[Western Oregon University]

Electronic mail or e-mail is the way people communicate over the Internet. Via email, you can send messages, attach and send text files, binary objects such as graphic files, and digital audio and video files.

Sending & Receiving Email

In order to communicate via e-mail, you must use client software, a program connecting your local computer to your electronic mailbox on your Internet provider's computer server. This software allows you to compose, send, receive and read messages. There are a number of different programs available for sending e-mail over the Internet.

An e-mail message consists of two parts:
control information
general information about the message such as who sent it; where its going; when it was sent; what its about
the actual message
In Internet jargon, the control information is usually referred to as the header and the content as the body or text of the message.

The Header

When you send a letter to someone (via postal service snail mail), you put both your address and the address of the recipient in the control part of the letter (the outside of the envelope.) The post office requires that an address in the form of name, street address, city, state and zip code be affixed to your envelope otherwise the mail will not be delivered. Similarly, to send an e-mail message to John Doe at Cyberland, you need to get the message to Cyberland's computer and then to John Doe.

E-mail programs include at least the To: , From: and Subject: fields in the header. Of the possible information that the sender may put in the header, only the address (To: field) is required. Including a brief description of the subject of your mesage is often helpful to the recipient. Most mail programs will automatically enter the sender's Internet address into the From: field.

E-mail Addresses
As in sending a letter via the Postal Service, and sending a message via e-mail requires you to know the recipient's name and address. Email addresses generally take the form username@host.subdomain.domain>

refers to the person who holds the Internet account (the person's login name)
an individual machine at a particular location
hosts and local networks are grouped together into domains which in turn are grouped into larger domains; addresses may contain more than one subdomain
the address ends with the largest domain -- in the U.S. there are six of these domains
If the address doesn't end in one of these, it is probably a computer in another country.

In the address courtna@wou.edu, fsa is the host which is analogous to an apartment building while Western and osshe are both domains. Western is like a complex of apartment buildings and osshe is analogous to the town containing that complex.

Emoticons & Acronyms

When communicating via e-mail, it is difficult to show emphasis unless you capitalize your words (equates to shouting) or use bold type. To allow expression of emotion, a set of symbols called emoticons have evolved. :-> is an example of an emoticon. So what's so great about a colon, a hyphen, and a greater-than symbol? If you tilt your head to the left, you will see that it actually looks like a crude smiley face! Emoticons are a set of symbols that viewed sideways look a bit like a facial expression.

:-> or :-)smile
:-< or :-(frown
:-Dbig grin

Online abbreviations or acronyms, quick replacements for common phrases, have been developed to eliminate time-consuming typing of these phrases.

BTWBy the way
FWIWFor what it's worth
FYIFor your information
IMOIn my opinion
IMHOIn my humble opinion
IOWIn other words
LOLLaughing out loud
ROFLRolling on the floor laughing

Electronic mail makes it easy to distribute the same message to several people all located at different places at once. This allows a group of people to conduct online discussions about a topic in which they have a common interest. There are two types of topical discussion groups available on the Internet -- Mailing list discussion groups and Usenet newsgroups. One of the primary differences between the two formats is accessibility. Anyone can read the discussion on a newsgroup at any time. For most newsgroups, anyone can post a response at any time. Mailing lists are more restrictive -- you must be a subscriber in order to read or post to the group. Some mailing lists are more restrictive than others. In some instances, subscription is open to anyone who wishes to participate while others have restricted access -- you must request permission to join the list. In a moderated mailing list, all posts are sent to a moderator who approves them for general distribution. In an unmoderated list, all posts are automatically distributed to all the list's subscribers. The more restrictive nature of the mailing list is intended to decrease the volume of irrelevant postings.

Electronic Mailing Lists

How They Work

Early mailing lists served small discussion groups, and all of the functions of the list were carried out manually by the list owner. Now, operations such as adding people to the list, removing people from the list and distributing the posts to the subscribers are done automatically by computer software called listservers.

To join a mailing list, you send a message to the listserver indicating that you wish to join the list. The listserver then either adds you name to its list of addresses or sends your request to a human for approval if it is a restricted-access list. When your subscription request has been accepted, the listserver will automatically send you a Welcome File which will detail important information concerning the list and two addresses that you will need to use in conducting business with the list. One of the addresses, the administrative address, is for use when you want to conduct administrative business with the list such as holding your mail while on vacation or to unsubscribe from the list. The other address, the list address, is for sending messages to the other subscribers to the list.

