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How to Manage your LISTSERV List Effectively

Table of Contents

About Discussion Lists

A discussion list is a group where all the members have a common interest and join so that they can share ideas, questions, and comments with others who share that interest. At IUPUI, many of the discussion lists are those arranged by faculty members in order to facilitate discussion among the course's students or to fulfill course assignments.

While there are several different types of discussion list software (e.g. Listproc, Majordomo, LISTSERV), the one most commonly known and the one used on this campus is LISTSERV. We will use the term LISTSERV in our discussion, although most of the concepts discussed for use with LISTSERV are also applicable with the other discussion list software.

NOTE: LISTSERV is a registered trademark of L-Soft International and should always appear in ALL CAPS. It also should not be used to indicate a generic term such as "I belong to a listserv" or "Have you joined any LISTSERVs?"

After you have identified a list you would like to join, you request admission—subscribe—and by joining, agree to abide by that group's purpose and rules. In a discussion list, a subscriber communicates with other list members by sending E-mail to the list's electronic address. This is referred to as "posting" a message. "Administrative" commands are issued to the LISTSERV software. This idea of posting to the list's electronic address, but sending commands to the LISTSERV software, is one of the most difficult to grasp for most users.

For example, assume that I own a list named "greatlist" whose address is "iupui.edu." When I want to correspond with the subscribers of the "greatlist" list, I send E-mail to:


This "broadcasts" my message to every subscriber on the list.

The LISTSERV software that controls many lists at IUPUI also has an address of "iupui.edu." When I need to perform some administrative function regarding the "greatlist" list (and I don't have or want to use a Web-based list management tool), I send E-mail to:


Since LISTSERV is software, it can not understand general conversation. This is why you must issue commands in a very specific way to get things accomplished. For example, you should never include a subject or a signature block in an E-mail message to the LISTSERV software because it tries (and fails) to interpret those words.

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Subscribing to a LISTSERV List

If you want to subscribe to a discussion list, you need two pieces of information:

For John Smith to subscribe to the "greatlist" list, for example, he would:

  1. Send an E-mail message to: listserv@iupui.edu

  2. Not put anything in the SUBJECT line.

  3. In the message body, type: sub greatlist John Smith

  4. Not include signature block.

  5. Send the message.

This message will be sent to LISTSERV for processing. The software recognizes sub as a keyword for beginning the subscription process. Following the space it expects to find the name of a list that it knows about, and following that, the full name of the individual subscribing. If you have multiple E-mail accounts, it is important to subscribe from the account that you wish to use when corresponding with the list. Your E-mail address will be picked up by the LISTSERV software and recorded along with your name in the subscription command; it is the ONLY E-mail address that will be recognized as being valid for your subscription.

In general, at IUPUI, your return E-mail address is "@iupui.edu."

After your subscription has been received, many lists issue a "confirmation request" to which you must respond. Usually it will require that you reply to the message with the word "ok" in the body of the reply message. This will confirm to LISTSERV that your E-mail address is valid. Following the confirmation, you will receive an E-mail message indicating that you have been subscribed. It will give you "rules" about how the list functions and instructions for un-subscribing from the list. It is important that you save this message for future use. It may seem like wasted space now, but sooner or later, you'll need the information.

In the alternative, the owner of a list may subscribe you "quietly" which will result in no notification to you (other than any confirmation request generated). These "quiet subscribes" are often used with lists of limited membership where each of the participants know they are going to be subscribed, or with "class lists" where students are expected to remain subscribed for the duration of the course.

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About The E-mail Header

The E-mail header (or "junk-at-the-top") can often be beneficial to you in tracking information. Below is a sample header of a list:

Date: Thu, 12 Dec 1996 08:20:16 -0500 (EST)
To: Cynthia Hollingsworth <CHOLLING@iupui.edu>
From: "L-Soft list server at iupui (1.8c)" <LISTSERV@LISTSERV.IUPUI.EDU>
Subject: You have been added to the LIBBUILD list

In order, it tells me:

The date the message was sent.
To which of my addresses the message came.
Who the message came from.
The subject of the message.
Where any reply I send will be sent.

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The LISTSERV Application

The first step to owning a discussion list is to ask that one be created. The IU Messaging Services home is the place to start; login with your IU Network ID and password. The following sections should assist you in completing the online application form.

All lists at IUPUI must be sponsored by and at least co-owned by a FULL-TIME IUPUI faculty or staff member with a current campus mail address, campus phone, and a valid IUPUI E-mail address. In the event that a course is taught by a graduate fellow or student, the list itself must still be sponsored by a full-time IUPUI faculty/staff member who may appear as a quiet owner.

