Version: $Id: majordomo-faq.html,v 1.40 1995/02/11 20:09:22 barr Exp barr $
Table of Contents:
1. What is Majordomo and how can I get it?
+ What is Majordomo?
+ Where do I get it?
+ How do I install it?
+ How do I upgrade from an earlier release?
+ Where do I report bugs or get help with Majordomo?
+ Which is better, Majordomo or LISTSERV?
2. Problems setting up Majordomo
+ What are the proper permissions and ownership of all
Majordomo files and directories?
+ I get "Unknown mailer error" when majordomo runs
+ I get "Permission denied at ..." when majordomo runs
+ I get "shlock: open(">/some/path/...") when majordomo runs
+ A file is visible via index, but can't 'get' it
+ Majordomo seems to be taking many minutes to process commands
+ I get an error "insecure usage" from the wrapper
+ I get "majordomo: No such file or directory" from the wrapper
+ I get an error "Can't locate majordomo.pl"
+ I told my majordomo.cf where to archive the list, why isn't
+ I'm accumulating lots of files called /tmp/resend.*.in and
+ A list is visible via lists, but can't subscribe or 'get'
+ I get "Out of Memory" when upgrading to 1.93
+ I get lots of warnings and errors when trying to compile
3. Setting up mailing lists and aliases
+ How do I direct bounces to the right address?
+ Semi-automated handling of bounced mail
+ What's this Owner-List and List-Owner stuff? Why both?
+ How should I configure resend for Reply-To headers?
+ How can I hide lists so they can't be viewed by 'lists'?
+ How can I restrict a list such that only subscribers can send
mail to the list?
+ Can I have the list owner or approval person be changeable
without intervention from the Majordomo owner?
+ What about all of these passwords starting in version 1.90?
+ How do I tell majordomo to handle "get"-ing of binary files?
+ How do I set up a moderated list?
4. Miscellaneous mailer and other problems
+ Address with blanks are being treated separately
+ Why aren't my digests going out?
+ Why do I get duplicate mail sent to the list?
This FAQ is Copyright 1994 by David Barr and The Pennsylvania State
University. This document may be reproduced, so long as it is kept in
its entirety and in its original format.
This FAQ originally written by Vincent D. Skahan. Many thanks to the
members of the majordomo-workers and majordomo-users mailing lists for
many of the questions and answers found in this FAQ. Thanks to
firstname.lastname@example.org (Fen Labalme) for getting an HTML version started.
You can get this FAQ by sending an e-mail message to
email@example.com with "get file majordomo-faq" in the body of
the message. You can get an HTML version on the World Wide Web at
http://www.pop.psu.edu/~barr/majordomo-faq.html. If you have any
questions or submissions regarding this FAQ, send them to
firstname.lastname@example.org (David Barr).
Section 1: What is Majordomo and how can I get it?
WHAT IS MAJORDOMO?
Majordomo is a program which automates the management of Internet
mailing lists. Commands are sent to Majordomo via electronic mail to
handle all aspects of list maintainance. Once a list is set up,
virtually all operations can be performed remotely, requiring no
intervention upon the postmaster of the list site.
majordomo - n: a person who speaks, makes arrangements, or takes
charge for another. From latin "major domus" - "master of the
Majordomo is written in Perl (at least 4.035, preferably 4.036). It is
also known to work under Perl 5, if you edit majordomo and resend and
look for instances of the "@" character inside text strings "@" Change
the "@" to "\@". This only happened with recent versions of Perl 5.
The same fix is also required if you want to run Majordomo under OSF/1
on the DEC AXP systems with Perl 4 or 5. [from Jim Reisert]
Majordomo controls a list of addresses for some mail transport system
(like sendmail or smail) to handle. Majordomo itself performs no mail
delivery (though it has scripts to format and archive messages).
Here's a short list of some of the features of Majordomo.
* supports various types of lists, including moderated ones.
* List options can be set easily through a configuration file,
* Supports archival and remote retrieval of messages.
* Supports digests.
* Written in Perl, - easily customizable and expandable.
* Modular in design.
* Includes support for FTPMAIL.
WHERE DO I GET IT?
Via anonymous FTP at:
If you don't have Perl, you can get it from:
The FTPMAIL package can be found in
ftp://src.doc.ic.ac.uk/packages/ftpmail or any comp.sources.misc
archive (volume 37).
HOW DO I INSTALL IT?
Majordomo comes with a rather extensive README. Read this file
completely. This FAQ is meant to be a supplement to Majordomo's
documentation, not a replacement for it. If you have any questions
that this FAQ doesn't cover, chances are that it is covered in the
README or other documentation in the Majordomo distribution.
HOW DO I UPGRADE FROM AN EARLIER RELEASE?
Be sure to browse the "Changes" and "Changelog" files to get an idea
what has changed. There currently is no canned set of instructions for
upgrading from an earlier release. The most straightforward method is
to simply install the current release in a different directory, (with
the same list/archive/digest directories) and change the mail aliases
for each list to use the new Majordomo scripts as soon as you feel
comfortable with the new setup.
WHERE DO I REPORT BUGS OR GET HELP WITH MAJORDOMO?
If you need help, there is a mailing list
email@example.com, which is frequented by lots of users
of Majordomo. Please don't send questions to me. Report bugs to
firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure always to include which
version of Majordomo you are using. You should also include what
operating system you are using, what version of Perl, and what mailer
(sendmail, smail, etc) and version you are using, especially if you
can't get Majordomo to work at all. But first, you must have
thoroughly read the documentation to Majordomo and this FAQ.
WHICH IS BETTER, MAJORDOMO OR LISTSERV?
For a good comparison of various mailing list managers (MLM's)
there's a good review by Norm Aleks. Send mail to
"email@example.com" with the body "get file mlm-software-faq" in
the body of the message. This eventually will probably become its own
FAQ. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org (Norm Aleks) for more
Section 2: Problems setting up Majordomo
WHAT ARE THE PROPER PERMISSIONS AND OWNERSHIP OF ALL MAJORDOMO FILES AND
By far the biggest problem in setting up Majordomo is getting all the
permissions and ownerships right. In part this is due to the security
model that Majordomo uses, and it's also due to the fact that it's
hard to automate this process. That's due to improve in future
Majordomo works by using a small C "wrapper" which works by allowing
Majordomo to always run as the "majordom" user and group that you
create. (note that the wrapper may disappear in a future release,
since its function could safely be replaced by features found in Perl
5) Because Majordomo does not run with any "special" priviliges, and
because of the fact that Majordomo does a lot of .lock-style locking
(with shlock.pl), permissions on all files and directories are
critical to the correct operation of Majordomo.
The wrapper is compiled in one of two ways, by uncommenting the
correct section for your type of system. If you are unsure if your
system is POSIX or not, I would suggest you assume that your system is
not. If things don't work right, then try POSIX.
If you are on a non-POSIX system, the wrapper must be both suid and
sgid (mode 6755) to whatever you defined your majordomo user and group
to be. It must not be setuid root!
On a POSIX system the wrapper must be setuid root, and double-check
that W_UID and W_GID are the uid and gid of the majordomo user and
group. Don't set W_UID to be 0!
Then compile the wrapper and install it. Do not install the wrapper on
an NFS filesystem with the "nosuid" option set. This will prevent the
wrapper from working.
All files that majordomo creates will be mode 660, user "majordomo",
group "majordomo" if it is running correctly. The Log file that
majordomo writes logging information to must have this same permission
and ownership. Make sure any files you create by hand (.config,
subscription lists) have this same permission and ownership. (the can
also be mode 664 if you don't need the contents to be private to
others) The permissions/ownership of the Majordomo programs and
related files themselves aren't as crititcal, but the must all be
readable to the majordomo user/group. All Majordomo programs
(majordomo, resend, etc.) must have the execute bit set.
All directories under Majordomo's control ($homedir, $listdir,
$digest_work_dir, $filedir, as defined in your majordomo.cf) must be
mode 770 (or 775). They should be user and group owned by "majordom".
