Physics Today's Web Watch

June 97: Web Access by E-mail

Occasionally we get requests from readers whose only Internet capability is e-mail. In fact, e-mail is all you need to access the Web, thanks to a number of servers that will retrieve documents and send them to you. A good starting point for information on this subject in general is "Accessing the Internet by E-mail," by "Dr. Bob" Rankin. Indeed, most of the information in this Web Watch is drawn from that source. His guide also spells out how to use e-mail to access other facets of the Internet, such as Gopher, FTP (file transfer protocol), Usenet newsgroups, WAIS (Wide Area Information Service), Netfind, Archie and Veronica.

 ** You can get your own copy of the latest edition of Dr. Bob's guide by sending an e-mail to with only the following in the text space, or body, of the e-mail: send usenet/news.answers/internet-services/access-via-email

Alternatively, you can send an e-mail to the UK mail server with only the following in the body: send lis-iis e-access-inet.txt

 ** Perhaps you would like to have Dr. Bob's instructions in, say, Chinese (cn or tw), Farsi (ir), Somali (so) or even Esperanto (eo). Volunteers have translated the guide into about 30 languages. Just send an e-mail to with the following as the subject of the e-mail: send accmail.xx (replacing "xx" with the appropriate two-letter code). Files in languages that don't use the English alphabet will generally need to be uudecoded, and you may also need special font files. For a list of languages and related files available, use send readme.txt as the subject. For general information on accessing these files automatically from Dr. Bob, use send help as the subject. Naturally, the translations tend to be less up-to-date than the original. Now, on to a few of the servers. . . .

To use these servers, send them an e-mail with a command line in the body of the e-mail. For example, to have Physics Today's home page sent to your return e-mail address, the command line would be send

If you want the file sent to another address, say,, use rsend

Agora will send the page you've requested formatted in ASCII (text). Images are indicated by "[IMAGE]" or other alternative text. Links to other pages are indicated like numbered references in square brackets, with the addresses (URLs) of the links listed at the end of the document. The Agora help file is summoned with the simple command line www in the body of the e-mail.

Other Agora servers are listed in Dr. Bob's current instructions, but my tests in March and April suggest they are not on-line.

These two servers use the command "get" instead of "send." Use the command "help" to get their help files. The German W3mail server sends the actual html file, so if you have browser software you can use it to view the file. The Getweb server sends the requested page formatted in ASCII like the Agora servers. Many Web pages use forms---documents that are displayed with various "buttons" that can be set and with spaces where you can enter information or choices. Getweb lets you handle such pages by e-mail; send it this command for more information: help forms

With this server, use "go" instead of "send" or "get."

 ** Finally, a few notes about etiquette, quoted directly from Dr. Bob's guide: "The e-mail servers . . . are for the most part operated by kind-hearted volunteers at companies or universities. If you abuse (or over-use) the servers, there's a very good chance they will be shut down permanently. This actually happened to several of the e-mail servers in 1995 and 1996. If you have more direct Internet access, let others who are less fortunate use the e-mail servers. Try to limit your data transfers to one megabyte per day. Don't swamp the servers with many requests at a time."

Compiled by Graham P. Collins

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