For nearly as long as folks have used the Internet for sending and receiving e-mail, mailing list management (MLM) software has been around. If you're looking to set up a mailing list server, Mailman is probably just what you need. It is popular, fast, easy to use, and easy to hack on.
For nearly as long as folks have used the Internet for sending and receiving e-mail, mailing list management (MLM) software has been around. If you’re looking to set up a mailing list server, Mailman is probably just what you need. It is popular, fast, easy to use, and easy to hack on.
Mailman hasn’t been on the scene as long as Majordomo, ezmlm, or other MLM software, but it has quickly been adopted by some of the most popular Open Source companies and projects. In fact, Mailman is already used by the following companies, just to name a few:
- Apple Computer
- SourceForge and VA Software
- The XFree86 Project
- The Samba Project
- RedHat Inc.
There are thousands of Mailman installations around the world, and the number is growing every day. Clearly there must be good reasons for its popularity.
So what makes Mailman special? It’s not just the fact that it’s a real Open Source-style project. It has a feature list that is only matched by commercial (and expensive) MLM software. Specifically:
Mailman automatically provides a customizable home page for each mailing list. Users can subscribe and unsubscribe themselves as well as changing list preferences.
List and site administrators can use the Web interface for common tasks such as account management, approvals/ moderation, list configuration, and so on. But don’t be misled by the role of the Web in Mailman. The Web interface isn’t a replacement for command-line or e-mail based tools. Most tasks can be performed from the command line using shell scripts or as commands embedded in e-mail messages sent to Mailman (like majordomo).
Each subscriber may select the way mail is delivered to them. Mailman can perform normal (single message) delivery as well as MIME and plain digest formats.
By default, Mailman can archive all list traffic and provide a Web front-end to browsing and searching messages. If you prefer to use other archiving tools (such as MHonArc), you can set up Mailman to work with them. The Mailman-generated archives can be public or private (accessible only by list members).
Even without tweaking its settings, you’ll find that Mailman does a good job of figuring out when a user is having trouble receiving e-mail. If the problem persists, Mailman will automatically stop delivering to that user.
Lists can have multiple administrators, making it easier to share the work on large or exceptionally busy lists.
One of Mailman’s cooler features is its ability to relay list traffic through an NNTP (Usenet News) server. On a per-list basis, you can configure relaying to be bi-directional, inbound only, or outbound only.
There are many other features that make Mailman a competitive MLM. It has many of the same features present in older MLM software, as well as a lot of Web-based functionality that they don’t. And unlike other software, the Web front-ends for Mailman weren’t added as an afterthought.
Mailman, unlike some other MLM software, is easy to install. It isn’t very picky about the software it’ll work with. Of course, you’ll need to have a Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) installed. Mailman doesn’t care if you use Sendmail, Exim, Postfix, Qmail, or anything else. It’s not closely tied to the MTA (unlike some mailing list managers), so it’s not a problem if you need to move your Mailman installation to another machine or switch MTAs at some later date.
Most of Mailman is written in Python. It will work with older versions of Python (1.5.2, 1.6) as well as the newer 2.x series. Hacking on it is relatively easy.
For the Web interface, you’ll need a Web server that can run CGI scripts. While you’re not required to use any particular server, Apache is recommended.
All in all, Mailman just goes to show that Open Source hackers can deliver powerful and easy to use tools that rival the commercial alternatives.
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