Notes on Configuration and Preferences

Alpine in Function Key Mode

The standard Alpine uses alphabetic keys for most commands, and control keys in the composer. Despite possible appearances, the current bindings are the result of much discussion and thought. All the commands in the composer are single control characters. This keeps things very neat and simple for users. Two character commands in the composer are a possibility, but we're trying to avoid them because of the added complexity for the user.

Alpine can also operate in a function-key mode. To go into this mode invoke alpine -k or (on some UNIX systems) alpinef. On a UNIX system, you can link or copy the Alpine executable to alpinef to install alpinef. Alternatively, users and systems administrators can set the use-function-keys feature in the personal or system-wide Alpine configuration file. The command menus at the bottom of the screen will show F1-F12 instead of the alphabetic commands. In addition, the help screens will be written in terms of function keys and not alphabetic keys.

One of the results of using Alpine in function-key mode is that users can only choose from twelve commands at any given time. In alphabetic-key mode, a user can press a key for a command (say, q to quit) and that command can be fulfilled. In function-key mode, the command must be visible on the bottom key-menu in order to be used. There are some screens where four screens of commands are operational; function-key users can get to all of them, just not all at once.

Domain Settings

Alpine uses the default domain for a few different tasks. First, it is tacked onto the user-id for outgoing email. Second, it is tacked onto all "local" (unqualified) addresses in the "To:" or "Cc:" fields of messages being composed (unless they are found in the address book or on an LDAP server). The domain name is also used to generate message-id lines for each outgoing message and to allow Alpine to check if an address is that of the current Alpine user.

Alpine determines the domain name according to whichever of these it finds. The list here is in decreasing order of precedence.

  1. Value of the variable user-domain in the system fixed configuration file
  2. Value of the variable user-domain in the personal configuration file
  3. Value of the variable user-domain in the system-wide configuration file
  4. Value from an external database (DNS, /etc/hosts, NIS) as modified by a system fixed configuration file if use-only-domain-name set to yes
  5. Value from an external database (DNS, /etc/hosts, NIS) as modified by a personal configuration file if use-only-domain-name set to yes
  6. Value from an external database (DNS, /etc/hosts, NIS) as modified by a system configuration file if use-only-domain-name set to yes
  7. Unmodified value (host name) from an external database

The easiest way for this system to work is for PC-Alpine users and UNIX Alpine system administrators to set the user-domain variable. The variable use-only-domain-name is helpful if your site supports/requires hostless addressing, but for some reason you don't want to use the user-domain variable.

Syntax for Collections

In many environments, it is quite common to have collections of archived mail on various hosts around the network. Using the folder collections facility in Alpine, access to these archives is just as simple as access to folders on Alpine's local disk.

"Collection" is the word we use in Alpine to describe a set of folders. A collection corresponds loosely to a "directory" containing mail folders. Folders within a defined collection can be manipulated (opened, saved-to, etc) using just their simple name. Any number of folder collections can be defined, and Alpine will adjust its menus and prompts to help navigate them.

The way collections are defined in Alpine is with the folder-collections variable in the Alpine configuration file. Folder-collections takes a list of one or more collections, each (optionally) preceded by a user-defined logical name (label). Once collections are defined, Alpine adjusts its menus and behavior to allow choosing files by their simple name within the collection.

Consider the following:

   folder-collections=	Local-Mail	C:\MAIL\[],
			Remote-Mail	{}mail/[]

The example shows two collections defined (a comma separated list; newlines in the list are OK if there's one or more spaces before the next entry), one local and one remote. Each collection is a space-delimited pair of elements-first an optional logical-name and second the collection specifier. The logical-name can have spaces if it has quotes around it (but keeping the logical name short and descriptive works best). Alpine will use the logical-name (if provided) to reference all folders in the collection, so the user never has to see the ugliness of the collection specifier.

The collection specifier can be thought of as an extended IMAP format (see the Remote Folders section for a description of IMAP format names). Basically, a pair of square-brackets are placed in the fully qualified IMAP path where the simple folder name (the part without the host name and path) would appear. Like IMAP, the path can be either fully qualified (i.e., with a leading '/') or relative to your home directory.

An advanced feature of this notation is that a pattern within the square brackets allows the user to define a collection to be a subset of a directory. For example, a collection defined with the specifier:

	M-Mail		C:MAIL/[m*]
will provide a view in the folder lister of all folders in the PC's "C:MAIL" directory that start with the letter 'm' (case insensitive under DOS, of course). Further, the wildcard matching will honor characters trailing the '*' in the pattern.

From within Alpine, the "Folder List" display will be adjusted to allow browsing of the folders in any defined collection. Even more, you'll notice in the Goto and Save commands a pair of sub-commands to rotate through the list of logical collection names, so only a simple name need be input in order to operate on a folder in any collection.

The first collection specified in the folder-collections has special significance. That folder is the "default collection for saves". By default, in cases where the user does not specify which collection should be used to Save a message, the default collection for saves will be used. Also, if the default-fcc is a relative file name, then it is relative to the default collection for saves. (See also saved-msg-name-rule.

