The Mailman E-mail Interface: a Guide for Majordomo Users

SWARPAnet is changing its mailing list software from majordomo to mailman. This means that all mailing lists on SWARPAnet domains (,,, etc) will become mailman lists. The reason for this change is simple: mailing list spam is a huge problem, both for the subscribers and for the list admins, and mailman has better tools for handling list spam in reasonable ways.

The primary interface mailman provides to each mailing list is a web page. For the list, this page is located at:
In many ways, the web interface is the most intuitive way to manage a list, especially if you are a list administrator and want to perform complex list-management tasks. However, mailman also has an e-mail interface which provides some commonly-used commands to list subscribers.

This document is a brief guide to how to do perform simple list tasks via e-mail in the mailman world, and is designed for people who are used to interacting with lists the majordomo way. This document contains no further information about how to use the mailman web interface, since that is somewhat self-explanatory and is widely documented elsewhere. In this guide, we use as the example domain, and assume that the list you are interested in is called It should be clear how to substitute the name of a real domain.

In particular, this document contains:

  1. General introduction to interacting with mailman via e-mail
  2. Note about mailman and passwords
  3. How to subscribe to a list via e-mail
  4. How to unsubscribe from a list via e-mail
  5. How to find out who is on a list via e-mail

General introduction to interacting with mailman via e-mail

There are two important changes here. First, you need to know what address to use in order to reach the mailing list software. In the majordomo world, requests were sent to In the mailman world, requests go to an address specific to the list in question. Normally, this address will be:

If you forget the address to use, look at the full headers of any message sent to the list. Mailman messages contain a block of headers with names starting with "List-", which give meta-information. For instance:

      List-Unsubscribe: <>,
      List-Archive: <>
      List-Post: <>
      List-Help: <>
      List-Subscribe: <>,
In particular, the List-Help entry tells you the general address for list requests, and its name is, as above.

The second big change in sending e-mail to mailman is where to place the command. Unlike majordomo (which ignores the subject line entirely) mailman uses the subject line to figure out what command you want to run. So you would send a message with:

      Subject: command
to run command, or possibly:
      Subject: command argument
if the command takes an argument.

One good command to try is help, which requires no arguments and which gives you the list of commands you can send to mailman via e-mail, including all the ones i describe on this page.

Note about mailman and passwords

Unlike majordomo, mailman has a password associated with each subscriber to a list. This password is mostly a mild anti-abuse mechanism --- it is not sent or stored securely, so do not use an important password here.

However, this means that, if you want information from a mailing list you're on, you need to know your password. (This is true for both the e-mail interface and the web interface.) If you forget it, go to the web interface and have it mailed to you. Note that the initial message mailman sends you when you successfully subscribe to a list contains your password, so, if you keep that message around, you will be able to look up the password whenever you want.

Once you have the password, how to use it depends on the command. However, the most common case is that the command will take the password as an argument on the subject line:

      Subject: command password
or, if there are other arguments,
      Subject: command password argument

How to subscribe to a list via e-mail

In order to subscribe to a list, send mail to the general help address using the subscribe command:

      Subject: subscribe
If you want to pick your password, you can specify it on the command line:
      Subject: subscribe mykickassl1stpassw0rd
(If you do not specify a password, mailman will randomly generate one for you.) If you want to subscribe using an address other than the one from which you are sending your message, specify that using address=
      Subject: subscribe optionalpassword

How to unsubscribe from a list via e-mail

In order to unsubscribe from a list, send mail to the general help address using the unsubscribe command:

      Subject: unsubscribe
As in the subscribe case above, you can specify your password and/or your address. In this case, if you do not provide a password, mailman will send a confirmation e-mail to the address it is trying to unsubscribe.

How to find out who is on a list via e-mail

In order to find out who is on a list via e-mail, use the who command. This command requires a password:

      Subject: who mykickassl1stpassw0rd
If you're writing from an address other than the one which is subscribed to the list, you can use the address= syntax described in the subscribe section to tell mailman which list user you are.

We hope this helps. Much of this information is available elsewhere in one form or another, but this page is specific to SWARPAnet, so, if it is unclear, you can write us and ask. Happy mailing list use!

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Last updated on 2005-06-23 (Thu) at 23:28 EDT