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LISTSERV was the first electronic mailing list software application, consisting of a set of email addresses for a group in which the sender can send one email
Electronic mail, commonly known as email or e-mail, is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to one or more recipients. Modern email operates across the Internet or other computer networks. Some early email systems required that the author and the recipient both be online at the...

 and it will reach a variety of people. Since its launch in 1986, several other list management tools have been developed, such as Lyris ListManager
Lyris ListManager
Lyris Listmanager is an electronic mailing list managing system sold by the Lyris corporation. Listmanager is marketed as an opt-in email marketing, online discussion, and e-publishing solution. It incorporates a fast mail engine and automatic error handling...

 in 1997, Sympa
Sympa is an open source mailing list management software. Its name, which is an acronym for Systeme de Multi-Postage Automatique Sympa is an open source (GNU GPL) mailing list management (MLM) software. Its name, which is an acronym for Systeme de Multi-Postage Automatique Sympa is an open source...

 in 1997, GNU Mailman
GNU Mailman
GNU Mailman is a computer software application from the GNU project for managing electronic mailing lists.Mailman is coded primarily in Python and currently maintained by Barry Warsaw...

 in 1998.

Prior to LISTSERV, email lists were managed manually. To join or leave a list, people would write to the human list administrator and ask to be added or removed, a process that only got more time-consuming as discussion lists grew in popularity.

LISTSERV was freeware from 1986 through 1993 and is now a commercial product developed by L-Soft, a company founded by LISTSERV author Eric Thomas in 1994. A free version limited to ten lists of up to 500 subscribers each can be downloaded from the company’s web site.


In 1986, Eric Thomas invented the concept of an automated mailing list manager; that year, while a student in Paris, he developed the software now known as LISTSERV. The early software features developed by Thomas included the capability to send commands to LISTSERV to join or leave a list without the need for human administration, as well as the concept of a list owner (other than the system administrator) who could add or remove subscribers, edit templates for welcome messages and other system messages. Among other innovations, LISTSERV introduced double opt-in in 1993 and the first spam filter in 1995.

Though Listservs are not as popular as they once were, they continue to be used today due to their ease of use.


LISTSERV is a registered trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Swedish Patent and Registration Office, PRV
PRV may refer to:* Polycythaemia rubra vera, a blood disorder* Pressure reducing valve* Pressure relief valve* Peak Reverse Voltage, a characteristic of diodes* PRV engine, an automobile V6 engine developed by Peugeot Renault and Volvo...

. As such, using the word "listserv" to describe a different product or as a generic term for any email-based mailing list of that kind is a trademark misuse. The standard generic terms are electronic mailing list, elist, or email list for the list itself, and email list manager or email list software for the software product that manages the list.


The integrated F-Secure
F-Secure Corporation is an anti-virus and computer security software company based in Helsinki, Finland. The company has 18 country offices and a presence in more than 100 countries, with Security Lab operations in Helsinki, Finland and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia...

 Anti-Virus system in LISTSERV software scans every message and attachment posted to a mailing list for viruses. LISTSERV is the first and so far the only email list software providing such built-in virus protection. If a virus is detected, the message is automatically rejected.

Through version 15.0, individual user passwords were stored cleartext and available to users who are listed as Site Managers or "Postmasters" in the application configuration. Passwords are encrypted since version 15.5.


LISTSERV is available in several licensing options: LISTSERV Free Edition for non-commercial hobby use, LISTSERV Lite for smaller workloads, LISTSERV Classic the standard, full-featured version, LISTSERV HPO (High Performance Option) and LISTSERV Maestro (for customized and targeted email publishing and reporting).

Supported operating systems

LISTSERV is currently available for and supported on Linux
Linux is a Unix-like computer operating system assembled under the model of free and open source software development and distribution. The defining component of any Linux system is the Linux kernel, an operating system kernel first released October 5, 1991 by Linus Torvalds...

, Solaris
Solaris Operating System
Solaris is a Unix operating system originally developed by Sun Microsystems. It superseded their earlier SunOS in 1993. Oracle Solaris, as it is now known, has been owned by Oracle Corporation since Oracle's acquisition of Sun in January 2010....

, FreeBSD
FreeBSD is a free Unix-like operating system descended from AT&T UNIX via BSD UNIX. Although for legal reasons FreeBSD cannot be called “UNIX”, as the direct descendant of BSD UNIX , FreeBSD’s internals and system APIs are UNIX-compliant...

