Ask SIPB - September 2, 2004
Want to learn more about Zephyr? Need to figure out if someone is logged in and communicate with them quickly? In this column, part 3 of 4 of our introductory orientation columns, we cover the basics of using Zephyr.
What is this white rectangular thing that just popped up?
That would likely be a zephyr. Zephyr is Athena's instant messaging
system. Unlike some chat programs like AIM, each "IM" shows up in its
own window by default. It may be an official notice, or perhaps just
a message from a friend. When you're done with it, click on it to
close the window. The default program responsible for displaying these
messages is called
zwgc -- Zephyr WindowGram Client.
What are some other good zephyr client programs?
Owl is another good zephyr client. It is a tty based (text-only) client. You can
run owl by running:
Once running owl, you may find it useful to hit 'h' to read
through the help menus. Owl has its own set of commands for sending
messages and adding classes. The commands for joining and leaving classes
are meant to be used along with Zwgc.
athena% add ktools; owl
WinZephyr, and Maczephyr (see http://itinfo.mit.edu/product?name=zephyr
for the last two) are other options, but zephyr clients are a very
personal thing. Owl is probably the easiest to customize.
owl, vt, and zwgc -ttymode are all console programs, and thus they can
be run from non-Athena computers by using ssh to connect to
So, I can receive zephyrs, but how do I send one?
You can send a zephyr to another person using the "zwrite" command:
You can send to more than one user at a time by listing them after the
athena% zwrite username
Can I use group chats in zephyr?
Zephyr has group chats, called classes. Any message in a
zephyr class also has a subject, which is called an
instance. You can see all messages that go to any instance
within a particular class, or just the messages sent to a particular
instance of a particular class. (Example: A message about the SIPB
office might be sent to class "sipb" instance "office."
Since most SIPB members like seeing anything about SIPB, they
subscribe to all instances of class "sipb.")
Some commonly used public classes are "help" (for asking all sorts
of questions), "geek" (for various technically oriented
questions), and "message" (the default zephyr class).
Here are the commands for joining and leaving zephyr classes:
The first "\*" signifies that you should sub to all instances in
the class, and the second "\*" signifies that this is a group chat.
Your zephyr subscriptions are saved in your home directory in the file
zctl sub classname \* \*
|Join the class temporarily until you logout.|
zctl add classname \* \*
|Join the class until you logout, AND add to your zephyr subscriptions (so you join it automatically next time you log in).|
zctl unsub classname \* \*
|Leave the class.|
zctl del classname \* \*
|Leave the class, AND remove it from your zephyr subscriptions.|
To send a message to a zephyr class, you can type
Class "message," the default class, is a special case.
When people talk about subscribing to an instance, they usually mean
an instance of class "message." Examples of such instances are
"white-magic" (for random discussion), "war" (war-related topics),
"war.d" (discussion about the war instance), and "weather" (for
automated weather announcements). Several courses also have instances
To temporarily join a specific instance of class "message"
without seeing any other instances, type:
athena% zwrite -c classname -i instance
To send a message to an instance of class "message," type:
athena% zctl sub message instancename \*
NOTE: Class "message" instances are NOT private. All instances
of class "message" are logged in the "zlog" locker, and some people
subscribe to all instances.
athena% zwrite -i instance
How do I create my own zephyr class?
Just subscribe to whatever classname you want, and start zephyring
there. It is common for people to use classes named after their
usernames, since other people know to sub there.
Before subscribing, if you're creating a class that's not your
username, you should check to make sure that no one is using the
class, by sending a message to the class. If you get a message that
says no one is subscribed, then you're all set. Otherwise, you may
want to choose a different class name.
One important fact to note is that zephyr classes are only as
private as their name. Anyone who knows the name of a zephyr class can
subscribe there and send messages there -- there are no ways to ban,
kick, or block people from zephyr classes.
How does zephyr do buddy lists?
To make a buddy list, create a file in your home directory called
~/.anyone, and list each friend's username on a separate
To see who's online, just type the command
the athena prompt. You'll get a list of people, the machines they're
logged into, and some other information. People who aren't logged in
usually won't show up.
user1: this-machine-does-not-exist.mit.edu owl Sat Jul 24 10:51:21 2004
friend2: mint-square.mit.edu pts/26 Mon Aug 30 10:48:21 2004
There are a few conventions that you should use when sending to group
chats on zephyr.
First, subscribe to the class (or instance) before zephyring
there. The only time when you wouldn't want to do this, is if you're
trying to see if a class is in use as mentioned above.
Secondly, instances should be short and limited to alphanumeric
characters, underscores, hyphens and periods. Spaces are especially
Third, linewrap your zephyrs. Long messages that don't have
returns are annoying to users of several common zephyr clients, which
deliberately don't wrap lines.
How do I find out more about Zephyr?
To find out more about zephyr, you can check out SIPB's Inessential
zephyr, at http://www.mit.edu/afs/sipb.mit.edu/project/doc/izephyr/html/,
or in hardcopy form at the SIPB office.
You can also see our March 7, 2003 column at http://www.mit.edu/~asksipb/2003columns/2003-03-07-zephyrp2/
for some additional information.
To ask us a question, send email to email@example.com. We'll try to answer you
quickly, and we can address your question in our next column. You
can also stop by our office in W20-557 or call us at x3-7788 if you
need help. Copies of each column and pointers to additional
information are posted on our website: http://www.mit.edu/~asksipb/