Mailman User Guide for Subscribers


What is a mail list?
Mailing list terms
Getting information from the list server
Doing things with the Mailman MLM
Setting your list options
Unsubscribing and accessing other lists
Password options

General subscription options
Mailing list archives
Using Mailman without the web

ITS has adopted GNU Mailman as their main mailing list server. It allows the campus community to more effectively use email for courses, departmental communications, and interactions within campus groups and clubs.

Mailman will not affect your normal e-mail operations.  As you become a subscriber to various lists you will begin receiving email traffic through the server.  All you need do to participate is read the mail as you normally would and reply to the messages as you normally would.  In addition to basic mailing list services, Mailman provides a number or web-based features that will make your participation in lists more valuable.  This document is intended for people who are members of a Mailman list and who want to get the most out of the new system. A separate guide for list managers  can be found in Mailman Quick Reference Guide  and  GNU Mailman List Manager Guide.

What is a mail list?

A mailing list is simply a list of e-mail addresses of people that are interested in the same subject, are members of the same work group, or who are taking a class together.  When a member of the list sends a note to the group's special address, the e-mail is broadcast to all of the members of the list.  The key advantage of a mailing list over things such as web-based discussion is that as new messages become available they are immediately delivered to the participants mailboxes.  Mailman, the subject of this document, is a program that will make it easy for you to customize your participation in lists that you will be using at the ANU.

Mail list terms

Before we look further at Mailman there are some key terms that it will help to understand.

A mailing list is simply a collection of e-mail addresses that will be receiving mail on a particular topic. Every mailing list has a list name and a list address. For example here at the ANU, the list address for the mail list named student_consultants is

Mailman is actually a Mail List Manager (MLM).  The mail list manager is a program on the server that makes it easy to create and remove lists, to add or remove users from lists, and to do things such as make message digests or maintain message archives.  As a list subscriber you will only be using the mailing list manager to modify your personal account preferences.

Joining or being added to a list is called subscribing.  When you leave a list it is called unsubscribing.

Many Mailman lists will be archived.  When a list is archived the mail list manager will store a copy of list traffic on the web server that you will be able to access with your browser. Sometimes mail lists will produce a lot of traffic and the additional traffic can be a nuisance in your mailbox.  One of the options that you will be able to set allows for the delivery of a digest.  If you request digest delivery then Mailman will store all of the messages that the list receives and send them to you bundled together as one large message every day.

Getting information from the list server

The Mailman web interface allows you to visit a mailing list server and find out about the lists that the server hosts.  Keep in mind, however, that Mailman will not show you lists that the managers have opted to keep private.  The URL to access the Mailman mail lists hosted at the ANU is
Every mailing list on the server, both public and private, has its own mail list information page. When you go to the server's main list information page you will see a listing of the publicly available lists along with a brief description of each.  To access the information page for a particular list (including subscription information and the list archives) just click on the name of the list. 

If you want to access a private list that is not advertised, you will need to go directly there using the following address format:<listname>
where <listname> is the name of the mail list.

If, for example, you are trying to reach the list "demo" as shown in the graphic below, you could either click on the list's name or type in It is important that you understand how to get to a mail list's information page as that is the gateway through which all mailman features are accessed. 

When you join a list or are added to the list membership by the owner the list manager software automatically sends you a note telling you the URL that you need to go to in order to access the information page.  On some lists the list manager will also send you a monthly password reminder with the web address of the list information screen.  If you have difficulty finding the location of the information page for a particular list you should contact the list owner or email


Doing things with the Mailman list manager

This section will detail some of the things that you can do with Mailman through the web interface.  This assumes that you are able to access your list's information page either directly or through the directory of lists discussed in the above section.  In the event that you are unable to access the list's web interface but still have access to e-mail, alternate instructions can be found in this document's final section: Using Mailman Without the Web.

When you arrive at the information page of a list you will see information divided into sections.  The first section directs you to the list's archives if they are available.  See the archive section below for detailed information.  The list info page also tells you how to send a message to the list.  Note that the conventional list configuration prevents postings to the list from people who have not subscribed: so if you try to send a message to the list before you join it the message will probably be rejected.





Subscribing to a list is simple and includes safeguards to prevent abuse of the list.  In the subscription section type your e-mail address and then select a password.  The password will be used later when you want to log in and change your personal settings.

