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Searching List Archives:

How Does It Work?
Advanced Searches
Search Tips
Non-English Searches
Web interface:
List selection
New account

Searching List Archives

How Does It Work?

A search can be as simple as typing a single word in the "Search for:" box and clicking on "Start the search," or it can involve the full power of LISTSERV's database functions. Here are a few examples of simple searches (the text of the example should be entered in the "Search for:" box, and none of the other boxes should be filled in):

  • To search for messages about John Kennedy, simply type John Kennedy in the search box. This will show all the messages that contain the words "John" and "Kennedy" close to each other.

  • You could also type 'John Kennedy', but this would not show messages about "John F. Kennedy".

  • For better results, you could use (John Kennedy) or JFK so that you also get the messages that say "JFK".

  • To search for words that are not necessarily close to each other, use "AND". For instance, Mozart and Beethoven would show all the messages that mention both composers, whereas Mozart Beethoven would only find a small fraction of them.

  • To make a search case sensitive, enclose it in double quotation marks. If you are interested in the works of Norman Mailer, you will probably find that searching for Mailer returns a lot of unexpected messages, whereas "Mailer" gives much better results.

  • You can get as sophisticated as you want: ((John Kennedy) or JFK) and not ((Bay Pigs) or Cuba) would look for messages about JFK that do not mention Cuba or the Bay of Pigs.

  • Some characters have special syntactical meaning to the database functions and must be enclosed in single quotes for correct results. For instance, parentheses need to be quoted in this manner: search for 'f(x)' instead of f(x).

Advanced Searches

In the previous section, we discussed how to make a simple (or even complex) search using the "Search for:" box. While this is sufficient for most searches, the other search options can be used to further restrict the scope of your search and make it easier for you to find what you are looking for.

The Substring Search Checkbox

By default, searches will only match full words: searching for planet will not find messages containing the word "planetarium" (unless they also contain the word "planet"). But if you check the "substring search" box, your search will match any word containing the string you have entered. For instance, a substring search for chem would find both "chemistry" and "alchemy."

The Subject Search Box

To restrict your search to messages whose subject contains specific search words, simply type them in the subject search box. The syntax is the same as for the "Search for:" box, with one difference: the "AND" operator is redundant, because a subject field is very short and all the words are considered to be "close" to each other. Thus, in the subject box there is no difference between a search for Mozart and Beethoven and a search for Mozart Beethoven.

Subject searches are a good alternative when searching large archives, or when searching for topics that are mentioned quite often. If a word that you are looking for appears in the subject of a message, it is much more likely to reflect the actual contents of the message than if it only appears in one isolated sentence. On the other hand, maybe what you are looking for is hidden in a message that was about something else, and where someone just happened to mention your topic of interest in passing.

The Author Search Box

You can also restrict your search to messages posted by a particular person. If you know the e-mail address of the person who wrote the message you are interested in, this can be a very effective way to find what you are looking for, without having to go through dozens of unrelated messages. Note that you do not need to know the exact e-mail address. For instance, if you know that the userid is "john" and the host name is some machine at XYZ.COM, you can simply enter john in the search box. Since the author's e-mail address is a single word, there is no concept of "close" vs. "distant," and the AND operator is redundant: john and john and are equivalent.

Whatever you do, do not try to use wildcards (e.g. "john@*") as this is not the correct syntax. The author search box uses the same syntax as the subject and "Search for:" boxes.

The "Since" and "Until" Search Boxes

It is not uncommon for popular mailing lists to have archives spanning 10 or more years of activity. If the mailing list is about technology, you may not be interested in messages that are older than a few year. Or, alternatively, you may happen to know when approximately the information you are looking for was posted to the list. You can use the "Since" and "Until" boxes to restrict your search accordingly.

The syntax is very flexible and you can specify a date and/or time in just about any of the commonly used formats:

  • 23 Jun 1986 (self explanatory).
  • 1986-06-23 (international date format).
  • 1995 or just 95 selects 1 Jan 1995 for the "since" box or 31 Dec 1995 for the "until" box.
  • APR selects April of the current year, 1st or 30th depending on whether this was entered in the "since" or "until" box.
  • APRIL 95 – same as above, but for the year 1995.
  • TODAY-7 (7 days ago) makes it easy to get a list of all the messages posted in the past week. You can also use YESTERDAY or TODAY for a shorter time span.
IMPORTANT: The US date format (mm/dd or mm/dd/yy) is not supported because it is ambiguous. Many other countries use dd/mm or dd/mm/yy instead, and to avoid ambiguities LISTSERV only supports the international date format, yyyy-mm-dd or yy/mm/dd.

Cookies for Search Navigation

You may select Cookie support in order for WA to store an account of your search results and thusly permitting you browse through search results without going back in your web browser to go to the next or previousmessage. Warning! Cookies often have a limit of four kilobytes, so searches which yield many results may get rejected by your web browser!

Search Tips

Here are a few tips which may prove useful if you are not getting anywhere with your search.

