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Remote Access to POP mailboxes


This article covers ways by which one can access mail whilst it is still on the server in a POP Mailbox to delete files know to have viruses or with attachments too large to download. The original requirement arose because there are circumstances when Norton Antivirus does not seem to capable of intercepting an email with a virus and complete the downloading ie it leaves a copy on the server which one can never get rid of. I have heard of one person with several dozen emails inaccessible on the server. I also use various remote techniques to look at my mailbox when operating on the mobile telephone especially when mail takes a long time to download and I need to find and deal with any huge email(s) which are causing a problem.

There are 4 ways I will discuss here:

  1. Use of Remote Mail in Microsoft Outlook 97, 98 or 2000
  2. Use of an ISPs own WebMail Interface
  3. Use of other WebMail interfaces such as mail2web and e-mailanywhere
  4. Telnet
They all have advantages and disadvantages in ease of use, speed of use, flexibility and security. The order of the list reflects my preference (but as a user of Outlook 98 rather than Outlook Express).

Remote Mail in Microsoft Outlook

The full Microsoft Outlook provided as part of the Microsoft Office suites or bought stand-alone has some advantages over the free Outlook Express provided as part of the Internet Explorer. A major useful feature which is not in the Express versions is Remote Mail. Briefly this enables one to simply download the mail headers which contain the sender, title, size and whether there are attachments. You can then chose whether to download, download a copy or delete each one whilst it is still on the server. This is exactly what is needed to clean out viruses from the POP mailbox and intercept huge attachments.

Outlook Remote Mail It is very easy to use. The easiest way to access it is via Views -> Toolbars and click Remote. This adds an extra toolbar which can be dragged where you want it. On the left is Connect which uses your existing settings to provide a Wizard taking you through the list of servers which you wish to access and handles the transfers and other actions. I prefer to connect to the Internet before using Connect but it will make a Dial Up Connection automatically to each server. It keeps you informed at every stage what it is going to do and the progress. After all the headers have been retrieved you can use the other buttons to mark to delete, mark to download or mark to download a copy of each message. The Clear button hides the toolbar. After you have marked each header with what you want to do you just use Connect again and any new Headers will be downloaded and all the other actions you specified are implemented.

If you load Microsoft Outlook onto an existing system then you need to make sure it is being checked by any existing Virus Checker. McAfee Virus checking needs the Outlook option checked in the configuration settings and then integrates fully including providing buttons on the Outlook toolbars to configure and check for Viruses. Norton needs Outlook to be manually configured if you load Outlook after Norton. The Norton help files explain how but in summary on the Server tab the POP server address is replaced by and the mail address has the POP server added to the end of account name after a /.

WebMail from your ISP

Many ISPs now provide a Web Interface to their email, usually on their web site. This is the easiest way to access email from an Internet cafe and is ideal for deleting virus infected mail or huge attachments whilst still on the server. It is less good for accessing mail on you own machine on a regular basis as most of the interfaces are slow and "Clunky" and may not give a good protection against viruses if you download attachments or mail.

WebMail from independent sources.

A number of web sites provide a Web interface to your mailbox. You have to enter your Account Name and Password. The address of the POP server is also required and most of the interfaces try to guess the likely address, usually without success, so you have to use some form of advanced option and specify it. This sort of configuration information is covered more fully in my article Recovering from Internet and Email Disasters - what you need to do to restore contact which uses Freeserve, Freezone and Fasthosts as examples.

The main concern with these general WebMail interface is security as you are giving your password to an unknown site so you need to use one which is well known and respected. I know of two candidates. Fasthosts, who do not have their own WebMail interface, recommend www.e-mailanywhere.com. I have used www.mail2web.com for their newsreader interface (www.news2web.com) and they have been around for several years and are recommended on several major sites. I have done searches for security concerns and both seem to be well known, used by major sites and are probably free of serious security concerns. If you are worried you should change your password periodically.

mail2web is simple and seems to hold little or nothing on the site which reduces the security risk. You can also choose to use a completely encrypted link to access the mailbox. It is not good at guessing the POP server address so expect to enter it every time - hopefully we are not talking about using such an interface very often. It is found at www.mail2web.com. There is an option of a completely secure (encrypted) option which may be the best to use.

