Ask SIPB - September 1, 2004

Want to set up mail on your personal computer? Or figure out exactly where all those addresses go? In this column, part 2 of 4 of our introductory orientation columns, we cover mail and mailing lists.

Mailing lists at MIT

There are two commonly used types of mailing lists at MIT, moira lists and mailman lists. Moira lists can be managed using Athena-based and Web interfaces, and can be used to control access to AFS, and also moira lists. Mailman lists can be managed using web interfaces, and support moderation and filtering .


Moira lists, also known as Athena lists, function as mailing lists, serve to provide access to AFS directories, and can also manage other moira lists. From athena, an easy way to access moira lists is using the mailmaint command. To run it, open up a Terminal window and type:
athena% mailmaint

For a non-menu driven interface, you can also use the blanche command. To add yourself to a list, use:

athena% blanche listname -a username
To remove yourself from the list, type:
athena% blanche listname -d username
Or to get the list of members on a list, type:
athena% blanche listname

From any non-Athena computer, you can add yourself to lists, remove yourself from lists, and get list information, by getting MIT Certificates and opening up your web browser to Alternately, you can download an SSH program, connect to Athena, and run mailmaint from there.

For more information on manipulating moira lists, see the November 22, 2002 Ask SIPB column at


Mailman lists offer an alternative to Moira lists. Though they can't be used to control access to AFS directories, or manage moira lists, they do support moderation, and filtering. To add yourself to or remove yourself from a mailman list, you can visit (replacing listname with the name of the mailman list).

If you're not sure whether a list is a mailman list, you can get the list of members. For example:

athena% blanche reuse
From this, you can tell that is the only member of the list reuse, and that to subscribe to this list, you should go to

I just signed up for a bunch of mailing lists at Activities Midway. Help!

If you find that you're starting to get too much email, it's easy to take yourself off of most mailing lists. For most moira and mailman lists, you can use the methods mentioned above to take yourself off the lists. Note, that it can take up to 4 hours to stop receiving mail from a moira lists. If for some reason, you get an error message when trying to take yourself off a list, you should try to contact the list owners. If the listname is example, then you should try to send mail to owner-example, or example-request. Sending mail to a mailing list should generally never be done, as most of the people on a list won't be able to remove you from the list. As a last resort, you might want to ask olc, if you're having trouble taking off of a list.

How do I read my mail on Athena?

Athena has many programs you can use to read mail. The simplest program to use is Evolution. You can start it by clicking the "Mail" icon in the GNOME panel, or typing

athena% evolution &
The other recommended and officially supported program to read mail on Athena is Pine. Unlike Evolution, Pine is a text-based program. You can start Pine by typing
athena% pine
When you start Pine for the first time, you will get a message asking whether you want to run Athena or SIPB Pine. We recommend that you use Athena Pine, as you are less prone to run into problems or unexpected behavior.

How do I read mail from non-Athena machines?

MIT supports two mail protocols: IMAP over SSL, and Kerberized POP. On Windows and Macintosh machines, the mail program Eudora supports Kerberized POP, and can be obtained from With most other mail programs, such as Mozilla, Outlook Express, Apple Mail, and Pine, you can use IMAP over SSL.

To setup email in any program that is not already configured to do so, you will need the following settings:

Outgoing mail server:, SSL or TLS if your software supports it
Incoming mail server: poXX.MIT.EDU (where XX is a number)

You can find your incoming mail server by entering

athena% hesinfo $USER pobox
at the Athena prompt.

In general, we recommend that you use IMAP, as it stores your mail on the mail server, and allows you to read your mail anywhere. With POP, your mail is downloaded onto your computer, and deleted from the server. You can find more about the difference in these protocols in our previous mail column at

Note that there are no user-accessible backups of your mail, so you may want to back up your mail from time to time. You can do so with the following:

athena% add outland; imapback directory-to-backup-to

Alternately, MIT has a Webmail service, which you can visit on the web at .

Note that Webmail is a lot slower than connecting to your mail server directly with one of the mail clients mentioned above, and lacks many features available in other mail clients. While it is useful to use when you are not using Athena and not using your machine, we recommend that for daily use you use an IMAP mail client, such as Pine, Evolution, Mozilla, or one of the other clients mentioned above.

To ask us a question, send email to We'll try to answer you quickly, and we can address your question in our next column. You can also stop by our office in W20-557 or call us at x3-7788 if you need help. Copies of each column and pointers to additional information are posted on our website: