Sending Mail and Aliases-Computing Services - Carnegie Mellon University

Sending mail with distribution lists

Once Joe has created his distribution list, he is ready to send mail using it. To do so, he types this line in the "To" field of his email program:


The "+dist+" signals to the message system that what follows is the pathname to a distribution list. You can use the tilde (~) followed by a userID to abbreviate the path to your home directory (as in ~ju33). You can optionally use the full pathname as in the following:


Distribution list addresses such as the one shown above can be used at the CC: header in the email program, or any other header that takes a mailing address. In addition, distribution list can be used in conjunction with other types of addresses. Joe might decide that one particular message about special education is of interest to Andrew user dtYv who is not part of the distribution list. The "To" line of his message could look like this:

To: +dist+~ju33/dlists/specialed.dl,

Note that the two addresses are separated by a comma. This is the standard way of separating multiple addresses. 

Distribution List Aliases

If a distribution list will be used among a wider community than Carnegie Mellon users, such as with research collaboration among users at other universities, you may want to consider requesting an alias for your distribution list. People who send email to an aliased list do not have to use the full distribution list name when sending email, which makes the distribution list more convenient for users.

To request a distribution list alias, send email to with the following information:

  • A brief description and purpose of the dlist
  • A suggested name for the dlist. The requested alias must have a "-" in the name. For example: metals-research
  • The location of the dlist file

To use the distribution list, once it's been created, users can type the alias into the "To" line of the email message instead of the +dist+ address. For example, if a user originally has a dlist in the form of +dist+~ju33/dlists/metals.dl and they obtain an alias for this dlist with the name "metals-research", users can send email to either:



Determining Who Receives Mail from a Distribution List

To determine who receives mail from a distribution list, you need to look at the dlist file and examine the recipients listed there.

Looking at the dlist file is straightforward since the full path to the file is given in the "+dlist+" notation; you can simply try to list the contents of the file. For example, the dlist file for the address




You could try to read "specialed.dl" in order to see who is on the distribution list. However, you might not be able to edit the file because the maintainer of the list (in this case, ju33), might not choose to make the dlist file publicly readable. If you are denied permission to read the dlist, you cannot find out who is on it. The decision about whether to allow users to examine a dlist file is up to the maintainer of the dlist.

For a distribution list alias, finding out who receives mailings is a little more complicated because you will not always see the full path to the dlist file in the address. To find out where the dlist file is for a published distribution list, you can use the finger program on Andrew with the name of the distribution list. For example, to find out where the dlist file for "" is located, you could give the command:

finger special-ed

If finger finds a dlist corresponding to the name you supplied, it will provide both the mailing address and the dlist in a format like this:

login name:
forwarded to:


Physical Chemistry Metals

The mail-forwarding address forwarded to shows the path to the dlist file. Once you have found the path, you can try to read the dlist file to see who is listed on it, just as you would for an unpublished dlist. Again, there is no guarantee that the maintainer of the list will choose to make the dlist file publicly readable.

Last Updated: 3/29/11