MSCFOSS/DIF122/Software Development Practices/Unit IV/Mailing list

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Mailing List

A mailing list is simply a list of addresses to which the same information is being sent. If you were a magazine publisher, you would have a list of the mailing addresses of all the subscribers to the magazine. In the case of an electronic mailing list, we use a list of email addresses from people interested in hearing about or discussing a given topic.

Two common types of email mailing lists are announcement lists and discussion lists.

Announcement lists are are used so that one person or group can send announcements to a group of people, much like a magazine publisher's mailing list is used to send out magazines. For example, a band may use a mailing list to let their fan base know about their upcoming concerts.

A discussion list is used to allow a group of people to discuss topics amongst themselves, with everyone able to send mail to the list and have it distributed to everyone in the group. This discussion may also be moderated, so only selected posts are sent on to the group as a whole, or only certain people are allowed to send to the group. For example, a group of model plane enthusiasts might use a mailing list to share tips about model construction and flying.

Some common terms:

  • A "post" typically denotes a message sent to a mailing list. (Think of posting a message on a bulletin board.)
  • People who are part of an electronic mailing list are usually called the list's "members" or "subscribers."
  • "List administrators" are the people in charge of maintaining that one list. Lists may have one or more administrators.
  • A list may also have people in charge of reading posts and deciding if they should be sent on to all subscribers. These people are called list moderators.
  • Often more than one electronic mailing list will be run using the same piece of software. The person who maintains the software which runs the lists is called the "site administrator." Often the site administrator also administrates individual lists.

GNU Mailman

GNU Mailman is software that lets you manage electronic mailing lists. It supports a wide range of mailing list types, such as general discussion lists and announce-only lists. Mailman has extensive features which make it good for list subscribers, such as easy subscription and unsubscription, privacy options, and the ability to temporarily stop getting posts from the list. Mailman also has many features which make it attractive to list and site administrators.

Mailman's interfaces

Mailman has two different interfaces for the list subscriber: the web interface and the email interface. Most discussion list subscribers use the email interface, since this includes the email address you use to send mail to all the subscribers of that list.

The interface you use for changing options is largely a matter of preference, since most (but not all) of the options which can be changed from the web interface can also be changed by email. Usually it is easier to use the web interface for changing options, since the web interface provides instructions as you go, but there are times when people may prefer the email interface, so both are provided.

The web interface

The web interface of Mailman is its selling point for many administrators, since it makes it much easier for subscribers and administrators to see which options are available, and what these options do.

Every mailing list is also accessible by a number of web pages. Note that the exact URLs are configurable by the site administrator, so they may be different than what's described below. We'll describe the most common configuration, but check with your site administrator or hosting service for details.

List information (listinfo) page

Member options page

  • Usually found at http://WEBSERVER/mailman/options/LISTNAME/EMAIL (For example, http://lists.example.com/mailman/options/mylist/kathy@here.com)
  • This page can also be accessed by going to the listinfo page and entering your email address into the box beside the button marked "Unsubscribe or Edit Options" (this is near the bottom of the page).
  • The member options page allows you to log in/out and change your list settings, as well as unsubscribe or get a copy of your password mailed to you.
  • To log in to your member options page: If you are not already logged in, there will be a box near the top for you to enter your password. Enter your password in the box and press the button.
  • Once you are logged in, you will be able to view and change all your list settings.

List Archives

    Note: Pipermail is the name of the default archiver that comes with Mailman. Other archive programs are available.

If the archive is private, you will need to supply your subscribed email address and your password to log in.

The email interfaces

Every mailing list has a set of email addresses to which messages can be sent. There's always one address for posting messages to the list, one address to which bounces are sent, and addresses for processing email commands. For a fictional mailing list called mylist@example.com, you'd find these addresses:

mylist@example.com this is the email address people should use for new postings to the list.
mylist-join@example.com by sending a message to this address, a new member can request subscription to the list. Both the Subject: header and body of such a message are ignored. Note that mylist-subscribe@example.com is an alias for the -join address.
mylist-leave@example.com by sending a message to this address, a member can request unsubscription from the list. As with the -join address, the Subject: header and body of the message is ignored. Note that mylist-unsubscribe@example.com is an alias for the -leave address.
mylist-owner@example.com This address reaches the list owner and list moderators directly. This is the address you use if you need to contact the person or people in charge.
mylist-request@example.com This address reaches a mail robot which processes email commands that can be used to set member subscription options, as well as process other commands. A list of members' email commands is provided in Appendix A.
mylist-bounces@example.com This address receives bounces from members whose addresses have become either temporarily or permanently inactive. The -bounces address is also a mail robot that processes bounces and automatically disables or removes members as configured in the bounce processing settings. Any bounce messages that are either unrecognized, or do not seem to contain member addresses, are forwarded to the list administrators.
mylist-confirm@example.com This address is another email robot, which processes confirmation messages for subscription and unsubscription requests.

