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Sending Mail

To send a message in Emacs, you start by typing a command (C-x m) to select and initialize the *mail* buffer. Then you edit the text and headers of the message in this buffer, and type another command (C-c C-s or C-c C-c) to send the message.

C-x m Begin composing a message to send (mail). C-x 4 m Likewise, but display the message in another window (mail-other-window). C-x 5 m Likewise, but make a new frame (mail-other-frame). C-c C-s In Mail mode, send the message (mail-send). C-c C-c Send the message and bury the mail buffer (mail-send-and-exit).

The command C-x m (mail) selects a buffer named *mail* and initializes it with the skeleton of an outgoing message. C-x 4 m (mail-other-window) selects the *mail* buffer in a different window, leaving the previous current buffer visible. C-x 5 m (mail-other-frame) creates a new frame to select the *mail* buffer.

Because the mail composition buffer is an ordinary Emacs buffer, you can switch to other buffers while in the middle of composing mail, and switch back later (or never). If you use the C-x m command again when you have been composing another message but have not sent it, you are asked to confirm before the old message is erased. If you answer n, the *mail* buffer is left selected with its old contents, so you can finish the old message and send it. C-u C-x m is another way to do this. Sending the message marks the *mail* buffer ``unmodified'', which avoids the need for confirmation when C-x m is next used.

If you are composing a message in the *mail* buffer and want to send another message before finishing the first, rename the *mail* buffer using M-x rename-uniquely (see section Miscellaneous Buffer Operations). Then you can use C-x m or its variants described above to make a new *mail* buffer. Once you've done that, you can work with each mail buffer independently.

  • Format: Format of the mail being composed.
  • Headers: Details of permitted mail header fields.
  • Aliases: Abbreviating and grouping mail addresses.
  • Mode: Special commands for editing mail being composed.
  • Spook: How to distract the NSA's attention.

The Format of the Mail Buffer

In addition to the text or body, a message has header fields which say who sent it, when, to whom, why, and so on. Some header fields such as the date and sender are created automatically after the message is sent. Others, such as the recipient names, must be specified by you in order to send the message properly.

Mail mode provides a few commands to help you edit some header fields, and some are preinitialized in the buffer automatically at times. You can insert and edit header fields using ordinary editing commands.

The line in the buffer that says

--text follows this line--

is a special delimiter that separates the headers you have specified from the text. Whatever follows this line is the text of the message; the headers precede it. The delimiter line itself does not appear in the message actually sent. The text used for the delimiter line is controlled by the variable mail-header-separator.

Here is an example of what the headers and text in the mail buffer might look like.

CC: , 
Subject: The Emacs Manual
--Text follows this line--
Please ignore this message.

Mail Header Fields

A header field in the mail buffer starts with a field name at the beginning of a line, terminated by a colon. Upper and lower case are equivalent in field names (and in mailing addresses also). After the colon and optional whitespace comes the contents of the field.

You can use any name you like for a header field, but normally people use only standard field names with accepted meanings. Here is a table of fields commonly used in outgoing messages.

To This field contains the mailing addresses to which the message is addressed.
Subject The contents of the Subject field should be a piece of text that says what the message is about. The reason Subject fields are useful is that most mail-reading programs can provide a summary of messages, listing the subject of each message but not its text.

CC This field contains additional mailing addresses to send the message to, but whose readers should not regard the message as addressed to them.

BCC This field contains additional mailing addresses to send the message to, which should not appear in the header of the message actually sent. Copies sent this way are called blind carbon copies.

To send a blind carbon copy of every outgoing message to yourself, set the variable mail-self-blind to t.

FCC This field contains the name of one file and directs Emacs to append a copy of the message to that file when you send the message. If the file is in Rmail format, Emacs writes the message to Rmail format; otherwise, Emacs writes the message in system mail file format.

To put a fixed file name as in FCC field each time you start editing an outgoing message, set the variable mail-archive-file-name to that file name. Unless you remove the FCC field before sending, the message will be written into that file when it is sent.

From Use the From field to say who you are, when the account you are using to send the mail is not your own. The contents of the From field should be a valid mailing address, since replies will normally go there.

Reply-to Use this field to direct replies to a different address. Most mail-reading programs (including Rmail) automatically send replies to the Reply-to address in preference to the From address. By adding a Reply-to field to your header, you can work around any problems your From address may cause for replies.