The notion of collections encompasses both email folders and news reading. The variable news-collections uses nearly the same format as folder-collections. Newsgroups can be defined for convenient access via either IMAP or NNTP. There are advantages and disadvantages to both access methods. In the IMAP case, your news environment state is maintained on the server and, thus, will be seen by any client. The downside is that, at the moment, you must have an account on the server. In the NNTP case, server access is mostly anonymous and no state/accounting need be maintained on it. The downside is that each client, for now, must individually maintain news environment state.

An example pinerc entry might be:

     news-collections=	Remote-State	{}#news.[],
			Local-State	{}#news.[]
Only newsgroups to which you are subscribed are included in the collection.

The pattern matching facility can be applied so as to define a news collection which is a subset of all the newsgroups you subscribe to. For example, this could be a valid collection:

			Newsfeed-News	{}#news.[clari.*]

Collection handling is a tough problem to solve in a general way, and the explanation of the syntax is a bit ugly. The upside is, hopefully, that for a little complexity in the Alpine configuration file you get simple management of multiple folders in diverse locations.

Collection setup is handled by the Setup/collectionList screen.

Syntax for Folder Names

Remote folders are distinguished from local folders by a leading host name bracketed by '{' and '}'. The path and folder name immediately following the closing bracket, '}', is interpreted by the remote server and is in a form compatible with that server (i.e., path delimiters and naming syntax relative to that server).

The full syntax for a Alpine folder name looks like


The square brackets ([]) mean that the part is optional.

If there is no remote-specification, then the folder name is interpreted locally on the computer running Alpine. Local folder names depend on the operating system used by the computer running Alpine, as well as the configuration of that system. For example, "C:\ALPINE\FOLDERS\OCT-94" might exist on a PC, and "~/mail/september-1994" might be a reasonable folder name on a system running Unix.

Alpine users have the option of using folders which are stored on some other computer. Alpine accesses remote folders via IMAP (the Internet Message Access Protocol), or in the case of news, via NNTP (the Network News Transport Protocol). To be able to access remote folders in Alpine, the remote host must be running the appropriate server software (imapd or nntpd) and you must correctly specify the name of the folder to Alpine, including the domain name of the remote machine. For example,


could be a remote folder specification, and so could



Note that in the case of remote folders, the directory/file path in the specification is determined by the operating system of the remote computer, not by the operating system of the computer on which you are running Alpine.

As you can tell, the name of the computer is in {} brackets followed immediately by the name of the folder. (In each of these cases the optional namespace is missing.) If, as in these examples, there is no remote access protocol specified, then IMAP is assumed. Check Server Name Syntax for a more detailed look at what options can be placed between the brackets. If there are no brackets at all, then the folder name is interpreted locally on the computer on which you are running Alpine.

To the right of the brackets when a server name is present, or at the start of the foldername if no server is present, the sharp sign, "#", holds special meaning. It indicates a folder name outside the area reserved for your personal folders. In fact, it's used to indicate both the name of the folder, and a special phrase telling Alpine how to interpret the name that follows.

So, for example, Alpine can be used to access a newsgroup that might be available on your computer using:


The sharp sign indicates the folder name is outside your personal folder area. The "news." phrase after it tells Alpine to interpret the remainder of the name as a newsgroup.

Similarly, to access a newsgroup on your IMAP server, you might use something like:


There are a number of such special phrases (or "namespaces") available. For a more detailed explanation read about Namespaces.

Note that "INBOX" has special meaning in both local and remote folder names. The name INBOX refers to your "principal incoming message folder" and will be mapped to the actual file name used for your INBOX on any given host. Therefore, a name like "{}INBOX" refers to whatever file is used to store incoming mail for you on that particular host.

Server Name Syntax

This section describes the syntax which may be used for server names which may be associated with remote folders or SMTP servers.

A server name is the hostname of the server. It's a good idea to use the host's fully-qualified network name.

However, IP addresses are allowed if surrounded with square-brackets.


An optional network port number may be supplied by appending a colon (:) followed by the port number to the server name. By default, the IMAP port number, 143, is used.

Besides server name and optional port number, various other optional parameters may be supplied that alter Alpine's interaction with the server. A parameter is supplied by appending a slash (/) character followed by the parameter's name and, depending on the particular parameter, the value assigned to that name, to the server name (and optional port number). Parameter names are not case sensitive. Currently supported parameters include:

This parameter requires an associated value, and is intended to provide the username identifier with which to establish the server connection. If your SMTP server offers SMTP AUTH authentication, adding this parameter to the SMTP-Server option will cause Alpine to attempt to authenticate to the server using the supplied username. Similarly, if your NNTP server offers NNTP "AUTHINFO SASL" or "AUTHINFO USER" authentication, adding this parameter to the NNTP-Server option (or to the server name for any folder collection using NNTP) will cause Alpine to attempt to authenticate to the server using the supplied username. An example might be:


Normally, when a new connection is made an attempt is made to negotiate a secure (encrypted) session using Transport Layer Security (TLS). If that fails then a non-encrypted connection will be attempted instead. This is a unary parameter indicating communication with the server must take place over a TLS connection. If the attempt to use TLS fails then this parameter will cause the connection to fail instead of falling back to an unsecure connection.


This is a unary parameter indicating communication with the server should take place over a Secure Socket Layer connection. The server must support this method, and be prepared to accept connections on the appropriate port (993 by default). Alpine must be linked with an SSL library for this option to be operational.


