MailMan

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I've decided to use MailMan as the new mailing list software for SAR Alberta.

The software is described on the MailMan web page: http://www.gnu.org/software/mailman/

The version is Debian's stable distribution MailMan: 1:2.1.11-11

I'm on an as-needed basis converting mailing lists over to use MailMan.


Contents

[edit] Questions and Answers

[edit] pending posts

Q: I seem to be getting emails that say that there is a pending post for a mailing list. When I go there nothing is pending. Also there seems to be alot of junk emails going through this as well, emails that have jumble letters as an address.

A: Each of us, the administrators, get these notices. They are spam that the automatic filtering hasn't caught. Since we all get the notice, it's whoever checks it out first that gets to delete the message. If one of us has already done it, there will be no pending messages there.

If you want, you can just remove yourself as administrator and you won't get any notices. You can still log in with the admin password if you later want to do any admin work.

[edit] message verification

Q: How do I know whether the message went out?

A: Each MailMan mailing list keeps an archive of all messages that have been sent out. Depending on the list, these archives may be public (readable by anyone on the list), or private (readable only by people on the list). You can check the archives by selecting the list your interested in at http://castrov.dyndns.org:8080/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo and then click on the "Archives" link.

Just because a message was sent out by MailMan, doesn't necessarily mean that everyone read it. The message may have gotten lost or dropped by MailMan's or the recipient's ISP. The recipient may have lost or deleted the message unread. The recipient's address may have been wrong or corrected or added after the message went out. Of course, if anyone suspects they missed a message, they can always check the mailing list's archive to see what was sent out.

The only practical way to verify that a message was received is to ask the recipients to send you an e-mail acknowledging receipt. If you do this, make sure to ask them to send the acknowledgement to your personal e-mail address, and not to the default mailing list address. Otherwise, the mailing list will be flooded with acknowledgements that most people don't want to see.

[edit] Uncaught bounce notification

If you are list administrator, you will occasionally receive a message like this:

From: mailman-bounces@castrov.cuug.ab.ca
Sent: 2009 June 18 5:37 PM
To: sara-traincoords-owner@castrov.cuug.ab.ca
Subject: Uncaught bounce notification

The attached message was received as a bounce, but either the bounce
format was not recognized, or no member addresses could be extracted
from it.  This mailing list has been configured to send all unrecognized
bounce messages to the list administrator(s).

For more information see:
http://castrov.dyndns.org:8080/cgi-bin/mailman/admin/sara-traincoords/bounce

"Bounces" are messages that are sometimes automatically sent out when a given e-mail message cannot be delivered (for instance the address may be wrong, or the recipient may have configure their e-mail system to refuse e-mail from certain addresses). The bounce message explains why that the original message can't be delivered.

Mailing lists forward messages to lots of people and so typically generate a fair number of bounces as e-mail addresses become no longer valid. MailMan sends out its messages so that bounces come back to one address while replies return to another address. For instance, the mailing list sara-traincoords forwards messages with the bounce address (technically called the Envelope From Address) set to sara-traincoords-bounces@castrov.cuug.ab.ca while the reply address (technically called the Reply-To Address) set to sara-traincoords@castrov.cuug.ab.ca.

If people are using correct, standard-conforming e-mail software, their replies will go to the the reply address, and only bounces will go to the bounce address.

MailMan tries to automatically handle the bounces that arrive at the bounce address. It uses these messages to determine that subscribers no longer exist at the mailing address and automatically unsubscribe them. It takes a certain number of bounces for them to become unsubscribed. You can read about the configuration for your mailing list at the address mentioned, e.g. http://castrov.dyndns.org:8080/cgi-bin/mailman/admin/sara-traincoords/bounce

Sometimes messages arrive at the bounce address that MailMan can't understand. In those cases, the message is forwarded on to the mailing list administrators so they can determine if anything special needs to be done. In the example above, the message that arrived at the bounce address will be attached to the "uncaught bounce notification". You should be able to view it directly.

The message that wasn't understood by MailMan might be one of several things:

1/ A true bounce message that is in the wrong format. In this case the subscriber's company or ISP is using poorly written e-mail software that is producing non-compliant bounces. You should be able to determine which subscriber they are from the bounce message and manually unsubscribe them.

2/ Spam that has been directed to the bounce address. Spammers send spam to every address they can find and sometimes that includes bounce addresses. Ignore it. If it happens too often, let Brett Wuth know -- it might be possible to change spam settings.

3/ A legitimate e-mail message intended for the mailing list but sent to the bounce address by mistake. For instance, someone sends a message to sara-traincoords-bounces@castrov.cuug.ab.ca instead of to sara-traincoords@castrov.cuug.ab.ca. They've most likely gotten the wrong address because there e-mail software incorrectly identified the wrong address from a previous message. Perhaps they hit reply and the Reply-To address was not used. Perhaps their software copied the wrong address into their address book. In this case, it's best to reply personally to their misdirected message and ask them to resend it to the correct address. You might also alert them to the fact that their e-mail software is not operating correctly.

[edit] Adding an administrator

The password for logging in to the administration web page of a mailing list is the same for all administrators of that mailing list. To add another administrator, you therefore just give them the password for the mailing list.

MailMan will send administration e-mail to the list of addresses its provided with. To add a new address (say of a new administrator), log in to administration web page and add the e-mail address on the "General Options" in the "owner" field.

[edit] Message size limit

Q: Is there a way to sent larger bits of information?

A: When you send a large e-mail to one of the mailing lists, you may get a response from the mailing list software that the message is too large.

Each list has its own limit. The limit exists to:

  • protect the mailing list's Internet Service Provider from excessive loads. The mailing list must resend each message it receives to everyone on the list. Large messages multiplied by a large number of recipients can mean an extremely large load. If the mailing list did not have limits, the ISP would (and has in the past) suspended all e-mail for a period.
  • protect the mailing list members from large messages. Some members may still be on dial-up, especially in rural environments. Large messages take a very long time to download and can be quite annoying. Too much of this, and the members may decide to withdraw from the mailing list, which defeats the purpose of the list.
  • encourage efficiency. It's rare that messages cannot be made smaller, must be received by everyone on the list, and each recipient needs the entire contents. Most often there's a more efficient way of delivering the message, such as described below.

If none of the above reasons apply, any of the list moderators can approve the message to go out as an exception. If you're a list moderator, be sure you understand the impact before approving an exception.

If moderators find that they are always approving messages up to a certain size as exceptions, then they're not really exceptions! The moderator can raise the size limit for that list.


How can you make your message smaller?

Most likely your message is large because you are attaching a large file. Perhaps you don't need to attach a file at all. Try copying the text from the file and pasting it into an e-mail message. This technique typically makes the message a thousand times smaller. Because you're now sending just a plain e-mail it means that the recipient can read it on things like their cell phone. A disadvantage is that you may loose some of the formatting, but often the formatting is not what's important about the message.

If you can't just send the contents of the file, but really want to send a file as an attachment, perhaps the file can be made smaller. Are there embedded pictures that can be removed? Take a look at the storage size of the pictures. Can they be replaced by a more efficient form of the same picture?

One of the most notoriously inefficient situations is when a picture of text is included. This often makes the file 50,000 times larger than it needs to be. Often this is seen when a PDF is created from a page that has been scanned in. Can you retype the text? Someone created the original text before it was scanned or turned into a picture. Can you get the original text from them in its much more efficient format?

Sometimes the attachment is already as efficient as it can be. But the message still shouldn't go out because not everyone on the list will need the attachment or will use all of it or it's just too large. In such a case, what you should send instead of the attachment is a summary of what it's about and how to get it. The "how to get it" might be an invitation to e-mail you and you'll send them a copy by private e-mail. Or it could be a pointer of how to download it from some web site. SAR Alberta has it's own web site and this wiki. If the document doesn't exist anywhere else, you could ask the SAR Alberta web site manager to post it or put it yourself on this wiki.

If your message doesn't have any attachments at all, and is still too big, the message must be many pages long or you have hidden attachments. Try setting the "send as plain text only option."

[edit] Graphics

Q: Can you add graphics and color? I was just doing up a message for the Dec one and thought about putting in a border and some graphics.

A: In theory you can add graphics, but in practice it doesn't work very well. Graphics unless they are very small, take up a lot of extra space in the message and you wind up running into the mailing list's size limits.

Colour text will work, but many people's will read the message on devices that strip the colour away. So don't make your message dependent on the reader being able to distinguish green text from red.

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