Accessing The Internet By E-Mail

How to Access Internet Services by E-mail

If your only access to the Internet is via e-mail, you don't have to miss out on all
the fun! Maybe you've heard of FTP, Gopher, Archie, Veronica, Finger, Whois, WAIS,
World-Wide Web, and Usenet but thought they were out of your reach because your
online service does not provide those tools. Not so! And even if you do have full
Internet access, using e-mail servers can save you time and money. 

This special report will show you how to retrieve files from FTP sites, explore the
Internet via Gopher, search for information with Archie, Veronica, or WAIS, tap into
the World-Wide Web, and even access Usenet newsgroups using E-MAIL AS YOUR ONLY TOOL. 

If you can send a note to an Internet address, you're in the game! This is great news
for users of online services where there is partial or no direct Internet access. As
of late 1994, there were 150 countries with only e-mail connections to the Internet.
This is double the number of countries with direct (IP) connections.

I encourage you to read this entire document first and then go back and try out the
techniques that are covered. This way, you will gain a broader perspective of the
information resources that are available, an introduction to the tools you can work
with, and the best methods for finding the information you want.

Finding the Latest Version

This document is now available from several automated mail servers. To get the latest
edition, send e-mail to one of the addresses below. 

To: listserv@ubvm.cc.buffalo.edu (for US/Canada/etc.) Leave Subject blank, and enter
only this line in the body of the note: 

To: mail-server@rtfm.mit.edu (for Eastern US) Leave Subject blank, and enter only
this line in the body of the note: 
send usenet/news.answers/internet-services/access-via-email 

To: mailbase@mailbase.ac.uk (for UK/Europe/etc.) Leave Subject blank, and enter only
this line in the body of the note: 
send lis-iis e-access-inet.txt

You can also get the file by anonymous FTP at one of these sites: 

Site: ubvm.cc.buffalo.edu
Site: rtfm.mit.edu
get pub/usenet/news.answers/internet-services/access-via-email
Site: mailbase.ac.uk
get pub/lists/lis-iis/files/e-access-inet.txt 

A Short Aside... "What is the Internet?"

Many introductory texts on the Internet go into excruciating detail on the history,
composition and protocol of the Internet. If you were looking for that you won't find
it here, because this is a "how to" lesson, not a history book.

When you buy a new car, they don't make you read "The Life and Times of Henry Ford"
before you can turn the top down and squeal off the lot. And when you get a new
computer, nobody forces you to read a text on logic design before you fire up Leisure
Suit Larry or WordPerfect. 

So if you're the type that wants to short-circuit the preliminaries and just dig in,
you've come to the right place. I'm not going to bore you with the gory details.
Instead, I'll just offer up my Reader's Digest condensed definition of the Internet,
and encourage you to read more about the Internet in one of the many fine Internet
books and guides listed in the "Suggested Reading" section. Some of them are even
free, and accessible directly from the Internet! 

Internet (noun) - A sprawling collection of computer networks that spans the globe,
connecting government, military, educational and commercial institutions, as well as
private citizens to a wide range of computer services, resources, and information. A
set of network conventions and common tools are employed to give the appearance of a
single large network, even though the computers that are linked together use many
different hardware and software platforms. 

The Rules of The Game

This document is meant to be both tutorial and practical, so there are lots of actual
commands and internet addresses listed herein. You'll notice that when these are
included in the text they are indented by several spaces for clarity. Don't include
the leading spaces when you try these commands on your own!

You'll also see things like "" or "" appearing in this document. Think of
these as place holders or variables which must be replaced with an appropriate value.
Do NOT include the quotes or brackets in your value unless specifically directed to
do so. 

Often you'll be told to "send e-mail with a blank subject" to some address. This
means to simply leave the "Subject:" field blank in your note. If your mailer refuses
to send messages with a blank subject, give it some dummy value. In most cases this
will work fine. 

Most e-mail servers understand only a small set of commands and are not very forgiving
if you deviate from what they expect. So include ONLY the specified commands in the
"body" of your note and leave off any extraneous lines such as your signature, etc. 

Pay attention to upper/lower case in directory and file names when using e-mail
servers. It's almost always important! 


FTP stands for "file transfer protocol", and is a means of accessing files that are
stored on remote computer systems. In Internet lingo, these remote computers are
called "sites". Files at FTP sites are typically stored in a tree-like set of
directories (or nested folders for Mac fans), each of which pertains to a different

When visiting an FTP site using a "live" internet connection, one would specify the
name of the site, login with a userid & password, navigate to the desired directory
and select one or more files to be transferred back to their local system.

