Mailing Lists - Listserv Help

See the overall mailing list Help section for more information. This section describes the specific Listserv problem of being “served off” from a Listserv mailing list, which can take some work to reverse.

Some list email addresses are configured to automatically send a response to any incoming mail, perhaps to say that the user is on vacation, to auto-respond with an information file, or for some other similar purpose. If an email from that address is ever sent to a list server administration address, then the list server will try to read the email and send back a series of error messages saying that it can’t recognize any list server commands. If the original email address auto-replies again, sending more email to the list server, and the list server auto-replies again, sending back more error messages, an “email loop” will be created, where potentially dozens, hundreds, or thousands of unproductive email messages may be exchanged by the two programs within seconds and minutes, without any end in sight. This could quickly overload the email program and list server and cause them to malfunction.

To protect against these kinds of email loops, a list server will stop responding to any email address that sends it more than 21 consecutive invalid commands. This can happen inadvertently without creating an email loop if you send a valid command but forget that you have a signature file automatically appended to the end of your email that is more than 21 lines in length and gets interpreted as invalid commands.

Once a list server stops responding to your email you have been “served off”, and the server will not respond to any more of your requests until you have been specifically served back on by another email address. You will at least get one last email address telling you that you have been served off, and specifying how to get served back on, that looks something like the following:

You had 20 tries. From now on your requests will be ignored without any reply. You can restore your access to LISTSERV by having another person send the following command to LISTSERV@LISTSERV.NODAK.EDU: SERVE Unknown command - "Home phone number". Try HELP. All subsequent commands have been flushed.

You can send an email to the list owner asking to be “served on”, but it will be less embarrassing and bothersome if you do it yourself from another email address, or have a friend do it. The address you send the message from does not even have to be subscribed to the list. The command will be exactly specified in the served off email notification, and look something like this:


Once the server gets this notification, it will figure that a human being has intervened and vouched for the trustworthiness of the email address, and give you another chance.