If want to allow a local user to be able to directly modify files or
for example copy files into a list's archive directory, you may make
the directory or file owned by that user. However directories and
files must be group-"majordom" writeable.
I GET "UNKNOWN MAILER ERROR" WHEN MAJORDOMO RUNS
If something is wrong with your setup, the wrapper will often exit
with various return codes depending on what the problem is. In order
to really understand what is going on, look at the session transcript
further down in the bounce message to see the error which is returned
from the wrapper or from Majordomo. You should always see some sort of
For information purposes, here are the current return codes from the
* 1: Usage error
* 2: Insecure usage (argument to wrapper can't contain a '/')
* 3: malloc() failed (out of memory)
* 4: set[ug]id() failed, compile with POSIX instead of BSD flags
* 5: execve() failed
* >5: return code from perl
I GET "PERMISSION DENIED AT ..." WHEN MAJORDOMO RUNS
I GET "SHLOCK: OPEN(">/SOME/PATH/..." WHEN MAJORDOMO RUNS
A FILE IS VISIBLE VIA INDEX, BUT CAN'T 'GET' IT
MAJORDOMO SEEMS TO BE TAKING MANY MINUTES TO PROCESS COMMANDS
These are all symptoms of a permission or ownership problem. See the
previous question. The directory specified of any "shlock" errors
indicates a problem with that directory. A "get" problem means the
ownership or permission of archive directory for that list is
I GET AN ERROR "INSECURE USAGE" FROM THE WRAPPER
The argument to ".../wrapper" should be simply "majordomo", not The
full path to majordomo or resend. "wrapper" has where to look
compiled in to it (the "W_BIN" setting in the Makefile) for
security reasons, and will not let you specify another directory.
Your alias should say:
I GET "MAJORDOMO: NO SUCH FILE OR DIRECTORY" FROM THE WRAPPER
Make sure that the #! statement at the beginning of all the Majordomo
Perl executables contain the correct path to the perl program.
(the default is /usr/local/bin/perl) Make sure also that majordomo
and all the related scripts are in the W_BIN directory as defined
in the Makefile when you compiled the wrapper.
I GET AN ERROR "CAN'T LOCATE MAJORDOMO.PL"
[from Brent Chapman]
Majordomo adds "$homedir" from the majordomo.cf file to the @INC
array before it goes looking for "majordomo.pl". Since it's not
finding it, I'd guess you have one of two problems:
1) $homedir is set improperly (or not set at all; there is no
default) in your majordomo.cf file.
2) majordomo.pl is not in $homedir, or is not readable.
[from John P. Rouillard]
3) Note that the new majordomo.cf file checks to see if the
environment variable $HOME is set first, and uses that for
$homedir. Since the wrapper always sets HOME to the correct
directory, you get a nice default, unless you are running a
previously built wrapper, in which case you may get the wrong
[from Andreas Fenner]
4) I had the same problem when I installed majordomo (1.62). My
Problem was a missing ";" in the majordomo.cf file - just in the
line before setting homedir .... My hint for you: Check your
I TOLD MY MAJORDOMO.CF WHERE TO ARCHIVE THE LIST, WHY ISN'T IT WORKING?
[From John Rouillard]
The archive variables in majordomo.cf aren't used to archive
anything. You have to use a separate archive program, or a
sendmail alias to do the archiving. The info is used to generate a
directory where the archive files are being placed by some other
You are telling majordomo to look in the directory:
for files that it should allow to be gotten using the get command.
Majordomo comes with three different archive programs that run
under wrapper, that do various types of archiving. Look in the
I'M ACCUMULATING LOTS OF FILES CALLED /TMP/RESEND.*.IN AND .OUT WHAT ARE
THESE AND HOW CAN I GET RID OF THEM?
This is a known bug in Majordomo 1.92. There was a typo in resend on
line 347. Change the double-quotes to angle-brackets. (just like
the other calls to unlink())
A LIST IS VISIBLE VIA LISTS, BUT CAN'T SUBSCRIBE OR 'GET' FILES
[From Brent Chapman]
I'll bet your list name has capital letters in it... Majordomo
smashes all list names to all-lower-case before attempting to use
the list name as part of a filename. So, while it's OK to
advertise (for instance) "Majordomo-Users" and have the headers
say "Majordomo-Users", the files and archive directory all need to
I GET "OUT OF MEMORY" WHEN UPGRADING TO 1.93
[summary of report from Matthew A. Braithwaite]
There appears to be a bug in error reporting in Majordomo 1.93.
