A Class on the Net for Librarians with Little or No Net Experience


"The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard."

-- William Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, 1826

You have already heard about a few of the basic listserv commands -- "subscribe," "unsubscribe," "index," and "get." Now it's time to take a closer look at these and a few others.

Since Eric Thomas' LISTSERV package is the oldest and most widely used on the net, we will look at the commands it accepts. (James Milles' Mail Server Commands document -- http://lawwww.cwru.edu/cwrulaw/faculty/milles/mailser.html -- referenced at the end of this lesson will give you the equivalent majordomo, listproc, mailbase, and mailserv commands).

BTW, you won't need to worry about using upper or lower case letters in these commands; they are not case sensitive. (This is *not* the case -- no pun intended -- when we look at addresses on the World Wide Web, which we'll get to later.)

BASIC LISTSERV COMMANDS (arranged by function):

Remember: commands are always sent to the listserv address:


where 'hostname' is the name of the machine serving the list you're addressing.

Managing Your Subscriptions:

Here's a list of basic commands you need to know:

LIST Archive Requests:

LISTSERV Documentation:

Information about a Specific Listserv Host:

Let's put these commands to a practical use. For a test-case, you can practice by requesting a list of all the archived files associated with the BCK2SKOL listserv on the University of South Carolina's LISTSERV. Just address an email message to:


and include as the text of your mail message the command:


INDEX is the command and BCK2SKOL is the name of the list. Thus, this command requests that a list of files associated with the BCK2SKOL listserv be shipped to you.

Since the archives of the list are maintained on the USC listserv (in addition to being archived on the USC CSD's World Wide Web home page), people without access to WWW software can retrieve a "master" list of updated lessons using the above command. In the list that you'll be mailed, note that in addition to the filenames (BCK2SKOL 97-00001, etc.) each file has a "Remark" associated with it (at the far right) which indicates the contents of each file (Lesson 2, etc.). The archive contains the most recent updates of the BCK2SKOL lessons. Look for the file labeled "BCK2SKOL README" in the remarks field for a table of contents (with lesson titles) for the archived files -- you might want to request this file first.

To request the first file available in the archive, send the command:

GET BCK2SKOL 97-00001

To request a specific lesson, check the remarks such as Lesson 6, and send the GET command requesting the filename associated with it (e.g., GET BCK2SKOL 97-00008 or whatever it might be called in the archive).

You can request multiple lessons in your mail message with multiple GET commands (one per line in your message):

GET BCK2SKOL 97-00015
GET BCK2SKOL 97-00018
GET BCK2SKOL 97-00029

You will receive the lesson(s) in an email message.


You can use these instructions to search not only archived distribution LISTSERV files (such as BCK2SKOL), but also the message archives of discussion lists as well. To do so, the only information you will need, again, is the listname and the listserv address. As you did when obtaining archived lessons from BCK2SKOL, you will begin with the INDEX command and proceed to the GET command. When searching message archives, you may discover that you have to be subscribed to the list before it will allow you to access its archives. If the LISTSERV returns a message of this sort, take a minute to subscribe, retrieve the files you are interested in, and signoff when your work is finished.


Many popular mailing list archives are accessible and searchable on the web. Some of these are available via the InReference web pages: http://www.reference.com/. Other mailing list forums may provide access to their archives using 'homegrown' utilities (do a web search for a specific listname against the Liszt mailing list directory (http://www.liszt.com/), or send the INFO command to the hosting server to check for any special archive access setup). Many other LISTSERV-based archives are searchable via the web courtesy of the LSOFT CataList interface at: http://www.lsoft.com/lists/listref.html. For info on this interface (and a link to it), refer to the LISTSERV User's Guide section on "Searching list archives via the World Wide Web": http://www.lsoft.com/manuals/user/user.html#3.8

If a list's archives aren't accessible in any of these "webberized" modes, you'll be limited to using the old standby database search mechanisms built into the original LISTSERV software and sending your commands via email. While not as neat as webbed archives, it is certainly "do-able" for the novice!

The following example presents an email-based LISTSERV archive search; this type of search works against all LISTSERV-proper archives, and the only special tool required is email.

NOTE: Check the LSOFT LISTSERV User's Guide at http://www.lsoft.com/manuals/user/user.html (look in the Database Functions section) for specific info on this interface.

Example of Basic Email Search Routine:
Let's assume you remember reading about a listserv list called "stumpers" in one of the BCK2SKOL lessons, and you've discarded your copies. You could retrieve all the archived lessons from the server as outlined in the previous session, and read through each one until you found the reference, OR, you could send the following command as the text of your mail message to LISTSERV@vm.sc.edu:

search stumpers in bck2skol

You're requesting a 'search' for the word 'stumpers' in the list 'bck2skol.' LISTSERV will mail you back a list of "hit" information, similar to the following:

search stumpers in bck2skol

3 matches.

Item #   Date   Time  Recs   Subject

------   ----   ----  ----   -------

000008 97/03/19 17:02  284   LESSON 7

000010 97/03/19 17:02  266   LESSON 9

000035 97/03/19 17:14  151   EXAM ANSWERS

To order a copy of these postings, send the following command:


----- snip ----- snip ------

and more information providing the actual context of each hit, which I've snipped out of this example to save space. To order the complete text of each of the three hits, LISTSERV has given you the command to mail back to retrieve each:


Mailing this command back to LISTSERV@VM.SC.EDU will return to you the complete text of each posting (each BCK2SKOL lesson in our case) where the word 'stumpers' occurred.

That wasn't so hard, was it?

Your search parameters can, however, become very involved; you can limit your search by date, submit complicated Boolean searches, etc. More detailed information on LISTSERV archive search parameters, and details on interacting with LISTSERVs in general, is available in LSOFT's LISTSERV User's Guide at: http://www.lsoft.com/manuals/user/user.html



If you're still feeling overwhelmed, get a copy of:

     John, Nancy R. & Edward J. Valauskas.  _Internet Troubleshooter:

       Help for the Logged-On and Lost_.  ALA, 1994.

       ISBN 0-8389-0633-8. pap. text ed.  $20.00


If you have access to a WWW browser:

* "BCK2SKOL" is a free electronic library classroom created by Ellen Chamberlain, Head Librarian, University of South Carolina Beaufort, and Miriam Mitchell, Sr. Systems Analyst, USC Columbia. Additional support is provided by the Division of Libraries & Information Systems, University of South Carolina Columbia.

Your feedback and support for BCK2SKOL are appreciated; please email link updates, suggestions and comments to: eechambe@gwm.sc.edu

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Links checked 4 January 1999. See the BCK2SKOL homepage for course update details.
Copyright © 2000, the Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.
URL: http://www.sc.edu/bck2skol/fall/lesson9.html