Using FTP by e-mail is very similar, except that the desired site is reached through
a special "ftpmail server" which logs in to the remote site and returns the requested
files to you in response to a set of commands in an e-mail message.

Using FTP by e-mail can be nice even for those with full Internet access, because
some popular FTP sites are heavily loaded and interactive response can be very
sluggish. So it makes sense not to waste time and connect charges in these cases. 

To use FTP by e-mail, you first need a list of FTP "sites" which are the addresses of
the remote computer systems that allow you to retrieve files anonymously (without
having a userid and password on that system). 

There are some popular sites listed later in this guide, but you can get a
comprehensive list of hundreds of anonymous FTP sites by sending an e-mail message to
the internet address:


with a blank subject and include these lines in the body of the note. 

send usenet/news.answers/ftp-list/sitelist/part1
send usenet/news.answers/ftp-list/sitelist/part2 ... (lines omitted for brevity)
send usenet/news.answers/ftp-list/sitelist/part13
send usenet/news.answers/ftp-list/sitelist/part14 

You will then receive (by e-mail) 14 files which comprise the "FTP Site List". Note
that these files are each about 60K, so the whole lot will total over 750K! This
could place a strain on your system, so first check around to see if the list is
already available locally, or consider requesting just the first few as a sampler
before getting the rest.

Another file you might want to get is "FTP Frequently Asked Questions" which contains
lots more info on using FTP services, so add this line to your note as well.

send usenet/news.answers/ftp-list/faq

After you receive the site list you'll see dozens of entries like this, which tell
you the site name, location and the kind of files that are stored there.

Site : oak.oakland.edu
Country: USA
Organ : Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan
System : Unix
Comment: Primary Simtel Software Repository mirror
Files : BBS lists; ham radio; TCP/IP; Mac; modem protocol info; 
MS-DOS; MS-Windows; PC Blue; PostScript; Simtel-20; Unix 

If you find an interesting FTP site in the list, send e-mail to one of these ftpmail

ftpmail@sunsite.unc.edu	(USA/NC)
bitftp@pucc.princeton.edu	(USA/NJ)
bitftp@vm.gmd.de	(Europe)
bitftp@plearn.edu.pl	(Europe)
ftpmail@doc.ic.ac.uk	(UK)
ftpmail@cs.uow.edu.au	(Australia)

and in the body of the note, include these lines: 


This will return to you a list of the files stored in the root directory at that
site. In your next e-mail message you can navigate to other directories by inserting
(for example)

cd pub

before the "dir" command. (The "cd" means "change directory" and "pub" is a common
directory name, usually a good place to start.) Once you determine the name of a file
you want to retrieve, use: 


in the following note instead of the "dir" command. If the file you want to retrieve
is plain text, this will suffice. If it's a binary file (an executable program,
compressed file, etc.) you'll need to insert the command:


in your note before the "get" command.

OK, let's grab the text of The Declaration of Independence. Here's the message you
send to ftpmail@sunsite.unc.edu (or another ftpmail server): 

open ftp.eff.org	(The name of the FTP site)
cd pub/CAF/civics	(The directory where the file lives)
get dec_of_ind	(The name of the file to retrieve)
quit	(Beam me up, Scotty!)

Here are the commands you would send to to get a file from the Simtel Software
Repository that was mentioned earlier. 

open oak.oakland.edu	(The name of the FTP site)
cd SimTel/msdos/bbs	(The directory where the file lives)
binary	(Because we're getting a ZIP file)
get answer2.zip	(Sounds interesting, anyway...)
quit	(We're outta here!)

Some other interesting FTP sites you may want to "visit" are listed below. (Use these
site names on the "open" command and the suggested directory name on your "cd"
command, as in the previous examples.) 

    Try: pub/Library for documents, Bible, lyrics, etc.
    Try: pub/usenet/news.answers for USENET info
    Try: SimTel/msdos for a huge DOS software library
    Try: pub/nic for Internet how-to documents
    Try: pub/humor for lots of humor files
    Try: pub/recipes for a cooking & recipe archive 

You should note that ftpmail servers tend to be quite busy so your reply may not
arrive for several minutes, hours, or days, depending on when and where you send your
request. Also, some large files may be split into smaller pieces and returned to you
as multiple messages. 