Under certain circumstanses, if the directory containing your Log
file is not writeable by majordomo then it will get caught in an
infinite recursion, eventually allocating all the memory in the
system. The fix is to make sure that the directory containing your
Log file is user and group writeable, and user and group owned by
your majordomo user and group.
I GET LOTS OF WARNINGS AND ERRORS WHEN TRYING TO COMPILE 1.93'S WRAPPER
You're probably trying to compile the wrapper using the default
Makefile on a non-POSIX system (like SunOS 4.x). As it says in the
Makefile, SunOS isn't POSIX -- you need to use the BSD rules. You
may still get one warning when compiling with BSD under SunOS,
just ignore it.
Section 3: Setting up mailing lists and aliases
HOW DO I DIRECT BOUNCES TO THE RIGHT ADDRESS?
This was somewhat of a RTFM question. The answer is to use 'resend'
to your advantage. The following is an example of a sendmail alias
that I was using:
Whereas this example (from the 'sample.aliases' file distributed with
Majordomo) fixes the problem.
sample: "|/usr/local/mail/majordomo/wrapper resend -p bulk -M 10000
-l Sample -f Owner-Sample -h GreatCircle.COM -s
See the 'resend.README' file for more info on resend's options.
What this does is force outgoing mail to have the out-of-band
envelope FROM be "Owner-Sample@GreatCircle.COM", and thus all
bounces will be redirected to that address. (Users often see this
mirrored in the message body as the "From " or "Return-Path:"
header). 'resend' also inserts a "Sender:" line with the same
address to help people identify where it came from, but that
header is not used for the bounce address.
If you are using sendmail v8.x, you don't have to use 'resend' to
do the same thing. You simply have to define an alias like this:
Note the trailing comma is necessary to prevent sendmail from
resolving the alias first before putting it in the header. Without
the comma, it will put "joe" in the envelope from instead of
"owner-sample". Either address will work, of course, but the
generic address is preferred should the owner ever change.
SEMI-AUTOMATED HANDLING OF BOUNCED MAIL
[From John Rouillard]
Just create a mailing list called "bounces". I usually set mine up
as an auto list just to make life easier.
All that "bounce" script does is create an email message to
majordomo that says:
approve [passwd] unsubscribe [listname] [address]
approve [passwd] subscribe bounces [address]
The [address] and [listname], are given on the command line to bounce.
The address of the majordomo, and the passwords are retrieved from
the .majordomo file in your home directory.
A sample .majordomo file might look like (shamelessly stolen from
the comments at the top of the bounce script):
this-list passwd1 Majordomo@This.COM
other-list passwd2 Majordomo@Other.COM
bounces passwd3 Majordomo@This.COM
bounces passwd4 Majordomo@Other.COM
A command of "bounce this-list email@example.com" will mail the following
message to Majordomo@This.COM:
approve passwd1 unsubscribe this-list firstname.lastname@example.org
approve passwd3 subscribe bounces email@example.com (930401 this-list)
while a command of "bounce other-list firstname.lastname@example.org" will mail the
following message to Majordomo@Other.COM:
approve passwd2 unsubscribe other-list email@example.com
approve passwd4 subscribe bounces firstname.lastname@example.org (930401 this-list)
Note that the date and the list the user was bounced from are included
as a comment in the address used for the "subscribe bounces"
WHAT'S THIS OWNER-LIST AND LIST-OWNER STUFF? WHY BOTH?
[From David Barr]
The "standard" is spelled out in RFC 1211 - "Problems with the
Maintenance of Large Mailing Lists".
It's here where the "owner-listname" and "listname-request"
concepts got their start. (well it was before this, but this is
where it was first spelled out)
Personally, I don't use "listname-owner" anywhere. You don't
really have to put both, since the "owner" alias is usually only
for bounces, which you add automatically anyway with resend's "-f"
flag, or having Sendmail v8.x's "owner-listname" alias.
