[sf-lug] email, Reply-to:, lists, and all that jazz

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Wed Apr 30 00:49:41 PDT 2008

Quoting Asheesh Laroia (asheesh at asheesh.org):

> Good - except maybe some of those people were people who were supposed to 
> stay CC:d.  (For example:

No, they should _not_ have been CC'd in the first place.  Dammit.
(Explanation below.)  I say this as a listadmin for quite a few mailing
lists for quite a few Linux and BSD user groups.  Here's why:

> 1. I email the list and CC: my friend Bob not on the list.
> 2. Alice on the list replies and now adds me to the CC: line.
> 3. Charlie replies with mutt and drops Bob from the CC: line.

Let's say I'm the listadmin in question.  At step number 1, you have
already rather significantly annoyed me (as listadmin), because I'm
already anticipating that step #3 is likely to occur, when Charlie the
non-listmember (or, in a variant scenario, Bob the non-listmember)
sends a reply that -- of course -- is held for moderation by the mailing

"Held for moderation" in this case is a polite way of saying "gratuitous
and avoidable work that the listadmin must now do because Asheesh
behaved in a clueless manner and CCed non-subscribers on a list post."

_Please_ -- and I ask this on behalf of listadmins everywhere -- do not
behave in such a notably clueless and annoying manner.  Instead, you
should (in step #1) e-mail the mailing list, and then _separately_
forward a copy of that sent mailing list post to Bob.  Why?  because
then Bob (a non-subscriber) will not be mislead into annoyingly
attempting to post to the mailing list if/when he replies to what you
send him.  Persistent avoidable work for listadmins, when
non-subscribers attempt to hit mailing lists because they're replying to
your posts, _really_ ticks off the listadmins whose time you waste

Moral:  Don't assume that people aren't going to reply to inappropriate
and/or problematic SMTP headers, just because you think they shouldn't
and won't.  Inevitably somebody will.

(That is also why you should not crosspost across multiple mailing

> But also note that having the mailing list manager munge reply-to does not 
> (far as I can see) improve this situation.

No, it most certainly does not.  This reflects a frequent and stubbornly
held misconception about how MUAs _actually_ process the Reply-To:
header.  It is dereferenced _only_ as the substitute return address of
the previous "From:" sender.  Which is not the mailing list, but rather
Asheesh in step #1, Alice in step #2, and Charlie in step #3.


This past January, I helped SVLUG then-president Paul Reiber, who was
labouring under the same misconception, understand why Reply-To: does
_not_ work the way he (and you) asserted.  He even thanked me for it.
Rather than repeat myself, may I suggest you read what I explained to


> >I'm guessing that Alpine doesn't yet have list-reply handling.  You 
> >should file a feature request with UofW.
> Good idea.  Do you know where I can find docs on how Mutt and Emacs GNUs 
> handles it?

Not offhand, and I'm afraid I'm a bit too busy at the moment to do your
research for you -- and I know GNUS only by reputation.  However, I have
confidence that you can find that data with a very minimal amount of

> Indeed.  You like the cup.  Drink from the cup. (*)
> *. http://people.debian.org/~branden/

I've been a fan of Branden Robinson's series of graphics on that subject
for a _long_ time.  I believe I sent him fanmail when he put a
particularly famous version of that on the X Strike Force page.

Ah, yes, I _did_ make an archival copy:
(That was what he had as the main graphic on the X11 Strike Force page
during the months when Debian was working on moving from XFree86 3.x to
4.x, and Branden got tired of "When will the new package versions be
out?" mails.)

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