If the file that is returned to you ends up looking something like what you see
below, (the word "begin" with a number and the filename on one line, followed by a
bunch of 61-character lines) it most likely is a binary file that has been
"uuencoded" by the sender. (This is required in order to reliably transmit binary
files on the Internet.) 

begin 666 answer2.zip
M4$L#!`H`!@`.`/6H?18.$-Z$F@P```@?```,````5$5,25@S,34N5%A480I[ M!P8;!KL,2P,)!PL).

You'll need to scrounge up a version of the "uudecode" program for your operating
system (DOS, OS/2, Unix, Mac, etc.) in order to reconstruct the file. Most likely
you'll find a copy already at your site or in your service provider's download
library, but if not you can use the instructions in the next section to find out how
to search FTP sites for a copy. 

One final point to consider... If your online service charges you to store e-mail
files that are sent to you and you plan to receive some large files via FTP, it would
be wise to handle your "inbasket" expeditiously to avoid storage costs.


Let's say you know the name of a file, but you have no idea at which FTP site it
might be lurking. Or maybe you're curious to know if a file matching a certain naming
criteria is available via FTP. Archie is the tool you can use to find out.

Archie servers can be thought of as a database of all the anonymous FTP sites in the
world, allowing you to find the site and/or name of a file to be retrieved. And using
Archie by e-mail can be convenient because some Archie searches take a LONG time to
complete, leaving you to tap your toes in the meantime.

To use Archie by e-mail, simply send an e-mail message to one of the following

archie@archie.rutgers.edu	(USA/NJ)
archie@archie.sura.net	(USA/MD)
archie@archie.unl.edu	(USA/NE)
archie@archie.doc.ic.ac.uk	(UK)
archie@archie.luth.se	(Sweden)
archie@archie.kuis.kyoto-u.ac.jp	(Japan)

To obtain detailed help for using Archie by mail, put the word 


in the subject of the note and just send it off. You'll receive e-mail explaining how
to use archie services.

If you're the "just do it" type, then leave the subject blank and enter: 


where "" is the name of the file to search for, in the body (not the subject)
of the note.

This will search for files that match your criteria exactly. If you want to find
files that contain your search criteria anywhere in their name, insert the line

set search sub

before the "find" command. Some other useful archie commands you might want to use

set maxhits 20	(limit output, default is 100 files)
set match_domain usa	(restrict output to FTP sites in USA)
set output_format terse (return output in condensed form) 

When you get the results from your Archie query, it will contain the names of various
sites at which the desired file is located. Use one of these site names and the
directory/filename listed for your next FTP file retrieval request.

Now you've learned enough to locate that uudecode utility mentioned in the last
section. Let's send e-mail to archie@archie.rutgers.edu, and include the following
lines in the message: 

set match_domain usa	(restrict output to FTP sites in USA)
set search sub	(looking for a substring match...)
file uudecode	(must contain this string...)

Note: You'll be looking for the uudecode source code, not the executable version,
which would of course be a binary file and would arrive uuencoded - a Catch 22! The
output of your archie query will contain lots of information like this:

Host ftp.clarkson.edu (
Last updated 06:31 9 Oct 1994

Location: /pub/simtel20-cdrom/msdos/starter
FILE -r-xr-xr-x 5572 bytes 21:00 11 Mar 1991 uudecode.bas 

Location: /pub/simtel20-cdrom/msdos/starter
FILE -r-xr-xr-x 5349 bytes 20:00 17 Apr 1991 uudecode.c 

Now you can use an ftpmail server to request "uudecode.bas" (if you have BASIC
available) or "uudecode.c" (if you have a C compiler) from the ftp.clarkson.edu site.


Gopher is an excellent tool for exploring the Internet and is the best way to find a
resource if you know what you want, but not where to find it. A gopher system is
menu-based, and provides a user-friendly "front-end" to Internet resources, searches
and information retrieval. Without a tool like Gopher, you'd have to wander aimlessly
through the Internet jungles and swamps to find the treasures you seek. Gopher "knows
where things are" and guides you to the good stuff. 

Gopher takes the rough edges off of the Internet by automating remote logins, hiding
the sometimes-cryptic command sequences, and offers powerful search capabilities as
well. And of course you can use Gopher by e-mail!

Although not every item on every menu will be accessible by "gopher mail", you'll
still find plenty of interesting things using this technique. Down to brass tacks...
let's send e-mail to one of these addresses:

gophermail@calvin.edu	(USA)
gopher@earn.net	(France)
gopher@dsv.su.se	(Sweden)
gomail@ncc.go.jp	(Japan)

Leave the Subject blank, enter HELP in the body of the note, and let it rip. You'll
soon receive by e-mail the text of the main menu at the gophermail site you selected.
(You can optionally specify the address of a known gopher site on the Subject line to
get the main menu for that site instead.)

To proceed to a selection on the returned menu just e-mail the whole text of the note
(from the menu downwards) back to the gopher server, placing an "x" next to the
items(s) you want to explore. You'll then receive the next level of the gopher menu
by e-mail. Some menu choices lead to other menus, some lead to text files, and some
lead to searches. 

To perform a search, select that menu item with an "x" and supply your search words
in the Subject: of your next reply. Note that your search criteria can be a single
word or a boolean expression such as: 

document and (historical or government)

Each of the results (the "hits") of your search will be displayed as an entry on yet
another gopher menu!Note: You needn't actually return the entire gopher menu and all
the routing info that follows it each time you reply to the gophermail server. If you
want to minimize the size of your query, you can strip out the "menu" portion at the
top and include only the portion below that pertains to the menu selection you want.
The example that follows shows how to select one specific item from a gopher menu: 

------- begin gophermail message (do not include this line)
Split=0 bytes/message - For text, bin, HQX messages (0 = No split)
Menu=0 items/message - For menus and query responses (0 = No split) #
Name=EE Telecommunication Overview
------- end gophermail message (do not include this line) 

If this message looks like nonsense to you, here's a human translation: 

Connect to PORT 70 of the HOST (computer) at "nceet.snre.umich.edu", retrieve the
FILE "eetel.info" (whose NAME is "EE Telecommunication Overview") and send it to me
in ONE PIECE, regardless of its size. 

Note: Sometimes gophermail requests return a blank menu or message. This is most
likely because the server failed to connect to the host from which you were trying to
get your information. Send your request again later and it'll probably work.


Speaking of searches, this is a good time to mention Veronica. Just as Archie
provides a searchable index of FTP sites, Veronica provides this function for
"gopherspace". Veronica will ask you what you want to look for (your search words)
and then display another menu listing all the gopher menu items that match your
search. In typical gopher fashion, you can then select one of these items and
"go-pher it"! 

To try Veronica by e-mail, retrieve the main menu from a gophermail server using the
method just described. Then try the choice labelled "Other Gopher and Information
Servers". This menu will have an entry for Veronica.

You'll have to select one (or more) Veronica servers to handle your query, specifying
the search words in the Subject of your reply. Here's another example of where using
e-mail servers can save time and money. Often the Veronica servers are very busy and
tell you to "try again later". So select 2 or 3 servers, and chances are one of them
will be able to handle your request the first time around. 

A Gophermail Shortcut:

The path to some resources, files or databases can be a bit tedious, requiring
several e-mail messages to the gophermail server. But here's the good news... If
you've done it once, you can re-use any of the e-mail messages previously sent in,
changing it to suit your current needs. As an example, here's a clipping from the
Veronica menu you would get by following the previous instructions. You can send
these lines to any gophermail server to run a Veronica search. 

Split=64K bytes/message <- For text, bin, HQX messages (0 = No split)
Menu=100 items/message <- For menus and query responses (0 = No split) #
Name=Search GopherSpace by Title word(s) (via NYSERNet) Type=7

Specify the search words in the Subject line and see what turns up! 


Usenet is a collection of over 5000 discussion groups on every topic imaginable. In
order to get a proper start and avoid embarrasing yourself needlessly, you must read
the Usenet new users intro document, which can be obtained by sending e-mail to: 


with blank subject and including this line in the body of the note: 

send usenet/news.answers/news-newusers-intro 

To get a listing of Usenet newsgroups, add these commands to your note: 

send usenet/news.answers/active-newsgroups/part1
send usenet/news.answers/active-newsgroups/part2
send usenet/news.answers/alt-hierarchies/part1
send usenet/news.answers/alt-hierarchies/part2 

Once you've handled the preliminaries, you'll need to know how to read and contribute
to Usenet newsgroups by e-mail. To read a newsgroup, you can use the gophermail
service discussed earlier in this guide. 

To obtain a list of recent postings to a particular newsgroup, send the following
lines to one of the gophermail servers mentioned previously. Leave "Subject" blank
and include only these lines in the message body. 

