Ask SIPB - November 22, 2002

Mailing lists are an important part of life here at MIT--it seems like every group has one, if not six. Maintaining mailing lists is easy, if you learn a few simple tools. This week, we will be answering questions about mailing lists at MIT, which use a system called Moira.

How can I easily manage the mailing lists I am on?

At the Athena prompt, type:
athena% mailmaint
Then, choose an option from the menu, and follow the instructions.

What is a mailing list administrator?

The administrator has the power to add and remove members, and to alter list settings such as list name, description, public/private, and visibility. If no administrators are specified, all list members are administrators by default -- note that if the list is also public, any Athena user can add himself and become an administrator. (Only Athena accounts can be list administrators.)

What is a "Membership ACL" and what is it good for?

A Membership ACL (Access Control List) is a way to allow a person or persons to add/remove people from a list, without giving full administrative powers. Since the Membership ACL users cannot change the attributes of the list (description, public/private, visibility, etc.), they cannot "steal" the list, but they can take care of most day-to-day operations.

To separate membership control from settings control, email with your request. The Membership ACL can be controlled with listmaint or blanche, and the ACL can even be set to the list itself.

How can I determine the administrators of a mailing list to ask a question about the list?

It is considered impolite to send questions about a mailing list, such as requests for removal or other help, to the list itself. The reasoning is simple: When you send such mail to the list, many people have to read your message, while only a handful are likely to be able to help you.

These requests should instead be sent to the list administrators. For MIT mailing lists, you can find information about a mailing list and its administrators by typing:

athena% blanche -i listname
Alternatively, run mailmaint, and choose option 4.

The list administrator, or owner, should be listed. You can then email that address with questions or requests.

If that fails, there are a couple of conventions that may help. Given a list such as, the two most common addresses to try are and

How do I get on/off this list?

Many lists will allow you to perform these operations yourself. In this case, you can type:
athena% blanche listname -d username
to remove yourself from the list and
athena% blanche listname -a username
to add yourself to the list. Sometimes, however, you will get an error message like
/usr/athena/bin/blanche: Insufficient permission to perform requested database access while ...
In this case, you need to contact the administrators of the list as described above.

If you prefer a menu-driven system, you can use mailmaint instead. Run mailmaint, and choose option 5 to add yourself to a list, or choose option 6 to delete yourself from one.

How can I see which mailing lists I am subscribed to?

To find out what mailing lists you are on, run mailmaint, and choose option 3. This is helpful for checking whether you are on a certain list, or for determining what lists you might want to unsubscribe from.

How can I find who is subscribed to a mailing list?

Sometimes, it is helpful to see whether other people are subscribed to a particular mailing list, or just get an idea of how many people are subscribed.

At the Athena prompt, type:

athena% blanche listname
Alternatively, run mailmaint, and choose option 2.

How can I manage mailing lists over the Web?

There is a web-based system available for managing Moira mailing lists. It is located at It allows you to do several of the most common mailing list administrative actions, though it is somewhat less powerful than the tools on Athena. MIT Certificates are required.

What does it mean for a list to be public?

Public lists are open to everyone, and you can freely add yourself to them without any special approval. Private lists, on the other hand, are restricted, and only the list administrators or the membership administrators can add users to the list.

How can I create my own mailing list?

If you have an Athena account, you can create an MIT mailing list by filling out (or send the information to For more on list creation, see

If you have any other questions, feel free to email us at We'll try to get back to you, and we might put your answer in our next column.