2. Mailing List Etiquette

Participation in the mailing lists, like participation in any community, requires a common basis for communication. Please make only appropriate postings, and follow common rules of etiquette.

2.1. What should I do before I post?
2.2. What constitutes an inappropriate posting?
2.3. What is considered proper etiquette when posting to the mailing lists?
2.4. What are the special etiquette consideration when replying to an existing posting on the mailing lists?


What should I do before I post?

You have already taken the most important step by reading this document. However, if you are new to FreeBSD, you may first need to familiarize yourself with the software, and all the social history around it, by reading the numerous books and articles that are available. Items of particular interest include the FreeBSD Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document, the FreeBSD Handbook, and the articles How to get best results from the FreeBSD-questions mailing list, Explaining BSD, and FreeBSD First Steps.

It is always considered bad form to ask a question that is already answered in the above documents. This is not because the volunteers who work on this project are particularly mean people, but after a certain number of times answering the same questions over and over again, frustration begins to set in. This is particularly true if there is an existing answer to the question that is already available. Always keep in mind that almost all of the work done on FreeBSD is done by volunteers, and that we are only human.


What constitutes an inappropriate posting?

  • Postings must be in accordance with the charter of the mailing list.

  • Personal attacks are discouraged. As good net-citizens, we should try to hold ourselves to high standards of behavior.

  • Spam is not allowed, ever. The mailing lists are actively processed to ban offenders to this rule.


What is considered proper etiquette when posting to the mailing lists?

  • Please wrap lines at 75 characters, since not everyone uses fancy GUI mail reading programs.

  • Please respect the fact that bandwidth is not infinite. Not everyone reads email through high-speed connections, so if your posting involves something like the content of config.log or an extensive stack trace, please consider putting that information up on a website somewhere and just provide a URL to it. Remember, too, that these postings will be archived indefinitely, so huge postings will simply inflate the size of the archives long after their purpose has expired.

  • Format your message so that it is legible, and PLEASE DO NOT SHOUT!!!!!. Do not underestimate the effect that a poorly formatted mail message has, and not just on the FreeBSD mailing lists. Your mail message is all that people see of you, and if it is poorly formatted, badly spelled, full of errors, and/or has lots of exclamation points, it will give people a poor impression of you.

  • Please use an appropriate human language for a particular mailing list. Many non-English mailing lists are available.

    For the ones that are not, we do appreciate that many people do not speak English as their first language, and we try to make allowances for that. It is considered particularly poor form to criticize non-native speakers for spelling or grammatical errors. FreeBSD has an excellent track record in this regard; please, help us to uphold that tradition.

  • Please use a standards-compliant Mail User Agent (MUA). A lot of badly formatted messages come from bad mailers or badly configured mailers. The following mailers are known to send out badly formatted messages without you finding out about them:

    • exmh

    • Microsoft® Exchange

    • Microsoft® Outlook®

    Try not to use MIME: a lot of people use mailers which do not get on very well with MIME.

  • Make sure your time and time zone are set correctly. This may seem a little silly, since your message still gets there, but many of the people on these mailing lists get several hundred messages a day. They frequently sort the incoming messages by subject and by date, and if your message does not come before the first answer, they may assume that they missed it and not bother to look.

  • A lot of the information you need to supply is the output of programs, such as dmesg(8), or console messages, which usually appear in /var/log/messages. Do not try to copy this information by typing it in again; not only it is a real pain, but you are bound to make a mistake. To send log file contents, either make a copy of the file and use an editor to trim the information to what is relevant, or cut and paste into your message. For the output of programs like dmesg, redirect the output to a file and include that. For example,

    % dmesg > /tmp/dmesg.out

    This redirects the information to the file /tmp/dmesg.out.

  • When using cut-and-paste, please be aware that some such operations badly mangle their messages. This is of particular concern when posting contents of Makefiles, where tab is a significant character. This is a very common, and very annoying, problem with submissions to the Problem Reports database. Makefiles with tabs changed to either spaces, or the annoying =3B escape sequence, create a great deal of aggravation for committers.


What are the special etiquette consideration when replying to an existing posting on the mailing lists?

  • Please include relevant text from the original message. Trim it to the minimum, but do not overdo it. It should still be possible for somebody who did not read the original message to understand what you are talking about.

    This is especially important for postings of the type "yes, I see this too", where the initial posting was dozens or hundreds of lines.

  • Use some technique to identify which text came from the original message, and which text you add. A common convention is to prepend > to the original message. Leaving white space after the > and leaving empty lines between your text and the original text both make the result more readable.

  • Please ensure that the attributions of the text you are quoting is correct. People can become offended if you attribute words to them that they themselves did not write.

  • Please do not top post. By this, we mean that if you are replying to a message, please put your replies after the text that you copy in your reply.

    • A: Because it reverses the logical flow of conversation.

    • Q: Why is top posting frowned upon?

    (Thanks to Randy Bush for the joke.)

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