to do is type R for reply, and then use Alpine in the same way as for composing a message. You may be asked if you want to send your reply to all the original recipients.

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Using folders

Folders are where related email messages can be stored. They are kept in your mailstore, together with your INBOX. If you cannot see your mail folders, you may need to configure Alpine to find them in your mailstore. This is described in FAQ number 1308 in the IT Services Online Helpdesk.

You can normally access your folders directory by typing L (meaning list folders) and Alpine will show you a list of all your mail folders. You can choose a folder by typing G (go to) and then type its name, or you can use the arrow keys to navigate to the one you want on the list shown. Once chosen, the contents of the folder will be shown, and you can deal with the messages just as before.

Note that there is a special INBOX entry shown, in order to get back to your central mail inbox.

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Saving messages to folders

To save a message, just type S (either when the message is highlighted or when you are reading it) and then type the folder name you want it saved to.

Alpine normally assumes you want to save to a folder with the same name as the User Id of the person whose message you are saving. You type another name if you want a different folder. This can be an existing name (in which case the message will be added to the folder) or a new name (in which case Alpine will create a new folder with that name).

When the message has been saved, Alpine will mark it for deletion from the current index.

If there is not enough space to store any new messages (for example if your mailstore quota is exhausted) Alpine will tell you so.

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Exporting messages to a file

To save, or export, the text of a message to a file, type E (either when the message is highlighted or when you are reading it) and then type the name of the file you want it saved to. Alpine assumes this file will be held in the top directory of your account.

Exported messages are normally saved in simple email message format with only the bare minimum of message headers. If you want to save messages with the their full compliment of headers, for example to take them elsewhere to read on another mail server, you must first switch on full message header display. The export of mail folders is described in detail in FAQ number 1351 in the IT Services Online Helpdesk.

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Deleting messages

Please make a regular habit of removing unwanted messages from your inbox and folders. This will help to keep your mailstore tidy and within quota. You can use the D command to delete a message.

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Further information about Alpine

See the Alpine Information Center:

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created on 2010-01-01 by Andy Clews
last updated on 2020-03-26 by Gemma Sturtridge