Using the Alpine email reader

Composing, Sending, and Viewing Email

To compose a message, press the C (Compose) key. The Compose Message screen opens with your address and any defined signature already filled in. You can either fill in the To, From, and CC fields manually or press Ctrl+T to select values from the Address Book. Similarly, you can press Ctrl+J to add an attachment, either by entering it manually or by using Ctrl+T to add one or more files from Pico's file manager. You have the same options if you reply to or forward an email from the Message Index.

Scroll down with the arrows and write the body of the message. When you are done, Ctrl+T begins the spell check, if you have not already configured it to start when you are ready to send (Figure 5). If you want to delay sending the message, press Ctrl+O (Postpone). The next time you open the composer, you have the option of opening a postponed email rather than starting a new one.

Figure 5: Alpine has few formatting options, but it includes options for spell-checking and postponing delivery.

When you are ready to send an email, press Ctrl+X. Before you send, you have the option to set the message's priority or to encrypt it or sign it with a certificate. Conveniently, Alpine searches for the default GPG directory in your home folder for any public keys so that you can select one.

Depending on how you configure your folders, you can view received mail either by pressing I (Message Index) or L (Folder List) to select the directory for a remote provider.

Old and New

Once you get past some of the unique terminology, Alpine has most features you would expect in a desktop email reader.

In fact, Alpine is a good argument against the common belief that you can design for either new users or advanced ones, but not both at the same time. Alpine's default settings are enough to get a new user up and running quickly with the help of the documentation, and, at the same time, it has filters and encryption to suit more demanding users as well.

However, perhaps Alpine is at an advantage, having had two decades to perfect its interface but still being rooted in the Unix tradition of using already-installed tools. About the only feature it lacks is HTML email – which, for the sake of security, Linux users are encourage to avoid anyway.

At any rate, don't let Alpine's age or deceptive simplicity confuse you. Although it may run from the command line, Alpine has a feature set that can compete with any application on the desktop.

The Author

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist and a freelance writer and editor specializing in free and open source software. In addition to his writing projects, he also teaches live and e-learning courses. In his spare time, Bruce writes about Northwest coast art. You can read more of his work at

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