There's also an -admin address which also reaches the list administrators, but this address only exists for compatibility with older versions of Mailman.

For changing options, we use the LISTNAME-request address (for example, mylist-request@example.com).

Commands can appear in the subject line or the body of the message. Each command should be on a separate line. If your mail program automatically appends a signature to your messages, you may want to put the word "end" (without the quotes) on a separate line after your other commands. The end command tells Mailman not to process the email after that point.

The most important command is probably the "help" command, since it makes Mailman return a message full of useful information about the email commands and directions to the web interface.

How do I join a list? (subscribe)

There are two common ways you can subscribe to a Mailman mailing list.

Using the web interface:

  1. Go to the list information page for the list you want to join. (This will probably be something like http://WEBSERVER/mailman/listinfo/LISTNAME)
  2. Look for the section marked "Subscribing to LISTNAME" and fill in the boxes. You can fill in the following:
    1. You must enter your email address.
    2. You may choose to supply your real name.
    3. You may choose a password. If you do not choose one, Mailman will generate one for you.
    4. If the list supports more than one language, you may be able to choose your preferred language. Note: This setting does not affect posts to the list, only pre-prepared Mailman texts such as your member options page.
  3. Press the subscribe button. A new page should appear telling you that your request has been sent.

Using the email interface:

  1. Open a mail program which sends mail from the address you want to subscribe.
  2. Send a mail to the list subscription address, which will be in the form LISTNAME-join@DOMAIN. The subject and body of the message will be ignored, so it doesn't matter what you put there. You may also use LISTNAME-subscribe@DOMAIN.

After following one of these sets of instructions (you don't need to do both!), there are a few possible outcomes depending upon the settings for that list.

    1. You may receive an email message asking for confirmation that you really want to be subscribed to the list. This is to prevent anyone from subscribing you to lists without your permission. Follow the instructions given in the message to confirm your wish to be subscribed.
    2. A moderator may also need to confirm your subscription if you are subscribing to a limited list.
    3. Or you may have to wait for a moderator and follow the instructions in the confirmation mail.
  1. Once this is done, you will likely receive another message welcoming you to the list. This message contains some useful information including your list password and some quick links for changing your options, so you may want to save it for later reference.

How do I leave a list? (unsubscribe)

Don't want to be on a list any more? If you're just going on vacation or are too busy to read mails and want to temporarily turn them off, you may want to stop mail delivery rather than unsubscribing. This means you keep your password and other settings so you can, for example, still have access to private list archives. If this is what you'd prefer, see Section 7.1 for instructions on disabling mail delivery temporarily.

If you actually want to leave the list, there are two common ways you can unsubscribe from a Mailman mailing list.

Using the web interface:

  1. Go to the list information page for the list you want to leave. (This will probably be something like http://WEBSERVER/mailman/listinfo/LISTNAME)
  2. Look for the section marked "LISTNAME subscribers" (usually found near the bottom of the page).
  3. There should be a button marked "Unsubscribe or Edit Options." Enter your email address in the box beside this button and press the button.
  4. You should be brought to a new page which has an "Unsubscribe" button. Press it to unsubscribe and follow the instructions given.

Using the email interface:

  1. Open a mail program which sends mail from the address you want to unsubscribe.
  2. Send a mail to the list unsubscribe address, which will be of the form LISTNAME-leave@DOMAIN. The subject and body of this message will be ignored, so it doesn't matter what you put there. You may also use LISTNAME-unsubscribe@DOMAIN.

After following one of these sets of instructions (you don't need to do both!), you will be sent a confirmation mail and must follow the instructions given in that mail to complete the unsubscription. This is to stop people from unsubscribing you without your permission. In addition, a moderator may need to approve your unsubscription.

If you do not receive this confirmation mail with instructions, make sure that you typed your email address correctly (if you were using the web interface to unsubscribe) and that the address you tried to unsubscribe is, indeed, actually subscribed to that list. For security reasons, Mailman generates the same member options page regardless of whether the address entered is subscribed or not. This means that people cannot use this part of the web interface to find out if someone is subscribed to the list, but it also means that it's hard to tell if you just made a typo.

