Replacing Mailing lists: Email-In

Just a quick bug report.

If you email a new thread to discourse but you do it via cc or bcc, discourse does not consume the email. We are in a transition period between google groups and discourse, and I noticed this when trying to post to both mediums.


@jhogendorn , thanks for sharing this bit of usage insight. I hear questions about mailing lists come up all the time. I personally would value updates on how people are moving from Discourse to mailing lists. I think that I’ll need to experience the transition first-hand to really understand how it works.

I’m rather fascinated why both IRC and mailing lists seem to be the preferred method of education for many highly technical groups. I did an analysis of 10 communiities and many of them were based primarily on mailing lists.

  • Android (Google tie-in makes easy to understand by GoogleGroups)
  • Yocto Linux (This one has approx 15 mailing lists for an obscure project)
  • Fedora

The Fedora example is interesting because they have granular discussion lists, including a list specific to women that use Fedora.

I’m still trying to understand the flow to see how the topic taxonomy translates into a specific mailing list. I’m also a bit new to the terminology:

  • Groups of mailing lists = one Discourse community

  • Specific mailing list (such as women using Fedora) = On Discourse, what is the proper term?

  • subject in mailing list = topic on Discourse (is this correct?)

  • digest of mailing list = digest on Discourse (is this correct?)


I would get out of the hard core tech ghetto there, though. What surprises me is how often non technical groups have mailing lists. And they even like them.


For a lot of people, email is a very acceptable or even prefered ui/ux. ie, having the content delivered to you in real time and being able to respond easily, in whatever your favourite software is, is surprisingly useful.

I’m not sure how other groups utilise mailing lists, but we ran just the one and we’ve moved to a discourse instance with 4 or so categories. Since I’m running it and I’m of the opinion that less is more, it will probably stay that way. You can see our instance at


Hi @lightyear I am glad through this latest discussion about yahoo to come across this post and to learn about the background to the mail in functionality. I’d be interested in helping with use cases and testing, and have thought alot about this on other platforms over the years. PM me if you want help with testing, or let me know how I can help.

@tobiaseigen it’s interesting that our paths keep crossing over shared interests like Drupal integration and mailing list functionality. I’m also following this closely, especially the ability to have a way to host multiple mailing-list-like communities running off a single Discourse install in order to reduce costs. I don’t have an existing mailing list community to experiment with at the moment. I’m really interested to see what happens with the incoming spam problem that often plague mailing lists and some forums.

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@codetricity that is indeed interesting, and I’m glad we are connected. Try google searches for “tobias eigen mailing list to forum” and phpbb, smf, fudforum etc and you will be surprised what you find. A veritable history of thwarted mailman killing efforts. I even contributed to mailman back in the day to try to improve the web archives using mhonarc.

I really like your thinking around how tools like discourse can help connect people so they can be empowered to do great things. Looks like @lightyear and I might be meeting up in Berlin next month which I’m looking forward to - perhaps you and I can meet face to face soon as well. I live in Seattle but will be visiting my sister in Berkeley later in the summer most likely.

I am glad to offer Kabissa as a guinea pig for experimenting and helping contribute use cases and feedback to developers. We have a community of several thousand African Civil Society practitioners that we mostly connect with using our newsletter and blog, but who are not engaging as interactively as we would like to see for peer learning, self-learning and information sharing. We also lack data/metrics about how they are engaging. (FYI - I wiped out the site and started over last week. Please join up again! :smile:)

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Wow, did the search and saw your efforts. Thanks for trying to solve this. I’ve long been disappointed about the evolution of mailing list software. There was a flurry of activity at the end of the last millennium when things moved to a web interface. After that, innovation kind of died. :cry: I’m really curious to see if Discourse can bridge the gap. As you mentioned, it has been tried before. Since Discourse as a company has good leadership and financial backing, they may succeed where others have failed. Since it’s open source, it might be good to develop other tools around it for specific types of communities, similar to what OpenAid is doing for Drupal.

