High-Performance Computing at the NIH

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Getting Started With SquirrelMail

SquirrelMail is a webmail program that allows a Helix user to conveniently, securely, and easily access his email from a web browser.  This can be especially useful for users who are away from the office and may have difficulty accessing email via their normal method.  A SquirrelMail connection is established through SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) so that all communication is done securely via 128-bit encryption.  Hence, communication between the user's browser and Helix is secure and can not be compromised while using SquirrelMail.  Please note that cookies MUST be enabled on a user's browser in order for a user to successfully access his Helix mail via SquirrelMail.

SquirrelMail can be accessed via the following URL:

http://helix.nih.gov/mail

Upon connecting to the above link the user can access his Helix email via SquirrelMail by logging in using his NIH AD (Active Directory) username and password.  With a successful login, the user will see a screen similar to that of Figure 1 with the user's most recent email messages in his main mailbox (listed as INBOX in the Folders area) being displayed.

SquirrelMail Display

Figure 1: Sample of message index screen seen by the user when accesing email via SquirrelMail.

The main message index page has three sections a) the message area in the center, b) the folder selection area, which by default is on the left side, and c) the configuration and options area at the top.

In the message index section, the user can a) read a specific message by clicking on the highlighted Subject header, b) select messages to be saved, moved, deleted or undeleted via the checkbox beside each message, c) expunge messages previously marked for deletion, or d) select another page of messages for viewing.

The folder selection area provides links to additional mail folders within a subdirectory of a user's Helix home directory (/usr/userid/mail bydefault).  The user must subscribe to folders in this mail directory via SquirrelMail before the folders will be displayed in this frame.  In addition, the user can get indication of the folders that have unread messages by the number shown in parentheses to the right of the folder name.

The top section provides links that are accessible from anywhere within SquirrelMail that allow the user to do any of the following:

  1. compose a new message (Compose)
  2. return to the user's main mail folder (Message List)
  3. go to the user's address book (Addresses)
  4. access the folder subscription page (Folders)
  5. modify SquirrelMail display and folder options (Options)
  6. search for messages based on a selected criteria (Search)
  7. access the SquirrelMail help section (Help)

There is also a link in the top right hand corner for logging out of SquirrelMail.

Reading Email Messages

When a user logs into SquirrelMail, messages in the user's main mailbox are shown in the message index area by default.  Messages are by default indexed on date received with the most recent messages being displayed at the top.  Messages can be sorted based on the date, username or subject by clicking on the arrow to the right of the Date, From and Subject column headings, respectively. The indexing can be done on any of the three columns in either forward or reverse ordering.

A user can view his email by clicking on the message subject header shown in the message area.  A new page will be displayed with the selected message as well as several navigational options.  When the user has finished reading a selected message, he can can click on the various options in the message area to do any of the following:

  1. Forward message
  2. Reply to just the sender of the message
  3. Reply to all to whom the message was sent
  4. Delete the message (the message is marked for deletion)
  5. Go to the previous message
  6. Go to the next message
  7. Delete the current message and go to the next message
  8. Delete the current message and go to the previous message
  9. Download the message to the local machine where SquirrelMail is currently being used (not to Helix itself)
  10. Go back to the message
  11. Save (move) the message to a subscribed mail folder.

If the options are enabled, the user can also select to view the full header of the current message or view a "clean" version of the message suitable for printing.  A user can print a message to any printer to which the local machine on which he is using SquirrelMail has access.

The user can view additional message headers by navigating through the messages a page at a time via the links at the bottom of the message index page.  The user can also select to view all messages in his mailbox or another mail folder by clicking on the "Show All" link.

Address Book

While viewing a message, the user can also save the email address of the sender or any of the other recipients to his address book by clicking on the "Take Address" button at the bottom of the message. Upon clicking the "Take Address" button, the user can select the specific email address he wishes to save and provide a user name and a nickname under which the address can be saved in the address book. Please note that the SquirrelMail address book is a separate address book from that which a user might use with Pine or another mail program on the Helix systems. Unfortunately there is no way for a user to import an address book from another mail program into SquirrelMail.

