Mailing Lists Management in Savannah

All gnu and nongnu mailing lists are processed on using the Mailman package. This machine is managed by FSF admins. Savannah admins have only non-root access and are able to perform limited mailing-list related administration tasks.

This page describes the interface between savannah's php frontend and the Mailman package running on See also:

  • MailSystem - various email and mailing-list related details in Savannah and gnu systems.
  • ListServer - manually running mailing-list related commands.


Savannah provides mailing lists to hosted projects. Project admins can create as many mailing lists as needed through the PHP web frontend.

The general workflow is as follows:

  1. A project admin on savannah creates a new mailing list on the savannah website.
  2. The PHP frontend code updates the Mailing list information in the mail_group_list table in the savane MySQL database.
  3. A cronjob on 'mgt0reads themail_group_list` table and determines which operations are needed (e.g. list-creation, password-reset).
  4. The cronjob runs local scripts (on mgt0) for each operation.
  5. Each script proxies the commands over SSH to
  6. On, The script processes the commands and runs the appropriate Mailman scripts locally on
  7. The cronjob script (back on mgt0) sends email notification to the project admins (e.g. notification about updated passwords).


The mail_group_list table contains the following fields:

mysql> select * from mail_group_list where list_name = 'sed-devel' \G
*************************** 1. row ***************************
group_list_id: 3272
     group_id: 6711
    list_name: sed-devel
    is_public: 1
     password: NULL
   list_admin: 829
       status: 5
  description: Development discussion for GNU Sed

To see the mailing-lists for a savannah project:

mysql> select list_name from mail_group_list,groups
       where groups.unix_group_name = 'coreutils'
       and groups.group_id = mail_group_list.group_id ;
| list_name     |
| bug-coreutils |
| coreutils     |
2 rows in set (0.00 sec)

The meaning of the status field:

Status 0: list is deleted (ie, does not exist).
Status 1: list is marked for creation.
Status 2: list is marked for reconfiguration.
Status 5: list has been created (ie, it exists).

The password field means:

NULL: default value
'1':  A password-reset was requested for this mailing list.

The password field should not contain any real passwords, though the database does contain values besides NULL and '1' (TODO: find out how/why):

mysql> select count(*) from mail_group_list where password is not NULL and password != '1';
| count(*) |
|     1674 |
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

PHP web frontend code

Mailing list administration is implemented in ./frontend/php/mail/admin/index.php.

The PHP code updates only the mail_group_list table in the MySQL database, and queues future actions by changing the status and password fields in the table.

No other actions are directly performed by the PHP frontend code.

The PHP code contains these additional comments:

This frontend php script sets status to:
     0 if user deletes a list before the backend ever actually created it.
     1 if user adds a list
     2 if user reconfigures an _existing_ list (ie, status was 5)

The backend script sets status to:
     0 when a list is actually deleted
     5 when a list is actually created

- when we create an alias, which mean someone was able, according to
  group type restriction to add to his project a list that was already
  inside the database, we add the list inside the database with a status
  of 5, so sv_mailman does not try to recreate it.
  In the worse case, if two persons creates the same list at the same

The field password will not contact real password, it will contain
'1' when the backend is supposed to reset it.

Backend cronjob

The mailing list cronjob runs on mgt0 (in the old setup before the 2017 migration to newer VM, the script was on the oldinternal - outdated wiki pages might still refer to it there).

In mgt0:/etc/cron.d/savane:

# New list creation
*/5 * * * *     root    sv_mailman --cron

The script is mgt0:/opt/savannah/bin/sv_mailman.

The above script is the installed version, originating from mgt0:/opt/savannah/savane/backend/mail/ (and also in git If you want to modify the script, NEVER update the installed version in /opt/savannah/bin. ALAWYS update the source version in /opt/savannah/savane/backend/mail/ then run make instal (and of course, check-in the updated version too).

The script reads the mail_group_list MySQL table, and performs the required actions based on the status and password fields.

The script runs the following local scripts (on mgt0):

  • /usr/sbin/newlist - creating new mailing list
  • /usr/sbin/config_list - configuring a list (currently a no-op)
  • /usr/sbin/rmlist - removing a list
  • /usr/lib/mailman/bin/change_pw - resetting a mailing list password.

Sadly, the paths are hard-coded in sv_mailman (there's even a comment about how bad they are).

On mgt0, symlinks were created to the actual scripts:

agn@mgt0:~$ ls -lhog /usr/sbin/{newlist,config_list,rmlist} /usr/lib/mailman/bin/change_pw 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 28 Apr 17 22:44 /usr/lib/mailman/bin/change_pw -> /opt/savannah/sbin/change_pw
lrwxrwxrwx 1 30 Apr 17 22:43 /usr/sbin/config_list -> /opt/savannah/sbin/config_list
lrwxrwxrwx 1 26 Apr 17 22:43 /usr/sbin/newlist -> /opt/savannah/sbin/newlist
lrwxrwxrwx 1 25 Apr 17 22:43 /usr/sbin/rmlist -> /opt/savannah/sbin/rmlist

FIXME: remove the hard-coded PATHs from sv_mailman, and install an updated version.