To put a fixed Reply-to address into every outgoing message, set the variable mail-default-reply-to to that address (as a string). Then mail initializes the message with a Reply-to field as specified. You can delete or alter that header field before you send the message, if you wish. When Emacs starts up, if the environment variable REPLYTO is set, mail-default-reply-to is initialized from that environment variable.

In-reply-to This field contains a piece of text describing a message you are replying to. Some mail systems can use this information to correlate related pieces of mail. Normally this field is filled in by Rmail when you reply to a message in Rmail, and you never need to think about it (see section Reading Mail with Rmail).

The To, CC, BCC and FCC fields can appear any number of times, to specify many places to send the message. The To, CC, and BCC fields can have continuation lines. All the lines starting with whitespace, following the line on which the field starts, are considered part of the field. For example,

To: , ,

When you send the message, if you didn't write a From field yourself, Emacs puts in one for you. The variable mail-from-style controls the format:

nil Just the email address, as in . parens Both email address and full name, as in (Elvis Parsley). angles Both email address and full name, as in Elvis Parsley .

Mail Aliases

You can define mail aliases in a file named ~/.mailrc. These are short mnemonic names which stand for mail addresses or groups of mail addresses. Like many other mail programs, Emacs expands aliases when they occur in the To, From, CC, BCC, and Reply-to fields, plus their Resent- variants.

To define an alias in ~/.mailrc, write a line in the following format:

alias shortaddress fulladdresses

Here fulladdresses stands for one or more mail addresses for shortaddress to expand into. Separate multiple addresses with spaces; if an address contains a space, quote the whole address with a pair of double-quotes.

For instance, to make maingnu stand for plus a local address of your own, put in this line:

alias maingnu  local-gnu

Emacs also recognizes include commands in .mailrc files. They look like this:

source filename

The file ~/.mailrc is used primarily by other mail-reading programs; it can contain various other commands. Emacs ignores everything in it except for alias definitions and include commands.

Another way to define a mail alias, within Emacs alone, is with the define-mail-alias command. It prompts for the alias and then the full address. You can use it to define aliases in your .emacs file, like this:

(define-mail-alias "maingnu" "")

define-mail-alias records aliases by adding them to a variable named mail-aliases. If you are comfortable with manipulating Lisp lists, you can set mail-aliases directly. The initial value of mail-aliases is t, which means that Emacs should read .mailrc to get the proper value.

You can specify a different file name to use instead of ~/.mailrc by setting the variable mail-personal-alias-file.

Normally, Emacs expands aliases when you send the message. If you like, you can have mail aliases expand as abbrevs, as soon as you type them in (see section Abbrevs). To enable this feature, execute the following:

(add-hook 'mail-setup-hook 'mail-abbrevs-setup)

This can go in your .emacs file. See section Hooks. If you use this feature, you must use define-mail-abbrev instead of define-mail-alias; the latter does not work with this package. Note that the mail abbreviation package uses the variable mail-abbrevs instead of mail-aliases, and that all alias names are converted to lower case.

The mail abbreviation package also provides the C-c C-a (mail-interactive-insert-alias) command, which reads an alias name (with completion) and inserts its definition at point. This is useful when editing the message text itself or a header field such as Subject in which Emacs does not normally expand aliases.

Note that abbrevs expand only if you insert a word-separator character afterward. However, you can rebind C-n and M-> to cause expansion as well. Here's how to do that:

(define-key mail-mode-map "\C-n" 'mail-abbrev-next-line)
(define-key mail-mode-map "\M->" 'mail-abbrev-end-of-buffer)

Mail Mode

The major mode used in the mail buffer is Mail mode, which is much like Text mode except that various special commands are provided on the C-c prefix. These commands all have to do specifically with editing or sending the message.

C-c C-s Send the message, and leave the mail buffer selected (mail-send). C-c C-c Send the message, and select some other buffer (mail-send-and-exit). C-c C-f C-t Move to the To header field, creating one if there is none (mail-to). C-c C-f C-s Move to the Subject header field, creating one if there is none (mail-subject). C-c C-f C-c Move to the CC header field, creating one if there is none (mail-cc). C-c C-f C-b Move to the BCC header field, creating one if there is none (mail-bcc). C-c C-f C-f Move to the FCC header field, creating one if there is none (mail-fcc). C-c C-t Move to the beginning of the message body text (mail-text). C-c C-w Insert the file ~/.signature at the end of the message text (mail-signature). C-c C-y Yank the selected message from Rmail (mail-yank-original). This command does nothing unless your command to start sending a message was issued with Rmail. C-c C-q Fill all paragraphs of yanked old messages, each individually (mail-fill-yanked-message). M-x ispell-message Do spelling correction on the message text, but not on citations from other messages.

