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Mailman List Management - Quick Start

This page describes the most common activites required of the manager of a Mailman mailing list. For additional details, see the user manual.

Getting Started

If you are new to Mailman and are setting up or managing a list for the first time, you may want to actually try out some of the admin activites below as you read through this. For example, start by subscribing yourself to your list. No, you are not automatically subscribed even though your email address may be set as the list admin. After that, try sending a post to the list and see if you receive it back. You can also try setting the mod (moderate) flag on your own subscription and posting to the list to see how moderation works.

The Mailman Web Interface

When your list is set up, you will receive a confirmation message containing the list administrator password, the management page URL, and other information. The management page URL will look something like this:

The domain name may be different, and it will be your own domain if you have one. When you direct your browser to that URL, you will be prompted to enter the password. You can change that password later if you like.

On the main admin page, and on other admin pages for different activities, you will always see the menu of activities across the top of the page like this:

Configuration Categories
Other Administrative Activities
  • [General Options]
  • Passwords
  • Language options
  • Membership Management...
  • Non-digest options
  • Digest options
  • Privacy options...
  • Bounce processing
  • Archiving Options
  • Mail<->News gateways
  • Auto-responder
  • Content filtering
  • Topics
  • Tend to pending moderator requests
  • Go to the general list information page
  • Edit the public HTML pages
  • Go to list archives

  • Logout
Each of the items above is a link that will take you to a page to perform related actions. In the descriptions below, menus and sub-menus will be shows as Menu Item -> Submenu Item.

Generally, the pages are fairly self-descriptive. In addition, there are popup help links ("details for ...") for many items. Following are common activites and how to perform them.

Subscribe New Members

You may choose to allow people to subscribe themselves to your list. You can advertise the "list information" page URL which looks something like That is, it is the same as the admin page, except it has "listinfo" instead of "admin". With this, you still have the option to approve each subscription request before it is activated. You can set the option on Privacy options -> Subscription Rules. "Require Approval" means that you the list administrator will be notified by email when a subscription request is made, and you can then accept or reject it. "Confirm" means that the user can complete their subscription by responding to an email sent to them automatically after they enter their request.

You may also subscribe members administratively. Perhaps you receive subscription requests from other sources, or you want to import an existing list of subscribers. That is done on Membership Management -> Mass Subscriptions. On this page, there is a text block into which you enter addresses to be subscribed, one per line. You can also prepare a file in advance and click on 'browse' to upload it. Each line should be formatted in one of two ways:
  • name@domain.tld
  • Real Name <name@domain.tld>
That is, you can keep just email addresses in your database, or you can keep additional information such as the subscribers real name, phone number, etc. along with the email address. Using the second style, simply enter the email address in angle-brackets follow the other info.

After you have entered one or more addresses as above and selected the desired options above the text box, click "submit your changes" to activate the addresses. Note that it is an option to actually subscribe all the addresses, or to just send an invitation. Lists should always be "opt-in" -- that is, people are not subscribed unless they request subscription. However, you may invite potential subscribers with the 'invite' option, and they can complete the subscription process by simply clicking on the accept link.

What Type of List Do you Need

There are several different purposes for which Mailman lists are used, and there are a few parameters that should be set to provide the type of service you want.
  1. A discussion forum among a number of people.> With this type of list, the subscribers are generally allowed to post messages to the list. For this type of list, use the following settings:
    sender filters -> new member postings moderated? no
  2. A distribution or publication list. With this type of list, only one or a few people send messages, and most subscribers only receive them. For this type of list, use the following settings:
    sender filters -> new member postings moderated? yes
    Then, for each subscriber that is allowed to post, turn off the mod (moderate) flag for that subscriber.
The difference here is only that, for a distribution list, posts from members are not accepted by default.

Finding and Changing Subscriber Settings or Unsubscribing

You can change a number of settings for each subscriber or unsubscribe someone using the Membership Management -> Membership List page. On that page, all of the subscribers will be shown if it is a small list. For a larger list, they will be shown on separate pages based on the first letter of the email address. Click on the letter to bring up the page of email addresses starting with that letter.

Alternately, you can search for all or part of an email address or personal name if you have entered personal names in your database. Type something into the "find member" text area and click "search" to find all matching entries.

