Discussion Lists:
Mailing List Manager Commands

Version 1.5.7
October 26, 1997
James Milles
Case Western Reserve University Law Library
jgm3 @po.cwru.edu

Introduction to MLM's

E-Mail Discussion Lists

E-mail discussion lists constitute one of the most popular methods of group communication on the Internet. Discussion lists support group communication by providing, at minimum, two basic functions: (1) the ability to distribute a message to a group of people by sending it to a single, central address, and (2) the ability to quietly join and leave the list at any time.

In order to provide these separate functions, an e-mail discussion list typically has two addresses associated with it: (1) a "listname address," the address to which you send any messages that you intend to be read by the list subscribers; and (2) an "administrative address," the address to which you send any commands or requests that affect your subscription to the list. It's easy to remember this distinction by thinking of your local newspaper: the first address is somewhat analogous to sending a "letter to the editor," while the second is like sending a letter to the newspaper's subscription office.

With most discussion lists, the "administrative address" is a computer program called a "mailing list manager" or MLM. The MLM allows the subscriber to subscribe and unsubscribe automatically, without external intervention. There are at least five popular mailing list manager programs used to manage most Internet discussion lists: L-Soft's LISTSERV(R) (formerly called BITNET LISTSERV), Unix ListProcessor (or Listproc), Mailbase, Mailserv, and Majordomo. The commands for subscribing and unsubscribing under most of these programs are the same; however, other useful commands differ greatly from one program to another, and some programs support features that others do not.

About This Document

This document does not describe all the features supported by any of these programs, only those most commonly used. For more information on any of these programs, send a message containing only the word "help" to the appropriate mail server. Additional programs and commands will be added in future revisions of this document.

This document also does not deal with discussion lists to which one subscribes by sending a message to "[listname]-request," sometimes referred to as "Internet lists." There are a great many discussion lists of this type; some are distribution lists maintained manually by the listowner, while others use some form of mailing list manager software ranging from a simple script to a fairly sophisticated mailing list program. Some require that subscription requests be placed in the message text; others require them to be included in the Subject: line. Because of the variety of methods of maintaining these lists, it is impossible to generalize about their command features. However, as a rule, assume that any discussion list with an administrative address of "[listname]-request" is maintained manually by a human being. Accordingly, you should subscribe by sending a friendly message in plain English to "[listname]-request." If a program responds with instructions for subscribing, follow the instructions.

The latest version of this document is available by e-mail as well as on the World Wide Web:

E-mail:   Send a message containing only the line


          to LISTSERV@listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu.

Web:      lawwww.cwru.edu/cwrulaw/faculty/milles/mailser.html (old address)

Which MLM?

When you subscribe to a list, you will typically receive a "welcome" message, describing the purpose of the list and telling you how to unsubscribe. Save this message! It tells you which program the discussion list is run under, and how to get further help.

Mailing list managers can be confusing. Many people use the term "listserv" generically, to refer to any list mail server program. To make things worse, the Unix ListProcessor (listproc) program was originally called "listserv," just like LISTSERV(R). Many listproc hosts are still configured with the name "listserv," and will accept commands addressed to "listserv@[host]" as well as to the correct name, "listproc@[host]."

Usually--but not always--you can find out which program a discussion list is run under by examining the message headers. For instance, listproc lists should include a line saying "Unix ListProcessor." However, the best practice is to save any "welcome" message you receive when you subscribe, and to note at that time which set of commands is applicable.

Sending commands to the MLM

Remember to send all commands to the "administrative address"--[mailserver]@[host]--not to the "listname address". [Mailserver] is the program that maintains the list (either listproc, LISTSERV, mailbase, mailserv, or majordomo); [host] is the address of the host computer (for example, ucdavis.edu or cleo.murdoch.edu.au).

Be sure to leave the Subject: line blank, and to delete any signature file if your mailer allows you to do so.

