Comms Corner 4 - originally published in the November 1995 issue of PCW Plus.

So, you've now got a working knowledge of e-mail. What you may not know, however, is that e-mail also gives you access to a wide variety of Internet applications without requiring a full access Net account. Instead of using a given Internet tool interactively, you simply send a message containing instructions to a server, which then interprets your commands and acts upon them. This makes it possible to take advantage of many Net applications with nothing more than a cheap BBS e-mail only account.

One of e-mail's simplest yet most useful extracurricular activities is the mailing-list. These are special interest discussion lists that anyone can subscribe to. Every time someone contributes a message to the list, a copy is automatically posted to all subscribers. There are literally thousands of lists in existence, some very busy, some so specialised that they have hardly any traffic at all. For an exhaustive index, send a message to with the command list global in the body. Be warned that this is a very large file.

As a specific example of how to subscribe to a mailing-list, if you're interested in programming under CP/M, send an e-mail to with a blank subject line and subscribe cpm-l name in the body. Replace name with your full name (not e-mail address) and you will be added to the subscriber database. Traffic on the list is quite low, so you needn't worry about being swamped with e-mail. A detailed list of commands recognised by the list-server, including all-important details of how to remove yourself from the list should you tire of it, will be sent to you when you subscribe.

Finger is a very useful tool for obtaining information about other Internet users, such as when someone to whom you have sent important e-mail last checked his post-box. Details on how to use this and many other useful (and some just plain bizarre) services via e-mail can be obtained by sending an e-mail with the word help in the subject line to If you want to find out when I last logged on to my Internet provider's computer, for example, send a message with the subject line finger If, however, you want a document translated into the phonetic English of the Muppet Show's Swedish Chef, send it to the Infobot with chef in the subject line!

You may have heard of the World Wide Web. This relatively recent addition to the range of Internet tools is responsible for much of the current hype. We'll be looking at it in more detail later in this series, but for those of you who can't wait or don't have WWW access, it's nice to know that some kind people have set up a server that will e-mail WWW pages to you upon request. The only catch is that you have to know in advance the address of the page you want (popularly called a URL), making so-called Net-surfing impractical via e-mail. For full instructions, send an e-mail message containing the word help in the body to As an example of how to fetch a page, send a message containing the following text: go A copy of Future Publishing's home page will be e-mailed back to you, which you can then use as a starting point (or jumping-off point, if you insist) for your travels. This way of retrieving Web pages is less than ideal, however, because they are returned in the original HTML browser format, making them rather awkward to read.

Before the Web became so popular, the most popular Internet application was Gopher. Gopher is once again an application for tracking down and retrieving information, but differs from the Web in being more hierarchical (think of a family tree). A Gopher e-mail server exists at Once again, you should put help in the body of a message to receive full details of the service. Gopher is very easy to use via e-mail. Information is mailed to you in the form of menus, which you choose from by placing a cross next to your selection and then posting the entire menu back to the server. You will then receive the next menu or, if you are at the end of the search path, the final document.

To finish off with, one for the film fans. Send a message with the familiar plea for help to, and you'll receive information on how to consult an absolutely gigantic film database.

A word of warning for those of you who are charged for Internet e-mail by the byte: some of the documents returned by non-human respondents can be very large, so explore carefully and err on the side of caution.

Next month, we'll continue our exploration of e-mail with a look at FTP-mail, a means of downloading programs and other types of files via e-mail!

© 1997. Page last updated 31st December 1997