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1 Don’t Panic

Welcome, gentle user, to the Gnus newsreader and email client! Gnus is unlike most clients, in part because of its endless configurability, in part because of its historical origins. Gnus is now a fully-featured email client, but it began life as a Usenet-style newsreader, and its genes are still newsreader genes. Thus it behaves a little differently than most mail clients.

The typical assumptions of a newsreader are:

  1. The server offers a potentially enormous number of newsgroups on a variety of subjects. The user may only be interested in some of those groups, and more interested in some than others.
  2. Many groups see a high volume of articles, and the user won’t want to read all of them. Mechanisms are needed for foregrounding interesting articles, and backgrounding uninteresting articles.
  3. Once a group has been scanned and dealt with by the user, it’s unlikely to be of further interest until new articles come in.

These assumptions lead to certain default Gnus behaviors:

  1. Not all interesting groups are equally interesting, thus groups have varying degrees of “subscribedness”, with different behavior depending on “how subscribed” a group is.
  2. There are many commands and tools for scoring and sorting articles, or otherwise sweeping them under the rug.
  3. Gnus will only show you groups with unread or ticked articles; groups with no new articles are hidden.
  4. When entering a group, only unread or ticked articles are shown, all other articles are hidden.

If this seems draconian, think of it as Automatic Inbox Zero. This is the way Gnus works by default. It is possible to make it work more like an email client (always showing read groups and read articles), but that takes some effort on the part of the user.

The brief introduction below should be enough to get you off the ground.

The Basics of Servers, Groups, and Articles

The fundamental building blocks of Gnus are servers, groups, and articles. Servers can be local or remote. Each server maintains a list of groups, and those groups contain articles. Because Gnus presents a unified interface to a wide variety of servers, the vocabulary doesn’t always quite line up (see Glossary, for a more complete glossary). Thus a local maildir is referred to as a “server” (see Finding the News) the same as a Usenet or IMAP server is; “groups” (see Group Buffer) might mean an NNTP group, IMAP folder, or local mail directory; and an “article” (see Summary Buffer) might elsewhere be known as a message or an email. Gnus employs unified terms for all these things.

Servers fall into two general categories: “news-like”, meaning that the articles are part of a public archive and can’t be manipulated by the user; and “mail-like”, meaning that the articles are owned by the user, who can freely edit them, move them around, and delete them.

For news-like servers, which typically offer hundreds or thousands of groups, it’s important to be able to subscribe to a subset of those groups. For mail-like servers, the user is generally automatically subscribed to all groups (though IMAP, for example, also allows selective subscription). To change group subscription, enter the Server buffer (with ^) and press RET on the server in question. From here, Gnus provides commands to change or toggle your group subscriptions (see Browse Foreign Server).

A Gnus installation is basically just a list of one or more servers, plus the user’s subscribed groups from those servers, plus articles in those groups.

Servers can be added and configured in two places: in the user’s gnus.el startup file, using the gnus-select-method and gnus-secondary-select-methods options, or within Gnus itself using interactive commands in the Server buffer. See Finding the News, for details.

Fetching Mail

New mail has to come from somewhere. Some servers, such as NNTP or IMAP, are themselves responsible for fetching newly-arrived articles. Others, such as maildir or mbox servers, only store articles and don’t fetch them from anywhere.

In the latter case, Gnus provides for mail sources: places where new mail is fetched from. A mail source might be a local spool, or a remote POP server, or some other source of incoming articles. Mail sources are usually configured globally, but can be specified per-group (see Mail Sources for more information).

See Scanning New Messages, for details on fetching new mail.

Viewing Mail

By default, Gnus’s Group buffer only displays groups with unread articles. It is always possible to display all the groups temporarily with L, and to configure Gnus to always display some groups (see Listing Groups).

See Selecting a Group, for how to enter a group, and see Summary Buffer for what to do once you’re there.

Sending Mail

New message composition can be initiated from the Group buffer (see Misc Group Stuff). If you’re in a Summary buffer, you can compose replies and forward emails in addition to starting new messages, see Summary Mail Commands, for details.

For information about what happens once you’ve started composing a message, see Composing Messages. For information on setting up SMTP servers in particular, see Mail Variables in Message manual.

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