readmsg - extract messages from a mail folder


readmsg [−anhp] [−f folder] [−w weedlist] [selection ...]


Readmsg extracts selected mail messages from a mail folder. One helpful use of the program is when you are composing a response to a mail message in an external editor. In this case, you can run readmsg to pull a copy of the original message into the editing buffer.

When you run readmsg from within elm (e.g. from a subshell escape or in an external editor while composing a mail reply) it behaves a bit differently from when you run it directly (e.g. from a shell command line). We will first describe its normal behavior, and then describe how it is different when you run it under elm.

You tell readmsg which messages to extract with the selection argument. There are a couple of possible different ways to specify the selection.


A lone ‘‘*’’ means select all messages in the mailbox.


A list of message numbers may be specified. Values of ‘‘0’’ and ‘‘$’’ in the list both mean the last message in the mailbox. For example:

readmsg 1 3 0

extracts three messages from the folder: the first, the third, and the last.


Finally, the selection may be some text to match. This will select a mail message which exactly matches the specified text. For example,

readmsg staff meeting

extracts the message which contains the words ‘‘staff meeting.’’ Note that it will not match a message containing ‘‘Staff Meeting’’ – the matching is case sensitive. Normally only the first message which matches the pattern will be printed. The −a option discussed in a moment changes this.

The −f flag indicates that you’d rather use the folder specified rather than the default incoming mailbox. The specified folder can be a filename or a specification such as ‘‘=sentmail’’.

The −w flag tailors the list of mail headers that are weeded and displayed. Header weeding is discussed below.

The −h flag instructs the program to ignore the header weeding list, and include the entire header of the matched message or messages when displaying their text.

The −n flag instructs the program to ignore the header weeding list, and exclude all headers. This is used mostly for extracting files mailed and such.

The −p flag indicates that the program should put form-feeds (control-L) between message headers.

The −a flag indicates that all messages which match the pattern specified on the command line should be printed, not just the first. If a pattern was not specified on the command line then this flag has no effect.

When you run readmsg under elm (say in the context of an external editor) the behavior will be different from that described above as follows.


The default mail folder will be the folder you are currently examining in elm and not necessarily your incoming mail folder.


You do not need to specify a selection on the command line. If you omit the selection then readmsg will extract the message(s) you have selected in Elm. If you have tagged any messages then this would be all of the tagged messages, otherwise it would be the message you are currently examining.


Normally the message numbers readmsg uses are in mailbox order. When you call readmsg under elm and do not override the folder selection with the −f option, then message numbers will be sorted as they are displayed on the elm message index screen.

Normally, readmsg selects and displays certain headers from the message. By default, the list of selected headers includes:

• The ‘‘Subject:’’ header.
• The ‘‘From:’’ header.
• The ‘‘To:’’ header.
• The ‘‘Cc:’’ header.
• The ‘‘Date:’’ header.
• Any header starting with ‘‘Apparently-’’.

The header weeding may be changed with the −w option. The argument to this option is a list of header names, separated by whitespace or commas. readmsg compares each header to the ones in this list, and if a match is found the header is displayed. The list entries can contain partial header names. For instance, an entry of ‘‘From’’ would match both the ‘‘From <SPACE> ’’ line at the top of the message, as well as any ‘‘From:’’ header. Matching is case insensitive. An underscore (‘‘_’’) may be used to represent a space, so specifying ‘‘From_’’ will select the ‘‘From <SPACE> ’’ line but not the ‘‘From:’’ header. A list entry may be preceded by an exclamation point to suppress the header. Thus, a specification of ‘‘!From_ From’’ means about the same thing as ‘‘From:’’. When no header weeding options are specified, the default action corresponds to:

readmsg -w "Subject: From: To: Cc: Apparently- Date:"


First off, to use this from within vi to include the text of the current message, you could use the command:

:r !readmsg

(as you hit the ’:’ the editor will put you at the bottom of the screen with the ’:’ prompt). The space following ’:r’ is required.

Let’s look at something more interesting, however;

Suppose you have the mail file;

   From joe Jun 3 1986 4:45:30 MST
   Subject: hello

  Hey Guy!  Wanta go out and have a milk this evening?


  From john Jun 3 1986 4:48:20 MST
   Subject: Dinner at Eight
   From: John Dinley <xyz!john>

  Remember you should show up about eight, okay?

- John D -

From xxzyz!cron Jun 3 1986 5:02:43 MST

Cannot connect to server: blob
Job 43243 deleted from queue.

The following commands will result in;

  $ readmsg 2
  [ display the second message, from John ]

$ readmsg

[ an error, unless we’re calling from elm ]

$ readmsg BLOB

[ no match - case sensitive! ]

$ readmsg -h connect to server
[ displays third message, including headers ]


/usr/mail/<username> The incoming mail
$ELMSTATE Status information from elm


Elm Development Group


newmail(1L), elm(1L)


The ’*’ metacharacter doesn’t always work as expected!
Perhaps the pattern matching should be case insensitive?
It might be confusing that messages are sorted when running under elm with the current folder, and in mailbox order for all other cases. When readmsg is run standalone, messages may be truncated at lines beginning with "From". This is not a problem when readmsg is spawned under elm because the status information file created by elm says exactly how long each message is.


Bill Pemberton


Copyright 1988-1995 by The USENET Community Trust
Derived from Elm 2.0, Copyright 1986, 1987 by Dave Taylor