There are two ways to send the message. C-c C-s (mail-send) sends the message and marks the mail buffer unmodified, but leaves that buffer selected so that you can modify the message (perhaps with new recipients) and send it again. C-c C-c (mail-send-and-exit) sends and then deletes the window or switches to another buffer. It puts the mail buffer at the lowest priority for reselection by default, since you are finished with using it. This is the usual way to send the message.

Mail mode provides special commands for editing the headers and text of the message before you send it. There are five commands defined to move point to particular header fields, all based on the prefix C-c C-f (C-f is for ``field''). They are C-c C-f C-t (mail-to) to move to the To field, C-c C-f C-s (mail-subject) for the Subject field, C-c C-f C-c (mail-cc) for the CC field, C-c C-f C-b (mail-bcc) for the BCC field, and C-c C-f C-f (mail-fcc) for the FCC field. If the field in question does not exist, these commands create one. We provide special motion commands for these particular fields because they are the fields users most often want to edit.

C-c C-t (mail-text) moves point to just after the header separator line---that is, to the beginning of the message body text.

C-c C-w (mail-signature) adds a standard piece text at the end of the message to say more about who you are. The text comes from the file .signature in your home directory. To insert your signature automatically, set the variable mail-signature non-nil; then starting a mail message automatically inserts the contents of your .signature file. If you want to omit your signature from a particular message, delete it from the buffer before you send the message.

When mail sending is invoked from the Rmail mail reader using an Rmail command, C-c C-y can be used inside the mail buffer to insert the text of the message you are replying to. Normally it indents each line of that message four spaces and eliminates most header fields. A numeric argument specifies the number of spaces to indent. An argument of just C-u says not to indent at all and not to eliminate anything. C-c C-y always uses the current message from the Rmail buffer, so you can insert several old messages by selecting one in Rmail, switching to *mail* and yanking it, then switching back to Rmail to select another.

You can specify the text for C-c C-y to insert at the beginning of each line: set mail-yank-prefix to the desired string. (A value of nil means to use indentation; this is the default.) However, C-u C-c C-y never adds anything at the beginning of the inserted lines, regardless of the value of mail-yank-prefix.

After using C-c C-y, you can use the command C-c C-q (mail-fill-yanked-message) to fill the paragraphs of the yanked old message or messages. One use of C-c C-q fills all such paragraphs, each one individually. See section Filling Text.

You can do spelling correction on the message text you have written with the command M-x ispell-message. If you have yanked an incoming message into the outgoing draft, this command skips what was yanked, but it checks the text that you yourself inserted. (It looks for indentation or mail-yank-prefix to distinguish the cited lines from your input.) See section Checking and Correcting Spelling.

Mail mode defines the character % as a word separator; this is helpful for using the word commands to edit mail addresses.

Mail mode is normally used in buffers set up automatically by the mail command and related commands. However, you can also switch to Mail mode in a file-visiting buffer. That is a useful thing to do if you have saved draft message text in a file. In a file-visiting buffer, C-c C-c does not clear the modified flag, because only saving the file should do that. As a result, you don't get a warning about trying to send the same message twice.

Turning on Mail mode (which C-x m does automatically) runs the normal hooks text-mode-hook and mail-mode-hook. Initializing a new outgoing message runs the normal hook mail-setup-hook; if you want to add special fields to your mail header or make other changes to the appearance of the mail buffer, use that hook. See section Hooks.

The main difference between these hooks is just when they are invoked. Whenever you type M-x mail, mail-mode-hook runs as soon as the *mail* buffer is created. Then the mail-setup function puts in the default contents of the buffer. After these default contents are inserted, mail-setup-hook runs.

Distracting the NSA

M-x spook adds a line of randomly chosen keywords to an outgoing mail message. The keywords are chosen from a list of words that suggest you are discussing something subversive.

The idea behind this feature is that the suspicion that the NSA snoops on all electronic mail messages that contain keywords suggesting they might be interested. (The NSA says they don't, but that's what they would say.) The idea is that if lots of people add suspicious words to their messages, the NSA will get so busy with spurious input that they will have to give up reading it all.

Here's how to insert spook keywords automatically whenever you start entering an outgoing message:

(add-hook 'mail-setup-hook 'spook)

Whether or not this confuses the NSA, it at least amuses people.



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