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The world of BSD mailing lists

2014-03-26

Live demo in BSD Now Episode 030 | Originally written by TJ for bsdnow.tv | Last updated: 2014/05/01

NOTE: the author/maintainer of the tutorial(s) is no longer with the show, so the information below may be outdated or incorrect.

Our tutorial for today is a little bit different, in that it's not a technical one. While IRC may be the best choice for real-time communication and support, and while forums (some official and some not) are probably more familiar to most new users, mailing lists remain the primary discussion platform for BSD. They're a part of our culture. This tutorial will attempt to help you become acquainted with how to join and make use of them. It will also highlight some specific lists of interest.


How to join, what to join

It should go without saying that there are many, many different mailing lists. Each of them has their own topic of discussion or purpose. Some are entirely automated for security alerts and others are a platform for support and code contribution. Take some time and look through the following pages. There are quite a lot!

Most of them have a simple web interface to join, or a note on how to do it if not. Join as many as you want to - it's always great to keep up with what's going on in the BSD world. Before you post on one, however, read the next section.


Etiquette

If you need to post on a mailing list, it's very important that you follow some basic rules of politeness. Failure to do so increases the chances that your email will be ignored.. and that's a best-case scenario. More realistically, you might be bombarded with insults. Most of the BSDs have their own, unique guidelines for posting on their lists. I'd encourage you to read over each of them, depending on where you intend to post.

In addition to those, each specific list may have their own that only apply to certain lists. An example: You're posting on a list about a kernel panic. If you don't include useful information (about hardware and otherwise) along with some sort of crash dump, you will likely be flamed or ignored. Pay attention to what each list is about and try to apply some common sense. A few overall points to mention:

  • Never top post. I don't care if it's the default in your mail client; it's extremely annoying and is just another reason for you to be ignored.
  • Proper spelling and grammar are very important, even if English isn't your native language.
  • Check the archives before posting. There have been millions of questions posted, and they're all saved forever. Answering the same question over and over gets very bothersome very quick. We'll go into more detail on checking archived posts later in this tutorial.
  • Search for the answer before posting. Even if there hasn't been a mailing list post about your question, laziness is no excuse. Chances are that someone somewhere has had (and fixed) whatever problem you are having. The BSDs have excellent documentation, and choosing to ignore it is insulting to the developers at large. If someone took the time to write a man page, you need to read it first.
  • Don't expect an immediate answer. While some lists are more active than others, just because you don't get a reply within an hour doesn't mean no one will read it. People check their email when they feel like doing it. Keep in mind that this is all volunteer work. No one "has to" help you. Time zone differences and holidays also play a huge role in this.
  • Trim (or ideally remove) your signature. If you have to include that witty phrase you came up with (or stole) or your initials, no one is going to bite your head off for it, but keep your signature mature and to the point. A signature that consists of more than three lines is generally unacceptable. Ask yourself, "does anyone really care?"
  • Use plaintext ONLY. Using HTML in your email is probably the quickest way to guarantee it'll be deleted immediately. Set your client to only use plain ASCII characters. No special fonts, no colors, no giant text, nothing.
  • Wrap text at 72 (or some say 75, or some say 80) characters per line. A lot of people use commandline mail clients that don't play so well with wrapped text. For everyone's benefit, please go to a new line once you've approached this limit.
  • Avoid large attachments. Not everyone has a lot of bandwidth to spare, and they definitely don't want to waste it on whatever you felt the need to attach. If you need to include a large file, consider hosting it somewhere online and providing a link to it in the body of your message.
  • Put large blocks of text on pastebin or similar sites, and put the link in your email. Similar to the previous point, no one wants to scroll and scroll and scroll just to get to the actual content of the message. Log files and the like should be on sites like pastebin or dpaste.
  • Include quoted previous messages, but keep them trimmed. Context is very important, especially if someone doesn't see the original message. Include the quoted text of the message you are replying to (above your message!), but it's good habit to remove the irrelevant bits. Ask yourself, "Could someone understand what we're talking about with only my message?" If the answer is yes, you've trimmed enough.
  • Have a meaningful subject. There are lots of messages posted every day, and often times the only thing that will "bait" someone into reading yours is the subject. Things like "help" or "wtf is this error message" aren't good titles. Something like "Filesystem corruption on today's -CURRENT snapshot" would probably entice the right people to check your email.
  • Proofread your message before sending. Check for errors, check that you included everything you need to, check for spelling. Use spellcheck if you have to. You'll be embarrassed if you used "your" when you should've used "you're" and someone laughs at you.
  • Consider using a dedicated email address. Spam happens, it's the internet. Having a dedicated email address just for mailing lists is generally a good idea, especially when coupled with email client filtering.

Good posting style will greatly increase the quality of discussion.


Archives

Please check the archives before posting a new question. Someone has almost certainly had the same issue you're having. Googling is the best way to search, but there are a few big sites for list archives. Some that come to mind are marc.info and gmane, as well as any official archives from the various BSD projects.


Lists of interest

The following is an incomplete list of certain mailing lists that I think users should join.


Mailing lists are a very important tool in the BSD world, and learning about them will help your BSD journey go a lot more smoothly.

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