Mailman FAQ

Q: What is Mailman?
A: Mailman is the mailing list software used at Lafayette.

Q: What is a mailing list?
A: A mailing list in this context is an application that exists to facilitate distributing an email message to multiple email addresses (the "list subscribers") by sending it to a single address (the "list address"). For example, when you receive an email message that was sent to the entire campus it is because you are subscribed to the "Campus" mailing list. Each mailing list is administered by a list "owner" who is responsible for maintaining the list of subscriber addresses as well as the configuration of the list (e.g., who can send messages to the list, subscription policies, etc.).

Q: What's the difference between a mailing list and a listserv or listserver?
A: The terms are essentially interchangeable, but "LISTSERV", the trademarked name of one of the original mailing list applications, has been co-opted over the years as a generic term for all mailing list applications (similar to the way some people call every facial tissue a "Kleenex", regardless of brand). This common misuse of the LISTSERV® brand doesn't sit well with its owners, which is why terms like "mailing list" or "email distribution list" are preferred when referring to the class of applications that includes Mailman, LISTSERV, ListProc, and others.

Q: Who can send messages to a mailing list?
A: It depends on the list's policies. Some lists allow any subscriber to send; others allow only some subscribers to send. The ability to send messages to the college's official communications lists is limited to certain individuals who have a regular need to communicate certain types of information to large segments of the campus population. For more information, see the policies for campus email distribution lists.

Q: How does a user send a message to a mailing list?
A: Provided the user's subscription to a list allows her/him to send messages to it, s/he would send the message to the list address, which will take the form listname@mailman.lafayette.edu. (Note that unlike most Lafayette email addresses, list addresses must include mailman before lafayette.edu.) If the subscription does not allow sending to the list, the message will not be delivered to the list membership. Whether or not the user receives notification of the message's delivery or rejection depends on the list's configuration.

Q: Is there a limit on how big a message sent to a list can be?
A: Yes. On most of the official college communications lists, the limit is 100k per message (this includes message text and any attachments). Placing a limit on message size helps prevent stress on the mail servers when large emails are sent to large lists of recipients.

Q: How does a user get permission to send a message to one of the official college communications lists, e.g., to the "Campus" or "Students" list?
A: See the policies for campus email distribution lists.

Q: Which Lafayette mailing lists can be subscribed to and unsubscribed from?
A: All Lafayette email addresses are automatically subscribed to various mailing lists used for official college communications. Due to the nature of these lists, they are configured so that users cannot unsubscribe from them. Mailing lists used for other purposes can usually be subscribed to and unsubscribed from by sending requests to special list addresses.

Q: How does a user subscribe to a list?
A: The user sends an email to the list's subscription address, which will take the form
listname-join@mailman.lafayette.edu.

For example, to subscribe to a list named "LibraryNews", the user would send a blank email to LibraryNews-join@mailman.lafayette.edu. (Note that whether or not this actually results in getting subscribed to the list will depend on the subscription policies set by the list owner.)

Q: How does a user unsubscribe from a list?
A: The user sends an email message to the list's unsubscribe address, which will take the form
listname-leave@mailman.lafayette.edu.

For example, to unsubscribe from a list named "LibraryNews", the user would send a blank email to LibraryNews-leave@mailman.lafayette.edu. (Note that whether or not this actually results in getting unsubscribed from the list will depend on the subscription policies set by the list owner. As stated above, most lists for official college communications do not allow users to unsubscribe from them.)

Q: I'm a list owner. How do I add users to my list?
A: List owners can manage the list membership through the list's Administrative Web Interface, whose URL always takes the form http://mailman.lafayette.edu/mailman/admin/listname (e.g., http://mailman.lafayette.edu/mailman/admin/librarynews). This web interface is only accessible from the campus network. If you need to access a mailing list's Administrative Web Interface from outside of the campus network, then you should first connect using the VPN. Direct questions or problems with admin access to maillists@lafayette.edu. Alternatively, you can tell users to subscribe themselves (see above).

Q: I'm a list owner. How do I approve or reject messages people have sent to my mailing list?
A: Messages and requests sent to a list are accessible via the list's Administrative Web Interface, whose URL always takes the form http://mailman.lafayette.edu/mailman/admindb/listname (e.g., http://mailman.lafayette.edu/mailman/admindb/librarynews). This web interface is only accessible from the campus network. If you need to access a mailing list's Administrative Web Interface from outside of the campus network, then you should first connect using the VPN. The List Administrator Password is required to access the Administrative Web Interface.

Q: I'm a list owner. How do I grant others permission to send unmoderated messages to my list?
A: Go the "Membership Management" area of the list's administrative interface. Unmoderated posting privileges are extended by UN-checking the "mod" box for the user.

Q: Where can I find out more?
A:
For detailed instructions regarding using the mail lists, there is a very informative user manual at http://www.gnu.org/software/mailman/mailman-member/index.html. While not all of the options detailed in the user manual may be currently functional, all of the operating functions are included in the manual.

Q: How do I request my own mailing list?
A: Send an email to maillists@lafayette.edu which contains the following:

  • Your name
  • Your phone number
  • The name of list
  • The initial list owner email address
  • Indicate if new member postings should be moderated or immediately posted to the list
You will then be called at the phone number provided with the List Administrator Password (ITS will not email passwords).

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