Search | Directories | Reference Tools
UW Home > Discover UW > IT Connect > Alpine Messaging System 
 Search the Alpine Messaging System site

Customization and Configuration

6.1 Where does Alpine look for configuration information?

The Alpine Release Notes (Press "R" when on the [M]AIN MENU) contain a section on Configuration (down near the bottom in the ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section), including default file names and environment variables. Almost all personal configuration can be accomplished through the SETUP command (Press "S Setup" when on the [M]AIN MENU.

Unix Alpine uses three configuration files: a system-wide defaults file, a system-wide non-overrideable settings file, and a personal coniguration file (.pinerc in the user's home directory). Note that the file name is still .pinerc. That's because that is the name of the file that was used by Pine and Alpine is really just an upgrade of Pine.
If, for some reason, you need to generate a blank personal configuration file, run
"alpine -pinerc pinerc.blank".
If you need to generate a "blank" copy of the system wide configuration files (can usually only be done by systems administrator), run
"alpine -conf > /usr/local/lib/pine.conf".

6.1.1 How can I get a fresh copy of my Alpine configuration file?

If you run "alpine -pinerc new_pinerc_file_name" you will get a fresh copy of your .pinerc configuration information placed into the file "new_pinerc_file_name" with the options you are using set. It will also have fresh comments, and then everything in the config screen and the pinerc file should match. Old variables that are no longer being used will disappear. If you ever plan on editing your .pinerc file in the future (and don't want to be confused by obsolete comments), it would be a good idea to run the command: "alpine -pinerc .pinerc", or in the case of PC-Alpine: "alpine -pinerc \alpine\pinerc" (assuming your pinerc file is in the \alpine directory on your PC.)

Almost all configuration by a particular user should be done from within Alpine using the Setup commands rather than by editing the configuration file directly. The help text for each configuration variable that is available from within Alpine is also much, much better than the comments in the configuration file itself.

6.2 Can I customize Alpine on a per folder basis?

A small set of features can be set up to be different for different folders or folder types. You will find the per folder customization options in the Main menu, under [S]etup, [R]ules, [O]ther. Some information on what is settable is contained in the Alpine Technical Notes under Other Rule Actions.

Another possibility is to use configuration options which apply to the whole Alpine session rather than to particular folders. To do that you would have several custom .pinerc files and shell aliases which use them. For example if you want alpine to behave a certain way when you are reading newsgroups, you might copy your .pinerc to a new one that you will customize for newsreading:

cp .pinerc .pinerc-news

Then you can start Alpine using the separate configuration file with the command:

alpine -p .pinerc-news

After doing that, you can make all the changes you want to settings to make life easier when reading news, and save the configuration. If it is a problem to enter that alpine command every time, add this line to your .cshrc file:

alias alpinen 'alpine -p .pinerc-news'

to create an "alpinen" command. You could add to that and have the configuration file use the "initial-keystroke-list" variable to go to the newsgroups list. E.g.,


You can also do a lot with the alpine command line options and a shell alias for that.

For more information on Alpine Command Line Options use "alpine -h" or view the Alpine Technical Notes concerning Alpine Command Line Options.

6.3 Can Alpine be used with a POP server?

You can access a POP server in "online" mode. That is, Alpine will start a POP3 session and keep it open until the mailbox is closed. Due to the nature of the POP3 protocol, Alpine will not see any new mail which arrives during the POP3 session. Thus new mail only arrives upon starting a session.

To access the message INBOX on a POP3 server, use the folder definition syntax:


or, especially useful if your POP account user-id is different from the one in your Alpine configuration:


where pop3server is the hostname of the POP3 server, and popuserid is your user-id for your POP account. However, this method accesses the POP server in quasi-online mode, not in offline mode, which POP was designed for. Accessing the inbox on a POP3 server with Alpine does not preserve changes to message flags (New, Answered, Deleted, etc.) between sessions.

As an alternative, a program such as fetchmail can be used to download email from a POP server to a local Unix account, where it can then be accessed with Alpine. fetchmail can be obtained from:

For a more detailed comparison of the POP and IMAP protocols, and discussion of the various message access modes (online, offline, disconnected), see:

Message Access Paradigms and Protocols
RFC-1733: Distributed Electronic Mail Models in IMAP4

Alpine does not support the old POP2 protocol.

6.4 Why does my message index show From: instead of To:?

If the user has manually changed their From: header, or can receive mail with other addresses, Alpine must be aware of these alternate addresses, by having them entered in in the Alternate Addresses option in SETUP CONFIGURATION.

See also the FAQ: "6.5 How do I change my 'From:' line?."

The following is concerned with Alpine displaying the user's own name, rather than the name of the recipient, in folder index listings of messages they have sent. This occurs when Alpine detects the specific hostname of the computer on which it is running in the From: header. To avoid this from happening, set Use Only Domain Name in Alpine's SETUP CONFIGURATION menu to Yes; this strips the name of the specific host from your From: address. Alternatively, specify your domain name in user-domain (be sure you enter it correctly, otherwise all your outgoing messages will have an invalid return address! Ask your local computing support people if in doubt). When setting either of these options, also read the help screen for Prevent User Lookup in Password File to see whether you should enable that feature too.

Administrators of systems where Alpine exhibits this behavior should also check the /etc/hosts file for invalid entries; as an example, it should read:

  123.456.78.90   hostname.domain    hostname

not just

  123.456.78.90   hostname

-- otherwise, users' setting of use-only-domain-name to Yes will not have the intended effect.

6.5 How do I change my 'From:' line?

From Alpine's [M]AIN MENU, choose [S]etup, then [C]onfig. Move down to the Customized Headers option. Press "A Add Value". Use the format:

        From: "My Real Name" <>

Note: You may wish to configure Default Composer Headers so you can easily change the From: line when composing new messages. The process is the same as adding to the Customized Headers entry. If you use this setting, remember that you must specify all the headers you want to see; simply changing the value to From: will make From: your only visible header.

Press Return to accept the change, and "E Exit Setup".

Note: Changing the "From:" line may not give you the anonymity you desire, since the "Sender:" or "X-Sender:" line may still include your entire email address.

A thorough guide concerning this subject is available at infinite ink by Nancy Mcough at the URL:

6.6 How do I define my own headers like Reply-To and Organization?

From Alpine's [M]AIN MENU, choose [S]etup, then [C]onfig. Move down to the Customized Headers option and read the context-sensitive help screen.

6.7 How can I have a signature automatically appended to my mail messages?

From Alpine's MAIN MENU, choose Setup, then Signature. The text you enter in the SIGNATURE EDITOR will be appended to all messages you compose. With the "Signature at Bottom" feature in SETUP CONFIGURATION, you can alter the placement of the text in replies (but not forwards).

You can create multiple signature files outside of Alpine (using, for example, the Pico editor) and then include whichever one you wish, wherever you wish, in a message you are composing in Alpine via the Read File command in the composer. If the file names you choose are very short (e.g. s1, s2) this is relatively painless.

6.8 Can I reduce the frequent prompting to confirm an operation?

If you find Alpine's tendency to ask you for confirmation on certain operations annoying, you may suppress several of the prompts. In the SETUP CONFIGURATION screen, reached from the MAIN MENU, look for the features containing the word confirm in their name. Read their help screens to be sure you understand what enabling these features will do.

6.9 How can I filter messages into different incoming folders?

Alpine supports mail filtering, see the Alpine Technical Notes for more information.

However, the function of other programs, such as (on Unix hosts) "procmail" or "mailagent" are better suited for this task. For details on procmail, see ii Procmail Qstart (by Nancy McGough):

Once you have successfully set up your delivery filtering, you will have new mail arriving in several different folders, in addition to your Inbox. You can then access these folders just like any other mail folder. You can also define a collection of incoming message folders in Alpine, through which you can then TAB to read new messages. For more information, see Alpine's internal help on the Enable Incoming Folders Collection feature in Alpine's SETUP CONFIGURATION menu.

If you are looking for a way to move multiple messages that you have already received, see FAQ 4.5: How do I use Alpine's aggregate operations?

6.10 How do I control what is displayed in the FOLDER INDEX screen?

The display of fields in the FOLDER INDEX screen can be customized. For example, you can choose to have both the From and the To field (by default, the FOLDER INDEX will list the From address unless it is you, then it will list the To address) of each message shown; to suppress the message number display in each line; or to have the Subject field take up 60% of the line width. From Alpine's MAIN MENU, choose Setup, then Config. Then search for the Index Format option (using the WhereIs command) and read the context-sensitive help screen.

