BlitzMail was an e-mail system used at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, United States. It was one of the earliest e-mail server/client packages. It became instantly popular at the college as a result of its simplicity and power, appealing to even the most inexperienced users. To the dismay of many students and alumni of the College, use of BlitzMail ended in 2011, in favor of a Microsoft suite of email/online collaboration programs. The Dartmouth Name Directory will allegedly live on, however, and the new e-mail program is still referred to as "Blitz."


BlitzMail was developed by Dartmouth in 1987 and went live in the summer of 1988. BlitzMail is descended from this codebase.

The name BlitzMail started as a joke among its programmers, as it had to be developed quickly.

In 1991, when Dartmouth required every student to own a computer, the server code was updated to allow multiple servers to accommodate the heavy demand for the system. In 1993, the server was rewritten to support mail folders, a necessity. In 1994, the client and server software was released for use outside of Dartmouth. Some non-Dartmouth BlitzMail deployments include Valley.Net, an internet service provider in New England's Upper Valley region and, from 1991 to 2005, Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

The first versions of the client ran only on the Apple Macintosh operating system. The client was ported to Windows around the time of Windows 3.1.

Dartmouth's Computing Services rolled out an updated BlitzMail client for Mac OS X that featured encrypted client-server communications. Developed in May 2006 by computer science doctoral candidate Chris Masone (D ‘02), the software was available in late 2007.[1] Version 2.9 for Mac OS X 10.3 was available beginning in October 2008.[2]

Recent releases of the client have experimental support for rendering (but not composing) HTML-based messages.

A current project at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center exists to "sunset" the Windows BlitzMail service, which is no longer being developed or supported. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center BlitzMail servers are scheduled to be deactivated on October 1, 2012.

On campus

A 'BlitzMail culture' exists on the Dartmouth College campus. The system has all but replaced on-campus landline telephone use for local communication, and provides direct and immediate contact between students, professors and administrators. Official announcements are sent via the system, as well as more-informal ones from organizations about upcoming events, parties, and the like. BlitzMail plays a large role in the Dartmouth social scene.

Hundreds of public terminals are located around campus, in libraries, dining halls, and academic buildings. In the mid-1990s, Mac Classic public terminals were commonly referred to as "Blitzcheckers". In 2001, a pinkeye epidemic erupted on campus, spread in large part by the use of keyboards at these public terminals.

The campus is also blanketed in a wireless network, and students have laptops. The result was that BlitzMail became accessible nearly anywhere.

The word blitz has become a noun (an e-mail) and a verb (to e-mail — "I'll blitz you!") in campus slang. Most students check blitz on (at least) an hourly basis. Another unique phenomenon is the blitz war--which occurs when a message is sent to a large group of recipients, without using the optional feature to hide the recipients' names, for the purpose of annoying others. Hundreds of responses to the list can be generated in an hour in a heated war.

Until the mid-2000s, largely due to poor cellular reception on campus, many students opted to use BlitzMail rather than cellular phones. However, as service has steadily improved on campus, many students have increased their use of cell phones for both text messaging and voice calls, and BlitzMail's role in social communications decreased. In 2006, combining the two technologies, students developed a system for checking blitz on a cell phone.


The BlitzMail client was graphical, and runs on Windows and Macintosh computers. Several Java implementations exist, as well as web-based clients, such as NetBlitz and WebBlitz. The client has not had major updates since the late 1990s, with the exception of a port to Mac OS X. The client does not officially support HTML-based e-mail, dealing only in plaintext. (HTML files are viewed as attachments.) There is unofficial support to allow HTML-based email to be opened within the client normally.

One of the program's strengths is its portability for users. A user's mailbox, address book, and preferences are all stored on the server. Any user can log into any installation of the client and have full access to their data. After a user logs out, no data or personalization is stored on the local machine. This feature allows the use of the many public terminals.

BlitzMail also acted as a pseudo-instant messaging client, well before instant messaging was popular. Messages are processed by the server and delivered to the recipient almost immediately.

The program also has great strength in its integration with the Dartmouth Name Directory, or DND. With this, users simply type the name of the recipient in the To: field (for example, Throckmorton P. Scribblemonger, and the DND determines the full e-mail address of the intended recipient (, in this example.) The DND also allows users to create any number of aliases for their blitz address (for example, 'throckie', or 'tps') that require less typing. However, Theresa P. Schultz, should she enter 'tps' as her alias, would prevent Throckie (and herself) from receiving such mail. Only the fully qualified name guarantees delivery. ( or

Technical specifications

BlitzMail speaks its own protocol between client and server. Thus, the BlitzMail client is the only one that can utilize the full feature-set of the server.

Messages entering and leaving the BlitzMail domain are handled via SMTP. As of 2004, patches were available that allowed clients to connect to a BlitzMail server via POP3 and IMAP (with SSL.) The client communicates to the server on TCP ports 2151 and 1119 and the notification service runs on UDP port 2154.

In 2002, SpamAssassin functionality was added to BlitzMail. The DND server was also modified to allow LDAP lookups.

The BlitzMail and DND servers run on DEC Unix and many Linux flavors. The OS must support POSIX threading or Mach kernel-style cthreads. The server will run on systems with very low hardware requirements.

The BlitzMail servers have run on a variety of hardware at Dartmouth. In the early 1990s, the mail and DND servers ran on 25 MHz NeXT cubes named after Santa Claus' reindeer. At the time, BlitzMail's performance was nearly unparalleled; hundreds of sessions could be handled on each machine. Later, the servers were migrated to DEC 3000 AXP Model 300s.

Python port

A Python library implementation called PyBlitz was released in 2006 by Michael Fromberger. While not a client in and of itself, the package provides bindings that may be used to write one.


The BlitzMail client and server software were available under an BSD-style (with ad clause) license.


BlitzMail's developers include Rich Brown, David Gelhar, Jim Matthews, Pete Schmitt, Stephen Campbell, Steve Ligett, Paul Merchant, Kevin Schofield, Jim Van Verth, and David Greenfield.

The Blitzmail Bulletins feature was designed by Nancy Hossfeld and Randy Spydell.

The Windows version of the BlitzMail client was developed by Doug Hornig.


  1. | College to release new Blitz for Macs
  2. BlitzMail for OS X

External links

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