Messages to be read by the other members of the discussion group are composed just like another type of e-mail message. Since the listserver is basically a robot, messages to the listserver must use only certain commands following strict syntax requirements. There are three common listserver programs employed by mailing lists : Listserv, Majordomo, and Listproc.

Mailing lists that are run by listserv software typically have addresses in the form listserv@domain. To subscribe to a listserv mailing list you would leave the Subject: field blank and in the body of the message type:


If John Doe wants to subscribe to the list CHMINF-L which discusses chemical information resources, he would send the following email:

From: DoeJohn@wou.edu


After John Doe gets confirmation of his subscription, messages from the list begin to appear automatically in his mailbox. If John wishes to comment to the list about a topic under discussion, he would not send that post to the listserv@iubvm.ucs.indiana.edu address since only the robot computer would receive it. This is the administrative address. Instead, he would send his message to CHMINF-L@iubvm.ucs.indiana.edu, and a copy of the message will be sent to each subsciber to the list. This is the list address. It is very important that you never send requests to subscribe, unsubscribe, get general info about the list, hold your mail, or change to the digest option to the list address. These are administrative tasks that the other list subscribers do not want to read!

Some lists are high volume lists which means that the subscribers get a lot of mail from the list in their mailbox daily. If your Internet provider limits the number of messages that you may have in your mailbox at any given time, you might want to obtain your list mail in digest form. A digest is a single e-mail message that has combined a number of posts together. To change your subscription from individual pieces of mail to the digest format, you would send a request to the listserver to change your subscription as follows:

To: listserv@iubvm.ucs.indiana.edu
From: DoeJohn@wou.edu


If you are leaving on a vacation, you can have mail from the list temporarily stopped by sending the following message to the administrative address:

To: listserv@iubvm.ucs.indiana.edu
From: DoeJohn@wou.edu


When you return you may have e-mail delivery resumed by:

From: DoeJohn@wou.edu


You can get a more information about this list by sending the following message to the administrative address:

From: DoeJohn@wou.edu


Sending the one word message "help" (without the quotes) to the administrative address will get you general help information about communicating with the listserv program such as a list of the commands that the program recognizes.

The list gdch-cic discusses the use of computers in chemistry. This list utilizes majordomo software.
To subscribe to this list you would send the following message to the list's adminstrative address.

From: DoeJohn@wou.edu

subscribe gdch-cic

Posts to the other members of the list are sent to the address:


Other Majordomo commands include:

unsubscribe gdch-cic
info gdch-cic

The list geochem is a vehicle for the discussion of geochemical issues. The administrative address for this list is listproc@u.washington.edu and sending the following message will request subscription to the list:

To: listproc@u.washington.edu

From: DoeJohn@wou.edu

subscribe geochem Your Full Name

The address for actual discussion posts is geochem @u.washington.edu

Other listproc commands:

unsubscribe geochem
info geochem

How To Find Mailing Lists

The best resource for finding a mailing list on a topic that interests you is to use a service called LISZT (http://www.liszt.com). This service indexes more than 48,000 lists and allows you to search for topics of interest via a keyword search. Unfortunately, the information provided about each list varies -- you can get a lot of info or very little depending on the list.

Another resource is CataList (http://www.lsoft.com/lists/lisref.html) which indexes lists utilizing listserv software. This resource can be searched by site, country and number of subscribers.

PAML or Publicly Accessible Mailing Lists gives detailed information on about 2,000 mailing lists. This is a very friendly resource although not an extensive one.

Using A Mailing List

Once you have located a mailing list that interests you, you can either be a passive or active list participant. The first thing you should do is to subscribe to the mailing list as described above. Many mailing lists maintain archives of discussions that have occurred and sometimes files called FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). When you first join a mailing list, you should read any welcome or FAQ files available. These will often give valuable information about what is acceptable or unacceptable for the list. To find out what files are available send the command "index LISTNAME" (without the quotes) to the administrative address. For example, after subscribing to CHMINF-L, you should see what files are available by emailing the command "index CHMINF-L" (no quotes) to listserv@iubvm.ucs.indiana.edu. The listserv will send you back a message that looks something like:

* ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
* The GET/PUT authorization codes shown with each file entry describe
* who is authorized to GET or PUT the file:
* OWN= List owners
* :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::


* NOTEBOOK archives for the list
* (monthly notebook)
* filename filetype GET PUT -fm lrecl nrecs date time Remarks
* -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
CHMINF-L LOG9105 ALL OWN V 80 735 91/11/21 12:07:48 Started on Thu, 16 May 91
...... & etc..........

