9.4 Getting FTP Files via E-mail
Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet

Go to Table of Contents. Visit Gifcom.

    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from historical documents to software (but please note that if you do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:
      mail-server@rtfm.mit.edu  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.
      archive-server@eff.org  Information about the Electronic Frontier
Foundation; documents about legal issues on the Net.
      archive-server@cs.widener.edu  Back copies of the Computer
Underground Digest and every possible fact you could want to know about
"The Simpsons."
      netlib@uunet.uu.net  Programs for many types of personal computers;
archives of past postings from many Usenet newsgroups.
      archive-server@ames.arc.nasa.gov  Space-related text and graphics
(GIF-format) files.
      service@nic.ddn.mil  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
     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
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
     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
                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 300000.  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 9.2 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 mail-server@rtfm.mit.edu:
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.