Marking Messages

Messages can be marked for deletion at the message index level by clicking on the checkbox that by default is shown as the leftmost column and clicking on the Delete button. Please note that if the user marks one or messages for deletion, he MUST click on the Delete button before proceeding to another page of messages or else the marked checkboxes will be reset.  As previously mentioned, a message that is being read can also be marked for deletion by clicking the Delete, Delete & Next, or Delete & Prev links located at both the beginning and end of a message. Messages marked for deletion will have the letter 'D' listed in the flags column at the message index level. The user can undelete a message previously marked for deletion, but not yet expunged, by selecting the checkbox to the left of the message in the message area and clicking the "Undelete" button. In a similar manner, messages can be marked as read or unread at the message index level by clicking on the same checkbox to the left of the message and selecting the corresponding button near the top right of the message area.

All messages in the current mail folder can be marked for an operation by clicking the "Toggle All" link.

Messages marked for deletion by the user are not actually removed from the user's mailbox or a selected mail folder until the user clicks on the "Expunge" button back at the message list level. If the user has not specified a mail folder to save deleted messages in through the Folder options (see below), the messages marked for deletion will be completely expunged from the mail folder(s) when the user clicks on the Expunge button. However, if the user has chosen to save deleted messages elsewhere, those marked messages will simply be moved to the specified folder and removed from their current location(s).

Mail Folders

A user can only view messages in mail folders to which he is "subscribed".  While most mail programs automatically subscribe all mail folders, SquirrelMail does not. By default, a user will only be subscribed to his main mailbox (INBOX) when he initially uses SquirrelMail. A user can subscribe to other mail folders (directories) in his Helix home directory by selecting the Folders option at the top of the Squirrelmail screen. By default, the folders listed on this page will be those found in the mail subdirectory in the user's Helix directory (/home/username/mail); however, this can be changed to an alternate directory on the Folder Preferences page under the Options section (see "Changing SquirrelMail Options" section below).

If the user has folders in the mail subdirectory of his Helix directory (/home/username/mail), he can subscribe to any or all of those folders by selecting the desired folders on the right side and clicking the Subscribe button. Depending on the type of local machine on which SquirrelMail is being used, the user might be able to highlight and select a range of folders to select at once; it would seem the Windows environment allows this, but others do not. In a similar manner, a user can unsubscribe to folders to which the user has previously subscribed.

Subscribing to folders in the user's mail directory is required for being able to access messages stored in any of those folders. This is especially important for being able to access any composed messages that the user has saved as drafts. If the user saves a message in the middle of composition for later completion, the user will need to be subscribed to the folder to which the draft is saved (the default is an automatically generated folder named postponed-msgs) in order to later access, complete and send the message.

Messages can be saved to or moved between subscribed folders. This can be accomplished by selecting a message(s) while in the message index view, selecting a folder from the pull-down below "Move Selected To", and clicking on the "Move" button. The selected message(s) will be copied to the selected destination and marked for deletion in the folder from which they were copied. Note that a user must be subscribed to a folder in orderto select it as a destination for a message to be moved.

Under the Folders option, a user can also create, rename and delete folders within the default mail folder, but the user must be subscribed to a folder that he wishes to either delete or rename. In addition, any messages stored in a folder that is selected for deletion by the user will be lost when the folder is deleted.

Composing a Message

Composing a message in SquirrelMail is similar to composing a message in many other mail programs. Figure 2 shows the SquirrelMail window that is displayed for composing a message after the user clicks on the Compose link that is listed among the top line of options. Once a new browser window for composing the message is displayed, the user can enter one or more email addresses for the recipient(s) and then start typing his message in the message area. If the user wishes to use an email address that has been previously saved to his SquirrelMail address book, the desired email address can be accessed by clicking on the Addresses button (not the link) listed above the message area. Within the address book the user can select whether to include any address in the To:, CC:, or BCC: (blind carbon-copy) field of the message by clicking on the appropriate button(s) and then clicking on the "Use Addresses" button.

SquirrelMail Compose Screen

Figure 2: Screen display in SquirrelMail for composing a message.

