Quick Guide To Using Pine

If you connect to the CUIT UNIX cluster using a secure ssh client, you can start Pine by typing the command pine at the shell $ prompt:

$ pine

Pine is the same on either cluster.

Pine will show you its Main Menu.

  ALPINE 1.00    MAIN MENU                  Folder: INBOX     3,276 messages

       ?     HELP               -  Get help using Alpine

       C     COMPOSE MESSAGE    -  Compose and send a message

       I     FOLDER INDEX       -  View messages in current folder

       L     FOLDER LIST        -  Select a folder OR news group to view

       A     ADDRESS BOOK       -  Update address book

       S     SETUP              -  Configure Alpine Options

       Q     QUIT               -  Leave the Alpine program

                  Copyright 2006-2007 University of Washington
              [Folder "INBOX" opened with 3,276 messages - 1 new]
? Help                     P PrevCmd                 R RelNotes                 
O OTHER CMDS > [ListFldrs] N NextCmd                               

From this screen, the ? command for help displays a great deal of general information, including how to give commands and move around. If you really want the very voluminous help printed out, once you enter help from this screen, give the command Z.

Compose: Sending Mail

Choose C from Main Menu (or elsewhere) to Compose a message.

  ALPINE 1.00   COMPOSE MESSAGE          Folder: INBOX          3,276 Messages +

To      : 
Cc      : 
Subject : 
----- Message Text -----

^G Get Help  ^X Send      ^R Rich Hdr  ^Y PrvPg/Top ^K Cut Line  ^O Postpone
^C Cancel    ^D Del Char  ^J Attach    ^V NxtPg/End ^U UnDel Line^T To AddrBk

Use the arrow keys to move the cursor around. Fill in an address on the To line, fill in something on the Subject line, and write a message.

The menu shown above is for the To line-- the menu shown changes as you move the cursor around. The symbol ^ in the menu means to use the control key to give commands. For example ^G means hold down the control key and press g.

^G Get Help  ^X Send      ^R Read File ^Y Prev Pg   ^K Cut Text  ^O Postpone  
^C Cancel    ^J Justify   ^_ Alt Edit  ^V Next Pg   ^U UnCut Text^T To Spell  

The menu above is for the Message Text. A file of plain text can be inserted right into the message with ^R Read File. It will look the same to the recipient as if you typed it into Pine. Tip: Write long messages outside of Pine and insert them.

Pine can send attachments. Name the file(s) to attach either on the Attchmnt header line or with the ^J Attach command. The file must be in your CUNIX account. You could upload a file from your PC using ftp if you want to send it with Pine.

Index: Reading Mail

Pine opens INBOX when it starts up. Choose I Index off the Main Menu to see a list of messages in INBOX. The commands shown at the bottom of the screen are:

? Help       < FldrList   P PrevMsg       - PrevPage D Delete     R Reply    
O OTHER CMDS > [ViewMsg]  N NextMsg     Spc NextPage U Undelete   F Forward

The first unseen message is highlighted. To start there, press return to see the message. To see some other message, you can move up and down with the arrow keys, or use hyphen and spacebar to move up and down by a whole screen at a time.

Below is a message seen in Pine.

  ALPINE 1.00   MESSAGE TEXT   Folder: INBOX    Message 3,276 of 3,277 45%     +

Date: Fri, 11 Apr 2008 10:31:18 -0400 (EDT)
From: jb51@columbia.edu
To: Joseph Brennan <brennan@columbia.edu>
Subject: Reading Mail with Pine

This is where the message text goes.

You used the INDEX command off the main menu to see an index or list
of messages.  You can use the arrow key to highlight the one you want,
press RETURN, and see it, looking something like this message.

For your INBOX, Pine sets the highlighted bar in the index at the
first unseen message, so you can see new mail by just pressing RETURN
and moving forward until there are no more new messages.

                                [ALL of message]
? Help       < MsgIndex   P PrevMsg       - PrevPage D Delete     R Reply   
O OTHER CMDS > ViewAttch  N NextMsg     Spc NextPage U Undelete   F Forward    

Use O Other Commands to see more possible commands.

If you receive mail with attachments, Pine will suggest using the Viewer to handle them. The Viewer can display text attachments, and it can save any attachment to a file in your CUNIX account. You could download a file to your PC usingftp after Pine saves it to CUNIX.

Folder List

Choose L Folder List from the Main Menu to get to folders other than INBOX.

  ALPINE 1.00   FOLDER LIST            Folder: INBOX            3,278 Messages +

INBOX               sent-mail           saved-messages      2004_01
2004_02             2004_03             2004_04             2004_05
2004_06             2004_07             2004_08             2004_09
2004_10             2004_11             2004_12             2005_01
2005_02             2005_03             2005_04             2005_05
2005_06             2005_07             2005_08             2005_09
2005_10             2005_11             2005_12             2006_01
2006_02             2006_03             2006_04             2006_05
2006_06             2006_juldec         2007_janjun         2007_juldec
book_1              book_2              book_3              curiosities
designs[.]          imp                 interesting stuff   tautology
~ Other Users.      ~ Public Folders.   

                              [ALL of folder list]
? Help       < Main Menu   P PrevFldr     - PrevPage A Add        R Rename  
O OTHER CMDS > [View Fldr] N NextFldr   Spc NextPage D Delete     W WhereIs    

Your collection of folders won't be the same as the above. The two folders everyone has are INBOX and sent-mail, and additionally the last two items, ~ Other Users and ~ Public Folders, are always there to link to folders outside your CUNIX account.

Folders can contain messages or subfolders or both. A name ending with dot (.) has only subfolders, and a name ending with dot in square brackets (notice designs[.] above) has both messages and subfolders. To see the subfolders, use the arrow key to highlight the folder, and press return.


The Addressbook is tied in to the Compose and View screens. You can pick an address in Addressbook and then Compose mail to it, or start in Compose and check an address in Addressbook. You can also pick an address from incoming mail and make it into an Addressbook entry.

Quitting Pine

Please use the Q Quit command to finish a Pine session. Quitting closes everything up properly.

If you are on CUNIX, quitting Pine takes you back to the shell $ prompt. Please use the exit command to exit from the shell.


Pine defaults to a simple print routine that works for many (but not all) login connections from Windows or Macintosh PCs. Try it. You may need to follow the Pine command by giving a command to the communication software you are running, to tell it to print the buffer; check its manual or built-in help.

If your CUNIX account allows you to print on CUIT printers, you may want to change the print command to use the CUIT printers. The S Setup command in the Main Menu leads to the P Printer setup commands, the last of which lets you configure the print command to run a UNIX print command with the printer name in it.


Files and Tricks

Your mail is not in your CUNIX account. Pine is configured for you to connect to the Cyrus mail system (mail.columbia.edu).

To see the UNIX man page for Alpine, type man alpine at the CUNIX shell $ prompt. Here are a few of the options:

  • Pine normally shows the Main Menu when it starts, and opens INBOX. If you want it to go straight to the Index screen, start Pine as pine -i.
  • If you want Pine to open a different folder, start Pine with -f followed by the name, including the mail server. For example to start Pine and go straight to sent-mail, type this, including the quote marks:
    $ pine -f "{mail.columbia.edu/novalidate-cert}sent-mail" 
  • On CUNIX, if you want to be able to use control-z to suspend Pine, start it as pine -z.

If you need extra temporary space to upload or download files for attachments, note that you can put files in the /scratch and /tmp directories. The /scratch directory is shared by all the hosts in the CUNIX cluster. Files in both directories are removed automatically after a few days.