This document describes the basics of sending and receiving email in the Computer Science Department.

Electronic mail (email) is used to send messages from one computer to another. Several email programs are used at Stanford. Choosing the right program for you depends on which method you want to use to read your email: UNIX-based clients, remote clients, or webmail.

UNIX-based clients

When using UNIX-based clients, you will log onto one of the Computer Science general-purpose systems (Xenon and the pup machines) directly, via ssh. Once you are logged in, you will run a mail client like mutt, pine, or elm (mutt is recommended). Your mail will be stored on Xenon, and will count against your mail quota. You will need to learn the commands to help you process your mail and you will also need to learn to use a Unix text editor such as vi, emacs, or nano.

The main benefit of using a UNIX-based client on Xenon is that you can easily access your mail -- new and stored -- from anywhere you have Internet access. Many students use these systems since they want to be able to access their mail from computers other than their own. On the other hand, Mutt, Pine and Elm are not as user-friendly as some PC clients like Mozilla, Outlook, and Eudora. Additionally, you are limited in the amount of disk space you can use on Xenon, so if you get and keep a lot of mail, you may run out of room which can cause your mail to bounce. Email messages that include HTML or other formatting codes will be difficult to read. Mutt can handle MIME attachments, but neither Elm or Pine deal nicely with email attachments.

Remote clients (Mozilla, Outlook, Eudora)

A remote email client runs on your computer and, when instructed to do so, goes out and checks your email on the Computer Science (or other) system. Email can be stored on your personal computer or on the server. All processing happens on the personal computer.

Remote clients like Mozilla, Outlook, and Eudora have some advantages over shell-based clients. Because the mail can be stored on your own computer, your storage space is virtually unlimited. All remote clients easily handle attachments and HTML messages. You can access multiple email accounts within the client software.

To learn what settings you need to use in your email client, see IMAP/POP Email Settings.


Webmail is a service that allows you to access your email over the Web. Simply login to the system at https://xenon.stanford.edu/webmail (for students and alumni) or https://cs.stanford.edu/webmail (for faculty and staff). From there, you will be viewing your email over the web interface. You'll be able to read your mail, reply, forward, and create new mail. Webmail is generally used for occasional mail reading.

Webmail can be easily accessed through any Internet connection. Webmail can be slow, especially if you have a lot of mail stored on your account. One thing to be aware of is that you are actually reading your inbox on the server, and deleting an email message in Webmail means its gone for good. However, when you read your mail on Webmail, it is still available for reading through UNIX-based shell clients or remote clients.