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About Mailing Lists

1. What Are Mailing Lists?

Electronic mailing lists allow groups of people with common interests to exchange mail quickly and easily. It is usually possible to achieve the same result with Usenet newsgroups, but a major drawback of newsgroups is that it can be difficult to set them up to allow private communications.

Mailing lists require specific software to manage the subscriptions, handle the mail, archive messages and so on. Unfortunately there are several different mailing list management programs, which are all slightly different. IT Services has been using the Sympa mailing list system since July 2014.

There are a number of different ways in which one may communicate with mailing list software. Commands for subscribing, unsubscribing, requesting help and information on a given list and configuring a list can be sent in the To or Subject line of the email header or may be sent in the message body.

2. Addresses to Mailing Lists

Each mailing list will usually have at least one, and usually more, email addresses associated with it. These are:

  1. listname @ site: The address for the actual list. Any mail sent to this address will be forwarded to every member subscribed to the list.
  2. The third address is listname- owner@ site which is routed to the person who maintains and manages the list - this is the address you should use if you have problems unsubscribing from a list using any of the automatic methods.

3. Addresses on Mailing Lists

Here at Oxford, users of the email system have a one or more email address of the form:

This address information is contained within the 'Header' of your email.

In order to mail to a list, the address in your mail header must match that registered on the list. If you are added by the list administrator, the registered address may not match the address your mail header contains and your posts to the list will fail even though you receive other postings. 

To avoid such problems we strongly advise that, where possible you subscribe to any mailing lists yourself rather than through the list administrator (nb some lists are closed to self subscription).

Where manual subscriptions are made to lists, the administrator can add the other address form to the 'Allow' list. Please refer to the Sympa User Guide to see how to do this.

To view all your Oxford-based maillist subscriptions visit the Sympa web interface; subscriptions are shown on the left hand panel and the Manage your subscriptions button allows you to suspend a subscription or unsubscribe.

4. Communicating with Mailing List Servers

You send administrative commands to a mailing list server in the form of email messages. The messages should be sent to the general administration address (not to the address of the list itself). 

Whenever you subscribe to a mailing list you will normally be sent a "welcome" message from the list owner. This message will contain instructions on how to send messages to the list and, more importantly, how to unsubscribe. It is advisable to keep these messages so that you can refer back to them at a later date.

The different mailing list systems have different sets of commands which may be used to find out what lists are available and to manage your subscriptions. There is, unfortunately, no consistent set of commands used by all mailing list software - an exception being the command help which will get you a list of other commands available.

4.1. Sympa Lists at

The following are the addresses for basic commands that can be sent to Sympa-based mailing lists:

listname -help to receive a help file
listname -info to find out more about a particular list
listname -subscribe to add yourself to a particular list
listname -unsubscribe to take yourself off a list

4.2. Who can use Oxford's maillist service?

The mailing list service at Oxford is open to all members of the University who wish to set up mailing lists relating to the academic and social/cultural life of the University.

4.3. Jiscmail Lists

The JISCmail facility is a nationally funded service to provide mailing lists for the UK academic community. It holds a large number of lists covering a wide range of academic disciplines. JISCmail uses its own set of commands, sent to the address, including:

help to receive a help file
get jisclist memo to see a list of all current lists
review listname to find out more about a particular list
join listname firstname lastname to add yourself to a particular list
leave listname to take yourself off a list
leave * to take yourself off all lists you are subscribed to
set listname nomail stop messages sent to the list being forwarded to you
set listname mail start messages being sent to you again
query * Find out which lists you belong to

5. Other Mailing List Information

5.1. Mirroring via Newsgroups

Many mailing lists, in particular many of the local lists maintained by the IT-related special interest groups (SIGs), are mirrored to equivalent newsgroups. This allows you to read and take part in the ongoing discussions using either email or network news clients.

5.2. Signature Files

If you have a signature file that is appended automatically to all your email messages this might cause problems when you are sending administrative requests to Majordomo based mailing list services (the lines in your signature will be treated as commands). Many mailing list services have a stop or end command to be put after your last proper command. If such a command is not available, make sure that your signature file is not included in any messages you send to the mailing list service address. 

5.3. Email Etiquette

Remember that any message you send to mailing lists are seen by all the members of the list (potentially many tens of thousands of readers) - take care with what you write and how you say things.

Do not send signoff messages to the actual list. Doing so annoys the other members of the list unnecessarily, and also reduces your credibility.


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Written by IT Services. Latest revision 1 November 2017