Mail without a mail client: Accessing your POP mail through TELNET

An introductory article that shows how its possible to check your POP email through Telnet, using the basic POP commands. This article was published in I.T. Magazine in May 2001.

Introduction

Picture this situation: You use a POP email account provided by your ISP, and you’re expecting a very urgent mail that evening. And all of a sudden your mail client crashes!! Most ISPs don’t have browser based access to mail, so now you’re in a fix, with NO way of accessing your mail…except for one…

Telnet.

Telnet? Well, yes. It’s a small utility that allows you to connect and login to remote machines, and today we shall see how we can use it for mail checking purposes.

First, click on the start menu(I’m assuming you’re running windows and that you’re on the Net by now) and select ‘Run’. Now type in “telnet” and press OK. The telnet window opens, and now we’re going to connect to the remote mail server, and read our mail…

Connecting to the server

First Click on Connect, and select “Remote System”…
Enter the address of your ISP’s POP3 server in “hostname”. In my case it’s pop.mail.yahoo.com.
Then enter the port as 110 (POP3 uses 110 as its default port), and click Connect.

The Telnet program would now try to connect to the port 110 of the server that you specified as hostname, and once it’s connected, you should get something like this:

+OK hello from popgate

Now type in this(substitute “username” with your username):

user username

Note that you will NOT be able to see what you write, as your keystrokes are being sent directly to the server. And since this is a command, you end it with a newline character(Enter Key). The server should send back something like:

+OK password required.

The server is now saying, “OK, so I have a person of that name on my list, now give me the password” . So you give:

pass password

If you password is correct, the server responds with:

+OK maildrop ready, 2 messages

This means that it’s ready to send you the mail, and there’s 2 messages waiting for you.
To list them, type this( and press enter):

list

And we get:

+OK 1 message (1792 octets)
1 1492
2 300
.

Notice the ‘.’ and the end of the list – this is the standard mail protocol. Everything ends with a ‘.’ in a new line. I want to retrieve the 2nd message, so I enter the command:

retr 2

This will retrieve the entire 2nd message, like this:

+OK 300 octets
From: “Arnab Nandi”
To: “Arnab Nandi”
Subject: Hello there!!
Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2001 10:16:32 +0530
Hi there!!
.

(Notice the ‘.’ ends the message here too) So I have read the message which I sent to myself. My work is done, and now I can logout. So I type

quit

And the server will send a final message

+OK server signing off.

And Telnet will get disconnected from the server.

There’s more things that you can do in POP3: you can list the headers using the “top” command, delete files using “dele”, undelete marked files, and check your mailbox statistics. [See POP3 Guide]. It’s best to experiment a little by sending mail to yourself – once you’re good at it, you’ll discover that you can simply go to any friends house, and check your POP mail!

When we use a mail client like Eudora, or Outlook Express, the client does EXACTLY the same things that we did – it’s only that these things are automated, so you don’t get to know. But now you do know how it works… so next time your mail client crashes, DON’T PANIC!!

POP3 Guide:

Port number: 110

Commands :

user name – enter login name
pass string – enter password
stat – show statistics of email account
list [n] – list statistics of all messages
or message number n
top n nlines – show header of message number n
and n lines of the body
retr n – show header and body of message number n
dele n – delete message number n
rset – unmark deleted messages
quit – close and quit transmission

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