When you fill out the form you also have the option to receive mail from the list batched in a daily digest.  This is convenient if you are a member of a number of lists or if the list that you are joining has a lot of traffic.  If you change your mind you will be able to change the digest option at a later time as detailed in the "options" section below.

After you supply your e-mail address and password you should press the subscribe button to add yourself to the list. Your addition to the list is not, however, immediate.  After you submit the form Mailman will send an e-mail message to the address that you used to subscribe.  The message that you receive will ask you to confirm your subscription request (this is to prevent someone from maliciously adding you to mail lists that you do not want to join).  When you receive the confirmation request just follow the instructions - the simplest thing being just to hit the "reply" button in your mail program.  If you send the message back without altering the subject line (the Re: added by your mailer is OK) then your confirmation will be accepted.

After successfully confirming your subscription Mailman will send you a welcome note.  The note will include the following important information:

You will need the information that it contains if you ever want to modify your personal settings or remove yourself from the list.  For some lists this information will be mailed to you as a monthly reminder, but just to be safe you should always keep the original.



At the bottom of the list information page is a section for people who are already subscribers.  The first option is a button that allows you to see the people who are subscribed to the list.  Note that some list owners disable this function in which case it will not appear on this page.  Other lists make this option available only to individuals who are members of the list - in which case you will be prompted for your e-mail address and your list password to visit subscriber list.

The final item on the page allows list subscribers to change their configuration information.  Members of the list can type their e-mail address into the box (they need to use the address that the mailing list delivers mail to if they have multiple addresses) and then click the Edit Options button.  Details on this feature are in the List Options section below.


Setting your list options

Once you have subscribed to a Mailman list there are number of things that you can to do to customize your subscription.  The most straightforward means of accessing your subscription options is by going to the URL delivered in your welcome message.  If you do not have it handy, then you can go directly to the list information page if you know the name of the list.  Tell your browser to open:<listname>
where <listname> is the name of the mail list. In our examples here, it is:
At the bottom of the list information page is a blank that will allow you to type in your e-mail address and click the edit options button.  Note that if you have multiple e-mail accounts you need to supply the address that you are using as a member of the list whose options you are trying to edit.  This will introduce you to a new page which allows you to do one of the following three things:


Membership Configuration and Options

Upon successful login, you will be presented with the membership configuration page which has five sections.

Log out 

Click on the Log out button to exit from the membership configuration.


Changing your membership information

This section allows you to change the email address that you are subscribed to the mailing list. A confirmation email will be sent to the new address, and the change must be confirmed before it is processed. You can  optionally set or change your real name used in the membership. If you want to make the membership changes for all the lists that you are subscribed to hosted on the Mailman server at, turn on the Change globally check box.


Unsubscribing and accessing other lists

If you want to remove yourself from the mailing list,  all you need do is turn on the check box "Yes, I really want to unsubscribe" and click the unsubscribe button.

It is likely that you will be subscribed to several lists that reside on the same server.  Mailman allows you to jump from one configuration screen to the other through the use of the "Your other subscriptions" feature.  This is useful, for example, if you are going on vacation and need to change to the no mail option on several lists while away.


Password options

The password section of the configuration screen provides you with two options.  First, it allows you to look up your password if you have forgotten it.  Note that for security purposes it will email your password to the email address that you have registered - preventing unauthorized access to your password. For the same reason, you should not use your valuable passwords for your list password.

The second section allows you to change your password.  To change your list password you need to type in your old password once and then the new password twice.  It is a good security habit to change all of your passwords once a month; it is also a good idea to change your password from the computer generated random password if you were added to the list by the list administrator.

There are two additional things that you should know about Mailman's handling of passwords.  As a convenience to the user, some list manager may configure their lists to send you a monthly reminder of the lists that you are subscribed to, the list information URLs of those lists, and your personal passwords for those lists.  When you receive this reminder you do not need to do anything, but it is a good idea to keep the note in case you want to make modifications to your subscriptions.  It is also important to keep in mind that you have a separate password for each of the lists that you are subscribe to, even though they may be on the same mail server.  For convenience you may visit each list and set your password to something common, but changing your password on one list will not change your password on others on the same server.  If you ever forget a password, remember that you can request that it be sent to you from the list information page.


