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Link to SIPB's owl-screen docs as replacement for mediawiki Getting Started page.

Getting Started with Zephyr using BarnOwl on Athena

Using BarnOwl

To start barnowl, run the command add barnowl; barnowl at the prompt on any Athena machine or dialup, such as

The simplest use of Zephyr is to send personal zephyrs to other users. To send a zephyr, type : to bring up a command line, and run the command zwrite USERNAME. You can also start a zwrite command by simply typing z.

You can then enter your message, and then enter a . on a line by itself to finish the zephyr. By convention, zephyrs are usually word-wrapped to 70-character lines or so; Pressing M-q (Alt-q) will word-wrap the text you've entered for you.

Once you've sent and received zephyrs, you can navigate the message list with the arrow keys. Press d to mark a message as deleted, u to undelete it, and x to expunge all messages that have been marked as deleted.

Instead of entering a zwrite command manually, you can also select a message in the message list with the arrow keys, and reply to it using r, which will automatically set up an appropriate zwrite command.

For more documentation on the built-in commands and keybindings, you can press h to bring up barnowl's built-in help screen. For help with a specific command, bring up a command line with : and then type help COMMAND.

To quit, type :quit.

Classes and Instances

Most interesting discussion on Zephyr, however, happens on so-called Zephyr classes. A class is a bit like a chat room in other IM systems. Anyone can send a zephyr to a class, and anyone who is subscribed to that class will receive it. There is no security on classes -- anyone who knows the name of a class can subscribe, and there is no way to determine who is subscribed to a given class.

To subscribe to a class, use the subscribe command:

:subscribe CLASSNAME * *

To send a zephyr to a class, use the zwrite command with the -c option:

:zwrite -c CLASSNAME

Zephyrs to classes usually have an instance attached. An instance is a short “topic” or “subject” that indicates the context of a zephyr. Different instances are often used to multiplex multiple conversations on a high-traffic class. You can specify an instance with the -i option to zwrite:


A message without an instance specified will default to the instance “personal”.

Common Classes

Some common classes include:

-c help is a class for asking (and answering) questions on virtually any topic imaginable. Be sure to use an instance (such as “linux”, “barnowl”, “campus”, or so on) when asking questions, since it's a fairly high-traffic class.
-c sipb is where most SIPB members hang out. It's a place for technical discussion, questions, support, and organizing SIPB events or projects. You should also always use an instance when sending to -c sipb.
Personal Classes

By convention, nearly every Zephyr user has a "personal" class that is the same as their username. How this class is used varies from person to person, but it's often a sort of mini-blog, a place to report what one is working on or up to, or ask friends questions, or just rant about something.


BarnOwl can also be run in a screen session to continue receiving messages while offline. For instructions on how to set this up on Athena, see the SIPB documentation.


If you have questions, you can send them via email to, or via Zephyr to -c sipb (with an appropriate instance).