  • In most cases, you will save a lot of time by using the "Since" and "Until" boxes to narrow your search to a particular date range, even if it is very approximate.
  • If you know the author of the message and have his e-mail address, use the author search box to restrict your search.
  • If you know the author's name, but not his e-mail address, add his name to the "Search for:" box. Hopefully it will be somewhere in the message header or text, and this will help narrowing the search. Make sure to clearly separate the name from the rest of the search. If you were looking for computer stores and know that the message you are looking for was written by Mary Travis, your new search should be for (computer stores) and (Mary Travis) (if you just search for computer stores Mary Travis, the four words will have to be close to each other or there will be no match).
  • Make sure to read the notes on non-English searches if you are conducting a search in a language that uses non-English characters.
  • An easy way to find a recent message is to make a search with TODAY-7 in the "Since" box, leaving all the other boxes empty. You can add the URL to your hotlist and come back to it regularly to see all the messages posted in the last week.

Non-English Searches

Every effort has been made to make ISO-8859-* searches work as transparently as possible, in spite of the complexity of the situation. In order to better understand the cases where searches do not actually work as expected, you should know that the messages are archived in the format in which they were originally sent. This will typically include a mix of native 8-bit text, MIME quoted-printable text, MIME base64 text, and other proprietary encoding methods such as WINMAIL.DAT, plus of course 7-bit text. Each of these messages presents its own challenges:

  • Native 8-bit text normally produces the expected results. See below for a list of generic problems that may affect even native 8-bit text.
  • MIME quoted-printable text will, in most cases, produce the expected results. Conceptually, the search is carried out as though the =xx escape sequences had been replaced with their corresponding characters before beginning the search. However, soft line breaks (trailing '=' signs) are not processed (the lines are not merged). If the poster's mail client uses soft line breaks to split words in the middle, they will not be recognized. For instance, if the word "house" were written as "hou=" on one line followed by "se" on the next line, LISTSERV would not find a match with the search string "house".
  • MIME base64 text is not supported by the search interface. This type of encoding should only be used for binary data, because it is totally unintelligible to people without a MIME user interface and because it is context sensitive (that is, LISTSERV would have to decode the entire message before beginning the search).
  • Proprietary encoding methods such as WINMAIL.DAT are not supported by the search interface. In most cases, these formats suffer from the same kind of problems as MIME base64 text, and the mail programs that generate these messages are being replaced with MIME-capable programs.
  • 7-bit text (with national characters) does not work at all. It is impossible to translate this text to native 8-bit form without knowing the language in which it is written.

In addition, there are a number of generic problems that affect all message formats:

  • Code page: a typical international archive will contain messages in a variety of incompatible code pages (Latin-1, Icelandic, etc.) While LISTSERV knows the code page of each of the individual messages, it does not know the code page of the search string you are entering, nor does it support searches that span multiple code pages. If you search for one of the characters in the Icelandic code page, LISTSERV may incorrectly match messages written in another code page in which this character is not present, but where another character with the same binary code was found in the message.
  • Case-insensitive searches: special tables are required to properly evaluate case-insensitive searches with non-ASCII characters. The tables LISTSERV uses were designed for the Latin-1 (ISO-8859-1) code page and may not give correct results with other code pages.
  • EBCDIC systems: LISTSERV servers running on EBCDIC systems may give incorrect results due to the multiple ASCII-EBCDIC translation steps involved in processing your request. The TCP/IP product, the SMTP server, the web server and LISTSERV each have their own tables, which may or may not be identical.

General layout of the Web interface pages

The Web interface pages are laid out in 4 or all of the following 5 sections:

  • The top banner: a colored bar spanning the top of the page.
    On the left end of the top banner is the L-Soft logo, which acts as a link to L-Soft's main Web page.
    The top banner may be modified or replaced by the hosting site to coordinate with the rest of the site.

  • The bottom banner: a colored bar spanning the bottom of the page.

    On the left end of the bottom banner is the domain name of the LISTSERV server, which is a link back to the main Web interface page.

    On the right end of the bottom banner is a set of logos that act as links to their respective sites:
    Powered by LISTSERV
    The "Powered by LISTSERV®" logo links to LISTSERV documentation and other helpful information.
    The CataList logo is always present and leads to the Catalog of public LISTSERV lists.
    Secured by F-Secure
    If the LISTSERV server has virus protection enabled, the "Secured by F-Secure" logo is present.
    Other logos linking to site-relevant information may also be added here by the site administrator.

  • The navigation panel: an area on the left side, between the top and bottom banners, containing links to other sections of the Web interface. On some pages, the navigation panel includes data entry items that control what is shown in the main area of the Web page. See below for more information on the navigation panel.

  • The list selection area: an area at the top of the page, just below the top banner, which allows you to select or enter the list you want to work with. This area only appears on pages where it is necessary to select a list. See below for more information on list selection.

  • The main area: the largest area on the page, to the right of the navigation panel, below the top banner and the list selection area (if it exists), and above the bottom banner.

