Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Only you can prevent monthly Mailman password reminders!

It's the first of Feburary, and as with every month, people are on Twitter complaining about the flood of email list password reminders from Mailman. Apparently only a few of the many thousands of list subscribers are aware that they have the power, within their keyboards, to stop this catastrophe. Something must be done! In fact, there are no fewer than three routes to email nirvana, the nature of which I shall now reveal. . .

The Easy Way

Your monthly password reminder looks something like this:

Subject: mailing list memberships reminder   
Date: Wed, 01 Feb 2012 05:00:07 +0100

This is a reminder, sent out once a month, about your
mailing list memberships.  It includes your subscription info and how
to use it to change it or unsubscribe from a list.

You can visit the URLs to change your membership status or
configuration, including unsubscribing, setting digest-style delivery
or disabling delivery altogether (e.g., for a vacation), and so on.    
In addition to the URL interfaces, you can also use email to make such  
changes.  For more info, send a message to the '-request' address of 
the list (for example, containing just 
the word 'help' in the message body, and an email message will be sent
to you with instructions.    
If you have questions, problems, comments, etc, send them to  Thanks!      

Passwords for
List                                     Password // URL     
----                                     --------               mysecretpassword

You've seen and cursed these reminders for so many years, little realizing that they contain the keys to untold power; or at least enough power to stop the hated monthly deluge. Note the subtle hint that 'you can also use email to make such changes'. In fact, email is the only tool you'll need. Start by copying the name of the list; in this case software-users. Compose a new email message and paste in that address, followed by -request and the domain. For this fake version, we'd use Skip the Subject line, and dive right into the body of the email. You'll need these two lines:

set authenticate mysecretpassword
set reminders off

Send it off, in a few seconds (perhaps minutes) your heart will leap to see the response:

Subject: The results of your email commands
Date: Wed, 01 Feb 2012 10:21:41 -0500   
The results of your email command are provided below. Attached is your
original message.

- Results:
    reminder option set

- Done.

The Subtle Way

There is even more power lurking in the reminder email, in the form of a URL at the very bottom. Follow it and you'll be greeted with a simple login screen. Use the password that was conveniently supplied to you to obtain access, but don't be dismayed by the seemingly limited choices on the membership configuration page. Scroll down to the Subscription Options, and look for this:

Yes, that's right; you can exorcise your monthly email demons by selecting the No button. But there's more; if you have subscribed to more than one Mailman list at this server, you can set the option for all of them simultaneously! Sadly there is no universal Mailman, with hegemony over all the lesser servers, but at least this cuts down on the number of times you'll need to repeat the process.

The Noble Way

There is one user with even more power over the mailing list than you; the list administrator. The admin is omnipotent; in a single click all of the password reminders can be disabled, once and for ever. With the zeal of your convictions, surely you can convince them to think of all the other users and their silent suffering, and end the pain for all of you at once. Yes, it is more effort, but think of the good you'll be doing and the karma you must certainly accumulate.

A Moment of Silence for the Password Reminder

Should you find that in the absence of the Mailman reminders you have trouble remembering to give the dog his heartworm medication, pay the cable bill, or return your library books, you can always re-enable it; that's true even if the list administrator has been shown the path of enlightenment.

Now go and spread this word to all of the long-suffering Mailman users, whether they quietly bemoan their fate or shout their rage from the hilltops on each first day. Come to think of it, I may write a Twitter-bot that autoresponds with these instructions. . .


  1. Do note that this only works since a fairly recent version of mailman, so everyone complaining about it is probably used to it since way, way back ;)

    1. I'm not a Mailman historian, just a user and admin for a couple of lists. . . but just for fun I grabbed the 1.0 tarball from late 1999, and it definitely has the option for the list admin to disable reminders. By the time 2.1.1 came out in early 2003, the user web interface included the "ability to suppress password reminders both per-list and globally" and the email command parser understood 'set reminders off'. So people have had up to eight years to get used to it, minus however long the Linux distro on their mailserver took to pick up the new version ;)

      Incidentally, the website says that Mailman 2.2 will eliminate plain-text passwords entirely. But there's no word on when that version will arrive. . .

    2. Woah. That's longer than I thought. Thanks for the pointer ;)

  2. Speaking as a list admin where there are about 10k unique users here, many people can't be bothered to recall how to join/leave the list and will report you as spam if you don't make it easy. This is a service for the masses.

    I've been waiting for improvements in management via mailman 3 or something else for years. (You also would be shocked at the number of bounces each month that can't be processed and require a human to decipher it.. *sigh*). Mailbox is full this morning.