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Abstracts - 12th Systems Administration Conference (LISA '98)

Mailman: The GNU Mailing List Manager

John Viega - Reliable Software Technologies
Barry Warsaw and Ken Manheimer - Corporation for National Research Initiatives


Electronic mailing lists are ubiquitous community-forging tools that serve the important needs of Internet users, both experienced and novice. The most popular mailing list managers generally use textual mail-based interfaces for all list operations, from subscription management to list administration. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests that most mailing list users, and many list administrators and moderators are novice to intermediate computer users; textual interfaces are often difficult to use effectively.

This paper describes Mailman, the GNU mailing list manager, which offers a dramatic step forward in usability and integration over other mailing list management systems. Mailman brings to list management an integrated Web interface for nearly all aspects of mailing list interaction, including subscription requests and option settings by members, list configuration and Web page editing by list administrators, and post approvals by list moderators. Mailman offers a mix of robustness, functionality and ease of installation and use that is unsurpassed by other freely available mailing list managers. Thus, it offers great benefits to site administrators, list administrators and end users alike. Mailman is primarily implemented in Python, a free, object-oriented scripting language; there are a few C wrapper programs for security.

Mailman's architecture is based on a centralized list-oriented database that contains configuration options for each list. This allows for several unique and flexible administrative mechanisms. In addition to Web access, traditional email-command based control and interactive manipulation via the Python interpreter are supported. Mailman also contains extensive bounce and anti-spam devices.

While many of the features discussed in this paper are generally improvements over other mailing list packages, we will focus our comparisons on Majordomo, which is almost certainly the most widely used freely available mailing list manager at present.

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Last changed: 27 Mar 2002 ml
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