LISTSERV User Commands

  • Some General Remarks
  • LISTSERV User Commands
  • Some Do's and Don'ts for Email Discussion Lists

    Some General Remarks

    Discussion Lists

    An email discussion list is a mechanism for group communication on the Internet. Discussion lists provide at minimum two basic functions to users: (1) the ability to distribute a message to a group of people by sending it to a single central address, and (2) the ability to quietly join and leave the list at any time.

    In order to provide these separate functions, an email discussion list typically has two addresses associated with it: (1) a "listname address," the address to which you send any messages that you intend to be read by the list users (subscribers); and (2) an "administrative address," the address to which you send any commands or requests that affect your subscription to the list. At U.SC, this administrative address is: This "administrative address" allows the user to join and leave lists automatically, without external intervention.

    When you subscribe to a list hosted at, you will receive a couple of "welcome" messages, describing the purpose of the list and telling you how to unsubscribe. Save these messages! They contain information which may eventually be useful.

    There are at least five popular mailing list manager programs used to manage most Internet discussion lists: Listproc, LISTSERV, Mailbase, Mailserv, and Majordomo. The commands for subscribing and unsubscribing under most of these programs are the same; however, other useful commands differ greatly from one program to another, and some programs support features that others do not.

    Many people use the term "listserv" generically, to refer to any discussion list server program. To make things worse, the listproc program was originally called "listserv". Many listproc hosts are still configured with the name "listserv," and will accept commands addressed to "listserv@[host]" as well as to the correct name, "listproc@[host]."

    Sending Commands to

    Remember to send all commands to the "administrative address" -- -- not to the "listname address".

    Leave the "Subject:" line blank, and delete any signature file if your mailer allows you to do so.

    Always include the name of the list in the message to the list server. Typically a list server maintains many different discussion lists, and it is essential that you tell the list server which list you are talking about.

    For instance, if John Doe wants to join the discussion list, he will send an e-mail message to containing the one-line command

         subscribe g-h-mead John Doe

    A list of common LISTSERV commands is summarized below.

    Remember that individual LISTSERV commands must be on a single line, with no linebreaks, though multiple commands may be sent in a single email message.


    LISTSERV User Commands

    Join a list subscribe [listname] Firstname Lastname

    (e.g., subscribe g-h-mead John Doe)

    Leave a list signoff [listname]

    (Or leave all lists on the server:)

    signoff *

    (Or leave all LISTSERV lists in the network:)

    signoff * (netwide

    Look at your subscription options (which may be changed with the "set" command) query [listname]

    (Or to query all lists you are subscribed to on that server:)

    query *

    Receive the list in digest format (multiple messages compiled into a single daily or weekly mailing) set [listname] digest
    Cancel digest format; receive the list as separate mailings set [listname] nodigest
    Suspend mail temporarily (without unsubscribing) set [listname] nomail
    Resume receipt of messages set [listname] mail
    Receive copies of your own messages set [listname] repro

    (Or to receive simply an automatic acknowledgement that your message has been sent to the list, use:)

    set [listname] ack

    Do not receive copies of your own messages set [listname] norepro

    (To not receive an automatic acknowledgement that your message has been sent to the list, use:)

    set [listname] noack

    Obtain a list of subscribers review [listname]

    (Can also be sorted by name or by country:)

    review [listname] (by name
    -- or --
    review [listname] (by country

    (Or specify more than one sort field at once:)

    review [listname] (by (country name)

    Conceal your address, so that it does not appear on the list of subscribers set [listname] conceal

    (To reverse this command, use:)

    set [listname] noconceal

    Obtain a list of lists maintained by the list server lists

    To obtain a list of all known LISTSERV lists, send the command

    lists global

    To search for LISTSERV lists with a given keyword or character string in the description, send the command

    lists global /[keyword]

    Obtain a list of archive files for a particular list index [listname]
    Retrieve an archive file get [filename] [filetype]

    where the filenames and filetypes for archive files are given as results of an "index [listname]" command.

    (e.g., get g-h-mead log9706c)

    Search the archives for keywords or user names LISTSERV has a sophisticated and powerful search engine, using a batch-coded search language to construct queries:

    search [word1 [word2 [...]]] in [listname] from [date1] to [date2]

    -- or --

    search [word1 [word2 [...]]] in [listname] from [date1] to today

    -- or --

    search [word1 [word2 [...]]] in [listname] from today-30

    -- or --

    search [word1 [word2 [...]]] in [listname] from [date1] to [date2] where sender contains [xxxx] and/or subject contains [yyyy]

    These commands have to be sent as single lines with no carriage returns. Boolean combinations, nesting with parentheses, and a great number of other capabilities are supported.

    For a full description of LISTSERV search functions, including information on how to retrieve search results, send an "info database" command.

    Retrieve messages from the archives getpost [listname] [itemnumber]

    where item number "itemnumber" will be given as part of search results for keywords in these respective messages.

    For a full description of LISTSERV search functions, including information on how to retrieve search results, send an "info database" command.

    Obtain detailed archive search and retrieval information info database
    Send multiple commands at once e.g.,

    set [listname] repro noack

    get [listname] log9706a log9706b

    getpost [listname] [ref1] [ref2] [ref3]

    (Or send multiple lines of commands in a single message, e.g.:)

    set [listname] repro
    set [listname] noack
    review [listname]
    index [listname]

    get [filename] log9706a
    get [filename] log9706b
    get [filename] log9706c

    Obtain a detailed list of LISTSERV user commands info refcard
    Obtain a list of basic commands help

    (Or to obtain a list of available "info" topics:)



    Some Do's and Don'ts for Email Discussion Lists

    • Make sure that you are mailing your message to the appropriate recipient:
      • Personal messages go to some person's private email address.
      • Administrative commands go to the list server (LISTSERV@(server address)).
      • Messages for all subscribers go to the mailing list ((listname)@(server address)).
      To help minimize the possibility of sending private messages to a public forum, the default Reply-To: field for some discussion lists may be set to be the original sender of the message, not the whole list.
    • Clearly indicate the content of your message in the "Subject:" line in your message header. Maintain the same Subject: heading if you are contributing to an existing thread. Change it only if you are initiating a new topic.
    • Put your real name at the end of your comments if it does not appear in the "From:" line in your message header.
    • Quote selectively from posts that you are responding to. Don't just post comments at the beginning or end of a very long quoted message.
    • Provide references complete enough for scholarly purposes.
    • Attack arguments (or lack thereof), not persons.
    • Be sensitive to the cultural and disciplinary diversity of the list.
    • Make your postings to the list as relevant to the list subject matter as possible.
    • Avoid personal wrangling and irrelevant conversations.
    • Ignore obnoxious postings or postings by cranks.
    • Do not be a crank who submits obnoxious postings.
    • Look at your remarks carefully before posting them to make sure they cannot be (mis)interpreted as snide, arrogant, vile, offensive, inflammatory, self-righteous, impolite, or otherwise inappropriate. If they might be so interpreted, then they no doubt will be so interpreted by someone or other.
    • Do not post commercial solicitations or advertisements to the list.
    • Do not use the list for surveys, petitions, or for partisan purposes.
    • Avoid excessive posting to the list and make an effort to keep the list free from clutter.
    • Turn off HTML formatting when posting to discussion lists.
    • Avoid excessively long posts. Large documents, images, or html-based text can be announced to the list and made available via web links, or else sent to individual list members who personally request them.
    • Do not send email attachments to the list—different computing platforms handle attachments differently, so what works for you may not work for other list members. It is also well-known that attachments are possible vehicles for potentially destructive applications. If you receive a list message with an attachment, seriously think about that possiblity before opening it. You might want to just immediately delete it.
    • Do not forward virus warnings to the list—too often they are only hoaxes.
    • Do not use the list for sending personal email.

    University of South Carolina | College of Arts and Sciences | Philosophy Department

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