Always include the name of the list in the message to [mailserver]@[host]. Most mailserver sites maintain many different discussion lists, and it is essential that you tell the mail server which list you are talking about.

For instance, to join the discussion list law-lib@ucdavis.edu, send an e-mail message containing only the command


to listproc@ucdavis.edu.
The other examples used below are:
INT-LAW@UMINN1.BITNET (LISTSERV(R)), law-europe@mailbase.ac.uk (Mailbase), envirolaw@oregon.uoregon.edu (Mailserv),and elaw-j@cleo.murdoch.edu.au (Majordomo).
Finding Out More About MLM's This document is intended to provide assistance to subscribers to Internet mailing lists. I am not an expert on selecting, installing, or installing MLM software, or choosing an Internet provider, and I cannot answer questions on these topics. The best I can do is offer a few pointers:

For information on how to obtain and install these discussion list packages and many others, see the "Mailing List Management Software FAQ" by Norm Aleks, available at http://www.greatcircle.com/list-managers/software-faq

For background information on the mechanics of starting and running a discussion list, see "Starting and Owning a Mailing List," by Sylvia Caras, [previously] available at http://rs.internic.net/nic-support/nicnews/apr97/maillist.html

For help finding an Internet Service Provider to host your list, see "Internet Mailing List Providers," at http://www.cs.ubc.ca/spider/edmonds/usenet/ml-providers.txt

MLM Commands

Join a list Listproc: SUBSCRIBE [listname] Firstname Lastname
(e.g., SUBSCRIBE LAW-LIB John Doe)
LISTSERV: SUBSCRIBE [listname] Firstname Lastname
(e.g., SUBSCRIBE INT-LAW John Doe)
Mailbase: JOIN [listname] Firstname Lastname
(e.g., JOIN LAW-EUROPE John Doe)
Mailserv: SUBSCRIBE [listname] Firstname Lastname
(Optionally, include the e-mail address at which you wish to receive list mail:)
SUBSCRIBE [listname] Firstname Lastname [address]
Majordomo: SUBSCRIBE [listname]
(Optionally, include the e-mail address at which you wish to receive list mail:)
SUBSCRIBE [listname] [address]
Leave a list Listproc: UNSUBSCRIBE [listname]
-- or --
UNSUBSCRIBE [listname]
Mailbase: LEAVE [listname]
Mailserv: UNSUBSCRIBE [listname]
(UNSUBSCRIBE [listname] [address]
if you subscribed under a different e-mail address.)
Majordomo: UNSUBSCRIBE [listname]
(UNSUBSCRIBE [listname] [address]
if you subscribed under a different e-mail address.)
Receive the list in digest format (multiple messages compiled into a single daily or weekly mailing)

(Note: due to file space limitations and other reasons, many lists do not offer digests.)

Listproc: SET [listname] MAIL DIGEST
Mailbase: Not supported.
Mailserv: Not supported.
Majordomo: SUBSCRIBE [listname]-DIGEST
(In the same message, unsubscribe from the undigested version:)
UNSUBSCRIBE [listname]
Cancel digest format; receive the list as separate mailings Listproc: SET [listname] MAIL ACK
-- or--
SET [listname] NODIGEST
Mailbase: Not supported.
Mailserv: Not supported.
Majordomo: UNSUBSCRIBE [listname]-DIGEST
(In the same message, subscribe to the undigested version:)
SUBSCRIBE [listname]
Suspend mail temporarily (without unsubscribing) Listproc: SET [listname] MAIL POSTPONE
Mailbase: SUSPEND MAIL [listname]
Mailserv: Not supported.
Majordomo: Not supported.
Resume receipt of messages Listproc: SET [listname] MAIL ACK
-- or --
SET [listname] MAIL NOACK
-- or --
SET [listname] MAIL DIGEST
Mailbase: RESUME MAIL [listname]
Mailserv: Not supported.
Majordomo: Not supported.
Receive copies of your own messages Listproc: SET [listname] MAIL ACK
(To simply receive an automatic acknowledgement that your message has been sent to the list, use:)
SET [listname] ACK
Mailbase: Standard feature; you always receive your own messages.
Mailserv: Same as mailbase.
Majordomo: Same as mailbase.
Do not receive copies of your own messages Listproc: SET [listname] MAIL NOACK
Mailbase: Not supported.
Mailserv: Not supported.
Majordomo: Not supported.
Obtain a list of subscribers Listproc: RECIPIENTS [listname]
(Can also be sorted by name or by country:)
-- or --
Mailbase: REVIEW [listname]
Mailserv: SEND/LIST [listname]
Majordomo: WHO [listname]
Conceal your address, so that it does not appear on the list of subscribers Listproc: SET [listname] CONCEAL YES
(To reverse this command, use:)
SET [listname] CONCEAL NO
(To reverse this command, use:)
SET [listname] NOCONCEAL
Mailbase: Not supported.
Mailserv: Not supported.
Majordomo: Not supported.
Obtain a list of lists maintained by this mail server Listproc: LISTS
To obtain a list of all known LISTSERV lists, send the command
To search for LISTSERV lists with a given keyword or character string in the description, send the command
LISTS GLOBAL /[keyword]
Mailbase: LISTS
Majordomo: LISTS
Obtain a list of archive files for a particular list Listproc: INDEX [listname]
LISTSERV: INDEX [listname]
Mailbase: INDEX [listname]
Mailserv: INDEX [listname]
Majordomo: INDEX [listname]
Retrieve an archive file Listproc: GET [listname] [filename]
(e.g., GET LAW-LIB feb94)
LISTSERV: GET [filename] [filetype] [listname] F=MAIL
Mailbase: SEND [listname] [filename]
(e.g., SEND LAW-EUROPE 05-1994)
Mailserv: SEND [listname] [filename]
(e.g., SEND ENVIROLAW smith.txt)
Majordomo: GET [listname] [filename]
Search the archives (where available) for keywords Listproc: SEARCH [listname] "[keywords]"

Boolean searches are possible using the symbols "&" (and), "|" (or), and "~" (not). For example, to search for "mead" or "mdc" in law-lib, use the command
SEARCH LAW-LIB "mead | mdc"

LISTSERV: LISTSERV has a sophisticated and powerful search engine that does lots of neat things such as finding "sounds like" matches; however, it uses a difficult, batch-coded search language to construct queries. I find it useful to keep a "template" file in my Internet account, and then edit the file as appropriate when I need to do a search. Here's the search file:

    //  JOB  Echo=No

    Database Search DD=Rules

    //Rules DD   *

    Search nafta in int-law since 93/6/1



To run a search, send this file in an e-mail message to LISTSERV@[host]. The Searchline can be modified as needed. The date is optional; Boolean combinations, nesting with parentheses, and a great number of other capabilities are supported. For a full description of LISTSERV search functions, send the command
to LISTSERV@tc.umn.edu

Once you've received a list of messages matching your query, send another message to LISTSERV@[host] to retrieve the specific messages you want:

   //  JOB  Echo=No

   Database Search DD=Rules

   //Rules DD   *

   Search nafta in int-law since 93/6/1

   Print all of 636 637 640


Mailbase: Archives of Mailbase lists are searchable through the Mailbase Gopher (gopher mailbase.ac.uk). Mailbase does not support batch searching by e-mail request.
Mailserv: Not supported.
Majordomo: Not supported.

Permission is granted to copy, reproduce, or distribute this document in electronic or print form, as long as the document is reproduced in full. I also request that anyone wishing to reproduce this document for distribution let me know by sending me e-mail at jgm3@po.cwru.edu.

James Milles
Associate Director for Information and Technology
Case Western Reserve University Law Library
11075 East Blvd.
Cleveland, OH 44106
Voice: (216) 368-2793
FAX: (216) 368-6144