Do not validate certificates (for TLS or SSL connections) from the server. This is needed if the server uses self-signed certificates or if Alpine cannot validate the certificate for some other known reason.

This is a unary parameter (that means it does not have a value) indicating that the connection be logged in as "anonymous" rather than a specific user. Not all servers offer anonymous access; those which do generally only offer read-only access to certain "public" folders.


This is a unary parameter indicating that the connection use the most secure authentication method mutually supported by Alpine and the server. Alpine is capable of authenticating connections to the server using several methods. By default, Alpine will attempt each method until either a connection is established or the list of methods is exhausted. This parameter causes Alpine to instead fail the connection if the first (generally most "secure") method fails.


This is a unary parameter for use with the "SMTP-Server" option. It indicates that the connection should be made to the Submit server (RFC 3676) (port 587) instead of the SMTP port (25). At the time this help was written the submit option was equivalent to specifying port 587.




This is a unary parameter indicating that the connection be established in a verbose mode. Basically, it causes Alpine to log the communication with the server in Alpine's debug file. Normally, the alpine -d command-line flag would be used instead.

By default, Alpine attempts to login using "rsh", the UNIX remote shell program. Including "NoRsh" will cause connections to this server to skip the "rsh" attempt. This might be useful to avoid long timeouts caused by rsh firewalls, for example.

This parameter requires an associated value. The default value is "IMAP" which indicates communication with the server based on the IMAP4rev1 protocol (defined in RFC 3501 -- see
Other service values include:
This value indicates communication with the server takes place via the Network News Transfer Protocol. Use this to define a collection of newsgroups on a remote news server. So


or just


is the way to specify NNTP access.

This value indicates communication with the server takes place via the Post Office Protocol 3 protocol.


or just


Note that there are several important issues to consider when selecting this option:

  1. POP3 provides access to only your INBOX. In other words, secondary folders such as your "saved-messages" are inaccessible.
  2. Alpine's implementation of POP3 does not follow the traditional POP model and will leave your mail on the server. Refer to the Mail Drop functionality for a possible way around this problem.
  3. See the discussion about new-mail checking in Folder-Reopen-Rule.

Note that it is possible to include more than one parameter in a server specification by concatenating the parameters. For example:

Folder Namespaces

A Alpine folder name looks like


The local part of a folder name has an optional "Namespace" which tells Alpine how to interpret the rest of the name.

By default the folder name is interpreted as defining a section of your personal folder area. This area and how you specify it are defined by the server, if one is specified, or, typically, the home directory, if no server is defined.

If a namespace is specified, it begins with the sharp, "#", character followed by the name of the namespace and then the namespace's path-element-delimiter. Aside from the path's format, namespaces can also imply access rights, content policy, audience, location, and, occasionally, access methods.

Each server exports its own set (possibly of size one) of namespaces. Hence, it's likely communication with your server's administrator will be required for specific configurations. Some of the more common namespaces, however, include:

This specifies a set of folders in the newsgroup namespace. Newsgroup names are hierarchically defined with each level delimited by a period.


This specifies a folder area that the server may export to the general public.
This specifies a folder area that the folder may export to groups of users.
This specifies a folder area that is the same as that it may have exported via the "File Transfer Protocol".
This specifies the personal folder area associated with folders and directories that were created using the MH message handling system.
This namespace is interpreted locally by Alpine. It has an unusual interpretation and format.


The #move namespace is followed by two folder names separated by a delimiter character. The delimiter character may be any character which does not appear in the MailDropFolder name. The meaning of #move is that mail will be copied from the MailDropFolder to the DestinationFolder and then deleted (if possible) from the MailDropFolder. Periodic checks at frequency Mail-Check-Interval, but with a minimum time between checks set by MailDrop-Check-Minimum, are made for new mail arriving in the MailDropFolder. An example which copies mail from a POP inbox to a local folder follows

#move+{}inbox+local folder

To you it appears that mail is being delivered to the local folder when it is copied from the MailDropFolder, and you read mail from the local folder.

Note that if the DestinationFolder does not exist then the messages are not copied from the MailDropFolder. A #move folder may only be used as an Incoming folder or an Inbox. When you are in the FOLDER LIST of Incoming Message Folders (after turning on the enable-incoming-folders option) the Add command has a subcommand "Use Mail Drop" which may be helpful for defining the folder in your Alpine configuration. The same is true when you edit the Inbox-Path option in Setup/Config. Each of these configuration methods will also create the DestinationFolder if it doesn't already exist. If you are having problems, make sure the DestinationFolder exists.

In addition, the server may support access to other user's folders, provided you have suitable permissions. Common methods use a prefix of either "~user/", or "/user/" to indicate the root of the other user's folder area.

What is a Mail Drop?

In some situaions it may make sense to have your mail delivered to one folder (the Mail Drop) and then when you want to read mail that has been delivered to the Mail Drop folder Alpine will move it to another destination folder. Often the Mail Drop will be a remote folder and messages will be moved from there to a local destination folder.

One example where this might make sense is if the Mail Drop folder is accessible only with the POP protocol. You could designate your POP inbox as the Mail Drop folder and have Alpine move mail from there to a local (on the same machine Alpine is running on) destination folder, where you'll read it.