, AIX, Mac OS X
Mac OS X
Mac OS X is a series of Unix-based operating systems and graphical user interfaces developed, marketed, and sold by Apple Inc. Since 2002, has been included with all new Macintosh computer systems...

, OpenVMS
OpenVMS , previously known as VAX-11/VMS, VAX/VMS or VMS, is a computer server operating system that runs on VAX, Alpha and Itanium-based families of computers. Contrary to what its name suggests, OpenVMS is not open source software; however, the source listings are available for purchase...

HP-UX is Hewlett-Packard's proprietary implementation of the Unix operating system, based on UNIX System V and first released in 1984...

, Tru64, z/VM
z/VM is the current version in IBM's VM family of virtual machine operating systems. z/VM was first released in October 2000 and remains in active use and development . It is directly based on technology and concepts dating back to the 1960s, with IBM's CP/CMS on the IBM System/360-67...

, and Microsoft Windows
Microsoft Windows
Microsoft Windows is a series of operating systems produced by Microsoft.Microsoft introduced an operating environment named Windows on November 20, 1985 as an add-on to MS-DOS in response to the growing interest in graphical user interfaces . Microsoft Windows came to dominate the world's personal...

 (XP, 2000, 2003, Vista, 2008, and 7).

Historic reference — BITNIC LISTSERV, 1984-1986

A program that allowed mailing lists to be implemented on IBM
International Business Machines Corporation or IBM is an American multinational technology and consulting corporation headquartered in Armonk, New York, United States. IBM manufactures and sells computer hardware and software, and it offers infrastructure, hosting and consulting services in areas...

 VM mainframes
Mainframe computer
Mainframes are powerful computers used primarily by corporate and governmental organizations for critical applications, bulk data processing such as census, industry and consumer statistics, enterprise resource planning, and financial transaction processing.The term originally referred to the...

 was developed by Ira Fuchs
Ira Fuchs
Ira H. Fuchs is an internationally known authority on innovative technology solutions for higher education and is a co-founder of BITNET, an important precursor of the Internet.Since 2010 he has been Executive Director of Next Generation Learning Challenges...

, Daniel Oberst, and Ricky Hernandez in 1984. This mailing list service was known as LISTSERV@BITNIC and quickly became a key service on the BITNET
BITNET was a cooperative USA university network founded in 1981 by Ira Fuchs at the City University of New York and Greydon Freeman at Yale University...

 network. It provided functionality similar to a Sendmail
Sendmail is a general purpose internetwork email routing facility that supports many kinds of mail-transfer and -delivery methods, including the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol used for email transport over the Internet....

 alias and was managed manually (sendmail was not available on IBM mainframes at the time). After the release of Thomas' LISTSERV in 1986, LISTSERV@BITNIC was enhanced to provide automatic list management, but was abandoned a few months later when BITNIC installed Thomas' LISTSERV.

Contemporaneously, North Carolina State University
North Carolina State University
North Carolina State University at Raleigh is a public, coeducational, extensive research university located in Raleigh, North Carolina, United States. Commonly known as NC State, the university is part of the University of North Carolina system and is a land, sea, and space grant institution...

 had been given a copy of the BITNIC code to run on their mainframe (LISTSERV@NCSUVM). This was actually a modified version of the code with improvements from Alan B. Clegg. NCSU switched to Thomas' LISTSERV in 1986. Other than their name, BITNIC's and Thomas' products are unrelated. Neither product is based on the other product's code.

See also

  • Regroup
    Regroup is a communications platform for organizations that offers forums, group management, mailing list management, intranet, emergency messaging, group SMS, text messages, and social media....

  • Majordomo (software)
    Majordomo (software)
    Majordomo is a mailing list manager developed by Brent Chapman of Great Circle Associates. It is written in Perl and works in conjunction with sendmail on UNIX and related operating systems...

  • Massively distributed collaboration
  • GNU Mailman
    GNU Mailman
    GNU Mailman is a computer software application from the GNU project for managing electronic mailing lists.Mailman is coded primarily in Python and currently maintained by Barry Warsaw...

  • Sympa
    Sympa is an open source mailing list management software. Its name, which is an acronym for Systeme de Multi-Postage Automatique Sympa is an open source (GNU GPL) mailing list management (MLM) software. Its name, which is an acronym for Systeme de Multi-Postage Automatique Sympa is an open source...

  • Dada Mail
    Dada Mail
    Dada Mail is a web-based electronic mailing list management system that can be used for announcement lists. It can also be used to create and manage discussion lists, if you activate and configure an included plug-in called Dada Bridge, for which you will need to set a cron task.Dada Mail is free...

External links