Once your unsubscription has been processed, you will will probably receive another message confirming your unsubscription from the list, and at that point you should stop receiving messages.

Popular Open Sources Projects & their Mailing Lists

Ubuntu https://lists.ubuntu.com/
Debian http://lists.debian.org/
Fedora https://lists.fedoraproject.org/mailman/listinfo
GNU https://lists.gnu.org/mailman/listinfo/

Posting to a list

Before Posting to the List

There are a number of ways you can find help within your system. If you don't find the answer there, try to look into the list archives before posting a question. This is a high volume list and chances are that someone has already had the same problem you are now trying to fix. See Useful Resources below for a list of places to try. Refer to this presentation on mail etiquette that you should follow.

If You Still Can't Find an Answer

If you don't find a suitable answer for your question in the resources described below, then writing to the list is a good idea. These guidelines were written to make sure your message gets the attention it needs to be read and answered.

Posting Guidelines

Keep it Short

The users list maintains a maximum message length of 60 kilobytes; other Fedora lists may have similar length-limits. Remember that thousands of copies of your message will exist in mailboxes -- please keep your messages as short as possible. Avoid including log output (select only the most relevant lines, or place the log on a website or in a pastebin instead) or excessively quoting previous messages in the thread (trim the quoted text down to the most recent/relevant messages only).

No HTML Mail, Please

Set your mailer to send only plain text messages to the list (How? ). Why? HTML is designed for web pages, not emails, and uses a lot more bandwidth. Many list members actually block HTML because it is used for malicious code.

Not only does HTML mail be used to run malicious scripts, but when using handheld devices the time taken for the page to appear is also much higher.

(see "7 reasons why HTML e-mail is EVIL! ")


No attachments

Attachments to email make the messages much bigger. They create an enormous amount of extra Internet traffic when a mailing list sends the message and attachments to thousands of people worldwide. They also can create problems for the recipients, who may be limited to low-bandwidth connections. A reader may not know they are downloading an email with a very large attachment until it is too late, and they might be blocked from getting other mail until they finish that download, which makes them frustrated.

Don't use attachments to your email. Instead, post a file in your Fedorapeople.org space, or elsewhere on the web, and include a URL to that file in your email, not the file itself.

Starting a New Subject

When you send in a new topic, do not start by replying to an existing message, but rather, start a new message to "users@lists.fedoraproject.org". This keeps messages organized by thread, for people who like to use threads (on high-volume mailing lists like this one, threads can be a great convenience).

Furthermore, please do not recycle messages. Recycling messages is replying to an existing thread by changing the thread name. This creates confusion and diverts the number of people replying to the topic.

For details see http://mm.bbspals.org/message-recycling/

Write a Good Subject Line

Make a subject line that clearly tells us what you need. This is a point that can't be overemphasized. Try "Can't get past partitioning on F9" instead of "Argg - help me!!!" Why? So that people with certain skills, looking for someone to help, will notice your message. That helps you get help from the right people quickly.

On a high volume list like this, many people just skim through the subject lines and only read the messages that catch their interest. So, by creating a good subject line, you increase the chances that your message is actually going to be read and eventually answered.

Also refer to the subject for commercial messages below.

If You Are Replying to a Message

Make sure we can tell what you are replying to. Place each part of your reply after the text it addresses (i.e., NO Top-Posting, please see "Wikipedia - Top Posting" and links therein for more on this). Most mail readers automatically put a '>' character in front of each replied-to line. It gives a conversational flow to the text, and people know what you're replying to. Trim irrelevant material. It makes it easier to read your reply and helps the reader to stay on subject. Using bottom, interleaved posting is recommended as it is more organised.

The fact that you're sending the email from a smart-phone or similar device doesn't invalidate those guidelines. Please consider sending the reply at a later time when you have access to your regular email system or send a private reply instead.

Replying to Digests

In a high volume list like this, you may choose to receive mails in digested mode. However when replying to such messages, please avoid just hitting the reply button. This creates meaningless messages like "Re: Fedora-ambassadors-list Digest, Vol 44, Issue 10" which does not reflect what you are talking about. Please edit the subject to reflect what topic you are talking about.

Let Us Know When Your Question is Answered

When you get a solution to your question (or find it yourself after posting to the list), reply to your original e-mail describing what solved your problem, adding a [SOLVED] to the end of the subject line. This will let people know that you don't need help any more with this and can look for other posts to help. Also, it makes a search in the archives easier when someone has a related problem in the future.