A Mail Drop may only be used as your Inbox or as an Incoming folder.

There is no attempt to synchronize the contents of the destination folder with the contents of the Mail Drop folder. All that happens is that all of the messages in the Mail Drop folder are copied to the destination folder and then they are deleted and expunged (if possible) from the Mail Drop folder. The next time a check for new mail is made, any messages in the Mail Drop folder are once again copied to the destination folder and deleted and expunged from the Mail Drop folder. (If the Mail Drop folder is a news group, then the messages can't be expunged from the newsgroup. Instead, only Recent messages are copied from the newsgroup to the destination folder.)

Configuration of a Mail Drop is a little different from configuration of a folder which does not use a Mail Drop because you have to specify two folder names instead of one. The two folders may be any types of folders that Alpine can normally use. They don't have to be a remote folder and a local folder, that is simply the most common usage. When you use a Mail Drop folder Alpine will periodically re-open the Mail Drop to check for new mail. The new-mail checks will happen at the frequency set with the Mail-Check-Interval option, but with a minimum time (MailDrop-Check-Minimum) between checks. Because of this minimum you may notice that new mail does not appear promptly when you expect it. The reason for this is to protect the server from over-zealous opening and closing of the Mail Drop folder. If the user initiates the check by typing ^L (Ctrl-L) or the Next command when at the end of the folder index, then the check will happen, regardless of how long it has been since the previous check.

If there is new mail, that mail will be copied to the destination folder and then will be deleted from the Mail Drop. Note that using a Mail Drop with a local destination folder does not make sense if you read mail from more than one machine, because the mail is downloaded to the destination folder (which is accessible from only one machine) and deleted from the Mail Drop.

The feature Maildrops-Preserve-State modifies the operation of Mail Drops.

The actual syntax used by Alpine for a folder that uses a Mail Drop is:


The brackets are not literal.


is a single character which does not appear in the MailDropFolder name. If the name doesn't contain spaces then it can be a space character. The two folder names are full technical folder names as used by Alpine. Here are a couple examples to give you an idea what is being talked about:

#move {}inbox localfolder

#move+{}#news.comp.mail.pine+local folder

A #move folder may only be used as an Incoming folder or an Inbox. When you are in the FOLDER LIST of Incoming Message Folders (after turning on the Enable-Incoming-Folders option) the Add command has a subcommand "Use Mail Drop" which may be helpful for defining the folder in your Alpine configuration. The same is true when you edit the Inbox-Path option in Setup/Config. if it doesn't already exist. If you are having problems, make sure the DestinationFolder exists.

Sorting a Folder

The mail index may be sorted by arrival, date, subject, from, size, score, to, or cc order. Each sort order can also be reversed. The $ command will prompt the user for the sort order. The sort order can also be specified on the command line with the -sort flag or (equivalently) with the sort-key variable in the pinerc file. When a user changes folders, the sort order will go back to the original sort order. The command line (-sort) or configuration file sort specification (sort-key) changes the original sort order.

When a folder is sorted and new mail arrives in the folder it will be inserted in its properly sorted place. This can be a little odd when the folder is sorted by something like the subject. It can also be a little slow if you are viewing a large, sorted INBOX, since the INBOX will have to be re-sorted whenever new mail arrives.

The sorts are all independent of case and ignore leading or trailing white space. There are actually two forms of subject sort. One called Subject and the other called OrderedSubj. They both ignore "Re:" at the beginning and "(fwd)" at the end of the subjects. Subject sorts all the subjects alphabetically. OrderedSubj sorts by subjects alphabetically, groups messages with the same subject (pseudo-threads), then sorts the groups by the date of the first message of the group. Sorting by Thread was added after OrderedSubj and is usually a better method. Thread sorting uses information in the message headers References, Message-ID, and Subject. It is possible the sort will be slightly slower with a Thread sort than with an OrderedSubj sort. The sort by sender sorts by the user-id (part before the "@"), not the full name. The arrival sort is no sort at all and the date sort depends on the format of the date. Some dates are in strange formats and are unparsable. The time zone is also taken into account.

Sorting large mail folders can be very slow since it requires fetching all the headers of the mail messages. With UNIX Alpine, only the first sort is slow since Alpine keeps a copy of all the headers. One exception is sorting in reverse arrival order. This is fast because no headers have to be examined. Alpine will show progress as it is sorting.

Alternate Editor

In the Alpine composer you can use any text editor, such as vi or emacs, for composing the message text. The addresses and subject still must be edited using the standard Alpine composer. If you include the feature enable-alternate-editor-cmd in your pinerc you can type ^_ while in the body of the message in the composer and be prompted for the editor. If you also set the editor variable in your pinerc then ^_ will invoke the configured editor when you type it.

Turning on the feature enable-alternate-editor-implicitly will automatically invoke the editor you have defined with the editor variable whenever you enter the body of a message you are composing. For example, when you move out of the last header line and into the body of the message, the alternate editor will be automatically invoked.

We know that many people would like to use the alternate editor to edit the mail header as well. We considered several designs for this and didn't come up with one that we liked and that was easy to implement. One of the main problems is that you lose access to the address book.

