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introduction Mailman. Thomas Krichel 2003-10-09. structure. history fundamentals list configuration overview normally the defaults are sensible but I will mention the most important features one needs to be aware off. Listserv. Listserv is a program by Eric Thomas.

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Introduction mailman

introduction Mailman

Thomas Krichel



  • history

  • fundamentals

  • list configuration overview

    • normally the defaults are sensible

    • but I will mention the most important features one needs to be aware off.


  • Listserv is a program by Eric Thomas.

  • First version ran on IBM VM/XA architecture (yuk!) in 1986

  • Now commercially produced and maintained by LSoft International, see

  • They have an exclusive trademark on the term, its use to mean "mailing list" is inappropriate.

At liu

  • We used to run "listproc" a piece of software that started life as "Unix Listserv" by Anastasios Kotsikonas, later commercialized by CREN.

  • Last year, following gripes by me, Mailman was adopted.

    • covered by GNU public license

    • sophisticated

    • user-friendly


  • A mailing list is a computer managed tool

    • it collects data about members (at least their email address)

    • it allows users to send mail to a list address, which is aimed to be distributed at all member of the list.

  • Usually only members of a list are allowed to send mail to the list. This is called "posting" to the list.

List administrator
list administrator

  • A list administrator is a person who has full rights to manage the list.

    • add and remove member

    • set all list service parameters

  • A list is open if anyone may become a member of the list, without approval of the list administrator. Otherwise it is closed.

List moderator
list moderator

  • A moderator is a person who can approve posts to the list

  • a list is moderated if, by default, posts are held for approval, it is unmoderated otherwise.

Digested delivery
digested delivery

  • A digest is a compilation of posts sent to a list

    • during a day or

    • when a traffic limit is reached

  • Members may be allowed to opt for digested delivery.

  • If you don't think that this is a good idea, then remove the digestability right when opening the list. If you do it later, all digested members will be unsubscribed.

Open a list
open a list

  • technically, you need to have

    • name of the list

    • email of list administrator

    • initial password

      • or one will be mailed to you

  • administratively, all this has to be approved by LIU administration.

Web interface
web interface

  • If your list is called list

    • its user web interface (aka listinfo page) will be at

    • and its adminstrative web interface will be at It will be protected by the password you gave or you got.

  • Site wide user web interface is at


      (what a mess!)

Basic configuration informative
basic configuration: informative

  • description: a terse text string that describes the list and that will appear on the site-wide web user interface

  • introduction: a html formatted string that appears on the listinfo page

  • prefix: a string that appears in the subject line with each mail sent to the list

Basic configuration replies
basic configuration: replies

  • Default reply

    • to poster (recommended)

    • to the list

    • to specific address

  • If poster sets custom reply-to header

    • respect it (recommended)

    • remove it

Base configuration notification
base configuration: notification

  • When users subscribe, they are being sent a password that can be used to change subscription options.

  • Users can ask to be reminded about their password from the listinfo page.

  • By default, Mailman will send a monthly reminder. You can switch it off if you think that it is over the top.

Base configuration administrivia
base configuration: administrivia

  • Administrivia are the contents of short posts that request "signoff" "help" etc.

  • They are mainly a legacy from mail command based mailing list interfaces.

  • By default

    • posts will be checked for administrivia

    • will be held if they contain administrivia.

Membership basics i
membership basics I

  • mod set the moderation bit. If set, posts by this member are held for moderator approval

  • hide hide member. If set, will prevent the member from appearing in member listings

  • nomail set a member to receive no mail

  • ack set whether a member receives an explicit acknowledgment that she has posted

Membership basics ii
membership basics II

  • not metoo prevents a member from getting her own postings to the list

  • digest if set the member will receive the post in digested form. By default, digests will be put together using the MIME protocol.

  • plain if set, digest messages using a plain text digestion method (not recommended)

Mass subscription and removal
mass subscription and removal

  • You can mass add or remove.

  • Cut and paste a list of addresses, one address per line

  • or upload a file, one address per line

Privacy options i
privacy options I

  • These have become extremely important because of all the spammers out there!

  • You can choose not to advertise the list on the LIU Mailman site.

  • You can close the list by requiring administrator approval for subscription.

  • You can set a ban list of addresses that are not allowed to subscribe.

Privacy options ii
privacy options II

  • You can restrict the membership list to be viewed

    • by members only

    • by list administrators only (recommended)

  • You can choose to obfuscate mail addresses e.g. "krichel at openlib dot org" in membership lists.

Privacy options iii
privacy options III

  • You can set some email addresses of non-members that are approved to post.

  • All other non-member postings can either be

    • held (administrator will decide later)

    • rejected (explanation is sent to poster)

    • discarded (poster receives no reply)

  • You should be careful with the default action.

  • You can request that administrators receive a forward of all discarded mails.

Privacy options iv
privacy options IV

  • Most spammers do not put the address of the destination in the TO: header. Requiring the list address to be mentioned in the to: or cc: header is a good defense against them.

  • You can also set a ceiling for the maximum number of recipients of the post. But sometimes that leads to legitimate messages being held if there are extensive cross-postings.

Privacy options v
privacy options V

  • Finally, you can ban known spammers from sending mail to the list by explicitly blacklisting their addresses.

Bounce processing
bounce processing

  • If delivery to a member address failed, it is said to bounce.

  • You can configure the bounce sensitivity of Mailman, but I wouldn't do it.

    • if an address bounce too much it is disabled

      • member is still subscribed

      • Mailman sends occasional messages to the member to check if the address works again and to invite the member to subscribe again.

    • if a disabled address still bounces, the member is unsubscribed.


  • Mailman can be configured to keep an archive of posts.

  • This archive can be private or public.

    • public means that they are on public access on the web

    • private means that they can only be accessed by list members using their passwords.

Contents filtering
contents filtering

  • You can set up contents filtering.

  • You can disallow messages that have a certain MIME type. This can be very effective in preventing viruses. But I don't currently have a list most frequently used by viruses.

Moderator requests
moderator requests

  • You will be informed every 24 hours

    • if a message has been held for approval

    • if an non-member has tried to post

    • if there is an uncaught bounce

  • etc, if you have opted to be informed.

  • If you are not informed, you will not see any problem.

  • Amount of notification requires careful planning.

Bounce notification
bounce notification

  • you can choose to be notified

    • if un uncaught bounce (one that mailman did not know what to do with) is received

    • if a member is disabled

    • if a member is unsubscribed

  • on class lists, this is recommended.

Thank you for your attention

Thank you for your attention