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Majordomo List Owner's Guide


This document explains what a Majordomo list owner/administrator needs to do to maintain his mailing list, and the basics of how to do it. Most lists won't require much work from the list owner, but even with Majordomo set up to provide as much help as an automated program can, there's still some routine work associated with each list: checking the mail generated by Majordomo to make sure nothing went wrong and handling the things which slip through the cracks.

We expect that many people will want mailing lists, and we do not have the resources to handle this routine work for all of them. Therefore, we must have a list owner/administrator for each mailing list we create. You can request a new SLAC Majordomo mailing list by filling out the Mailing List Request Form.


This document contains the basic information needed to administer a mailing list. It explains basic terms and concepts, your responsibilities as a list owner/administrator, and the tools we provide to simplify this task.

E-mail and Majordomo

An electronic mail address (or e-mail address) is the equivalent of a postal mail address: it is a location to send electronic mail (or e-mail). The e-mail address points to an electronic mailbox (or e-mail box or mail drop) which holds the mail.

A mailing list is effectively an e-mail address which points to many different e-mail addresses. To be a bit more precise, an automated process accepts mail sent to that address, processes it, and resends it to a set list of addresses.

A list owner is the person responsible for maintaining a mailing list. Primarily what this involves is seeing that the list of addresses it resends mail to is current. Other responsibilities depend on the list but can include dealing with bounced messages, approving messages sent to the distribution address before they are resent, writing a short description of the list, and guiding the tone or the direction of the discussion.

Majordomo is a mailing list management program. Essentially, it's a tool to help the list owners manage their lists. It is designed to handle the routine administration of mailing lists automatically, minimizing the work the list owners need to do personally.

Using Majordomo

To control a SLAC mailing list, send e-mail to Majordomo Software . Majordomo ignores the subject line of the messages and treats the contents of the letter as a command or a series of commands, each on a separate line.

Both list owners and list subscribers use Majordomo. It accepts a large number of commands from list subscribers and executes them automatically, so that you do not need to personally subscribe and unsubscribe every individual, answer each request for information about the list personally, and so on. See the document "Majordomo for list subscribers" for more information about what list subscribers can use Majordomo to do. If you're offering a mailing list for a specific group of people, for example those in a given class or department, photocopy the document and hand it out to your intended subscribers. The more they use Majordomo, the easier your work as a list owner will be.

The list administration commands fall into four categories: subscribing and unsubscribing readers and checking your configuration file

Here's a basic chart. Commands will be described in more detail after it. Whenever reference is made to "listname", substitute the name of your list; for "password" substitute the password for your list; and for "address" substitute the e-mail address of the appropriate reader.

the command sent to Majordomo
the action Majordomo takes
approve password subscribe listname address
subscribes the address given to the named list.
approve password unsubscribe listname address
unsubscribes the address given to the named list.
Note: You may sometimes have problems with commands sent to Majordomo because your mail program breaks the line after a pre-set number of characters, often 72, causing a command-line you meant to be one line to become two lines and thus not a valid Majordomo command. It is best to control the situation by manually wrapping the lines at about 70 or less and adding the continuation character (which is a backslash: \).

The subscription commands:

At times you will want to subscribe or unsubscribe someone who hasn't sent an (un)subscribe request to Majordomo. Perhaps you want to simply subscribe everyone in your class. Perhaps someone's account has been deleted and he didn't send an unsubscribe request beforehand. You can subscribe readers by sending Majordomo the command "approve password subscribe listname address". Likewise, you can unsubscribe readers by sending Majordomo the command "approve password unsubscribe listname address". Very important: when you subscribe someone who hasn't sent a subscription request, make sure you have their correct e-mail address. For example, if you subscribe a mistyped or incorrect e-mail address, such as the correct mailrouter alias for someone who hasn't set mailrouter up to forward mail, his or her mail will be rejected and bounced back to you, the list owner. Then you'll need to find out what went wrong and unsubscribe the address. Also, make certain that the subscriber knows how to send and read mail for the list to which he or she is subscribed. If someone never reads the mail, his or her unread mail will pile up and cause problems.

