High-Performance Computing at the NIH

RSS Feed
Email on the Helix Systems

Each Helix user may receive mail at an address of the form username@helix.nih.gov, e.g. jdoe@helix.nih.gov, where username is the same as your login name.

Helix users may read and send mail while either directly logged into Helix or remotely, by means of an IMAP (Internet message access protocol) client such as Eudora, Mozilla Thunderbird or Outlook Express.

A 1-gigabyte limit is placed on each Helix user's default mailbox. Beyond a GB, users need to save messages elsewhere, either in their Helix home directories (alpine, IMAP) or on their desktop systems (IMAP). There is also a size limit on individual messages; currently this stands at 100 MB inbound and outbound.

Accessing Helix Mail using a Desktop Client

Helix mail can be read remotely, i.e. without logging directly onto Helix, using a mail program such as Eudora, Outlook Express, or Thunderbird. These programs use the IMAP protocol for mail communications between a user's desktop machine and Helix. See http://helix.nih.gov/Email/imap.html for links to IMAP configuration instructions.

Accessing Helix Mail while logged on to Helix

The recommended program for users who logon to Helix to read their mail directly is alpine (formerly known as pine). Alpine is a full-featured, modern mail program supporting features such as MIME attachments. It has built-in, context-sensitive help and is easy to configure.
Introduction to Unix Pine
Getting Started with Email using Pine
Pine FAQ

Accessing Helix Mail from Outside NIH

Travelers and other users who are connecting from a non-NIH network can now use our new Web mail service, SquirrelMail. Just point your Web browser to http://helix.nih.gov/mail. Your browser will need to both support SSL encryption (most modern browsers such as Netscape 4+ and IE 5+ will do this) and accept cookies. You should test this URL and get comfortable with SquirrelMail in advance while still at NIH, with a browser configuration as close as possible to what you anticipate using remotely. Note that SquirrelMail may be slower than the other methods above, especially if your Helix mailbox is very large.
Getting Started with SquirrelMail

It is also possible to use a traditional mail client (Eudora, Outlook Express, etc.) from a remote site. Some reconfiguration is required. Specifically, the NIH firewall no longer permits inbound mail connections direct to NIH mail servers, including Helix, from outside NIH. Therefore, you will need to change the SMTP Mail Server specification from helix to a host that is "local" to where you might be. You may need to ask someone at your remote site for an appropriate SMTP Server hostname to use. You should not change your IMAP/POP/Incoming Mail setting; this remains helix.nih.gov.

Forwarding Helix Mail To Another Address

N.B. Per HHS Policy (HHS Usage of Unauthorized External Information Systems to Conduct Department Business Memorandum, Jan 8, 2014), forwarding of NIH mail to external addresses is no longer permitted.

Mail forwarding is supported for those who prefer to have Helix mail directed to another NIH address. You will need to know your Helix login name and password, and the desired destination address. Log into Helix, and, while in your home directory, use an editor such as pico to create and edit a file named .forward (the dot at the start of this filename is required). Place the desired destination address in the file, save, and quit. Command line alternatives to an editor often suffice. For example, to forward mail to the address myaccount@mail.nih.gov, you could type the following at the Helix prompt:

echo 'myaccount@mail.nih.gov' > ~/.forward

Multiple recipient addresses may be entered in a .forward file, one per line. To keep mail on Helix as well as forward it elsewhere, include just your Helix login name as one such address. Note that a .forward file only affects new mail. If desired, use your regular mail reading program to re-mail existing messages.

Upon request, a "forwarding notification" service can be arranged for Helix accounts that close. We offer 6 months of bouncing messages along with an indication of your new address. After that, messages simply bounce as "no such user."

Email SPAM and Virus Checking

Incoming email to Helix users is checked for both spam and viruses. Messages that match known spam "signatures" will be quarantined at the NIH/Internet border and will not be delivered to users' mailboxes. Messages containing known viruses will be dropped entirely.

Additionally, messages that reveal strong evidence of spam through heuristic analysis will be flagged with Potential SPAM: in the subject line. Users can set up their mail clients to redirect such mail into a special folder but should review these messages occasionally to check for false positives. The algorithms used by the heuristic method are carefully designed but not foolproof; therefore we recommend that users review these messages before discarding them.

If you would like to automatically direct Potential SPAM to a separate folder, here are instructions for configuring several popular mail clients:

Outlook Express: http://helix.nih.gov/Email/outlookexpressfilter.html
Outlook: http://helix.nih.gov/Email/outlookfilter.html
Eudora: http://helix.nih.gov/Email/eudorafilter.html
Mac Mail: http://helix.nih.gov/Email/macfilter.html
Alpine: http://helix.nih.gov/Email/pinefilter.html

If you have questions or concerns about either the virus or spam checking services, please contact the Helix Systems staff at staff@helix.nih.gov.

Notifying Correspondents When You're Away

The vacation program provides a mechanism for automatically e-mailing "out of office" or "on vacation" notices to the senders of messages you receive, so that the senders understand their messages may not have been read in a timely manner. On Helix the leavetown and backintown programs are the easiest ways to turn notifications on and off, respectively. For more information on these programs, type 'man vacation', 'man leavetown', and 'man backintown' on helix.

More on Mailbox Quotas

Helix users have a default mail quota of 1 GB. A user whose mailbox is over 1 GB will receive an e-mailed warning message. Messages will be repeated after 7 and 14 days if the mailbox remains over 1 GB. After 21 days, the user's mail file is compressed and moved to /mailcorral/username/mail-yymmdd.gz, where yymmdd represents the date on which the mail was compressed and moved. The compressed mail files are deleted after 3 months.

Users who need their mail restored to their active mailbox should contact the Helix staff at staff@helix.nih.gov or 301-496-4824. Once the compressed mail is restored, the mailbox will be over quota again, and so this should be viewed as a temporary solution. Users are therefore encouraged to save messages into folders on their local machine or their Helix home directories.

It is also possible for users to access the gzipped mail themselves by following the instructions below, replacing 'username' with the Helix user ID, and 'mail-yymmdd' with the actual filename.

  1. Log on to Helix. If you need help logging in to Helix, contact the NIH IT Service Desk at 301-496-4357.
  2. Type mkdir /scratch/username. If you get the message 'Cannot create directory; File exists', you already have a /scratch/username directory and can ignore this step.
  3. Type the following commands:
gunzip -c /mailcorral/username/mail-yymmdd.gz > /scratch/username/mail-yymmdd
alpine -f /scratch/username/mail-yymmdd

Note that files in /scratch which have not been accessed in 14 days are automatically deleted. For more information about disk space on the Helix Systems, see here.