(while I'm on the subject) The "-approval" is a Majordomo-ism, and
is only necessary if you want bounces and approval notices to go
to different mailboxes. (though you'll have to edit some code in
majordomo and request-answer if you want to get rid of the
-approval alias, since it's currently hardwired in)
So, to answer your question, I'd say "no". You don't have to have
both. You should just have "owner-list".
HOW SHOULD I CONFIGURE RESEND FOR REPLY-TO HEADERS?
Whether you should have a "Reply-To:" or not depends on the charter
of your list and the nature of its users. If the list is a
discussion list and you generally want replies to go back to the
list, you can include one. Some people don't like being told what
to do, and prefer to be able to choose whether to send a private
reply or a reply to the list just by using the right function on
their mail agent. Take note that if you do use a "Reply-To:", then
some mail agents make it much harder for a person on the list to
send a private reply.
If you are using resend, use the '-r ' flag to set the Reply-To
field to the list, or use the 'reply_to' config keyword for 1.9x
HOW CAN I HIDE LISTS SO THEY CAN'T BE VIEWED BY 'LISTS'?
That is what advertise and noadvertise are for. The two keywords take
regular expressions that are matched against the from address of
the sender. A list display follows the rules:
1. If the from address is on the list, it is shown.
2. If the from address matches a regexp in noadvertise (e.g.
/.*/) the list is not shown.
3. If the advertise list is empty, the list is shown unless 2
4. If the advertise list is non-empty, the from address must
match an address in advertise. Otherwise the list is not
shown. Rule 2 applies, so you could allow all hosts in
umb.edu except hosts in cs.umb.edu.
HOW CAN I RESTRICT A LIST SUCH THAT ONLY SUBSCRIBERS CAN SEND MAIL TO THE
For pre-1.9x versions of majordomo, see the -I option to resend. For
1.9x this is the restrict_post keyword in the config file. Just
set it to the filename that holds the list of subscribers.
Unfortunately this means you probably will need help from the
Majordomo maintainer in setting it if you don't have access to the
host machine. This is due to be improved in a future release of
However, there is a problem with either of these methods.
Majordomo works by filtering the messages coming in through the
"listname" alias, doing its dirty work, then passing the resulting
message out to another alias you define like "listname-outgoing".
If you trust people to not send mail directly to the
"listname-outgoing" alias, then you'll be fine. If however you're
not trusting, there are several steps to make sure people don't
bypass the restrictions of the list.
There are several methods. First you need to change your
"listname-outgoing" alias such that it is not obvious. Next, you
need to make it such that people can't find out what your
-outgoing alias is.
You can use the "@filename" directive in resend to move the
command-line options of resend into a file readable only by the
majordomo user/group. This will make it such that you can't find
out the -outgoing address by connecting to your mailer and doing
an EXPN or VRFY, or even locally by looking at the aliases file or
Another more direct approach is to simply disable EXPN or VRFY
altogether. See the documentation for your mailer on how to do
Finally it should be noted that it is impossible with any method
to prevent people from forging mail as someone on the list, and
sending to the list that way.
CAN I HAVE THE LIST OWNER OR APPROVAL PERSON BE CHANGEABLE WITHOUT
INTERVENTION FROM THE MAJORDOMO OWNER?
Sure! Just make owner-listname and/or listname-approval be another
majordomo list. (probably hidden, for simplicity's sake)
WHAT ABOUT ALL OF THESE PASSWORDS STARTING IN VERSION 1.90?
Think of three separate passwords:
1. A master password that can be used by both resend and
majordomo contained in [listname].passwd. To be used by the
master list manager when using writeconfig commands etc. This
allows someone who handles a number of mailing lists all
using the same password.
2. A password for the manager of this one list. The admin_passwd
can be used by subsidiary majordomo list maintainers.
3. A password for those concerned with the list content
This way the administration and moderation functions can be split. The
original reason for maintaining [listname].passwd was to allow a
new config file to be put in if the config file was trashed and
the admin_password was obliterated, and may still be useful to
allow a single password to be used for admin functions by the
majordomo admin or some other "superadmin".