Composing a message is done simply by typing the desired text in the body section of the message. No special keys strokes are required for inserting or deleting text. Changing the position where text is being added or removed can be done by using either the mouse or the arrow keys on the keyboard to move the cursor.

The user can send the completed message by clicking either of the two "Send" buttons located on the page.

As with other mail programs, SquirrelMail provides the capability for the user to include attachments as part of messages being sent.  Please note that the file to be attached must be located on the local machine on which the user is accessing SquirrelMail - thus, the user will not be able to attach files that he has stored on Helix unless the files are first copied via ftp or scp to the local machine.

If the user wishes to save a message that is being composed, he can save it as a draft by clicking on the "Save Draft" button. The message will be saved to his specified drafts folder, the default of which is an automatically created folder in the user's home mail directory (/home/username/mail) named "postponed_msgs".  To resume composing the draft, the user can do the following:

  1. Select the folder list in which the draft was selected ("postponed_msgs" )
  2. Select the message that he wishes to finish composing
  3. Select the "Resume Draft" link at the top of the message

If the user wishes to abandon a previously saved draft, he can follow the same steps as described above for resuming a draft except that instead of clicking the "Resume Draft" link, he can select the "Delete" link and then click on the Expunge button that is presented on the following page that is displayed.

Customizing SquirrelMail

SquirrelMail allows the user to change many options that affect the way a user reads, composes and organizes his email as well as the "look and feel" of SquirrelMail.

There are five areas in which options can be changed:

  1. Personal Information
  2. Display Preferences
  3. Folder Preferences
  4. Index Order
  5. Message Highlighting

Personal Information

In the Personal Information section, a user can

  1. change the manner in which his name will appear on composed mail,
  2. add an alternate email address to which replies can be addressed,
  3. change the time zone in which the date of messages is displayed,
  4. specify a citation for replies to messages (e.g. " The author wrote:"),
  5. specify an email address to include as a carbon copy or blind carbon copy for all composed messages, or
  6. specify a signature to append to all composed messages.

If the user is interested in having a copy of all composed messages sent to himself, he can either provide an email address in "Additional default CC address for all messages:" section in which case the message will be delivered to his regular mailbox OR he can specify a separate folder for Sent Messages in the Folders Option (see below) to which a copy of the sent message will be automatically directed.

Once any desired changes have been made on this options page, the user must click on the Submit button at the bottom of the page to save and apply the desired changes.  Failure to complete this step will result in the loss of any changes specified on the page.

Display Preferences

The Display Preferences option page offers the user the most items for customizing the look and feel of SquirrelMail. On this options page, the user can modify the following:

  1. general display options, including the color theme, font and language used by SquirrelMail (note that the language option does not translate email messages to the specified language)
  2. mailbox display options, including the number of messages per page, whether to alternate row colors on the index page and the ability to go to a specific page of message headers
  3. options related to the composition and display of messages

Specific information about most of these options can be found within the SquirrelMail Help under Section 7, Options.

Once any desired changes have been made on this options page, the user must click on the Submit button at the bottom of the page to save and apply the changes. Failure to complete this step will result in the loss of any changes specified on the page.

Folder Preferences

The Folder Preferences page allows the user to change defaults with regard to folders that are used for storing messages that have been received, deleted or sent, as well as messages that are in the process of being composed.  A subdirectory in the user's home directory named `mail' is by default the location of folders to be used for SquirrelMail operations.  This is also the default directory that is used by the Pine mail program.  However, if the user wishes to change the default location within his home directory for saving messages, he can change the folder path from "mail/" to another existing subdirectory within his home directory.

Under Folder Preferences, the user can specify 1) whether to save messages that are being deleted from the main mailbox, 2) whether to save a copy of all messages composed and sent via SquirrelMail in a folder and 3) where to save messages that are in the process of being drafted or composed.  Copies of messages that are deleted or sent are not saved by default to any folder - that's what "Do not use Trash" and "Do not use sent" indicate, respectively, on the Folder Options page. The Helix staff recommends that users not save copies of deleted messages as this practice could cause a user to unexpectedly go over his quota.