E-mailanywhere is a Webmail interface suggested by the FastHosts support line. It is at www.e-mailanywhere.com and it looks legitimate. I have used it with success on one of my "spare" accounts and it works fine provided the first time you use it you have mail waiting. It does not show the Inbox the first time if it is empty and gives some message about synchronisation. After that it is very impressive allowing you to keep an online address book and limited numbers of emails you have sent them etc. It even has a "briefcase" where you can keep up to 5 Mbytes of files you need to access from other places such as Internet cafes. There must be some risk of being hacked into if you store too much online but probably not much more risky than any other Webmail. The firm is Canadian and it is free - it is a probably a loss leader towards some of their professional packages as a business ISP which seem to use the same interface for "Road Warriors".


I initially ruled Telnet out as much too complex and with much too old fashioned an interface for most modern users. It will however do the job in a much more secure way than an unknown WebMail. The following exposition has been provided to me by Mike Warlow with the need to delete emails on the server in mind.


A First Quick Introduction to using Telnet

Go to start/run and type the following: telnet {pop3.server name} 110 - hit enter,

eg telnet pop3.freeserve.net 110    after a short delay you should see a message in the telnet window at the top starting with '+OK'. If you can see this you are connected. (If you get an error message it may be that your server (eg fasthost) expects to see "mail" instead of "pop3")

user {your username} hit enter - eg user username.freeserve.co.uk

You should see '+OK'

pass {your password} - hit enter eg pass password this is case sensitive

You should see '+OK'

There are various commands available:

list (will return all messages) with sizes

retr (whatever number will retrieve that message) eg retr 1

retr will return the e mail to the telnet window. You cannot scroll back up the window so the best thing to do is to enable logging: In the preferences menu select start logging enter a file name and hit return. you can then enter view the file in your WP later to see who the e-mail was from and get the sender to resend or whatever.

dele (+ number will delete that number message) eg dele 1

quit (Will close the sesion. No changes are permanant in the mail box until the session is closed proprly) eg quit

A More Full Overview of Telnet

Telnet is a program that allows you to manually connect to a server on the Internet, such as your pop3 server where your email is stored. Once you are connected you will be required to type in your user name and password. Once this is done you will then be able view / delete any mails on that account.

Telnet was not designed to be overly user friendly, and you should ensure you read through the next section before attempting to use Telnet to delete Email. Whilst the process is very straightforward it is important to type in the commands exactly as they are written.

NOTE If you do delete your email, the changes will only become permanent when you type in quit and press enter to close Telnet. This can be useful to know in case you accidentally delete the wrong email and wish to cancel the changes. If this is the case, close Telnet by clicking on the cross in the top right hand corner of the window. You can then start the process again from the beginning.

You need to get the spelling right the first time, if you make a spelling mistake just press enter a few times and try typing the line in again. Even though it looks like you can change spelling mistakes you cannot.

Running and configuring Telnet

Step1: From the Windows desktop, click on the Start button, go to Run, and type in Telnet and press enter.

Step2: Click on the Terminal Menu and select preferences, ensure that Local Echo has a tick next to it, if this is not selected then you will not be able to see what you type (You only need to do this once.)

Using Telnet to delete your mail

Before attempting this process for the first time, we recommend that you read all this document, and keep it close as a reference when you are attempting the procedure.

Step 1: Start your DUN connection (double click My Computer, then Dial-Up Networking and double click on the DUN connection icon if it is not on the desktop).

Step 2: Run Telnet (see section1).

Step 3: Click on the Connect menu and select remote system. A box will appear, you need to make sure the Host Name is set to your mail server and the port is set to 110. Click on Connect. You should see a message at the top starting with '+OK'. If you can see this you are connected.

Step 4: You now need to identify yourself so that you can access your email, to do this type in the following:

user username

Press enter you should now see a '+OK' response. Now type:

pass password

Press enter and you should now see a '+OK' response. You are now successfully connected.

Step5: Now that you are connected, type:


You will see a list of any emails currently stored on your account. This will be in a format with the figure on the left being the email number, and the figure on the right the size of the email. To view an email type in:

Retr n (substitute 'n' for the email number that you want to view)

To delete an email type in:

Dele n (substitute 'n' for the email number that you want to delete)

Repeat the above procedure for all emails you wish to delete

To delete more than one email at a time, type in:

dele n1 n2 (substitute n1 for the first email that you want to delete and n2 for the last. All emails within that range will be deleted.)

REMEMBER in order for your changes to become permanent you must finish your Telnet session by typing quit followed by enter. If you close the window without typing quit your changes will not have been made.

To cancel any changes, close Telnet by clicking the cross in the top right of the window.

Copyright © of this section; Mike Warlow
Content revised: 7th April 2002

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Content revised: 12th April 2002
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