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:

athena% add ktools; owl

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.

vt, zwgc -ttymode, gaim, WinZephyr, and Maczephyr (see 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:

athena% zwrite username
You can send to more than one user at a time by listing them after the first name.

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:

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.

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 ~/.zephyr.subs.

To send a message to a zephyr class, you can type

athena% zwrite -c classname -i instance

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 they use.

To temporarily join a specific instance of class "message" without seeing any other instances, type:

athena% zctl sub message instancename \*

To send a message to an instance of class "message," type:

athena% zwrite -i instance

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.

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 line.

To see who's online, just type the command znol at 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.

athena% znol
user1:       owl     Sat Jul 24 10:51:21 2004
friend2:    pts/26  Mon Aug 30 10:48:21 2004

Zephyr Etiquette

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 annoying.

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, or in hardcopy form at the SIPB office.

You can also see our March 7, 2003 column at for some additional information.

To ask us a question, send email to 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: