What are Listservers for?
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What are listservers for?

Vratislav Richard Eugene Maria John Baptist
Bejšák (Bayshark) -Colloredo-Mansfeld
published in KLAPALEKIADA 1997, No.4
e-mail :

The purpose of a listserver is described, with instructions on how to use it, showing basic commands and etiquette. The List of listservers for entomology known to author is also included.


The listserver can be compared with
· a discussion around the table where there are more than three problems being discussed simultaneously but where only one person is speaking at time
· talking to person from another planet because you get answer on your question few hour later
· with a journal subscription because you have to subscribe, but cost nothing.
When you subscribe into listserver you will start receiving e-mail messages. In recent time some jokers subscibed their "friends" into hundereds different listservers what cloged
/ choked their e-mail box. Their unpolite messages into listservers about disconnecting have upset many list members, sometime called netters. Therefore listservers program after your subscription will sent request which has to be responded in 24 hours , mostly by typing "OK" on response message.
Some listservers are "public" and you are accepted by the software of the listserver basically straight away, some listservers are "private" and you have to be added manually by the owners.
Listserver can be "open" and can accept mail - inquire from non members (when you sent your mail into listserver, where you are not member, please do not forget to mention that and include your e-mail address for response) or can be "closed" and open only for members ( This is protection against junk mail).
You have to be very careful with your choice. Some listservers are quiet and you will get only a few messages per month (e.g. FOREST , ENT-CHIN) but some are very busy (e.g.ENTOMO-L, TAXACOM ) and you can get in some busy days, over 50 messages per day and if you are not downloading your mailbox regularly they can overflow. When your question or reply is sent into the listserver it is immediately distributed to all the members/subscribers. For example to show the range of discussion on one listserver:
I received 26 messages today from entomol-l listserver which were about:
· one request on breeding problems with Tenebrio molitor,
· one request and four replies about Colour standards,
· one request and three replies about what is the full name of a German journal ,
· ten messages in regards to a continuous discussion (which has lasted six days) about what is phalloblaster,
· five messages about how dangerous could paradichlorobenzene be, and
· one message "looking for e-mail of prof. Doyen".

The listserver is maintained by one or more people. They not only look after the technical side of listserver, but they look out for unsolicited mail ( This means that inapropriate messages are not distributed like advertising, or nonsense like ohohoh, rah rah rah, etc.). They can unsubscribe anyone who is not behaving properly. This special behaviour is called netiquette (it is abbreviation of the networks etiquette).

The listserver is run by software. Therefore each listserver often has two addresses:
one which is in "daily" use and where you send your messages and the second address is the addresses to listserver software. You can send commands as will be described below, here you will subscribe, unsubscribe or ask for help , this address is often forgotten and then badly needed. For example when you are ready to leave for your one month holiday and you need to stop messages incoming from listserver for a time.
Subscription to all listservers know to me are free of charge.

It is good to know that the traffic of messages are archived and topic discussion can be retrieved anytime. The listserver can be subscribed that way, that you are receiving all messages separately throughout the day or you can subscribe "digest" and you are receiving only one large message per day which containins all the messages received by listserver throughout the last 24 hours.
You can reply to all the listserver subscribers, or personally only to the original sender. But be careful with your response, sometimes when you hit the"reply" button your reply goes back to listserver and to all subscribers, it depends on the software of a listserver and the setup which was originally done by the owners / maintainers. It is also interesting how many subscribers of entomol-l are in the taxacom.

The listserver convention originated on the Internet a long time ago. At the time, lists were always managed manually, and this address was defined as an alias for the person(s) in charge of the mailing list. If you do not know nothing about list you would write to the "listname-Request" address to ask for information about the list, ask to be added to the list, make suggestions about the contents and policy, etc. Because this address was always a human being, people knew and expected to be talking to a human being, not to a computer. Unfortunately, some recent list management packages screen incoming messages to the "listname-Request" address and attempt to determine whether they are requests to join or leave the list. They look for words such as "subscribe", "add", "leave", "off", and so on. If they decide your message is a request to join or leave the list, they update the list automatically; otherwise, they forward the message to the list owners. Naturally, this means that if you write to the list owners about someone else's unsuccessful attempts to leave the list, you stand good chances of being automatically removed from the list, whereas the list owners will never receive your message. No one really benefits from this. There is no reliable mechanism to contact a human being for assistance, and you can never be sure whether your request will be interpreted as a command or as a message to the list owners. This is why LISTSERV uses two separate addresses, one for the people in charge of the list and one for the computer that runs it. This way you always know what will happen, especially if you are writing in a language other than English.


Basic netiquette .
To use this etiquette will prevent you from upsetting the other members of listserver, sometime called netters and from been "kick off" from listserver.
Do not use sentences in upper characters , it is mean shouting and is unpolite.
Do not send messages like ' I AGREE ', 'Me toooo', ;-) , etc.
Do not sent large messages, or e-mail with attached pictures or large files into listserver.
Do not send private messages to all.
Do not resend or use some else e-mail without permission.
Sign your messages.


Commands for listservers.

I do not know all of available software, but in many cases are recognised by most of them.
These commands was extracted from following software:
· ListProcessor last version 8.1 which was developed by the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking (CREN) e-mail: ,
· LISTSERV-NJE for VM version 1.8c, managed by: SPGSMRF@UCBCMSA.BITNET and
· Majordomo version 1.94.3 .

Here is a brief description of the set of requests recognised by many Listservers.:
( Everything appearing in this brackets : [ ] below is optional;
 everything appearing in < > is mandatory;
 all arguments are case insensitive, except mail addresses and passwords.
The vertical bar (" | ") is used as a logical OR operator between the arguments. Requests may be abbreviated, but you must specify at least the first three characters. )

All recognised requests are divided into five groups:
1. General , 2.For list, 3.For archives, 4.For list management, 5.Other,

help [topic]
Without arguments, this file. Otherwise get specific information on the selected topic. Topics may also refer to requests. To learn more about this system issue a 'help listproc' request. To get a listing of all available topics, generate an error message by sending a bogus request like 'help me'.

Retrieve the long form help for using Majordomo.

lists [local|global [keywords]]
Get a list of all local mailing lists served by this server, or of all known local and remote lists. If keywords are specified, they are treated as a logically ANDed list of strings/regular expressions; keywords can be quoted. When keywords are specified, only those lists' descriptions that match the keywords are listed.
Sometime list are very long for example there are currently 13,291 public listservers lists known to
LISTSERV@LISTSERV.UOGUELPH.CA. Without a search string, the listing generated by the LIST GLOBAL command would be over 40,000 lines long and add up to an estimated 1329k of data.

Get information about the current release of this ListProcessor software on the system.


information [list]
Order documentation.This file if no list is specified, otherwise get information about the specified list. Send an INFO REFCARD for a comprehensive reference card, or just INFO for a list of available documentation files.

Remove yourself from all mailing lists on this host.

Get a list of the current subscribers.

review [short|description|subscribers]
Review the list's settings, get the list's general information file and get a listing of the current subscribers for the specified list.

run [ ]
Run the specified command with the optional arguments and receive the output from stdout and/or stderr. To get a listing of all available commands to run, omit the arguments, i.e. issue a 'run ' request. You have to belong to the specified list, and must have obtained the password from the list's owner; the owner's address may be found in the Errors-To: header line of each delivered message.

set [Without the optional arguments, get a list of all current settings for the specified list. Otherwise change the option to a new value for that list (or the list default if that value is missing).
Valid arguments are: mail [ACK|NOACK|POSTPONE|DIGEST]
                        password [new-password]
                        conceal [YES|NO]
                        preference [preferences]
Issue a 'help set' request for more information.
For example SET DIGEST will set your incoming mail one compiled per day. Before you go to conference or vacancies is clever to set SET NOMAIL and when you come back to SET MAIL again.

Same as 'set ' with no arguments.

statistics {[subscriber email address(es)] | [-all]}
Get a listing of non-concealed subscribers along with the number of messages each one of them has sent to the specified list. If the optional email addresses are given, then statistics will be collected for these users only.
For example:
                stat foo user1@domain user2@domain
will generate statistics about these two subscribers. "-all" compiles statistics for all users that have posted on the list (whether currently subscribed or not).

The only way to subscribe to a list.
In some cases listserver respond by sending you special e-mail which has to be responded in the 24 hours. Mostly you need to only send back 'OK ' in text section, be carefull and do not change subject line. In recent time some jokers send subscription behind their friends into over thousands listservers and this partly prevent it.
Example how to subscribe / join:
subject : (leave blank subject line )
text: subscribe entomo-l John Pumpernickel

Remove yourself from the specified list.

Get a listing of local mailing lists to which you have subscribed.

who []
Find out who is on the named . use by Majordomo

afd { [/password] [files]} [{ [/password] [files]}]...
fui { [/password] [files]} [{ [/password] [files]}]...
Automatic File Delivery (AFD) and File Update Information (FUI). Add/delete yourself to archives and/or files, and be notified when these archives or files are updated. "action" can be: add, delete or query. The site's manager may manipulate other addresses by listing them after the archive specification(s).

archive [args]
Manipulate archives; the manager may create new archives, remove existing ones, or reconfigure existing ones. Both the manager and the archive's owners may add, delete or update existing files.

fax [/password] [parts]
Same as 'get', but it faxes you the files instead to the specified number.

get [/password] [parts]
Get the requested file from the specified archive. Files are usually split in parts locally, and in such a case you will receive the file in multiple email messages -- an 'index' request tells you how many parts the file has been split into, and their sizes; if you need to obtain certain parts, specify them as optional arguments. If an archive is private, you have to provide its password as well.

index [archive | path-to-archive] [/password] [-all]
Get a list of files in the selected archive, or the master archive if no archive was specified. If an archive is private, you have to provide its password as well.

search ] [/password] [-all]
Search all files of the specified archive (and all of its subarchives if -all is specified) for lines that match the pattern. The pattern can be an egrep(1)-style regular expression with support for the following additional operators: '~' (negation), '|' and '&' (logical OR and AND), '<' '>' (group regular expressions). The pattern may be enclosed in single or double quotes.
Note: . matches any character including new line.

view ] [/password] [parts]
Same as 'get' but in interactive mode justs catenates the file on the screen.


These commands are used by owners / mantainers only.


Help is also available on the following topics:

Learn more about this system and list management software in general.

Learn how to connect to this ListProcessor over the Internet for live processing of your requests.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 12 November 2019