User communication

This entry was posted by Tuesday, 7 April, 2009
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If you are running a multiuser system like Linux, you should expect to find other users on your system. (I guess that’s why it is a multi-user system.) Although there are many built-in mechanisms to keep users separated, sometimes you will want to communicate with other users.

Linux provides several tools to do this, depending on exactly what you want to accomplish. If you simply want to send a quick message to someone, for example, to remind him or her of a meeting, you might use the write program, which sends (writes) a message to his or her terminal.

In contrast to some other systems (say, the winpop mechanism under Windows), each line is sent when you press Enter. If you are on the receiving end of the message, the system lets you know who sent you the message.

If the person you are trying to contact is logged in more than once, you need to specify the terminal to which you want to send the message. So, if I wanted to talk to the user jimmo on terminal tty6, the command would look like this:

write jimmo tty6

If you omit the terminal, write is kind enough to let you select which terminal to which you want to send the message.

It might happen that someone tries the above command and receives the following message:

write: jimmo has messages disabled.

This message means that jimmo has used the mesg command to turn off such messages. The syntax for this command is

mesg n

to turn it off and

mesg y

to turn it on. Unless the system administrator has decided otherwise, the command is on by default. I have worked on some systems in which the administrator changed the default to off.

An extension of write is the wall command. Instead of simply writing the message to a single user, wall writes as if it were writing on a (where else) wall. That is, everyone can see the message when it is written on a wall, and so can every user. The wall command is often used by root to send messages about system status (e.g. when the system is about to be shutdown. Even if a user has disabled messages, the root user can still send them messages using wall.

If you want to have an interactive session, you could send write messages back and forth. On the other hand, you could use the talk program that was designed to do just that. When talk first connects to the other user, that other user sees on his or her screen

Message from TalkDaemon@source_machine… talk: connection requested by callers_name@his_machine talk: respond with: talk callers_name@his_machine

As the message indicates, to respond, you would enter

talk callers_name@his_machine

You might have noticed that you can use talk to communicate with users on other machines. If you omitted the machine name, talk would try to contact the user on the local machine (localhost). The preceding message would simply say

talk: connection requested by callers_name@localhost

You can also disable talk by using the mesg command.

It is common practice to use a couple of terms from radio communication when using talk. Because you cannot always tell when someone is finished writing, it is common to end the line with -o (or use a separate line) to indicate that your turn is “over.” When you are finished with the conversation and wish to end it, use oo (over and out).

Both of these mechanisms have some major problems if the user is not logged in: they don’t work! Instead, there’s mail or, more accurately, electronic mail (or e-mail).

On most UNIX systems (including Linux), e-mail is accessed through the mail command. Depending on your system, the mail program may be linked to something else. On my system, the default was to link to /usr/bin/mail.

Last-Modified: 2007-03-07 19:38:50

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