The next information concerns the list itself:

List specifications identify options that you set so that the list functions best for your purposes. Generally, the specifications that are pre-selected are the "best fit" for IUPUI lists. Additional information/explanation can be obtained by following the hypertext references in the online application form.

Subscription: By Owner / Closed / Open

"By owner" means that only the owner can add new subscribers and any requests for subscription are ignored. "Closed" means that only the owner can add new subscribers, but that any requests for subscription are sent to the owner for review. "Open" means that properly phrased subscription requests are added to the list

Review: Owners / Private / Public

This option determines who can see the names and E-mail addresses of all subscribers. For any list, LISTSERV administration recommends "Owners" to help keep businesses and unscrupulous individuals from collecting E-mail addresses for junk mailings ("spams"). A setting of "Private" is acceptable when the membership of the list is controlled. "Public" means that anyone can issue a review command to see (and gather names and E-mail addresses of all subscribers).

Send: Private / Public / Editor

This option determines who can post messages to the list. For a class list, LISTSERV administration recommends either "Private" or "Editor. " "Private" will allow only those who are subscribed to the list to post messages to the list. "Public" will allow anyone to post to the list. Lists identified as "Editor" will send all postings to the person identified as editor for review who can then reject or post the message to the list.

Reply to: List / Sender

If a list is specified as "Reply to: List," then all replies will be posted to the list subscribers, resulting in a more interactive discussion. The "Reply to:Sender" specification will only send a reply to the specific person who issued the message.

Confidential: Yes / No / Service

A master list of LISTSERV discussion lists and list descriptions (as well as lots of other information about LISTSERV) is available to anyone with a web browser. For a class list, LISTSERV administration strongly recommends "Yes" so that the course list does NOT appear in the master list.

Log Messages: No / Monthly / Yearly / Weekly

This option specifies the frequency that logs of all correspondence are created. The default is "No."

Digest Messages: Daily / Weekly / Monthly / No

Many times, frequent incoming E-mail messages are disruptive. This option allows an owner to specify that a "bulk" message be created at specified intervals of activity on the subscription list. Included in that "bulk" message will be all messages that have been posted within that interval. NOTE: This option does not automatically cause postings to arrive in digest form—it only stipulates the digest frequency if the user specifies that he/she wants to receive mail "in bulk." For more information, see the LISTSERV QuickDoc "Combining Your Mail."

Sender Copy: No / Yes

This determines whether a user automatically receives a copy of his/her own posting as an incoming E-mail message. (Senders usually have their own postings available to them in their "out-box" and have the option of specifying that they wish to receive copies of their own posts as incoming E-mail). To set the option that you receive copies of your own postings, send E-mail to: listserv@iupui.edu. Do not include a SUBJECT: or a signature block. In the body of the message, type: quiet set listname repro where "listname" is replaced with the actual name of the list you are posting to.)

Service Area: IUPUI and IU systems / IUPUI / Unlimited

List Management strongly recommends that this option be set to IUPUI and IU Systems.

The final option available to you during the list creation request is to initially add up to 15 subscribers. This is optional. Subscribers added to the list at this point will NOT receive the standard welcome and list "rules."

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Web-based List Management

Most of the tools for list management described further in this tutorial can now be accessed through the interface on the Messaging Services Web page. Directly below in this section is a description of some of the more common tasks that list owners can accomplish through the Web-based List Management.

List Passwords

The first time you access the Web-based list management page, you will receive a page indicating that you must login. Click the link "get a new LISTSERV password first." Your LISTSERV password should NOT be the one you use to access Network services such as computer and E-mail accounts. After you have set your password, you can choose to allow a cookie to be set in order to "remember" your password (a good option if you are only one to use your computer) or login without setting a cookie (meaning that you will need to supply your LISTSERV password and E-mail address each time you access the Web-based List Management page).

After you login, you will be presented with a message indicating that your cookie has been successfully stored. Click "follow this link" to access the Web-based list management page. If you chose to have a cookie stored, this is the page you will automatically be taken to in subsequent visits to the Web-based list management page. It allows you to manage any lists that you own on the IUPUI LISTSERV server.

You will generally not use most of the utilities on this page that are available to you, and until you are confident you can handle any "mistakes" you make, you should be careful to "look but not touch" any of the options. To get started, if you own multiple lists, you will need to choose the list from the drop-down box that you want to work with.

Managing List Subscribers

If you have not already done so, choose the list that you want to work with from the drop-down box. Then, click the "Subscribers" button. From the subscribers page, you can examine or delete a subscription, add a subscriber, or review the list membership.

To examine or delete a subscription

  1. Type the name or E-mail address of the individual. You can use "wildcards" if you don't know the exact name or E-mail. Particularly with lists with large subscriber lists, it will be easier if you are not overly restrictive in how you list the name/E-mail.

    If, for example, you type "sbrown@iupui.edu" but the individual's E-mail address is really "sbrown1@iupui.edu" it will not find the listing. It would be better to type "sbrown*" or "*brown*" and let the LISTERV software locate the entry for you.

  2. After you have typed the search term, click the "Search in" button. If your search returns only a single entry, then it will display that entry, allowing you to examine, change, or delete the entry. If your search returns multiple entries that match your search term, you will be able to click the name of the record you wish to work with, then click Examine or Delete.

  3. When viewing a subscriber's entry, you can change subscription options by clicking radio buttons or check boxes, or change the subscriber's name and/or E-mail address. When you've finished your selections, click Update. If you need to delete this subscriber's subscription, click the Delete button.

To add a new subscriber to the list

  1. Type the individual's name and E-mail address in one of the two ways shown in the example.

  2. You can then choose to add the subscriber with or without notification.

Managing List Options

To review your list options and settings, click "Configuration." This displays the header of your list and lists the options you made when you completed the list application form (unless you have made subsequent changes to the list options).

In addition to those selections you made, you will also see some that you don't recognize—these are ones added by List Maintenance and should not be changed. In general, you may change these options: Subscription, Review, Send, Reply-to, Confidential, Notebook, Digest, and Service. To review what these options mean and what alternate settings are available, review the section of the tutorial that discusses the List Application.

Reviewing Subscription List

To review a complete subscription list, click the "Reports" button. This will allow you to review all subscribers' names and E-mails, and list settings.

Web-based List Moderation

If your list is a moderated list, you can easily manage messages waiting for your review by clicking the "Moderation" button.

Performing Bulk Operations

Particularly with LISTSERVs that support specific classes, it is often useful to be able to delete all subscribers and to add new subscribers without discontinuing a list and submitting a new application. Clicking the "Bulk op." button will allow you to delete and add subscribers "in bulk" to your list. While this is a very valuable time-saving utility, it is also very powerful. When you choose to delete subscribers in this way, there is no reversal of the task. Make certain you read the instructions and examples carefully before using Bulk Operations.

Creating a Welcome Message

By default when a subscriber is added to a list, LISTSERV sends a message to both the new subscriber and the list owner(s) explaining the function of the LISTSERV and describing how to unsubscribe from the list. This generic message is automatic. However, list owners may choose to create a personalized welcome message that welcomes subscribers to the list, explains the form and function of the list, or provides any other guidelines and policies that may be desired. (NOTE: It is possible to create a farewell message that will be sent to individuals who unsubscribe as described in this section. You should not alter any of the other message templates listed.)

To create a welcome message, click the "Templates" button, then click "Edit Form." Type or paste in your welcome message, then click Update.

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Managing a List through E-mail Commands

When you can't access the web interface, you can use the instructions and examples below to work with your list.

List Passwords

LISTSERV software requires that a password be defined for each owner so that list option change requests can be authenticated. To add a password for yourself (this single password is valid for all LISTSERV lists owned by you on a given server—in this case "@iupui.edu"),

  1. Send E-mail to: listserv@iupui.edu

  2. Do not include a SUBJECT: or a signature block.

  3. In the message body, type: pw add yourpassword
    where you replace "yourpassword" with the password of your choice.

For example, if I wanted to set my password for my LISTSERV lists to "rustynail," I would type: pw add rustynail

NOTE: For security reasons, DO NOT use your network password—the one you use to log on for your E-mail—as the list password.

LISTSERV will respond with a message to you, to which you MUST reply with an "ok" in the body (do not use the quotes). Your personal password will work on ALL lists owned by you running on an IUPUI LISTSERV list.

If you forget your password, you can reset it, then add a new password. To reset your password, send E-mail to: listserv@iupui.edu. Do not include a SUBJECT: or a signature block. In the message body, type: pw reset (keep in mind that it will reset on all lists owned by you running on an IUPUI LISTSERV list).

Adding Subscribers

If your list is a "Closed" or "By Owner" subscription, subscribers cannot add themselves to the list by simply issuing an appropriately worded command to LISTSERV. (Remember: administrative requests go to LISTSERV!)

Send E-mail to: listserv@iupui.edu. Do not include a SUBJECT: or a signature block. In the body of the message, type—one per line—the subscription requests. The requests must follow the form of: add listname emailaddress personalname

For example to add Sally Jones, Bobby Black, and Gina Smith to the "greatlist" list, I would type:

add greatlist sjones@iupui.edu Sally Jones
add greatlist rblack@wpo.iupui.edu Bobby Black
add greatlist gsmith@aol.com Gina Smith

When you add subscribers in this manner, each subscriber will receive both a "welcome" message and instructions on how to unsubscribe from the list. You, as owner, will also receive a copy of those two messages in addition to a message from the LISTSERV indicating that you successfully added the individual(s).

If you prefer that the subscribers not receive the messages, you can quietly add subscribers (resulting in no welcome/how to unsubscribe messages) by adding the word "quiet" before each add command:

quiet add greatlist johnston@iupui.edu Joe Johnston

Deleting Subscribers

Occasionally you will find it necessary to delete subscribers from your list. Deleting follows the same form as adding. You can either delete them with notice, or without. If messages to a given user are bouncing back to you and not being delivered, you should delete them quietly; otherwise, your delete notification will also bounce back to you. On the other hand, if you are deleting a user for a list infraction, you will probably want to delete them with notice so that he or she knows you deleting him/her from the list. (Some owners, depending on the severity of the infraction, prior to issuing the delete command, make a public posting to the list outlining the infraction for the education of others on the list—this is considered extreme measures!) Following are the two examples:

del greatlist johnston@iupui.edu
quiet del greatlist johnston@iupui.edu

Notice that it is not necessary to give the personal names when deleting subscribers, only the E-mail addresses.

Changing List Options—Using the List Header

There are times when you will need to change the options of your list, including owners' and editors' E-mail addresses. These options are located in the "header" of your list.

It is extremely important that you do not experiment with areas of the list header unless you feel comfortable enough with managing your list to correct any errors.

To make changes to the header via E-mail,

  1. Send a message to: listserv@iupui.edu

  2. Do not include a SUBJECT: or a signature block.

  3. In the message body, type: get listname (header
    where you replace "listname" with the actual name of your list.
    NOTE: There is NO closing parenthesis.

For example, if I need to change the option from "Open Subscription" to "By Owner" in the "greatlist" list, I would type:

get greatlist (header

You will receive back from LISTSERV two E-mail messages:

Here are examples from my command:

The output file:

Date: Thu, 7 Nov 1996 15:04:47-0500
From: L-Soft list server at iupui (1.8c) <LISTSERV@LISTSERV.IUPUI.EDU>
Subject: Output of your job cholling
To: cholling@IUPUI.EDU
> get greatlist (header
File GREATLIST LIST has been mailed to you under separate cover.
The GREATLIST list has been locked. Do not attempt to add recipients on the fly when you send back the header; if you want to make changes to the recipients list, you must use the regular GET command.
Summary of resource utilization
CPU time: 0.030 sec Overhead CPU: 0.090 sec
CPU model: 166MHz Pentium (64M)

And the header file:

* The List of Great Things
* OWNER=CHOLLING@iupui.edu (Cindy Hollingsworth - Admin)
* Owner=quiet:
* Owner=jdoe@iupui.edu (John Doe - Quiet Co-Owner)
* Owner's Campus Address: BY555
* Owner's Campus Phone: (317) 274-0752
* Owner's Department: The Dept of Great Things
* This list was installed on: 05/01/95
* Installer initials: hs
* Subscription = Closed,Confirm
* Review = Owner
* Send = Editor
* Editor = cholling@iupui.edu
* Moderator = cholling@iupui.edu
* Reply-to = Sender,Ignore
* Confidential = No
* Notebook = No
* Default-options = NoRepro
* Files = Yes
* Ack = No
* Notify = Yes
* Validate = Store only
* Errors-To = Owner
* Auto-Delete = Yes,Semi-Auto

To replace the header,

  1. Forward the header file sent to you by LISTSERV to: listserv@iupui.edu

    By forwarding the message back to LISTSERV, you can edit the file as necessary and remove any symbols the forwarding feature of the mailing application may have added to the file.

  2. Delete everything down TO, but not including, the "PW=XXXXXXXX" line.

  3. Look for the line at the top "PW=XXXXXXXX" and replace the Xs with the password you chose (see List Passwords for help in adding or resetting a password); the header will NOT be replaced without an authenticated password.

  4. Make sure that EACH line begins with an asterisk (even a space at the beginning will cause the header to not be replaced) AND that none of your lines wrap to the subsequent line.