6.11 How can I control association of MIME-attachments with applications and filenames?

This requires one, and possibly two, configuration changes, which may already have been performed by your system administrator:

  1. Create a mailcap file that associates the MIME-type of the attachment with the application you wish to use to open files of that MIME-type; see the section MIME: Reading a Message in the Alpine Technical Notes for the name and location of mailcap file(s) on different platforms. (For further information on MIME, see What is MIME?.)
  2. You can control which filename extension (which is shown in the message MIME-attachment) is associated with which MIME-type by creating a mimetype file; see the section MIME.Types file in the Alpine Technical Notes for the name and location of mimetype file(s) on different platforms. You may need to do this to preserve the filename extension in the temporary file that PC-Alpine creates to pass attachment data to the associated Windows-application, if that application requires a certain (temporary) filename extension to open that file; or to make sure that a MIME-attachment with a certain filename extension is opened in the application you desire, even if the MIME-type as identified in the incoming message is not exactly the one which you specified in your mailcap file, which may be the case if the application you have is not of the same version as the application the sender used to create the attachment file that s/he sent to you. This also controls the MIME-typing for messages you send; for example, to assure that files with the extension .PDF are sent as a MIME attachment of type application/acrobat.

Note: many files attached to email messages (though not email messages themselves) can contain viruses -- unless from a trustworthy source, don't open them without checking them for viruses first, as far as possible! If in doubt about the nature of an attachment, ask the sender what application was used to create it; and/or ask the sender to resend the message with the attachment, this time disabling any special encoding techniques that his/her email software may be employing.

Here are a sample MAILCAP file for PC-Alpine:

# All lines beginning with the # symbol are comments.

# As some long directory and/or filenames suggest,
# the examples here are for a PC running the Windows95 operating 

# These examples using certain third-party software programs do not 
# constitute any recommendation thereof by the University of 

# Open image files with Paintshop Pro for viewing/editing:
image/*;"C:\Program Files\Paint Shop Pro\Psp.exe" %s

# Play audio and video files via Internet Explorer WWW browser:
audio/*;"C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\Iexplore.exe" %s
video/*;"C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\Iexplore.exe" %s

# View HTML files with Netscape WWW browser:
text/html;"C:\Program Files\netscape\Navigator\program\netscape.exe" 

# Unpack ZIPed archives with WinZip:
application/zip;"C:\Program Files\WinZip\WinZip32.exe" %s

# View PDF files with Acrobat Reader:
application/pdf;"C:\Acrobat3\Reader\AcroRd32.exe" %s

#You can add other entries below for other MIME types...

and a sample MIMETYPE file for PC-Alpine:

# All lines beginning with the # symbol are comments.

# Line format: MIME Type/Subtype, associated filename extensions.

text/plain                     txt dat 
text/html                      html htm

audio/basic                    au snd

audio/x-realaudio              ra ram
audio/x-wav                    wav

image/gif                      gif
image/jpeg                     jpeg jpg jpe
image/tiff                     tiff tif

video/mpeg                     mpeg mpg mpe
video/quicktime                qt mov

application/postscript         ai eps ps
application/rtf                rtf
application/pdf                pdf
application/zip                zip

which you can copy and edit as needed to conform to the location of applications on your system (in the MAILCAP file), and to the filename extensions of files (in the MIMETYPE file). (Note: Unix Alpine uses different pathnames and applications than PC-Alpine.)

6.12 How can I read a ROT13 encoded message?

Applies to Alpine for Unix only
When viewing the message, use the '|' (Pipe) command and give it the following:

        tr '[A-Za-z]' '[N-ZA-Mn-za-m]'

Or write a script including the above line, and pipe the message to the script. Note: the pipe command only works when the Enable Unix Pipe Commnd feature is set.

6.13 Does Alpine offer color support?


For the most part, from the [M]ain Menu select [S]etup followed by [K]olor -- [C] was already taken :). For index coloring from the Setup menu, select [R]ules, [I]ndexcoloring.

6.14 How can I perform spell checking with PC-Alpine for Windows?

You must install the aspell library code that you may get from You'll need to download and install both Aspell and a precompiled dictionary. Aspell is provided in an installer package. Dictionaries, to be installed after Aspell, are in '.exe' files to download and run.