    The main area contains the text, reports, and/or data entries that constitute the purpose of the Web page.

Navigating the Web interface pages

The navigation panel may be divided into a few sections denoted by horizontal lines.

  • The top section is always the title of the page you are currently viewing.

  • The next section includes general navigation links, which may include any of the following (depending on the context):

    Subscriber's Corner An interface where subscribers can log in, view and manipulate all their subscriptions on the server. A subscriber may subscribe to available lists, change subscription settings, and sign off from any list.
    Server Archives The main index page for the server's archive pages. This page contains links to the main Web archive page for each of the lists on the server that is not set to Confidential=Yes.
    List Archives A link to the current list's archives page. This link is only available on pages where a specific list has been selected. The presence of the link does not guarantee that the archives exist.
    List Management The main list management page. Accessible only to list owners and site administrators.
    List Moderation The main list moderation page. Accessible only to list moderators and site administrators.
    Server Management The main site management page. Accessible only to site administrators.
    Help A general help window for the page you are viewing.
    Log off This link resets (deletes) your login cookie from your browser. It is not usually necessary to log off. If you do not log off, your login cookie will remain set in your browser and you will not need to keep logging in. There are two cases where you should log off when you are done: 1) you are logging in from a shared computer, and you do not want others using the same computer to access the LISTSERV server using your account, or 2) you wish to access the same LISTSERV server from multiple accounts.

    If you log off, then the next time you try to access restricted pages, you will be required to log in again. When you log in, it is recommended that you select the login option that allows you to create a cookie. If you do not set a cookie when logging in, you will be required to keep logging in every 15 minutes or whenever you use the "Back" button in your browser to back out of a previous login.

  • Specific Web interface pages may have one or more other sections related to the specific Web page you are viewing. Always check the navigation panel on each page for data entry forms and helpful links.

Selecting a list to work with

Some Server Management and List Management pages allow a site manager or a list owner to work with a single list. On those pages, the area below the top banner is dedicated to selecting the list to work with.

If the logged-in user is only allowed to work with one list, that list is pre-selected and the "list selection" area is merely a title area containing the name of the list.

If there are more than one list that the user is allowed to work with, the text box is replaced with a pull-down menu from which the listname may be selected. There are also some options for controlling the items in the pull-down menu(s):

Narrow Selection

The selection of lists that appear in the drop-down list box may be narrowed by typing a text string into the "Narrow Selection" box. For example, if you have a particular group of lists that you want to query that all contain the text "SALES" in the list name, type "SALES" into the box and click "Submit". This will narrow the lists displayed to lists such as

and so forth. Note that the interface automatically expands "SALES" to "*SALES*". Wildcards are not otherwise supported.

Items per Menu

Entering a numeric value in this text box limits the number of lists that are displayed at one time. If there are 18 lists on the server and you limit the number of lists to be displayed at once to 3, the first three lists will appear in the drop-down list box along with a "choice bar" underneath it that allows you to switch between groups of three lists; for instance, "[A-B][D-E] [F-J] [M-N] [N-R] [S-U] [Next]". The default is 50.

Obtaining a login account and password

Anyone can obtain an account on any LISTSERV server. Your account identification is always your e-mail address, and your password merely confirms that you are the owner of that e-mail address.

To associate a password with your e-mail address, follow the "get a new LISTSERV password" link found on the login screen. Enter your e-mail address and the password you wish to use in the fields provided. Then press the "Register Password" button.

LISTSERV then sends a message to the e-mail address you entered. You must respond to the e-mail message as directed in the message. If you do not respond, the password will not be set. This guarantees that you cannot register a password for an e-mail address that does not exist or belongs to someone else.

Privileges associated with each account are tied to the e-mail address. Site administrators can assign certain privileges, such as list ownership, to certain addresses. List owners can assign list specific privileges to certain addresses. For example, a list owner may decide that the list archives are to be accessible only by list subscribers: anyone trying to view the archives is required to login and if the e-mail address used for logging in is not subscribed to the list, access will be denied. Thus, registering an account does not grant you any special privileges on the LISTSERV server: it merely allows you to use the LISTSERV Web interface to perform the tasks that have been granted to your e-mail address by the site administrator or the list owner.

A note about browsers: the LISTSERV Web Interface looks and works best with browsers that support HTML 4.01 (for example Internet Explorer version 5.0 or later and Netscape version 6.0 or later). It functions adequately with earlier versions, but some (non-essential) features may be missing. If you plan to use this interface extensively, it is strongly recommended that you upgrade or switch to a browser that supports HTML version 4.01. The browser you use must support tables and forms as these are used throughout the interface.

For example, earlier versions do not support the "disabled" attribute on a form "type=submit" input button. If you access the list management wizard without specifying which list to manage, the "Update" buttons are disabled. With a browser that supports HTML 4.01, you cannot press the disabled Update button. With earlier versions, it might be possible to press the Update button, but you will get an error stating that there is no list to update. No harm is done, but it makes for a less satisfactory experience.

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