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Getting FTP Files via E-Mail

To help people without ftp access, a number of ftp sites have set up mail servers (also known as archive servers) that allow you to get files via e-mail. You send a request to one of these machines and they send back the file you want. As with ftp, you'll be able to find everything from historical documents to software (but please note that if you do have access to ftp, that method is always quicker and ties up fewer resources than using e-mail).

Some interesting or useful mail servers include:

Files of "frequently asked questions" related to Usenet; state-by-state lists of U.S. representatives and Senators and their addresses and office phone numbers.

Information about the Electronic Frontier Foundation; documents about legal issues on the Net.

Back copies of the Computer Underground Digest and every possible fact you could want to know about "The Simpsons."

Programs for many types of personal computers; archives of past postings from many Usenet newsgroups.

Space-related text and graphics (GIF-format) files.

Detailed information about Internet.

Most mail servers work pretty much the same -- you send an e-mail message that tells them what file you want and how you want it sent to you. The most important command is "send," which tells the computer you want it to send you a particular file.

First, though, you'll need to know where the mail server stores that file, because you have to tell it which directory or sub-directory it's in. There are a couple of ways to do this. You can send an e-mail message to the archive-server that consists of one line:


The server will then send you a directory listing of its main, or root directory. You'll then have to send a second message to the archive server with one line:

index directory/subdirectory
where that is the directory or directory path for which you want a listing. An alternative is to send an e-mail message to our old friend archie, which should send you back the file's exact location on the archive-server (along with similar listings for all the other sites that may have the file, however)

Once you have the file name and its directory path, compose a message to the archive server like this:

send directory/subdirectory/file 
Send off the message and, anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of days later, you'll find a new message in your mailbox: a copy of the file you requested. The exact time it will take a file to get to you depends on a variety of factors, including how many requests are in line before yours (mail servers can only process so many requests at a time) and the state of the connections between the server and you.

Seems simple enough. It gets a little more complicated when you request a program rather than a document. Programs or other files that contain unusual characters or lines longer than 130 characters (graphics files, for example) require special processing by both the mail server to ensure they are transmitted via e-mail. Then you'll have to run them through at least one converter program to put them in a form you can actually use. To ensure that a program or other "non-mailable" file actually gets to you, include another line in your e-mail message to the server:

This converts the file into an encoded form. To decode it, you'll first have to transfer the file message into a file in your home directory.

One further complication comes when you request a particularly long file. Many Net sites can only handle so much mail at a time. To make sure you get the entire file, tell the mail server to break it up into smaller pieces, with another line in your e-mail request like this:

size 100000

This gives the mail server the maximum size, in bytes, of each file segment. This particular size is good for UUCP sites. Internet and Bitnet sites can generally go up to 300,000. When you get all of these files in mail, transfer them to your home directory. Exit mail and call up each file in your host system's text processor and delete each one's entire header and footer (or "signature" at the end). When done with this, at your host system's command line, type

cat file1 file2 > bigfile
where file1 is the first file, file2 the second file, and so on. The `>' tells your host system to combine them into a new megafile called bigfile (or whatever you want to call it). After you save the file to your home directory (see section Receiving Files above), you can then run uudecode, tar, etc. One word of caution, though: if the file you want is long enough that it has to be broken into pieces, think of how much time it's going to take you to download the whole thing -- especially if you're using a 2400-baud modem!

There are a number of other mail servers. To get a list, send an e-mail message to:


send usenet/comp.sources.wanted/How_to_find_sources_(READ_THIS_BEFORE_POSTING)
You'll have to spell it exactly as listed above. Some mail servers use different software, which will require slightly different commands than the ones listed here. In general, if you send a message to a mail server that says only
you should get back a file detailing all of its commands.

But what if the file you want is not on one of these mail servers? That's where ftpmail comes in. Run by Digital Equipment Corp. in California, this service can connect to almost any ftp site in the world, get the file you want and then mail it to you. Using it is fairly simple -- you send an e-mail message to ftpmail that includes a series of commands telling the system where to find the file you want and how to format it to mail to you.

Compose an e-mail message to

Leave the "subject:" line blank. Inside the message, there are several commands you can give. The first line should be
reply address
where "address" is your e-mail address. The next line should be
connect host
where "host" is the system that has the file you want (for example: wuarchive.wustl.edu). Other commands you should consider using are "binary" (required for program files); "compress" (reduces the file size for quicker transmission) and "uuencode" (which encodes the file so you can do something with it when it arrives). The last line of your message should be the word "quit".

Let's say you want a copy of the U.S. constitution. Using archie, you've found a file called, surprise, constitution, at the ftp site archive.cis.ohio-state.edu, in the `/pub/firearms/politics/ rkba' directory. You'd send a message to <ftpmail@decwrl.dec.com> that looks like this:

reply adamg@world.std.com
connect archive.cis.ohio-state.edu
get pub/firearms/politics/rkba/constitution
When you get the file in your mailbox, use the above procedure for copying it to a file. Run it through uudecode. Then type
uncompress file.name
to make it usable.

Since this was a text file, you could have changed the "binary" to "ascii" and then eliminated the "uuencode" file. For programs, though, you'll want to keep these lines. One caveat with ftpmail: it has become such a popular service that it could take a week or more for your requested files to arrive.

We therefore strongly encourage you to "distribute" your requests over the currently known "ftpmail" sites:


<bitftp@dearn> or <bitftp@vm.gmd.de> (Europe only)


<bitftp@plearn.edu.pl> or <bitftp@plearn> (Europe)

United Kingdom:

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