Ask SIPB - August 29, 2006
Want to read your MIT mail on your personal computer? Or figure out exactly where all those @mit.edu addresses go? In this column, part 2 of 4 of our introductory 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 Web pages,
AFS files, and other moira lists. Mailman lists can be managed
using Web interfaces, have Web-accessible archives, and support
moderation and filtering.
Moira lists (also known as Athena lists) are more than simple mailing lists.
They can be used to restrict access to Web pages and AFS directories,
and control who can 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:
For a non-menu driven interface, you can also use the
blanche command. To add yourself to the "cluedump-announce" list, for example, use:
To remove yourself from that list, type:
athena% blanche cluedump-announce -a $USER
Or to get the list of members on that list, type:
athena% blanche cluedump-announce -d $USER
athena% blanche cluedump-announce
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 http://web.mit.edu/moira/.
Alternately, you can connect to Athena via SSH
and run mailmaint or blanche from there. See http://web.mit.edu/olh/Remote/ssh.html for instructions on how to do this.
For more information on manipulating Moira lists, see the November 22,
2002 Ask SIPB column at http://www.mit.edu/~asksipb/2002columns/2002-11-22-mailinglists/
Mailman lists offer an alternative to Moira lists. They support moderation and
filtering, but cannot be used to control access to Web pages, AFS directories,
or manage Moira lists.
To add yourself to or
remove yourself from a Mailman list, you can visit
listname with the name of the Mailman list).
If you're not sure whether a list is a Mailman list, you can check the
list information. Using the Mailman list
reuse for example,
contains the line:
athena% blanche -i reuse
From this, you can tell that to subscribe to
reuse is a Mailman list on server PCH.MIT.EDU
reuse, you should go to http://mailman.mit.edu/mailman/listinfo/reuse.
I 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Sending mail
to a mailing list should generally not be done for this, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you're having trouble
removing yourself from 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
The other recommended and officially supported program to read mail on
Athena is Pine. Unlike Evolution, Pine is a text-based program, so you
can even run it over an SSH connection. You can start Pine by typing
athena% evolution &
If you try Pine, you will probably find that it runs much faster than
most other clients.
How do I read mail from non-Athena machines?
MIT supports two mail protocols: IMAP over SSL, and Kerberized POP.
With most mail programs, such as Mozilla Thunderbird, Outlook Express, Apple
Mail, and Pine, you can use IMAP over SSL.
Eudora, which is being retired by IS&T, supported both protocols.
To use Pine, which requires no setup, login to Athena at http://athena.dialup.mit.edu/
or using an SSH client and start Pine by typing
To setup email in any program that is not already configured to do so, you will need the following settings:
Outgoing mail server: outgoing.mit.edu, SSL (port 465 or 587) or TLS (port 587) 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
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 http://www.mit.edu/~asksipb/2002columns/2002-11-08-email/.
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
athena% hesinfo $USER pobox
Note: this is unsupported software. Read tomorrow's column for details.
Alternately, MIT has an IMAP Webmail service, which you can visit
at http://webmail.mit.edu/ .
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.
athena% add outland; imapback
Does MIT offer spam screening?
Yes, MIT uses a combination of two systems to detect spam. Since IAP
2003, MIT has been using SpamAssassin, an open-source mail filter that
uses a set of rules to determine how likely a piece of mail is spam. These
rules look for common patterns in spam and add points to give a message a
score; the higher the score, the spammier the message. In August of
this year, MIT deployed several Barracuda Networks Model 800 spam appliances
to give a "second opinion" about mail coming in from outside MIT. These
machines are based on SpamAssassin as well, but receive an updated set of
rules hourly to keep up with new types of spam, and can do additional things
like analyze images included in mail, which account for much of the current
influx of spam. For more information about these two systems, see
If the higher of the scores given by these two systems is above a
user-configurable threshhold, MIT will put these messages into a folder in
your INBOX named Spamscreen. If your account was created years ago
and you never created a Spamscreen folder (note the capital
"S"), you can do so now to begin having your spam filtered for you.
Keep in mind that the scoring is not perfect, so you should do at least
a cursory check of your suspected spam before deleting it; by default,
spam more than 3 weeks old is automatically purged.
For information on configuring your Spamscreen settings, or enabling
spam filtering with non-IMAP mail clients, see the IS&T Spam Screening Web
page at http://web.mit.edu/is/help/nospam/.
To ask us a question, send email to email@example.com. 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: http://www.mit.edu/~asksipb/