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Information on Mailing Lists

What is a Mailing List?

A mailing list is a way for a large group of people to hold a discusion on various topics via e-mail. Each list is usually focused on a particular topic area. You can think of it as a conference call without everyone having to be connected at the same time. When someone sends a message to the mailing list, it gets delivered to everyone on the list. What makes it different than just an e-mail alias/group is that when someone replies to the first message, the reply goes to everyone on the list (not just the person who sent the first message). Depending on the server maintaining the mailing lists, you may get one mail message every time someone posts to the list, or you may get a periodic "digest" of messages every so often.

Thus, if you're subscribed to a given list, you receive e-mail messages going back and forth between people, and you can participate in the discussion yourself or just eavesdrop. Depending on the mailing list, this can mean getting a couple of messages a week to dozens of messages a day. It just depends on how many people are on the list and how active the discussions are.

The traditional e-mail based lists are now being joined by web based e-groups which provide much the same functionality, which is supplemented with a web-based interface. For these e-groups, messages may be relayed by email, or be posted on a website. (See for example Yahoo! Groups). The remainder of the discussion on this page focuses on traditional e-mail based newsgroups.

How do you subscribe / unsubscribe to a Mailing List?

A given mailing list is maintained on a single server computer, which may maintain many lists including the one you are interested in. Usually administration of mailing lists is handled automatically by software on the server such as Majordomo, LISTSERV, or Mailman. The details can vary from system to system, so you need to consult information about each particular list to get the specifics.

Typically you subscribe, unsubscribe, and do other management details by sending an e-mail message to a particular username on the server computer and put specific commands in the body of the message. Without automated software maintaining the list, administrative details are usually taken care of by sending a message to a person who maintains the mailing list.

With a list maintained by Majordomo, to subscribe to a list you typically send a message to majordomo@server_machine with a line in the body of the email

    subscribe mailing_list_name your_email_address
The Majordomo software automatically analyzes the message and puts you on the mailing list. If you find you are uninterested in the mail from the mailing list and you want to be taken off, you again send a message to majordomo@server_machine with a line in the body of the
    unsubscribe mailing_list_name your_email_address
With a list maintained by other software such as Mailman or BESTSERV, to subscribe to a list you typically send a message to somehting like mailing_list_name-request@server_machine with a line in the body of the email
    subscribe your_email_address
Subscriptions can be for you to receive an e-mail message everytime one is posted to the list, or for you to get a "digest" version every so often (probably better for lists that have a lot of traffic).

To unsubscribe from a list (either version), you send a message to the same address which contains

    unsubscribe your_email_address
For example, suppose your e-mail address is "joe_blo@xyz.com", and you want to subscribe to the "ba_diving" mailing list (digest version), which is maintained on the server "yahoogroups.com". You would send an e-mail message
    To: ba_diving-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
To unsubscribe from this list you would send an e-mail
    To: ba_diving-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com
Each mailing list may vary from the above instructions, and you should check the instructions of each list for specific details.

How do you send a message to a Mailing list?

Just send a message like regular e-mail addressed to the address of the mailing list. For example, to post to ba_diving, you send your message
    To: ba_diving@yahoogroups.com
Note that while Majordomo lists will accept postings from everywhere, BESTSERV maintained mailing lists only accept postings from e-mail addresses of subscribers. For the later case, if you wish to post from multiple addresses send a message to mailing_list_name-request@server_machine with a line in the body of the email
    alias your_other_email_address

Last modified on March 18, 2003
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