Two folders, sent-mail and postponed_msgs, are automatically created in a user's mail directory upon the first usage of SquirrelMail if the folders do not previously exist.  These folders are also the defaults used by the Pine mail program so Helix users of Pine might already be using these folders.  By default, copies of sent messages are NOT saved to any folder, but the user can change this by selecting a folder listed in the "Sent Folder" drop-down menu under Folder Preferences. Only those folders to which a user is currently subscribed are available for use as a folder for saving any type of message; thus, it is necessary to subscribe to a folder before selecting it as a location for saving messages (see the Mail Folders section above).

By default, copies of messages that are being drafted and saved for later completion and transmission are saved in an automatically created folder named postponed_mgs.  This default location can also be changed to another folder in the user's default mail directory if he so elects.  It is important to note that the user must be subscribed to the folder to which draft messages are saved in order to be able to later retrieve the draft message for transmission.  The user does not need to be subscribed to the draft messages folder (postponed_msgs or another user specified folder) in order to save the message being drafted, but he must be subscribed to the folder prior to retrieving the draft message for completion.

Once all desired changes have been made on this page,

the user must click on the "Submit" button at the bottom of the Folder Options page in order to save and apply specified changes.  Failure to complete this last step will result in the loss of all specified changes

Message Highlighting

One of the interesting features of SquirrelMail is that it allows a user to highlight or color-code messages in the message list based on the "To:", "From:", "CC:", "To: or CC:" or "Subject:" fields.  This highlighting can be quite useful in quickly identifying messages from a specific sender or perhaps with a certain word or phrase in the Subject line.  The user can specify the color by one of a couple methods in which messages matching the specified field criteria are highlighted.  Once satisfied with his selected highlighting criteria, the user needs to click on the "Done" link on that options page to ensure that any changes made are saved and activated.  An established message highlighting criteria can be edited or deleted by the user on this option page as well.

Index Order

The Index Order options page allows the user to rearrange the ordering of the columns on the message index page. By default, all columns are displayed in the following order, from left to right:

The user can elect to remove any of the columns from the display, with the exception of the Subject column, or change the ordering of the columns by clicking on the up and down links (which correspond to left and right on the display, respectively) beside each column name.  Once satisfied with the selection and ordering of the columns, the user must click the "Return to options page" link to ensure that selected changes are applied and saved.

Search Capabilities

One of the nice features of SquirrelMail is its search capability. By clicking on the Search option at the top of the message index screen, the user can specify a search criteria based on the subject, the body of the message, the sender, the recipients, those specified on the carbon-copy (CC) line, or within any part of the message.  The user can select to perform the search on his main mailbox (INBOX) or any folders to which the user is subscribed.  Once the user has specified a criteria and clicked on the Search button, a list of messages meeting the search criteria are presented from which the user can select to view.

As part of the search capabilities within SquirrelMail, the user can also choose to save search criteria by adjusting the "Message Search History" setting on the Folder preferences page under Options.  By default, search history is not saved, but the user can specify to save up to 9 of the most recent search criteria.

Browser Requirements

According to documentation from the developers, the following browsers are compatible with SquirrelMail:

Please note that the user MUST have cookies enabled on his browser to be able to login and use SquirrelMail.

Automatic Logout

SquirrelMail has a default logout capability following 60 minutes of inactivity on the part of the user. In other words, if a user logs into SquirrelMail and a period of 60 minutes elapses in which the user does not use SquirrelMail, the user will be logged out of the Helix mail session. This is a security feature that hopefully will prevent unauthorized use of a Helix user's mail should a Helix user forget to logout of a SquirrelMail session.

Logging Out of SquirrelMail

A user can terminate his SquirrelMail session by clicking on the "Sign Out" link in the top right-hand corner of any displayed page within SquirrelMail session.

Additional Help

The SquirrelMail program does provide some basic user help via the Help link at the top of the SquirrelMail display. A Table of Contents provides a listing of additional help information on various aspects of SquirrelMail ranging from the changing of one's folder options to the sending and reading mail.

If you are unable to find the answer to a question or problem in either this document or the SquirrelMail Help, please contact the Helix Systems staff at staff@helix.nih.gov and we will do our best to resolve the issue.

Helix Systems Staff
Center for Information Technology