NOTE: These scripts are proxies to - they do not perform any local action on mgt0. Their names are likely left-over from the time the entire savannah system (including Mailman) was running on the same local machine.

SSH Proxing to

The newlist/rmlist/change_pw scripts on mgt0 proxy the needed commands to, where the Mailman package is installed.

  1. On mgt0, the script sv_mailman runs as root from cron-jobs.
  2. The sv_mailman runs one of the action scripts (e.g. newlist). the script also generates random passwords if needed.
  3. The newlist script (on mgt0) connets with SSH to (this happens as user root@mgt0).
  4. The corresponding pubkey in is defined as follows:

     command="./" ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2...
  5. When the newlist script from mgt0 connects with SSH to instead of getting a shell, the script is executed.

  6. This scripts parses limited input from STDIN, and if it contains recognized commands and parameters, it runs the corresponding program locally on
  7. sv_mainman sends email notification to the administrators of the mailing lists, with the newly generated random passwords. (FIXME: emails are sent even if commands fail - there's no error checking).

Example: running the following on mgt0 as user root will result in changing the mailing-list password on

# ssh -T <<EOF

The corresponding code in ( lots of code omitted for brevity):

my %vars;
while (<>) {
    my ($variable, $value) = split('=');
    $vars{lc($variable)} = $value;
if ($vars{'command'} eq 'change_pw') {
           '-l',  $vars{'list_name'},
           '-p', $vars{'password'},
    == 0) or die "change_pw: $!";

TODO: document the "virtual host" hack (e.g. allowing gnu/nongnu mailing lists).


On mgt0, the log file is mgt0:/var/log/sv_database2system.log:

[sv_mailman] Sun Apr  9 01:50:01 2017 - starting
[sv_mailman] Sun Apr  9 01:50:02 2017 - List www-zh-cn-translators <Fossilet> config_list.
[sv_mailman] Sun Apr  9 01:50:02 2017 - List www-zh-cn-translators <Fossilet> reconfigured.
[sv_mailman] Sun Apr  9 01:50:02 2017 - List www-zh-cn-translators password was reset.
[sv_mailman] Sun Apr  9 01:50:02 2017 - Mail sent to,,
[sv_mailman] Sun Apr  9 01:50:02 2017 - work finished

On, the log file is It contains all the passed parameters (and thus passwords in clear-text):

Tue Apr 18 02:52:06 2017
password = 12345
list_name = pretest-users
command = change_pw

Manual walk-through example - changing password

When a project-admin on the savannah website requests password-reset for their mailing list, the PHP frontend code sets the corresponding password field in the mail_group_list table to 1. Equivalent command:

$ mysql savane
mysql> UPDATE mail_group_list SET password='1' where list_name='pretest-users' LIMIT 1;

On mgt0 the sv_mailman is run periodically from cron. Equivalent command:

$ ssh root@mgt0
# cd /opt/savannah/bin
# ./sv_mailman --cron
New pretest-users password: foobar12345

The log file mgt0:/var/log/sv_database2system.log will show:

[sv_mailman] Mon 17 Apr 2017 10:52:05 PM EDT - starting
[sv_mailman] Mon 17 Apr 2017 10:52:06 PM EDT - List pretest-users password was reset.
[sv_mailman] Mon 17 Apr 2017 10:52:06 PM EDT - Mail sent to for list pretest-users.
[sv_mailman] Mon 17 Apr 2017 10:52:06 PM EDT - work finished

The sv_mailman generated a new random password and executed change_pw. Equivalent command (still on mgt0):

$ ssh root@mgt0
# cd /opt/savannah/sbin
# ./change_pw -n pretest-users -p 123456
New pretest-users password: 123456

The change_pw script connects to and transmits the commands as STDIN. Equivalent command (still on mgt0):

# ssh -T <<EOF

The script on reads the commands from STDIN and execute the needed programs. Equivalent command (on

$ ssh
lists:~$ which change_pw
lists:~$ change_pw -l pretest-users -p 123456 --quiet
New pretest-users password: 123456

Mailing list creation - FOR REFERENCE ONLY

The Following section describes the original setup. It is kept for historical purposes

I (Sylvain) basically installed sv_mailman on, modified it to support mailman virtual hosts (and use the proper admin mail instead of Then I wrote a fake /usr/sbin/newlist that connects to via SSH and call an helper script there ( This happens via a Savannah public key in's authorized_keys with a command= restriction.

There is also an empty /usr/sbin/config_list on internal that does nothing; we don't want what Savane currently does there.

The cron job runs on internal every five minutes, file /etc/cron.d/sv. The script being run is named sv_mailman.

On, there is a script which can be used to create lists by hand. It duplicates what does for Savannah actions. (The scripts must be kept in sync by hand. They should be merged so there is only one.)