I would love to meet up in the SF Bay when you visit your sister in Berkeley. Send me a PM when you know your schedule. I will either be staying in Palo Alto or in Santa Cruz with my family, depending on what month you arrive. I can drive up to Berkeley. If other people are interested in meeting up, I may volunteer to host an open BBQ in Santa Cruz. :hamburger:

BTW, I just joined up to Kabissa again.


To @codetricity @lightyear and anyone else with interest: I have created a sandbox category on the Kabissa discourse install for the purposes of testing mail-in and other features of discourse for our purposes. Feel free to come and test away, and let’s see what’s broken and what’s working. :wink: It’s only accessible to users with level-2 privileges right now so PM me if you don’t see it.

This is a much-needed feature to finally move folks off regular ol’ MailMan lists to something a bit more current: $SUBMISSIONADDRESS+$TOPIC@$DOMAIN.$TLD

I’d like to mark another thread as essentialy diplicate & deplicated by this one.

Thanks for the good work.


Hi everybody,

I have some questions regarding the unknown user’s email-in, as well as with email forwarding. It seems like Discourse handles forwarded emails differently than normal emails? I cannot get any forwarded emails to populate on my discourse forum. Is this intended or a bug?

Second question: How do you allow for unknown emails/non-registered users to email in? It talks about some configuration, but I can’t find anything in the settings or the app.yml that would allow this. I’m using the docker install, if it matters.

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Browse to any category’s content listing, then click the “Edit” button to bring up the category settings. In the settings tab, there should be a checkbox for “Accept emails from non-users (aka strangers)”.


Oh ok. I didn’t realize there was a separate location for categories, thank you! Any idea about the forwarding?

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Not really. It depends on many things. A few of those factors I can think of:

  • Does the “from” address of the person sending the forward match the address of a valid user?
  • Is the forwarded message just quoted in plain text, HTML, or as an attachment?
  • Is the message getting flagged as spam in your POP3 inbox?

I am noticing an issue on our install. For categories that are restricted to a particular group (that is, a single custom group is the only group/users with permissions to Create/Reply/See), users mailing in to that category (the user’s email address is the same as the user that has group permissions) do not have their messages posted to the group.

I never see any e-mail log errors on why they fail either.

This may be what’s happening to me that I describe here:

No, the from isn’t somebody who’s registered as a valid user. I was hoping that that would be solved by the allowing unknown email in, does that not do what I think it does? (Meaning that from: anybody should post to the forums). That’s what we’d like to do, since the emails can come from multiple people and it’s not necessarily simple to have everybody register immediately.

Edit: Also, content is plain text, and they are indeed making it to the inbox, not spam. Thanks!

Could someone share a quick summary of where Discourse is with the ability for members to post via email?

In terms of lessons - - solved the mailing list - web forum bridge years ago. We use it with 30,000 users and generate millions of crucial emails to keep communities alive. It is GPL open source, python-based.

Note our mobile-optimized custom interface on this sample group:

That said Discourse was mentioned in Code for America circles and we might have reasons to use it with special projects. The key feature is the ability to participate fully via email.

Steven Clift

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I guess I’m someone, since we use this regularly. Others may have differing perceptions.

  1. If the site and categories are set up correctly, registered users can email in to one (or more, for multiple categories) email aliases pointing to the same inbox to post new topics.
  2. People who receive email notifications can reply to them if that reply is from an email account tied to a registered user.
  3. If people send an email to either the main inbox or any of its aliases, and Discourse tries to process the message but fails for some reason, the sender will be notified of the failure reason.
  4. Attachments are processed, but are subject to the same upload rules and size limits.
  5. I don’t believe any kind of “rich email” or HTML formatting is preserved. Plain text only.
  6. It’s still not possible for admins to customize email subject lines (or header, or anything) by category or for users to filter incoming email notifications by category.
  7. There’s no indication (FAQ, UI, help, etc.) to non-admin users whether or not they can email in to a given category or generally to the site itself.

That’s about all I can think of. It’s working, more or less. :slight_smile:


Is there any chance you have any experience with Discourse pulling in email via auto forwarding? I’m trying to set up some email to auto forward to my POP3 inbox and then get pulled to discourse, but it seems to not be working as well as I’d like. Have you ever done this?

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