The "subscribe" command is also used when someone requests a subscription that he or she isn't authorized to receive automatically. For example, someone requests a subscription for an e-mail address other than their own (unless you have an "auto" subscription policy to let anyone subscribe any address), or for subscription requests to a closed list which require a confirmation from the list owner. In either case, their mail will be forwarded to you with the e-mail address for the subscription attached if they didn't supply it. You will add "approve password" to the beginning of the line (the entire line will say "approve password subscribe listname address"), resend the mail to Majordomo, and Majordomo will take the address from the mail it forwarded to you (you must leave the mail's header intact when you reply to Majordomo, however!) and subscribe the requestor. Unsubscribing someone when unsubscription requires approval follows a similar process: the subscriber sends "unsubscribe listname" to Majordomo, Majordomo sends the request to you, you edit that line to say "approve password unsubscribe listname address" and resend the request to Majordomo.

The configuration file:

Your configuration file controls the settings of your list: the subscription policy, the digest policy, whose queries for information it will answer, who can send to the list, and so on.

Variables in configuration file:

Variable name
What the variable controls
password for handling "administrative tasks" on your list
distribute recognizable administration requests sent to list to list owner instead of list
your list appears with 'lists' command if e-mail address matches. See noadvertise
moderator password for moderated lists
does not work; leave blank (theoretically where archives are stored)
put date-last-updated at the top of the info file instead of at bottom
don't forward messages sent through list, just go through motions
a half-line description included with listname for 'lists' response
does not work; leave black (theoretically where archives are stored)
number of the next digest list issue
maximum number of days between digests
maximum line-length of digests
with the volume and issue forms, this the subject line for list digest
remove list-added footers (message_footer) for lists digests
remove list-added fronters (message_fronter) for lists digests
the current digest volume number
leave this alone (temporary space for the digest)
maximum length of unapproved message in characters; if used with digest, the maximum length of a digest in characters as well
adds text at end of all e-mail distributed by list
adds text at beginning of ordinary text of all e-mail distributed by list
adds lines to the headers of all e-mail distributed by list
if all distributed messages must be approved by a moderator
if yes, all messages send from are considered as messages from user@one.two; this affects recognition for (un)subscribe requests plus all private_whatever options
if e-mail address matches, your list is not included in the results from the 'lists' command. This overrides advertise, and by default your list is included responses to all 'lists' requests
puts a 'precedence=word' (default bulk) into the header of all messages distributed by the list
requestor must be on mailing list to get files
requestor must be on mailing list to receive index
requestor must be on mailing list to get 'info' information
requestor must be on mailing list to get 'which' information
requestor must be on mailing list to get 'who' information
delete 'received' headers when distributing mail
puts a 'reply_to=word' in the headers of e-mail distributed by the list
if used host name is appended to all address strings for resend
if used only addresses in files mentioned can get messages distributed through mailing list.
envelope/sender address for mail resent by Majordomo
strip off all comments and only add basic address to list file
word is put at the beginning of subject of all e-mail distributed by list
if people can subscribe themselves/others without approval

Your Responsibilities

Majordomo is designed to minimize the routine administrative work of lists, but some must be done by the list owner. SCS doesn't have the personnel to manage every mailing list. By agreeing to become a mailing list owner, you're taking on responsibility to see that your list runs smoothly. SCS will run Majordomo and the host machine to give you tools for this, and we will help you in an emergency. But, you must handle the routine work yourself.

If you have your list set to permit users to subscribe and unsubscribe themselves (subscription_policy=open) and to let messages sent to the list address be distributed to the subscribers without requiring validation (moderated=no), your job should be fairly easy. If you moderate the mailing list or require subscription approval, you will have more administrative work, but Majordomo will minimize the administration load.

Your administration work can be divided into two parts: work when the list is first set up and daily tasks when the list is operational. When you start a list, read this document carefully.

To manage an established list, keep a copy of this document and the Majordomo subscriber document handy. Each day read your list administration e-mail and take care of urgent needs, such as urgent subscription requests, bounce messages, and unsubscription requests. All unsubscription requests are urgent because people tend to be upset when they keep receiving mail from a list much after they requested to be removed. So unsubscription requests can balloon into problems easily. Take care of routine work: get a copy of the current subscribers to the list, handle the subscription requests and any requests for basic information about the list, and so on.

These administration tasks will not take much time unless your list becomes very large. They do need to be done regularly, otherwise minor problems become major ones.

This description has drawn heavily from the work of E. Elizabeth Bartley at The University of Chicago. Questions should be directed to the SCS Majordomo Administrator .

July 2, 2004