Site home page
(news and notices)

Get alerts when Linktionary is updated

Book updates and addendums

Get info about the Encyclopedia of Networking and Telecommunicatons, 3rd edition (2001)

Download the electronic version of the Encyclopedia of Networking, 2nd edition (1996). It's free!

Contribute to this site

Electronic licensing info



Mailing List Programs

Related Entries    Web Links    New/Updated Information

Search Linktionary (powered by FreeFind)

Note: Many topics at this site are reduced versions of the text in "The Encyclopedia of Networking and Telecommunications." Search results will not be as extensive as a search of the book's CD-ROM.

First, the industry now commonly calls mailing list programs "listservers," but this is a name owned by L-Soft International, Inc., which makes the LISTSERV mailing list program, originally created by Eric Thomas in 1986. This section will discuss LISTSERV and Majordomo, a similar mailing list program.

A mailing list program is a program that uses Internet protocols to automate e-mail message distribution to members of a mailing list. Members subscribe to a mailing list, then receive a copy of all e-mail messages sent to the list. Any member can create a new message or respond to a message that was sent by another user. New messages and response messages are automatically forwarded to members of the list. A mailing list is usually set up to disseminate information about a particular topic, such as computers, politics, finance, stocks, or many other topics.

Mailing lists are excellent tools for organizations to use for in-house discussions or to provide open discussions with customers or clients. For example, Microsoft uses mailing lists when beta testing its products. Beta testers receive prerelease copies of a product and participate in mailing list discussions about that product. Many problems and technical details are often hammered out in heated mailing list discussions before the product is released.

A mailing list implements a mail list exploder. When a message is sent to the mailing list, it is exploded, meaning that duplicates of the message are sent to everyone on the list. Recipients usually receive a message in a few minutes on the Internet. However, some recipients may choose to have messages sent in digest form, which means messages are bundled in a package and sent once per week (or some other interval).

Generally, subscriptions to a list are open to all. To subscribe, a user sends a request to the mailing list server in an e-mail message. The server then adds the user to the list and returns a set of instructions for using the list. The user can send another message to unsubscribe from the list at any time. However, a list administrator or owner can screen subscribers, drop subscribers that are being rude, or perform other management functions.

As users exchange messages, they create message threads that can be archived and reviewed at any point. One message thread may spawn another message thread. Mailing list programs create logs of messages that are archived and can be reviewed at any time. Users can obtain a log file for a particular time period or use database functions to search for messages related to a specific topic or sent by a person of interest.

The two most popular mailing list programs are outlined here:

  • LISTSERV    As mentioned, the original mailing list server is LISTSERV, written in 1986 by Eric Thomas and now sold by L-Soft international, Inc. Mr. Thomas still oversees development of the product. It was originally designed for IBM mainframes, but is now available on VM, VMS, Windows NT, Windows 95, Macintosh, and 13 brands of UNIX. Note that LISTSERV is always spelled in uppercase and is a trademark. Other products are often called "listserv" programs, but they are really mailing list programs.

  • Majordomo    Like LISTSERV, Majordomo is a mailing list program for automating and managing mailing lists. The product is free to download from the Great Circle Web site listed on the related entries page. Its name comes from the latin "major domus"-"master of the house." Majordomo does not have the commercial aspect of LISTSERV, nor does it have all of LISTSERV's features. Readers should visit the sites listed on the related entries page to compare the features of the two products. Note that Majordomo runs on UNIX platforms and uses Sendmail, the UNIX mail agent.

Copyright (c) 2001 Tom Sheldon and Big Sur Multimedia.
All rights reserved under Pan American and International copyright conventions.