(You must replace "" below with the name of the Usenet newsgroup you wish
to access. eg: alt.answers, biz.comp.services, news.newusers.questions, etc.)

------- begin gophermail message (do not include this line)
Path=nntp ls 
------- end gophermail message (do not include this line) 

The gophermail server will send you a typical gopher menu on which you may select the
individual postings you wish to read. 

Note: The gophermail query in this example is the greatly edited result of many
previous queries. I've pared it down to the bare essentials so it can be tailored and

If you decide to make a post of your own, mail the text of your post to: 

newsgroup.name.usenet@decwrl.dec.com	(USA)
newsgroup.name@news.demon.co.uk	(UK)

For example, to post to news.newusers.questions, you would send your message to one


Be sure to include an appropriate Subject: line, and to include your real name and
e-mail address at the close of your note. 

An Alternative Usenet->E-mail Method

Another way to get Usenet postings by e-mail is via a special server in Belgium. It's
a bit easier than the gophermail approach, but it carries only a subset (about 1000)
of the Usenet groups. Send e-mail to: 


with this command in the body of the note: 


and you'll get complete details. If you can't wait, send the command 


to get a list of the newsgroups available on the server. If you're even more
impatient, try something like:

/GROUP comp.unix.aix SINCE 19941215000000 

and you should get a list of postings made from 15 Dec 1994 onward. 

Yet Another Usenet->E-mail Method!

See the section "World-Wide Web By E-Mail" for an even easier method of retrieving
Usenet posts by e-mail! This method is limited to the set of newsgroups carried at
the CERN server, but the selection seems to be quite comprehensive.


WAIS stands for Wide Area Information Service, and is a means of searching a set of
over 500 indexed databases. The range of topics is too broad to mention, and besides,
you'll soon learn how to get the topic list for yourself!

I recommend that you send e-mail to "waismail@quake.think.com" with HELP in the body
of the note to get the full WAISmail user guide. But if you can't wait, use the info
below as a quickstart. 

A list of WAIS databases (or "resources" as they like to be called) can be obtained
by sending e-mail to "waismail@quake.think.com" with the line 

search xxx xxx

in the body of the note. Look through the returned list for topics that are of
interest to you and use one of them in the next example. 

OK, let's do an actual search. Send e-mail to: 


with the following commands in the note body: 

maxres 10
search bible flood

This will tell WAISmail to search through the text of the "bible" database and return
a list of at most 10 documents containing "flood". 

You will receive an e-mail response something like this: 

From: WAISmail@Think.COM
Searching: bible
Keywords: flood

Result # 1
lines: 0
bytes: 3556
Type: TEXT
Headline: Genesis: Chapter 9 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons...
DocID: 0000000457KJV :cmns-moon.think.com@cmns-moon.think.com:210%TEXT 

To retrieve the full text of a matching document, just use one the returned
"DOCid:" lines exactly as is. So your next e-mail to WAISmail would be:

DocID: 0000000457KJV :cmns-moon.think.com@cmns-moon.think.com:210%TEXT 

This will cause the referenced "document" to be sent to you by e-mail. 

World-Wide Web By E-Mail

The World-Wide Web is touted as the future of Internet navigational tools. It's a
hypertext and multimedia system that lets you hop around the Net, read documents, and
access images & sounds linked to a source. 

Have you ever heard someone say, "Wow, check out the cool stuff at
http://www.somewhere.com/blah.html" and wondered what the heck they were talking
about? Now you can retrieve WWW documents using e-mail! 

All you need to know is the URL (that long ugly string starting with "http:",
"gopher:", or "ftp:") which defines the address of the document, and you can
retrieve it by sending e-mail to either of: 


In the body of your note include one of these lines, replacing "" with the
actual URL specification.


This will send you back the document you requested, with a list of all the documents
referenced within, so that you may make further requests. 


Same as above, but it will also send you the documents referenced in in the URL you

To try WWW by e-mail send the following command to listproc@www0.cern.ch : 

send http://info.cern.ch

You'll receive in due course the "WWW Welcome Page" from Cern which will include
references to other Web documents you'll want to explore. 

As mentioned earlier, you can also get Usenet postings from the WWW mail server. Here
are some examples:

send news:comp.unix.aix	(returns a list of recent postings)
deep news:comp.unix.aix	(returns the list AND the postings)

Note: The URL you specify may