12 Steps to qmail List Bliss

or, How to Use the qmail Mailing List Effectively

by Charles Cazabon

Version 3.10 Last updated 24 December 2007.



The mailing list for qmail (subscription address: qmail-subscribe@list.cr.yp.to) can be a great support and reference resource. However, it's only valuable if you learn to use it effectively. Here's a general guide of things to do or not do to make the most of the list. Every time you violate one of these guidelines, you reduce the effectiveness of the list both for you, and for others.


I'm grateful to the following people for their valuable feedback about this document.

If you have suggestions for this document, please send them to the author at the following email address: <qmaillistbliss at discworld.dyndns.org>.

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Step 1 - Don't consider posting to the qmail list your first line of defence

Posting a question to the qmail mailing list should be one of your last resorts for information or help. In general, there are other places to obtain most of the information you need about qmail. Using one of those other resources will generally get you the answer faster, and does not use up the bandwidth and time of the other members of the qmail list.

You should be familiar with, and have read, all of the following items, preferably before you try to install qmail for the first time.

Have you finished all your reading? No? Then don't go on. Running an MTA on the public Internet is complex; if you're not willing to put in the effort to do it correctly, then you're not ready for the responsibility of running an MTA.

If you post a question to the qmail mailing list which could have been answered by reading any of the above items, you should not be surprised when members of the list react negatively to your efforts to waste their time.

If you've reached this point and still have a question or problem, continue to the next section. If your question was a very general one (e.g. How do I install qmail?) or a FAQ (e.g. SMTP is slow …), you should have all the information needed by this point.

Step 2 - Consider the urgency of your issue

Are your remaining issues or problems with qmail so urgent that you cannot afford to wait a week for a solution? Are you using qmail to generate income, or to support a business? Do you feel a need to be secretive about your configuration data (domain or hostnames, IP addresses, control file contents), or other information?

If the answer to any one of those questions is "yes", don't bother the mailing list. It is impossible for the mailing list to help you under these circumstances, and the knowledgable members of the list will generally ignore your question because of this.

In these cases, you can hire a professional qmail consultant to answer your question or solve your problem for you. See the Commercial Support section at qmail.org for a list of available qmail consultants, or simply hire Russell Nelson.

Step 3 - Try to narrow down the scope of your problem, and formulate a clear question

Try to explain, to yourself, exactly what problem you are facing, as specifically as possible. Email isn't working is a useless statement. Local delivery works, and mail from my private network is accepted and delivered, but mail from public hosts on the internet to the domain handled by my server bounces is much better. Actually including a copy of the bounce message is even better.

Never, ever use the phrase it doesn't work in a problem report.. Instead, show us:

Explaining your problem to yourself first will help you clarify the problem in your mind before trying to explain the problem to someone else.

Be careful that you don't formulate a useless or misleading question. Read http://homepages.tesco.net/~J.deBoynePollard/FGA/questions-with-yes-or-no-answers.html for more information on this.

One mistake many people make is to describe only their intended solution to their problem, and not the problem itself. For instance, some people in the past have encountered a problem (say, they find their outgoing messages don't have the "wibble" flag set). They decide that they need to change qmail-remote (the program that performs remote deliveries) to manually set this flag on every outgoing message, but they're not sure how to do so. So they ask the list "How do I change qmail-remote to set the wibble flag?", resulting in responses such as "qmail-remote doesn't have anything to do with message content" or "What problem are you trying to solve?".

Perhaps there's a better solution than the one you've thought of; we won't be able to tell you unless we know what the actual problem is. In this example, if you actually asked "My messages don't have the wibble flag set; how do I fix that?", you might have immediately got a response like "Use the -w option to qmail-inject when you inject the message" and have the problem fixed in seconds.

For a pretty good general (i.e. non-qmail) discussion on good questions versus stupid questions, please read http://perl.plover.com/Questions.html.

Step 4 - See if your question or problem has been answered before

If you've reached this step, and read everything you're supposed to have read by now, the question or problem you're facing must not be handled by the available documentation. However, very few problems in the world are new; it's almost certain that someone else has already encountered (and likely solved) the same issue you're facing.