For each subscriber shown, there are a number of settings in the columns to the right. You can click to turn on or off a setting, and then click "submit your changes" to make them effective. Here are the more commonly used settings:
  • Unsub - Check this and submit to unsubscribe the user. Caution: Once submitted, it cannot be undone except by resubscribing the person in the usual way.
  • Mod - If this is not checked, the subscriber will be allowed to post to the list. If it is checked, a post from the subscriber will be held for review by the list manager who may then decide to accept it or reject it.
  • Nomail - If this is checked, list mail will not be sent to the subscriber although they remain subscribed. This is sometimes used for temporarily stopping mail such as while on vacation. If not checked, mail will be sent to the user.
  • Digest - If this is not checked, each post to the list will be sent to the user immedately in the normal way. If it is checked, individual posts are not sent to the user; rather, a number posts are collected into a digest and sent once per day. Users on active discussion lists sometimes choose this; otherwise it should remain off. Note that posts in the digest typically lose much of their original formatting.
Generally, subscribers can unsubscribe themselves using the "list information" page above. In some cases, there many be other ways in which unsubscribe requests are made and processed administratively.

General List Settings

The General Options page contains many settings for the list. You will want to review this page and at least add some information when setting up a new list. Note that more information about each setting is available by clicking the "details for..." link. None of the description fields are required if they are not appropriate to your list.
  • List name - You cannot change this, but you can change the capitalization as the name will be shown.
  • Administrator email addresses - These are addresses to which administrative notices will be sent. It does not give any access to control the list, nor even subscribe the addresses.
  • Moderator email addresses - These are addresses to which moderator notices will be sent. Moderators get requests to review and approve moderated posts but no other administrative notices.
  • Terse identification - A one-line or less identification for your list.
  • Introductory description - A longer description of the list which is shown on the list information page.
  • Prefix for subject line: Normally the list name, this appears at the beginning of the subject line for each message sent to the list to identify it as coming from the list.
  • New-subscriber welcome message - A message to be sent to each new subscriber if the following setting is "yes".
  • Send mail to poster when their posting is held for approval - Turns on or off the automatic sending of an acknowledgement email to let someone know that their post is being held.
  • Emergency Moderation - This will cause all posts to be held but without changing the per-user moderation flag. It is typically used when a discussion list as erupted in a "flame war" and a cooling off period is needed.
  • Maximum length - Posts longer than this will be held for moderation. This size would need to be increased for lists which permit attachments, pictures, etc. Be careful about increasing it for lists with many subscribers. Even with attachments, email messages larger than a few hundred Kbytes should be avoided in favor of a URL to a web page with the attachment or other method.


You can change the password for list administrator and moderator functions on the Passwords page. This page also describes the differences between administrator and moderator functions. Note that only the password is required to access the various admin and moderator functions; it is independent of what addresses the admin notices are sent to as set on the General Options page.

More About Who Can Post and When

As noted above, the mod (moderate) setting for each subscriber determines whether that subscriber can post to the list without delay or their post will be held for review by the moderator. There are a number of other settings that control what happens when a post for the list is received.
  • Nonmember Posts - The first question to be answered when a post is sent to the list is, is the sender a subscriber? That is, is the email address of the sender the same as one of the addresses subscribed to the list. If not, then the post is considered a nonmember post. Long ago, it was possible to have a list where nonmembers were allowed to post messages. Now, that is virtually impossible because of spam. Allowing nonmember posts would result in forwarding spam to a larger number of people. Therefore, the default is almost always to discard nonmember posts. This is the setting at the bottom of privacy options -> sender filters called "generic nonmember action". The list administrator may choose to hold nonmember posts and approve them; however, most lists, especially large ones, will get increasing amounts of spam that the moderator must wade through. The reject setting should never be used and is disabled because spam often has a forged sender address.
  • Moderated Posts - When a post comes in from a subscriber who is moderated, the usual action is to hold the post for moderator review. However, if subscriber posts are never allowed, such as on a distribution list, a reject message may be sent automatically to advise the sender that the list is not available for member posts. The member moderation action item on privacy options -> sender filters can be set to reject, and an appropriate message entered into the text box below.

Archiving Posts

A nice feature of Mailman is that all posts may be saved automatically in an archive and viewed subsequently via the archives link on the list information page. The archive is on by default, but if you do not wish to keep an archive for your list, you may turn it off in the Archive Options page. When there is an archive, it is viewable by list member only as a default. If you wish to allow anyone to view the archive, you can set it to public on that same page.

Handling Moderated Posts

When a post to the list is held for moderation, the list admin and moderator addresses will be sent a notice. For convenience, the notice will include a copy of the post and a link to the moderator requests page. For each post awaiting review, you may approve, reject, or discard it, or you may leave it for later consideration. If a post is rejected, a message is sent to the sender saying that the post has been rejected. If you want to give a specific reason for rejecting the post, click on the "view details" link. This allows the header and content of each post to be reviewed, and also allows a specific rejection message to be entered.

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