Signatures and Signature Placement

If the file ~/.signature (UNIX) or <PINERCdirectory>\PINE.SIG (PC) exists, it will be included in all outgoing messages. It is included before composition starts so that the user has a chance to edit it out if he or she likes. The file name for the signature can be changed by setting the signature-file variable in the pinerc. If the feature enable-sigdashes is turned on then the line consisting of the three characters "-- " is prepended to the signature file. When Replying or Forwarding a message different signatures my be automatically included by configuring them in the Roles setup screen. It's easy to include different signatures by hand, by having multiple signature files (.sig1, .sig2, .sig3, etc) and choosing to include (^R in the composer) the correct one for the message being sent.

Alpine's default behavior encourages a user to put his or her contribution before the inclusion of the original text of the message being forwarded or replied to, This is contrary to some conventions, but makes the conversation more readable when a long original message is included in a reply for context. The reader doesn't have to scroll through the original text that he or she has probably already seen to find the new text. If the reader wishes to see the old message(s), the reader can scroll further into the message. Users who prefer to add their input at the end of a message should set the signature-at-bottom feature. The signature will then be appended to the end of the message after any included text. This feature applies when Replying, not when Forwarding.

Feature List Variable

Alpine used to have feature levels for users with different amounts of experience. We found that this was too restrictive. Alpine now has a feature-list instead. Each user may pick and choose which features they would like enabled (simple to do in the Setup/Config screen). There is a short description of each in Configuration Features. There is also a short on-line help explaining the effect of each of the features in the Setup/Config screen. When the cursor is highlighting a feature, the ? command will show the help text for that feature. Features don't have values, they are just turned on or off. They are all off by default.

The feature-list variable is different from all other configuration variables in that its value is additive. That is, the system-wide configuration file can have some features turned on by default. The user can select other features in their personal configuration file and those features will be added to the set of features turned on in the system-wide configuration file. (With all other configuration variables, the user's values replace the system-wide values.) Likewise, additional features may be set on the command-line with the argument "-feature-list=". These will be added to the others.

The treatment of feature-list in the system-wide fixed configuration file is also different from other variables. The system management can fix the value of individual features by placing them in the fixed configuration file. Users will not be able to alter those features, but will still be able to set the other non-restricted features the way they like.

Because feature-list is additive, there is a way to turn features off as well as on. Prepending the prefix "no-" to any feature sets it to off. This is useful for over-riding the system-wide default in the personal configuration file or for over-riding the system-wide default or the personal configuration value on the command line. For example, if the system-wide default configuration has the quit-without-confirm feature set, the user can over-ride that (and turn it off) by including no-quit-without-confirm in the personal configuration file or by giving the command line argument -feature-list=no-quit-without-confirm. More features (options) will no doubt continue to be added.

Configuration Inheritance

We start with an explanation of how configuration works in hopes of making it easier to describe how inheritance works.

Alpine uses a hierarchy of configuration values from different locations. There are five ways in which each configuration option (configuration variable) can be set. In increasing order of precedence they are:

  1. the system-wide configuration file.
  2. the personal configuration file
  3. the personal exceptions file
  4. a command line argument
  5. the system-wide fixed configuration file (Unix Alpine only)

The fixed configuration file is normally /usr/local/lib/pine.conf.fixed.

The system-wide configuration file is normally /usr/local/lib/pine.conf for Unix Alpine and is normally not set for PC-Alpine. For PC-Alpine, if the environment variable $PINECONF is set, that is used for the system-wide configuration. This location can be set or changed on the command line with the -P flag. The system-wide configuration file can be either a local file or a remote configuration folder.

For Unix Alpine, the personal configuration file is normally the file .pinerc in the user's home directory. This can be changed with the -p command line flag. For PC-Alpine, the personal configuration file is in $PINERC or <PineRC registry value> or ${HOME}\ALPINE\PINERC or <ALPINE.EXE dir>\PINERC. This can be changed with the -p command line flag. If -p or $PINERC is used, the configuration data may be in a local file or a remote config folder.

For Unix Alpine, the personal exceptions configuration file is specified with the "-x exceptions_config" command line argument. "Exceptions_config" may be either a local file or a remote configuration folder. If there is no "-x" command line option, Alpine will look for the file ".pinercex" in the same local directory that the regular config file is located in. If the regular config file is remote then Unix Alpine looks in the home directory for ".pinercex".

For PC-Alpine, the personal exceptions configuration file is specified with the "-x exceptions_config" command line argument. If there is no "-x" command line argument the environment variable $PINERCEX may be set to the name of the "exceptions_config" instead. "Exceptions_config" may be either a local file or a remote configuration folder. If there is no "-x" command line option and $PINERCEX is not set, PC-Alpine will look for the file "PINERCEX" in the same local directory that the regular config file is located in. If the regular config file is remote then PC-Alpine looks in the local directory specified by the "-aux local_directory" command line argument, or the directory ${HOME}\ALPINE, or in <ALPINE.EXE directory> for a file named "PINERCEX".

To reiterate, the value of a configuration option is taken from the last location in the list above in which it is set. Or, thinking about it slightly differently, a default value for an option is established in the system-wide configuration file (or in the source code if there is no value in the system-wide file). That default remains in effect until and unless it is overridden by a value in a location further down the list, in which case a new "default" value is established. As we continue down the list of locations we either retain the value at each step or establish a new value. The value that is still set after going through the whole list of configuration locations is the one that is used.