  5. Send the message back to LISTSERV.

In the event that you have attempted to work on the header of your list and not completed the process of putting it back, the list header will remain locked. You may not notice that it is locked until the next time you attempt a modification (a locked header will not affect the functioning of your list). At that time you will receive a message from LISTSERV that the file is locked and has been since xx/xx/xx. To unlock the file,

  1. Send E-mail to: listserv@iupui.edu

  2. Do not include a SUBJECT: or a signature block.

  3. In the message body, type: unlock listname
    where you replace "listname" with the name of your list.

For example, to unlock the "greatlist" list, I would send the message:

unlock greatlist

Review the Subscription List

Periodically, you may want to review your list's subscription. One of the primary reasons I review the "greatlist" list is to verify subscribed addresses before deleting them.

To review your list, send E-mail to: listserv@iupui.edu. Do not include a SUBJECT: or a signature block. In the message body, type: rev listname. Replace "listname" with the name of your list.

For example, if I want to review the "greatlist" subscription list, I would type:

rev greatlist

LISTSERV will return the header and complete subscription list. (NOTE: even though you will see the header portion of the list, this is not the same as "getting the header.")

List Archives

If your list is set up to create an archive of list postings, you can get a listing of the available archive logs by sending an E-mail message to: listserv@iupui.edu. Do not include a SUBJECT: or a signature block. In the message body, type: index listname. Replace "listname" with the name of your list.

LISTSERV will return an E-mail message that looks similar to the following:

Return-Path: <>
Date: Mon, 15 Dec 1997 11:06:36 -0500
From: "L-Soft list server at IUPUI (1.8c)" <LISTSERV@LISTSERV.IUPUI.EDU>
To: Cynthia Hollingsworth <cholling@iupui.edu>

* Archive files for the WEBCTSUP-L list at LISTSERV.IUPUI.EDU
* (weekly logs)
*      rec    last - change
* filename filetype GET PUT -fm lrecl nrecs date time
* -------- -------- --- --- --- ----- ----- -------- --------
WEBCTSUP-L LOG9712B LOG OWN V 73 52 97/12/09 08:07:08

To receive a copy of the log, send an E-mail message to: listserv@iupui.edu. Do not include a SUBJECT: or a signature block. In the message body, type: get listname filetype. Replace "listname" with the name of your list and "filetype" with the specific log name. For example, to request the above log, my message would read:

get webctsup-l log9712b

The filetype name stands for: log year month week. The year and month are each two digits; the weeks are designated as: a, b, c, or d. So the above file is the log for the 2nd week of December 1997.

Automatic Welcome Message to New Subscribers

Along with the list guidelines and LISTSERV/computing ethics guidelines that each new subscriber receives, it is possible for you to create your own "welcome" message that will be generated automatically upon subscription. This welcome message can be guidelines for list use, policy statements, or any text message that you want to send to your subscribers.

Create the message in any text editor or word processor that allows you to "Save As Text Only with Line Breaks." Send E-mail to:listserv@iupui.edu. Do not include a SUBJECT: or a signature block. In the message body, type on the first line: put listname welcome pw=xxxxxx. Replace "listname" with the actual name of your list and "xxxxxx" with the password you have set for your LISTSERV lists. Then type your welcome message and send. LISTSERV will return a "successful" message to you and until you change the message, each new subscriber will receive a copy of this message when first subscribing to the list.

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About Bounced Mail

Mail is bounced when, for some reason, it cannot be delivered to the intended recipient. Some of the reasons may include: someone has moved from one E-mail system to another; there is a software problem at the receiving end; there is a problem at the sender's end. At first glance, "bounce" messages may see to indicate that the message was not posted to the list at all. However, if you will take the time to wade through the header of the bounced message (and it can be a tedious task!!), very often you'll get a clue as to what the problem may be (and it is usually a problem with only one address). If the message indicates that it is bouncing due to a typing error in either the network or address, you can delete the offending entry by unsubscribing then re-subscribing the person correctly.

If the error indicates that there is a problem delivering the mail but that it will keep trying for a period of time and then delete the entry, you need do nothing (except delete each of those notices you get).

If you feel particularly generous and know an individual who may have incorrectly forwarded his/her mail (as is often the case) you may give them a call and indicate that you think there may be a problem (the IUPUI Support Center staff is trained to assist users with forwarding problems and may be referred there if you're dealing with an individual with an IUPUI address).

When all else fails, delete the offending subscription. If the person really wants your information, he/she will re-subscribe (hopefully, correctly this time!)

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Discontinuing a List

Please be sure to notify LISTSERV administration when you no longer need a given discussion list. IUPUI class LISTSERV lists are renewed each year, so you may use an established list for two consecutive semesters without any action on your part other than normal list maintenance. To discontinue a list from the IUPUI LISTSERV server, you can fill out the IU Messaging Services Web page.

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