Proper posting style

Top posting is replying to a message on "top" of the quoted text of the previous correspondence. This is highly unwanted in mailing lists because it increases the size of the daily digests to be sent out & is highly confusing and incoherent. By default, most email clients use this (includes gmail & hotmail). Please, remove the irrelevant part of the previous communication(in case of more than a single correspondence) and use bottom, interleaved posting.

Do not over-quote by the hierarchy level in the correspondence.

Bottom, interleaved posting is replying to the relevant parts of the previous correspondence just below the block(s) of sentences. For a comment to another block of sentences of the same quoted text, you should move below that relevant block again. Do not reply below the whole of the quoted text. Also remove any irrelevant text.

Please provide URLs to articles wherever possible. Avoid cutting and pasting whole articles especially considering the fact that all may not be interested. Pasting whole articles may also amount to copyright violations, which is not something that this list encourages.

Read the above mentioned pdf file on mailing list guidelines by Shakthi Kannan : http://www.shakthimaan.com/downloads/glv/presentations/mailing-list-etiquette.pdf. The illustrative document should clear all doubts.

Be Courteous

Be courteous and polite to fellow members in the list. Never swear or be rude to anyone.

Certain behavioral guidelines

If a mail has offended you personally, please send a private message to the person expressing how you feel, instead of sending it to the mailing list.

Please remember that we have members from all genders and nationalities. No gender abuse is allowed on the list, and do not include any gender specific slang in your posts. Also do not indulge in racial or regional criticism. This is a very serious violation.

Be careful when using sarcasm and humour. Without face to face communications your joke may be viewed as criticism. When being humourous, use emoticons (smileys) to express humour. (tilt your head to the left to see the emoticon smile) :-) = happy face for humour.

Behave in a professional manner in the mailing lists. Any mistake could put you under the scanner and at the receiving end of much rebuke.

Do not Cross Post

Avoid posting to multiple lists simultaneously. Pick a mailing list that is most suitable for your post and just use that. CC'ing multiple lists should be avoided.

Post to the the mailing list that is most suited to your purpose and then just copy the link to that page or mailing list and paste to all the other mailing lists you want to post to. This will reduce the amount of data duplicated - only one copy will be accessed by all who read it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossposting

No chain letters

Never send chain letters to the mailing list. A mail simultaneously sent to more than 10 users will not reach the list. This is to eliminate possible spammers/bulk mailers to reach the list.

Don't make social network connections through the mailing list

Do not send invitations to social networking sites through the mailing list. The email addresses of people on the mailing list is visible to the members. To add mailing list contacts to your social network, try searching them on the social networking site or contact through email & not the mailing list.

Commercial messages

When using the mailing list for commercial purpose, please prefix the subject line with "COMMERCIAL".

Avoid long signatures and disclaimers

We find value in your main content rather than signatures. One or two lines would be optimal to convey messages that must be included in your signature and avoid huge disclaimers describing how your mail is private and confidential while sending things to the mailing list. If your company/organization enforces that in the mail gateway, use a webmail with pop/imap access like gmail for instance. Such disclaimers aren't enforceable half of the time and are monumentally silly in a public mailing list.

Do not use a PGP Style Signature that is not published

Use of PGP or GnuPG signing is encouraged. However, if the corresponding key is not published on a public keyserver, then the message will cause some email client applications (MUAs) that are PGP/GPG aware to hang while they try all known keyservers. This can take a long time and cause frustration for other users. For more information on how to properly create and use GPG keys, read the Creating GPG Keys page.

Use the common language

Unless you are a Fedora mailing list that is dedicated to users speaking that particular language, communicate in English. Other languages might be ignored merely because the users in these lists might only know English or use it as their common language. Refer to the Communicating and getting help page for more information on other mailing lists.

Use standard language and not colloquial or regionally accepted abbreviations.Visit http://www.jargon.org for more such acronyms.

Use the universally accepted standard English. Always do a spell check before mailing to the list. Grammar doesn't matter as long as one is understood. Do not use SMS language. Do not use dots(".....") to conclude the sentences as is common across social networks.

Do not use ALL CAPITALS

Using capital letters in your sentences is considered shouting. It is considered as being rude. If you want to emphasize on something *use this* or _this_.

Avoid repetitive posting

Often people helping on the mailing lists are volunteers who, just like you, have busy lives. If you do not get a response within a few minutes or hours, avoid re-posting the same question repeatedly. Give a minimum of 24-48 hours for an answer, and if you don't have one by then, give a "nudge" to the list by replying to (not re-posting) your original message.

Please *read all your mails before replying* to a mail. Someone may have already answered it.

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