Note that the admin passwd in the config file is not a file name,
but the password itself. This is the only way that the
list-maintainer could change the password since they wouldn't have
access to the file.
HOW DO I TELL MAJORDOMO TO HANDLE "GET"-ING OF BINARY FILES?
Majordomo is not designed to be a general-purpose file-by-mail
system. If you want to do anything more than trivial "get"-ing of
text files (archives, etc) than you should get and install
ftpmail. Majordomo has hooks to allow transparent access to files
via ftpmail (see majordomo.cf).
HOW DO I SET UP A MODERATED LIST?
First, you need to tell Majordomo that the list is moderated. In the
configuration file for the list, you set "moderated = yes".
Any mail which is not "approved", gets bounced with "Approval
required". If the moderator wishes to approve the message for the
list, then you need to tag the message as "approved" and send it
to the list. The "approve" script which comes with Majordomo does
this for you. If you don't have access to "approve" (e.g. you're
not on a UNIX system with Perl), you have to do it by hand. The
easiest way is to re-mail the original message to the list, except
by adding the line "Approved: approval-password" to the very first
line of the body.
Section 4: Miscellaneous mailer problems
ADDRESS WITH BLANKS ARE BEING TREATED SEPARATELY
If a subscriber to the list is
John Doe <email@example.com>
it gets treated these as the three addresses:
[From Alan Millar]
Majordomo does not treat these as three addresses. Apparently your
Remember that all Majordomo does is add and remove addresses from
a list. Majordomo does not interpret the contents of the list for
message distribution; the system mailer (such as sendmail) does.
I'm using SMail3 instead of sendmail, and it has an alternative
(read "stupid") view of how mixed angle-bracketed and
non-angle-bracketed addresses should be interpreted. I found that
putting a comma at the end of each line was effective to fix the
problem, and I got to keep my comments. So I patched Majordomo to
add the comment at the end of each address it writes to the list
You can also add the $listname.strip option so that none of the
addresses are angle-bracketed. (the "strip" config option for
WHY AREN'T MY DIGESTS GOING OUT?
>I'm not sure how to set up the digest feature of majordomo 1.92 to send
>digests out. Currently, it is digesting incoming mail, but that's all it's
[from John Rouillard]
echo mkdigest [digest-name] [digest-password] | mail majordomo@...
This will force a digest to be created. Or you can set the max size in
the digest list config file down low, and force automatic
generation. There are some patches for 1.92 that will allow other
ways of specifying automatic digest sending. The patch is in the
WHY DO I GET DUPLICATE MAIL SENT TO THE LIST?
I've you're running MMDF, read on: [From Gunther Anderson]
Well, I can tell you what happened to me recently. We use MMDF
here, which certainly colors the picture a little. What was
happening here was that MMDF was verifying the validity of the
whole mailing list before returning from the Submit call. The
thing calling the Submit would time out and close, but the Submit
itself would still be running somewhere. The calling routine would
believe that the message had failed in its delivery, but the
Submit would eventually succeed. The calling process would try
again some time later. This, of course, is bad. The larger the
list got, the more addresses there were to verify (verification
was really just a DNS search on the target machine name), the more
likely, under load, that the message would duplicate. We finally
got so large, with so many international addresses (which seem to
timeout on DNS queries much more ofen than US addresses) that we
were always duplicating. Infinitely (until I killed the original
The solution for us was MMDF-specific. We used a different channel
for submission and delivery, one which deliberately doesn't verify
the addresses before accepting a job. We used the list-processor
channel, and only had to check that the listname-request name was
set properly, because list-processor insists on making
listname-request the envelope "From " header name.
If you're running Sendmail, this is more rare. There have been
unconfirmed reports that on some systems having the queue process
interval set too short can cause problems, even though sendmail is
supposed to handle this. Workarounds are to increase your queue
process interval (-q flag), or decrease the interval between queue
checkpoints (OC flag in sendmail.cf).
[ Please let me know if you have any more information --ed ]