Using Telnet to Check Your Email

Like a lot of people at this time of year I went home for a few days. It was great to get home for a while, but it has it’s downside – no broadband. So I was transported back to the the dark days of dial-up.

It’s been so long since I used dial-up that I’d forgotten how slow it is. Even checking email can take an age. So here’s a quick guide on how to use telnet to do a quick email check.

Before you start, you’ll need three pieces of information:

  • your mail server address,
  • your user name, and
  • your password.

Once you have these, open a command prompt and type:

telnet mail.server.tld 110

It might take a couple of seconds, but you should get a response from the server. Something along the lines of:

+OK server ready

The next step is to logon to the server with your user credentials:

Enter your user name:

user user name

If the user name has been accepted, the server will respond with:


Now enter your password:

pass password

If you have provided the correct password, then you should get the following server response:

+OK Logged in

To see if you have any messages, you can use either of the following commands:




The list command will return a list of all messages and their respective sizes, while the stat command will return the total number of messages and the total size.

Sample output from the list command:

+OK 2 messages:1 11952 2365.

Sample output from the stat command:

+OK 2 3560

You’ll note from the output of the list command, that each email is numbered. To read your emails, use the retr command:

retr 1

This command will display the entire email message including the headers. If you want to view just part of the message, then use the top command.

top 1 20

The above command will return the first 20 lines of email number one on the server, not including the email headers.

If like me, you receive a lot of spam, then you might want to delete an email without actually downloading it. This is accomplished using the dele command.

dele 1

The server should respond with a success code:

+OK Marked to be deleted

Be very careful when using this command, as any email messages deleted using this method are irretrievable and gone forever. There are no “Trash” or “Deleted Items” folders on the server.

As a side note, these commands are part of the official POP3 standard, and as such are the commands used by all email programs to retrieve email from POP email servers. (IMAP is a different standard, and uses different commands.)

If you want to send an email, then a different protocol must be used: SMTP, and that’s another post.