There are numerous files available in the CHMINF-L file list. There isn't one named FAQ, but there is one called WELCOME which is probably an introduction for new listers. To retrieve the WELCOME file, send the following command to the administrative address:

get CHMINF-L welcome

This instructs the computer to retrieve the file. This GET command works for Listserv, Majordomo and Listproc mailing lists. In this particular case, the listserver will not send you this WELCOME file because the list owner is the only person with authorized access to this file. You could, however, get a copy of LOG9105 by sending the message "get CHMINF-L LOG9105" since access to this file is available to ALL subscribers.

Mailing List Archives

Many mailing lists, but not all, maintain archives (files containing past posts). Both Listproc and Listserv support archive searches while Majordomo does not.

Listserv Archive Searches
Listserv has a very powerful search engine. Full instructions for using the Listserv search engine can be obtained by sending the message "get listdb memo f=mail" to listserv@lsoft.com. This is a very long file.

Simple keyword searches can be carried out using the template e-mail message:

Database Search dd=rules
//rules dd*
Search keywords in name of list since yy/mm/dd

In this search message, the first three lines are always the same. The fourth line is your customized search statement. The index command tells the server to return a list of the messages that fit your search criteria.

The following message would search CHMINF-L for information about textbooks appropriate for a chemical literature class.

Database Search dd=rules
//rules dd*
Search chemical literature and textbook in CHMINF-L since 96/1/1

This would look for any posts since January 1, 1996 that mention chemical literature textbooks. Sending this message gave the following result:

>Search chemical literature and textbook in CHMINF-L since 96/1/1
--> Database CHMINF-L, 3 hits.

Item # Date Time Recs Subject
-------- ------- ------- ------- -----------
008587 96/06/17 15:16 17 literature chapters in textbooks, etc
008705 96/07/08 07:38 223 Chemical information chapters, etc. in chemistry
009782 97/01/20 11:34 637 (LONG) Syllabi:Chem Info Course

If you want to read the first two posts listed, you would retrieve them from the archive by sending the following message to the administrative address:

Database Search dd=rules
//rules dd*
Search chemical literature and textbook in CHMINF-L since 96/1/1
Print all of 008587, 008705

The listserver will retrieve the body of these two posts and sends them to you.

Listproc Archive Searches
The Listproc archive search engine is far less sophistocated than that of Listserv. To carry out a keyword search, you simply send the following message to the administrative address:

search [name of list] "keywords"

Listproc allows the Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT to be used in the search. It is also possible to substitute symbols for these words.

Boolean Symbols

Posting To A Mailing List

It is a good idea to "lurk" on a mailing list for a short time before making your first post. Here are some things that you should include if you are posing a question to the mailing list community:

If you are responding to someone else's question, you may want to include a short quote from their original message to set the tone for your reply. However, use good sense in doing this. Nobody wants to wade through many lines of unnecessary, redundant quotation. Before sending your reply, ask yourself the question: Is this information valuable to the average reader of this list, or is it only important to the original questioner? If the latter is true, you should send your response directly to the questioner in a private post. If the former, you should send your reply to the mail list so that all subscribers can read it.

USENET Newsgroups

There are ways other than e-mail to communicate on the Internet. Usenet newsgroups are a common alternative. Usenet is a global computer network that can be accessed with the Internet but is not itself the Internet. Usenet computers do not operate interactively like Internet computers. The Usenet machines store the messages sent to them and periodically forward them to other Usenet computers. While mail from electronic mailing lists automatically gets distributed to the mailboxes of the subscribers, Usenet news articles are not automatically sent to individual's mailboxes. In order to access Usenet news articles, you must use a program called a news reader which allows you to retrieve only the news you want to read from a local Usenet storage site and display it on your computer screen.

Each Usenet newsgroup has a unique name, a set of alphabetic character strings separated by periods, that describes the topic of that group. The first part of the name identifies the type of group. This is followed by a general topic and then a more narrowly focused topic. The seven major catagories or hierarchies are:

Computers and related subjects
Groups that don't fit any other newsgroup category
News about Usenet itself
recreational activities and hobbies
Science other than research biology
Politics and social issues
Forum for debating controversial topics

These newsgroup categories are the core of Usenet. Although they are circulated world-wide, they may not reach every network with Usenet access. Individual sites may choose which newsgroups they wish to carry and which they don't. The categories listed above are not the only ones available on Usenet. Some alternate hierarchies are:

a broad category
Research biology
Info from the Associated Press wire service
For teachers and students from kindergarten through high school

The heirarchical naming system employed by Usenet is intended to help you find groups of interest and to ignore entire hierarchies in which you are not interested.

An example of a newsgroup name is news.announce.newusers This is a newsgroup that provides Usenet information to individuals who are new to Usenet newgroups.

Reading The News

As mentioned earlier you need a news reader to access Usenet news. A news reader will operate at three different levels:

The news reader begins at the newsgroup level and allows you to chose what newsgroup you wish to read. This is analogous to being at the newstand and choosing among the various types of newspapers or magazines available -- The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Scientific American, etc. Once you select a newsgroup, you move to the subject/article level. Here, the newsreader displays the subject lines of current articles. This is like scanning the table of contents in your magazine. You select the article that you wish to read, and the newsreader moves to the page level where the actual text of the article is displayed on your computer screen.

A Usenet article, similarly to an e-mail message, has a section at its beginning that identifies the sender, the date written, and the article's subject. If this article is in response to a previous article, it will have the same subject line beginning with Re:. Groups of articles which discuss the same concepts make up a subject thread. A newsgroup may have numerous subject threads running simultaneously.

Finding A Newsgroup

There are tens of thousands of Usenet newsgroups, each possessing a very specific name. You can not just type a subject keyward into yur news reader to find posts on that subject. You must type in the exact name of the newsgroup to access it or find a group using one of locator resource listed below.

Usenet Info Center Launch Pad

This is a powerful search engine allowing a variety of search options. In addition to finding newsgroups, it provides an interesting variety of statistics about the group such as the post volume (number of messages per month) and percentage of Usenet sites which carry the group.

Infinite InkFinding Newsgroups

This resource is a list of Usenet groups with hotlinks. This site has a breakdown of newsgroups by heirarchy as well as a list of newsgroup search tools.

Robot Wisdom Newsgroup Finder

This is a good resource to use if your computer system uses a slower modem. It can be used to search for newsgroups by historical period, numbers, region or state in the U.S.A. or by country. The search will return a lot of data about the newsgroup including description and FAQ when available.

Once you have found newgroups you want to read you will want to make a list of these groups so you can access them easily from your computer. If you are using Netscape Navigator, go to the File Menu and select Add Newsgroup. Type in the name of the newsgroups, and a list will be generated. If you get an error message when you type in the newsgroup name you have either made a typing mistake or your server does not carry that newsgroup.


FAQs are compilations of Frequently Asked Question about the newsgroup topic. These are not archives of old posting but rather an attempt to limit the number of redundant messages posted to the newsgroup concerning basic concepts. One should read any FAQ about the newsgroup topic before posing a question. You will probably get some not so nice responses if you ask a simple question that has already been answered in a well-publicized FAQ!

A good way to locate FAQs is at http://www.lib.ox.ac.uk/internet/news. You can search by category or newsgroup. Another resource is Infinite Ink's Finding Periodic Postings at http://www.ii.com/internet/faqs/. This site has over 2,500 FAQs .

Newsgroup Archives

FAQs are intended to answer basic questions and introducing a specific topic. If you want information not incorporated into a FAQ and don't want to pose a question to the newsgroup, you can conduct a search to see if any posts on your topic have been made by using an online archive. The archives do not keep track of every post made to every newsgroup, but they still are a valuable resource.
Deja News

Search with Deja News is very easy. All you have to do is type keywords into the Quick Search box. Deja News supports Boolean searching. When you type more than one word in the box, Deja News defaults to the Boolean AND unless you provide a different operator. There are some words (called stopwords) that Deja News will not allow in your search. These are words that are so common that they would produce an incredible number of hits in the search. Some examples of stopwords are the, is, that, date.

Deja News allows you to narrow your search by searching for the field of a newsgroup article. Thus, you can specify the date, subject, or author. You may combine your Boolean element with fild searching. The two most popular field search commands are:

Although reference.com is isn't as extensiveas Deja News, it indexes both newsgroups and some mailing lists. It allows use of the AND, OR, and Not Boolean operators and wildcards.

Reference.com will allow you to run searches via e-mail by sending search messages to email-queries@reference.com. Your email search should be stated in the form:

Find "keywords"

To find articles concerning the ethical implications of nuclear reactors, you could send the following search :

Find "nuclear reactors" AND "ethics"

Reference.com will send you an e-mail message with the results of the search including the first 10 lines of each search result and a unique identification number for that article. It will limit you to the first 10 lines of up to 25 search results. To retrieve the article, send an e-mail message in the form:

GET article ID #

Reference.com will e-mail the full article to you.

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Western Oregon University
Copyright © 1997 Western Oregon University
Direct suggestions, comments, and questions about this page to Arlene Courtney, courtna@wou.edu.
Last Modified January 20, 1999