General subscription options

At the bottom of the configuration screen are the general subscription options for the list as they are set for your account.  When you first load this page the options reflect your current settings.  You may make changes to these settings and then put them into effect by clicking on the "Submit My Changes" button at the bottom of the screen.

Here are the options and explantions.

Mail Delivery

Click on Enabled if you want to receive messages posted to the list.
Click on Disabled if you do not want to receive messages posted to the list.
Click on Set globally  if you want  your selected delivery option applied to all your lists on the server.



Click on Off if you want  messages sent to the list  delivered to you one at a time.
Click on On if you want messages posted to the list sent to you bundled into one single message, usually one daily.


Get MIME or Plain Text Digests

MIME is a way of sending mail that allows for document formatting and the easy shipping of attachments.  Most modern mail readers can handle MIME mail; older, text-based mail readers may have problems.

Click on MIME if you want digests to be sent in MIME-compliant format.
Click on Plain Text if your mail reader has problems with MIME digests.
Click on Set globally if you want your selected option applied to all your lists on the server.


Receive your own post to the list?

Click on Yes if you want to receive a copy of every message you post to the list.
Click on No if you do not want to receive a copy of any messages you post to the list. Some people find copies of their own messages annoying, this option will prevent then from having to read their own words.


Receive acknowledgment mail when you send mail to the list?

No - when you send mail to the list, you will have to assume that your message has been successfully received by the list manager and is on its way.

Yes: - when you send a note to the list, the list manager will send acknowledgment of its receipt.  This is particularly helpful in two instances: when you are subscribed to the digested version and will not see your own posting until the following day; and when the list is moderated and the moderator may not review/forward your note to the list for some time.


Get password reminder email for this list?

Provided your list manager has enabled the password reminder feature for the list, you will get a monthly reminder of your password of your list password. If you do not wish to get the reminder, click No. Click also Set globally if you want this to apply to all your lists on the server. However, if the list manager has opted to disable the password reminder feature, setting the option to Yes will have  no effect.


Conceal yourself from subscriber list?

No - people who have access to the "Visit Subscriber list" option will be able to see that you are a member of the list.
Yes - people who have access to the "Visit Subscriber list" option will not be able to see you listed even though you are a member of the list and receive messages.


Avoid duplicate copies of messages?


After making changes to any of these settings you scroll to the bottom of the screen and click the "Submit My Changes" button.  After submitting your changes the page will be reloaded and the settings should reflect any modifications that you made.


Mailing list archives

Most list managers will choose to activate Mailman's powerful archival features to make list traffic available to members.  Mailman makes it archives available through each list's information page.  Keep in mind that the list manager may have chosen not to archive a particular list to which you belong.  Also keep in mind that it is a general practice to make the list archive available only to individuals who are subscribed to the list.

If the archive is "open" then you will be able to go straight in from the information page.  If the archive is for subscribers only then you will be prompted for your e-mail address (make sure to use the address that the list knows you as) and your list password.  See the Password Options section if you need to find out what your list password is. Once in, you will be shown a historical listing of list traffic similar to the one shown at right.

The default setting for the archive is to divide messages by month.  Do not be surprised, however, if you see some other division of the archive contents: the list manager decides how things will be divided up.  There are different viewing options for each month:


After you have chosen how you wish to view the archive you will see the headers of the notes displayed according to your specified criterion.  To read an individual note just click on the subject line.  When the note appears there will be additional navigational information allowing you to see the previous or next messages (as you had them sorted), or to request the listing of all of the notes again sorted by a different criterion.

Using Mailman without the web

There is also an email interface to Mailman if you have no access to the World Wide Web. The following describes commands you can send to get information about and control your subscription to Mailman lists at this site.  A command can be in the subject line or in the body of the message. Commands should be sent to
where listname is the name of the mailing list.

The following describes the list commands. Note that words in "< >"s signify REQUIRED items and words in "[ ]" denote OPTIONAL items.  Do not include the "< >"s or "[ ]"s when you use the commands.

confirm <confirmation-string>



password [<oldpassword> <newpassword>] [address=<address>]

subscribe [password] [digest | nodigest] [address=<address>]

unsubscribe [password] [address=<address>]

who password [address=<address>]