Zeth Green
(Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing/Business School)
Aaron Sloman
(School of Computer Science)

Last updated: 8 Sep 2009
Originally created: Feb 2007 (or earlier)

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This is one of a collection of files for linux users at the University of Birmingham.
The others (including information about wireless connections and using vpn) can be accessed from: here.
Please send reports of bugs, inaccuracies, suggestions for improvement, to



This is a first draft attempt to provide general information about accessing your email on campus if you are not a Windows user. These instructions were provided by Zeth Green and installed here after minor editing by Aaron Sloman.

It is assumed that you are a member of the University of Birmingham and have a central email account as a member of the University on the 'ADF server' (Active Directory Fsomethingorother server). The instructions below enable you to use central University email with any email setup on a machine on or off campus.

There are two options

These two options are described in more detail below, after a note on security.

Email and Security

Most email is transmitted in a form that means that it can easily be read on any machine through which it passes, and it is usually the case that mail that you send or receive goes through several different machines on the internet between the sender's machine and the receiver's machine. A widely used protocol for sending email is SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) described Here on Wikipedia

The contents of a mail message can be made more secure by encrypting the contents, e.g. using 'Secure SMTP' as described in this technical document. A less technical document on authentication is here in Wikipedia.

Secure SMTP uses transport-layer security to provide private, authenticated communication over the Internet. This gives SMTP agents the ability to protect some or all of their communications from eavesdroppers and attackers.

If you don't know what that means see if advice at Brown University makes it any clearer.

Some additional information is provided here.

Beware of false promises
Neither government ministers nor internet services should be believed when they claim that total security can be provided.

Redirecting ADF Email to another mail server

This is the first option for reading your bham email somewhere other than on the central mail server.

Accessing or redirecting email from an address of the form

If you are a computer scientist then you probably do not want to use the central email: instead you probably want to get your central email to be automatically redirected to your CS email. Similarly if you have email access in another school that runs its own email service.

There are two ways to do this

Unfortunately, as many have discovered, this will not direct all email, e.g. email from someone on campus who uses the microsoft exchange system.
Zeth has provided the following explanation:

As far as I know, it is caused mainly by people typing human names into Microsoft Outlook and expecting the global ADF address list to find them. This unfortunately sends email direct to the mailbox, i.e. rather than to the mailname Thus bypassing any redirects that the recipient has set up and usually failing to get anyone who has an email address hosted outside the central ADF servers (e.g. computer science).
That sounds plausible. There is an equally bad fault in the system. Apparently if such a user sends a message to someone off campus, with a Cc to a person on campus, instead of putting the correct campus email address in the Cc list, it inserts the 'exchange' address. So that recipient may never see the message, and moreover, if there is a reply from the external user, will never see the reply either as it will go straight to the mailbox, bypassing any redirects set up.


Accessing your Email on the ADF Email Server from a remote machine

Instead of redirecting mail to another mail service, you can read or fetch mail from the ADF server, while using a remote machine.
There are three different protocols available.

Example - Fetchmail and Mutt

Zeth provided the following instructions for using The Mutt Mail User Agent to read and send mail.

I set myself up to use Mutt for reading and sending mail on a linux machine.

(There are other possible programs for reading and sending, e.g. Pine.)

Use fetchmail to get the mail to your unix/linux machine
Fetchmail periodically uses pop3 or some other specified protocol to download any new email.

You can control what fetchmail does by means of your ~/.fetchmailrc file.

E.g. start the .fetchmailrc file with the following, where the first line makes fetchmail run every 600 seconds (i.e. every 10 minutes) and the second line specifies useful defaults for the 'poll' command, used below:

set daemon 600
defaults proto pop3 port 110 mimedecode

Lines like the following (with appropriate user name and password) can then specify mail servers to fetch email from. In this case the 'protocol pop3' information duplicates the specification above in the 'defaults' line and could be removed.

poll protocol pop3 user "USERNAME" password "PASSWORD"
Note: if you want to leave the mail on the remote server after copying it, you can add the word 'keep' at the end.
Fetchmail gives other options which are explained in its 'man' file.

Use Authenticated SMTP and Mutt to send email.
To allow mutt to send via the university auth-smtp service, add the following line to your ~/.muttrc file:

set sendmail="/usr/bin/nbsmtp -D -s -U USERNAME -P PASSWORD -d -h -f"
Replace 'nbsmtp' with the command for 'smtp' on your system.

You can use 'fetchmail' as described above without using 'mutt'.
The fetchmail program merely reads mail from the remote mail servers and puts it in your local incoming mail file (usually a file with your user name in '/var/spool/mail'. Then any linux mail reading program can access it, e.g. 'pine', 'elm' or even the very primitive and ancient 'mail' program (not really recommended, except as a last resort.)

This accords with the general unix/linux philosophy of not forcing you to use large multifunctional tools and instead providing smaller special-purpose tools that can work together and which can be combined into large multifunctional tools in different ways.

Note on using HTML in email

For information on why you should turn off the default of sending email in HTML (especially the default of sending BOTH plain text and HTML), and information on how to turn it off, please see
Alas, it seems that users of the Exchange server are not able to turn it off!

Maintained by Aaron Sloman
School of Computer Science
The University of Birmingham