So, for example, if an option is set in the system-wide configuration file and in the personal configuration file, but is not set in the exceptions, on the command line, or in the fixed file; then the value from the personal configuration file is the one that is used. Or, if it is set in the system-wide config, in the personal config, not in the exceptions, but is set on the command line; then the value on the command line is used.

Finally we get to inheritance. For configuration options which are lists, like "smtp-server" or "incoming-folders", the inheritance mechanism makes it possible to combine the values from different locations instead of replacing the value. This is true of all configuration lists other than the "feature-list", for which you may already set whatever you want at any configuration location (by using the "no-" prefix if necessary).

To use inheritance, set the first item in a configuration list to the token "INHERIT". If the first item is "INHERIT", then instead of replacing the default value established so far, the rest of the list is appended to the default value established so far and that is the new value.

Here is an example which may make it clearer. Suppose we have:

 System-wide config :   smtp-server =,
 Personal config    :   smtp-server = INHERIT, mysmtp.home
 Exceptions config  :   smtp-server = <No Value Set>
 Command line       :   smtp-server = <No Value Set>
 Fixed config       :   smtp-server = <No Value Set>

This would result in an effective smtp-server option of

 smtp-server =,, mysmtp.home

The "INHERIT" token can be used in any of the configuration files and the effect cascades. For example, if we change the above example to:

 System-wide config :   smtp-server =,
 Personal config    :   smtp-server = INHERIT, mysmtp.home
 Exceptions config  :   smtp-server = INHERIT,
 Command line       :   smtp-server = <No Value Set>
 Fixed config       :   smtp-server = <No Value Set>

This would result in:

 smtp-server =,, mysmtp.home,

Unset variables are skipped over (the default value is carried forward) so that, for example:

 System-wide config :   smtp-server =,
 Personal config    :   smtp-server = <No Value Set>
 Exceptions config  :   smtp-server = INHERIT,
 Command line       :   smtp-server = <No Value Set>
 Fixed config       :   smtp-server = <No Value Set>


 smtp-server =,,

If any later configuration location has a value set (for a particular list option) which does not begin with "INHERIT", then that value replaces whatever value has been defined up to that point. In other words, that cancels out any previous inheritance.

 System-wide config :   smtp-server =,
 Personal config    :   smtp-server = INHERIT,
 Exceptions config  :   smtp-server =
 Command line       :   smtp-server = <No Value Set>
 Fixed config       :   smtp-server = <No Value Set>

results in:

 smtp-server =

For some configuration options, like "viewer-hdr-colors" or "patterns-roles", it is difficult to insert the value "INHERIT" into the list of values for the option using the normal Setup tools. In other words, the color setting screen (for example) does not provide a way to input the text "INHERIT" as the first item in the viewer-hdr-colors option. The way to do this is to either edit the pinerc file directly and manually insert it, or turn on the "expose-hidden-config" feature and insert it using the Setup/Config screen.

Using Environment Variables

The values of Alpine configuration options may include environment variables which are replaced by the value of the variable at the time Alpine is run (and also at the time the config option is changed). The syntax to use environment variables is a subset of the common Unix shell dollar-syntax. For example, if


appears in the value of a Alpine configuration option it is looked up in the environent (using getenv("VAR")) and its looked-up value replaces the $VAR part of the option value. To include a literal dollar sign you may precede the dollar sign with another dollar sign. In other words, if the text


is the value of a configuration option, it will be expanded to


and no environment lookup will be done. For Unix Alpine it will also work to use a backslash character to escape the special meaning of the dollar sign, but $$ is preferable since it works for both PC-Alpine and Unix Alpine, allowing the configuration option to be in a shared configuration file.

This all sounds more complicated than it actually is. An example may make it clearer. Unfortunately, the way in which environment variables are set is OS-dependent and command shell-dependent. In some Unix command shells you may use

PERSNAME="Fred Flintstone"


Now, if you use Alpine's Setup/Config screen to set


the $PERSNAME would be replaced by Fred Flintstone so that this would be equivalent to

personal-name=Fred Flintstone

Note, environment variable substitution happens after configuration options which are lists are split into the separate elements of the list, so a single environment variable can't contain a list of values.

The environment variable doesn't have to be the only thing after the equal sign. However, if the name of the variable is not at the end of the line or followed by a space (so that you can tell where the variable name ends), it must be enclosed in curly braces like


It is always ok to use the braces even if you don't need to.

It is also possible to set a default value for an environment variable. This default value will be used if the environment variable is not set (that is, if getenv("VAR") returns NULL). The syntax used to set a default value is

${VAR:-default value}

If the config file contains

personal-name=${VAR:-Fred Flintstone}

then when Alpine is run VAR will be looked up in the environment. If VAR is found then personal-name will have the value that VAR was set to, otherwise, personal-name will be set to Fred Flintstone, the default value.

An example where an environment variable might be useful is the variable inbox-path in the global configuration file. Suppose most users used the server

but that there were some exceptions who used

In this case, the system manager might include the following line in the systemwide default Alpine configuration file


For the exceptional users adding

to their environment should work.

Another example might be the case where a user has to use a different SMTP server from work and from home. The setup might be something as simple as


or perhaps a default value could be given. Note that, as mentioned above, the variable SMTP cannot contain a list of SMTP servers.

SMTP Servers

It is sometimes desirable to set smtp-server=localhost instead of setting sendmail-path to overcome the inability to negotiate ESMTP options when sendmail is invoked with the -t option. Sendmail can also be subject to unacceptable delays due to slow DNS lookups and other problems.

It is sometimes desirable to configure an SMTP server on a port other than the default port 25. This may be used to provide an alternate service that is optimized for a particular environment or provides different features from the port 25 server. An example would be a program that negotiates ESMTP options and queues a message, but does not attempt to deliver messages. This would avoid delays frequently encountered when invoking sendmail directly.

A typical configuration would consist of

MIME.Types file

Alpine's MIME-TYPE support is based on code contributed by Hans Drexler <>. Alpine assigns MIME Content-Types according to file name extensions found in the system-wide files /usr/local/lib/mime.types and /etc/mime.types, and a user specific ~/.mime.types file.

In Windows, Alpine looks in the same directory as the PINERC file and the same dir as ALPINE.EXE. This is similar to the UNIX situation with personal config info coming before potentially shared config data. An alternate search path can be specified by setting the mimetype-search-path variable in the user or system-wide configuration or by setting the MIMETYPES environment variable.

These files specify file extensions that will be connected to a mime type. Lines beginning with a '#' character are treated as comments and ignored. All other lines are treated as a mime type definition. The first word is a type/subtype specification. All following words are file extensions belonging to that type/subtype. Words are separated by whitespace characters. If a file extension occurs more than once, then the first definition determines the file type and subtype. A couple sample lines from a mime.types file follow:

image/gif         gif
text/html         html htm
video/mpeg        mpeg mpg mpe

Color Details

UNIX Alpine may display color if the terminal or terminal emulator you are using is capable of displaying colors. If the terminal supports ANSI color escape sequences you will be able to turn color on using the color-style option and setting it to the value force-ansi-8color or force-ansi-16color. If instead you'd like Alpine to automatically detect whether or not you are on a color terminal, set color-style to use-termdef and configure the termcap entry to describe your terminal's color capabilities.

If the color-style option is set to use-termdef, Alpine looks in the terminal capabilities database, TERMINFO or TERMCAP, depending on how Alpine was compiled, to decide whether or not your terminal is capable of color. For TERMINFO compiled Alpines, the capabilities that are used for color are "colors", "setaf", "setab", "op", and "bce". If you have a terminal with color capabilities described by the "scp" capability, Alpine does not support it. The capabilities "setf" and "setb" may be used instead of "setaf" and "setab". The capability "bce" is optional and is used as an optimization, the other capabilities are required. For TERMCAP compiled Alpines, the capabilities that are used for color are "Co", "AF", "AB", "op", and "ut". The capabilities "Sf" and "Sb" may be used instead of "AF" and "AB", though this isn't a useful feature.

Here are some short descriptions of the capabilities listed above. The TERMINFO name is listed, followed by the TERMCAP name in parentheses.

colors (Co)
The number of different colors.

setaf (AF)
Set ANSI foreground color.

setab (AB)
Set ANSI background color.

setf (Sf)
Set foreground color. Alternate form of setaf.

setb (Sb)
Set background color. Alternate form of setab.

op (op)
Set default pair to its original value.

bce (ut)
Screen is erased with current background color instead of default background.

A standard ANSI terminal which supports color will have a TERMINFO entry which contains:


or the TERMCAP equivalent:


If there are eight colors, the program uses colors 0, 1, ..., 7. For an ANSI terminal, the foreground color is set by sending the escape sequence "Escape LeftBracket 3 color_number m" to the terminal. The background color is set by sending the sequence "Escape LeftBracket 4 color_number m". ANSI colors zero through seven are defined to be "black", "red", "green", "yellow", "blue", "magenta", "cyan", and "white". Some terminal emulators will swap blue and red and swap yellow and cyan. The capabilities "setf" and "setb" are usually designed for those terminals so that they will flip the color numbers 1 and 4 and the numbers 3 and 6 to compensate for this. Alpine will use the ANSI versions of the capabilities if they exist, and will use the non-ANSI versions (setf and setb) if the ANSI versions don't exist. Here's a version which does the flipping. This can only be used with TERMINFO Alpines, because of the arithmetic, which is not supported by TERMCAP.


Some terminal emulators are capable of displaying eight more colors when the foreground colors 30-37 are replaced with 90-97 and the background colors 40-47 are replaced with 100-107. These terminals require a fancy termcap entry which can take foreground colors 0, 1, ..., 15 and map that into 30, 31, ..., 37, 90, 91, ..., 97, and similarly for the background colors. Here is a terminfo entry which will do just that:

and here is the termcap equivalent:

This is a terminfo entry for 16 colors that also does the color flipping:


If you are always using the same display it probably won't matter to you if the color pairs red/blue and cyan/yellow are flipped, since you'll always be seeing them flipped. You will get different defaults than on a display with them not flipped, but that's about all. If you are trying to use the same pinerc file from displays with different color characteristics, or from Alpine and PC-Alpine, you will have to be more careful. The colors numbered 0 through 7 may be used portably between different systems if you are careful to make them correspond to the ANSI order mentioned above. You can check this by looking at a color configuration screen for one of the colors. The first eight colors should be in the order above. If they aren't, you could fix that by modifying your termcap entry on the UNIX system. This is not possible if your system uses TERMCAP instead of TERMINFO.

