Console news, feed and e-mail readers

Feed readers, news readers and e-mail clients all represent a hazy gray area for me, since many of them do two or even three of those things at the same time. So for fun, I have a lump of applications here that might do one of those things, two of them, or maybe all at once. Regardless, they don’t burden your system with garbage, and that’s the real point.

I’m not going to mention alpine or mutt, mostly because mutt is the Internet poster child for console mail readers (meaning you’ve probably already heard about it, and your best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend has it set up with GMail), and because alpine is something I talk about here. I’ve also mentioned elmo in the past, but because I see no updates on that front, there’s nothing more to say that hasn’t already been said.

First, two important alternatives to alpine and mutt: cone and sup.


cone is convenient and quick, menu-driven and most options are easy to control and figure out. Compared to something like alpine, which is overpacked with options and settings, cone is almost kid’s play to set up. How well you go along with cone (as with anything I mention here) is going to depend a lot on your mail service and hardware, so I won’t bore you with cumbersome details about configuration.

Personally, I think I might prefer sup though, mostly because it seems more streamlined and direct than cone (or alpine, for that matter). Configuration is done either through the sidecar program “sup-config” (that speaks in a cowboy voice) or by direct-editing brief text files. And as you can see above, the results are practically oversimplified.

I plan to investigate sup more, and see if it will dethrone alpine at present. I like alpine and I am happy to have it around, but configuration is a huge complex chore, and even after roughly a year of use I still have points about it that I don’t like. I find it useful but something more concise might be better for a day-to-day email checker, which is all I really need.

Moving forward, here is canto, newsbeuter and nrss, alongside snownews, which I’ve mentioned before.



(Now before you get started telling me how canto supercedes nrss, I just want to point out that both are available in Debian, they behave a little differently and perhaps most importantly, nrss runs a bit faster for me at 120Mhz. It might be because canto is written in Python, and python is slower at that clock speed. I can tell you that ruby-based applications are particularly sluggish down here with the Pentiums, and it wouldn’t surprise me if language were the reason I see a difference between canto and nrss.)

I won’t claim a preference for any one of these, since they all seem to have similar styles and do much the same thing. canto probably arranges things in the most boxy style, with each feed in its own bracket. nrss is similar in its presentation, with keypresses for floating previews and jumping to a browser. Learn one and you’ve learned the other.

I used snownews for a while, just to see if I could get used to reading feeds, but it didn’t catch. snownews is akin to newsbeuter, with a file/folder approach that looks more like an e-mail reader. Nothing here is particularly different from raggle though either, which means it too could be an option. If feed reading is your thing and you want to dedicate one particular application to that, try one of these and see if it fits.

For a strict news reader, I can only suggest slrn.

I am in completely uncharted territory with news readers; I have no idea what or why or where the attraction lies, but if you can advise, I am an apt pupil. I managed to get this going and connected to gmane, but beyond that I don’t see anything that looks like “news,” so to speak. But like I said, I have no experience with these things, so I don’t know that to look for either.

Before this is done, here are two quick tools that you might find useful to read feeds, even though neither one is a full-blown “application” like the ones above. Here’s rsstail and rawdog.


“Oh boy,” you say. “One that spits titles into the terminal, and one that spews out HTML code. Yawn.” Yes, that’s right on both counts. rsstail basically trims a feed to specific components, and sends the output along elsewhere. And rawdog sends the results of its efforts into an HTML file, which is rather boring too.

But imagine where you can go from there: Rather than devote time to learning a whole new application for reading news, you send one instruction to cron to execute rawdog every hour (or maybe less), then bookmark the local output page in your browser of choice. Better yet, tinker with the settings and tailor the output to match your personal preferences for display.

And all you conky weenies still stuck to X in spite of my warnings to the contrary, you should fall out of your chair to realize there’s a command-line tool that takes up all of 32Kb in source code, that will inject the new entries from a feed into standard output. Good grief, the potential there is worth far more than 32Kb, and you get it for free.

I kid. 😀 Like everything in life, these things are only as valuable as the time and effort you invest in learning them. Maybe you’ll like them, maybe you won’t. If you do and want to brag about it, feel free; if you have others you think worth mentioning, I am always interested. 😉


14 thoughts on “Console news, feed and e-mail readers

  1. Kaleb Elwert

    Ah. Thank-you so much. I was looking for something to replace mutt, and if elmo goes anywhere (or the other two work well), I may be able to leave X (again).

    Well, maybe. I hate to admit it, but firefox is keeping me back. If you have a way for making elinks do as much as firefox, then that would clinch it.

    It’s just that every once in a while when I want to watch a youtube video, it’s near impossible from elinks…

    Thanks for keeping up with useful command line software…

    1. Cthulhu

      If you use elinks, you can try youtube-dl to download videos and display them in mplayer or cvlc.
      You have also cclive (in C++) or clive (in Perl) to download from other sites than

    2. Ali Gündüz

      To watch videos from YouTube or any other Flash-encumbered video hosting site, you can use the get_flash_videos script.

      Just feed the url of the video page into it and it will download the video file for you. After that, you can watch the video on framebuffer with mplayer.

  2. freek

    cone: testing and I like it .. but how do I check for new mails ?? .. if started it shows all mails including new .. but when open in “list” how do I force “check for new mails” ??


  3. me

    I can also recommend rss2email; it’s very easy to use and provides all the necessary information through the mail program of my choosing (in my case mutt) without forcing me to learn a new program.

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  5. CorkyAgain

    I’m a big fan of rawdog for RSS feeds. It’s another good example of the Unix way of doing things, because it only concerns itself with fetching the RSS feeds and emitting them in a form that can be read in the browser of your choice (I usually use elinks for this, but sometimes I sin and use a GUI browser so I can see the pretty pictures). This is a nice separation of concerns. RSS feed managers shouldn’t have to duplicate the effort web browser authors have put into parsing and displaying HTML.

    To get the same benefits that “folders” provide in feedreaders like canto, nrss, snownews and newsbeuter, I create a separate web page for each one. There’s a subdirectory for each “folder” under my .rawdog directory and each one has its own config files. My crontab entry runs a script that uses rawdog’s -d option to update each of these subdirectories.

    (Using cron to schedule updates is yet another example of separation of concerns.)

  6. Hanna

    I used to use Newsbeuter (fabulous for my needs) until recently when it turned like a mess (, haven’t found solution yet. I was checking Cone already earlier, because I have been searching replacement for GUI email client, but I have same problem with it as with Newsbeuter.

    But I like a lot your posts about console applications.

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