SUMMARY: biff is y but doesn't work

From: John F. Whitehead (
Date: Tue Mar 24 1992 - 15:26:05 CST

In article <> I wrote:
>biff doesn't work for any user. Even though it is set in the .login,
>and if you type "biff" it returns "is y", there is no mail notification.
>It used to work, but for no apparent reason it has stopped.

The basic answer to this is that /usr/etc/in.comsat must be running, and
/etc/inetd.conf and /etc/services must permit biff.
Also, peter@engr.Trinity.EDU (Peter Vafeades) pointed out that
        One reason why this may not be working is if your machine is not
        the mail server... If your mail goes to a spool directory which is
        exported and mounted on other machines on the network (NIS domain)
        biff will not work unless you are logged on to the mail server.

In my case, these were not the problems, I don't know what was, and since I
rebooted (a good default action I always say) it has worked fine.

>Second, on the console, running OpenWindows 3.0, it doesn't seem to think
>I own my own windows. If I type "biff" I get "is n" even though the
>same command from a different terminal (remote or non-OpenWin console)
>gets "is y". And trying to change it I get an error:
>% biff y
>/dev/ttyp6: Not owner

If I do an "ls -l" of /dev/ttyp6, I see that root owns the terminal,
unlike many non-OpenWindows terminals. Because OpenWindows cannot
change the execute bit of the terminal (since OW doesn't have setuid
root privileges and root owns it), biff cannot be changed from within

I found this to be the case with OW v. 3.0 -- though I don't remember
it happening with OW v. 2.0, it may have been that way then too.

I tried to make OpenWindows have permission to setuid root (by
"chmod u+s" on openwin, xterm, and several other files I thought
might be relevant). This either did nothing or bombed OW (and
probably created a security risk), so I gave up on that option.

Basically I settled on the fact that biff must be changed before OW is
called (via .login, most likely) or after (via an rlogin or telnet
session, which are not owned by OW). Another option is to get a
different mail-notification tool such as xbiff.

Thanks to all who responded (at least that I can remember): (John C. Fowler)
        Brian Fitzgerald <> (David C. Tuttle) (John P. Rouillard) (Tim Cote) (John C. Fowler) (Sam Sangster)
        peter@engr.Trinity.EDU (Peter Vafeades) (Evan Marcus) (Siebren van der Zee)
        Dave Lewney <>

|   John          Duke University Medical Center |
| Whitehead           Department of Neurobiology     |
|________________________________________ Durham, North Carolina ________|

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