S/MIME Overview

UNIX Alpine only.

S/MIME is a standard for the public key encryption and signing of email. UNIX Alpine contains a basic implementation of S/MIME based on the OpenSSL libraries.

Some limitations:

The S/MIME configuration screen is reached by going to the Main Menu and typing the "S Setup" command followed by "M S/MIME".


In order to digitally sign messages you send you must have a public/private key-pair. This may be obtained from a public Certificate Authority (CA) such as Thawte, Verisign, Comodo, or GoDaddy; or from a smaller CA such as a university which provides certificates for its users or a company which provides certificates for its workers. These certificates are bound to an email address, so the identity being verified is the email address not a person's name.

Mail is signed by using the sender's private key, which only the owner of the private key has access to. The signature is verified using the signer's public key, which anyone can have access to. With Alpine, the first time you receive a signed message the public key of the sender will be stored for future use.

Mail is encrypted using the recipient's public key and decrypted by the recipient with their private key.

You need a key of your own in order to sign outgoing messages and to have others encrypt messages sent to you. You do not need a key of your own to verify signed messages sent by others or to encrypt messages sent to others.


By default UNIX Alpine stores the certificates it uses in a directory in your home directory. The directory name is


Within that directory are three subdirectories. Each of the three subdirectories contains files with PEM-encoded contents, the default format for OpenSSL. The "public" directory contains public certificates. The files within that directory have names that are email addresses with the suffix ".crt" appended. An example filename is

The "private" directory contains private keys, probably just one for your private key. These are also email addresses but with the suffix ".key" instead. The third directory is "ca" and it contains certificates for any Certificate Authorities that you want to trust but that aren't contained in the set of system CAs. Those files may have arbitrary names as long as they end with the suffix ".crt".


If you have a certificate you may sign outgoing messages. After typing the Ctrl-X command to send a message you will see the prompt

Send message?

Available subcommands include "G Sign" and "E Encrypt". Typing the "G" command will change the prompt to

Send message (Signed)?

Typing the "E" command will change the prompt to

Send message (Encrypted)?

You may even type both to get

Send message (Encrypted, Signed)?


The reading of a signed message should not require any special action on your part. There should be an editorial addition at the start of the message which says either

This message was cryptographically signed.


This message was cryptographically signed but the signature could not be verified.

If an encrypted message is sent to you the encrypted text will not be shown. You will have to type the "Ctrl-D Decrypt" command (from the screen where you are viewing the message) and supply your passphrase when asked.

For a signed or encrypted message there is also a "Ctrl-E Security" command which gives you some information about the certificate used to sign or encrypt the message.


You may have access to a private certificate in the PKCS12 format, which would sometimes be in a file with a ".p12" suffix. The UNIX shell command

openssl pkcs12 -in file.p12 -out file.pem

may work to convert that from the PKCS12 format to the PEM format. Then that file could be placed in the "private" directory with a filename of your email address followed by the suffix ".key".

Additional Notes on PC-Alpine

Below are a few odds and ends worth mentioning about PC-Alpine. They have to do with DOS-specific behavior that is either necessary or useful (and sometimes both!).

As PC-Alpine runs in an environment with limited access control, accounting or auditing, an additional line is automatically inserted into the header of mail messages generated by PC-Alpine:

	X-Sender: <userid>@<>

By popular demand of system administrators, PC-Alpine has been modified to prevent sending messages until the user has successfully logged into a remote mail server. Even though PC-Alpine cannot prevent users from changing the apparent identity of the sender of a message, the IMAP server login name and host name included in the X-Sender line provide some level of traceability by the recipient. However, this should not be considered a rigorous form of authentication. It is extremely lightweight, and is not a replacement for true authentication.

Hand in hand with authentication and accounting is user information. Since PC-Alpine has no user database to consult for user-id, personal-name, etc., necessary information must be provided by the user/installer before PC-Alpine can properly construct the "From" address required for outbound messages. PC-Alpine will, by default, prompt for the requisite pieces as they are needed. This information corresponds to the PINERC variables user-id, personal-name, user-domain, and smtp-server.

The user is then asked whether or not this information should automatically be saved to the PINERC. This is useful behavior in general, but can lead to problems in a lab or other shared environment. Hence, these prompts and automatic saving of configuration can be turned off on an entry by entry basis by setting any of the above values in the PINERC to the null string (i.e., a pair of double quotes). This means that the user will be prompted for the information once during each Alpine session, and no opportunity to save them in the PINERC will be offered.

Another feature of DOS is the lack of standard scratch area for temporary files. During the course of a session, PC-Alpine may require numerous temporary files (large message texts, various caches, etc.). Where to create them can be a problem, particularly when running under certain network operating systems. PC-Alpine observes the TMPDIR, TMP, and TEMP environment variables, and creates temporary files in the directory specified by either. In their absence, PC-Alpine creates these files in the root of the current working drive. Some temporary files have to be created in the same directory as the file they are a temporary copy of. For example, a pinerc file or a address book file.