You need to search two places for answers to your question before posting it to the mailing list:

Step 5 - Read the mailing list

At this point, you should make sure you are subscribed to the mailing list, and that you've been reading it for least several weeks. In that time, you may see someone else ask a question about the problem you are having, and will likely see answers or suggestions for further diagnosis.

In addition, reading the list for a period of time will help you get a feel for the tone and content of the list. You will gain a greater understanding of what is expected of people asking questions, and learn to differentiate between good advice and bad advice from various people on the mailing list. If you're not sure whether advice you have received is trustworthy, try searching for other postings from that person in one of the mailing list archives; that might give you some sense of its value.

If you can't wait this long, go back to step 2 above.

Step 6 - So you're going to ask the qmail mailing list a question...

If you've reached this step, then you have a problem with qmail that you have been unable to resolve. You've read all the documentation, including that written by other members of the qmail user community. You've decided that your problem isn't critical enough to warrant commercial qmail support, and that you can wait a week or more for a final solution. You've come up with a clear, precise description of your problem. You've searched the qmail mailing list archives for similar problems, and you haven't found a solution that works for you.

The next step is to start preparing your submission to the qmail mailing list. Don't expect to bang off a quick message in three minutes; you need to put some thought and effort into this.

Follow the rest of these steps with care.

Step 7 - Include your clear, precise description of the problem

Make sure this is one of the very first things you put in your message to the qmail mailing list. If you ramble on about other things first, your problem will likely be missed by those members of the list who scan messages briefly.

Also be sure to include an actual question. If you describe (for example) how messages to given subset of your users appear to be bouncing, and that you've eliminated all the known common causes of this from consideration, ask how you can further diagnose the problem. Not including a question may make it difficult for others to know exactly what you expect in response. If your post is going to be more than a few paragraphs, consider posting your actual question as a one-sentence abstract to start your message.

Tell us what similar problems you found in your search of the various support resources, and why the solutions to those problems do not apply or do not work in your case.

Step 8 - Ensure your question is really about qmail

Once you've formulated a clear description of the problem, and included an actual question, perhaps you will realize your question is really about a different package such as qmail-ldap, VMailMgr, vpopmail, procmail, maildrop, getmail, or something else.

Or perhaps you will realize your question is really about your OS and its included utilities, or is a general Unix administration question, or is a general technical question (How does SMTP work?).

Questions like these are not appropriate for the qmail mailing list. There are other resources and mailing lists for such questions; please don't clutter the qmail list with them.

Step 9 - Include other information the list will need to help you

The mailing list members will need much other information to be able to help you. At a minimum, include the following information:

Step 10 - Ensure your message is readable

Please follow all of these guidelines to ensure that the list members can read your message. If your message is more difficult to read than it needs to be, many list members will simply delete it.

Step 11 - Send your message to the list

Send your message using a competent MUA (don't use Outlook Express or a free webmail portal) as either a non-MIME 7-bit text message, or as a single-part text/plain MIME message with a content-transfer-encoding of either "7bit" or "8bit".

Do not send your message in HTML format, or in multipart/alternative, or using base64 or quoted-printable encodings. Doing any of these makes the list harder to read, and is likely to get your message ignored completely by the experts on the list.

Step 12 - Wait for responses

If you've followed all of these steps properly, chances are that the members of the list will be able to read your question and immediately suggest either a solution to your problem or further steps to take to diagnose the cause of the problem. You should see responses like this within a day or two of posting your question to the list.

On the other hand, you may not have included all the necessary information to solve your problem, or you may have stated an ambiguous or otherwise unclear question. In this case, you should expect the responses to mainly be asking you for additional information. Read all the responses carefully. If you follow up on the question, include all the additional information that people have requested.

When your problem is solved, send a summary back to the list, describing the problem, and the solution that you arrived at. This will help others who have similar problems in the future when they search the qmail list archives for solutions to their problem.

Under no circumstances should you post the same question to the list again. If you don't get any responses, it's because of one or more of the following reasons:

When you receive responses (either answers or requests for further information or diagnostic steps):

Doing any of these things is likely to get you ignored, or worse.