SourceForge Reply-To diktat

Posted 20 Jan 2002 at 15:17 UTC by RoUS Share This

SourceForge provides a lot of services for open developers. But they're now forcing their opinion on users in what has always been a highly-charged and strongly-polarised area.

I haven't done much with email this week-end, so I'm catching up. One of the things I just spotted was a closure message from SourceForge for one of my problem reports. That particular issue concerns reply-to munging[1]. Originally SF allowed each project to set up its lists with or without reply-to munging as the project saw fit. Suddenly, a few months ago, SF turned off munging on all lists, removed the option to turn it back on, and (AFAIK) didn't bother to tell anybody about it. They do have a document about their policy which showed up around that time.

Sorry, but I consider this situation deplorable, and SF's arguments complete bollocks. A site devoted to fostering openness forcing its opinion on the means the open developers (and users) use to communicate? Their policy article says,

Sourceforge does not support effectively forcing users to reply to the lists by having a mailing list set a reply-to header back to the list (setting a reply-to to the list makes it from inconvenient to impossible depending on the mail reader to send an answer to the original poster only).

What they're doing is worse, IMNSHO -- they've taken the choice away from the people directly affected, and are thus 'forcing users' (their words) to comply with SF's opinion about how users and developers should communicate with each other.

As I said, it's a highly-charged issue -- one of those 'religious war' things. Neither side wants to admit that the other may have some valid points, and I see this discussion come up repeatedly on any number of the lists in which I participate.

There's almost certainly no one true answer. The aspect of this situation that incenses me, however, is that SourceForge has removed the ability for project communities to choose for themselves. Well, that's one aspect. Another aspect is that SF closed this problem report without any resolution. They said neither "you've got a point, we'll retract the policy" nor "it's our system and we're not going to change it -- like it or lump it".

As you can see from the comments posted in the problem report, some people agree and some don't. So I once more call upon SourceForge to allow projects to determine this aspect of their own destiny, rather than arbitrarily and unilaterally forcing SF's opinion (and it's no more than that) of 'what is right' on all SFprojects.

[1] 'Reply-to munging' refers to adding (or changing) a Reply-To: field to messages sent to a mailing list such that when subscribers reply, their messages will go to the list rather than just to the single individual who posted the original message. To catch up on the main points of the opposing positions, read "Reply-To Considered Harmful" and "Reply-To Considered Useful".

Is SourceForge becoming irrelevant?, posted 20 Jan 2002 at 16:05 UTC by tk » (Observer)

First off, I don't care what SourceForge or anyone else has to say about munging "Reply-To" headers. It's a real hassle to deal with wrong "Reply-To" headers, and I want this feature on any mailing lists I create, period.

After seeing so many complaints about SourceForge's service, I'm wondering if SourceForge is slowly becoming irrelevant to the open-source community... in any case, I now know better than to use SourceForge for my next open-source project. :-(

(I too have my own little `complaint': why is it that project help requests ("Help Wanted") are hidden in a link on the left side of the main page, while there's a whole section on the right side devoted to projects which are already so popular that they don't need any help anyway?)

Re: Is SourceForge becoming irrelevant?, posted 20 Jan 2002 at 17:43 UTC by RoUS » (Master)

tk wrote:

After seeing so many complaints about SourceForge's service, I'm wondering if SourceForge is slowly becoming irrelevant to the open-source community... in any case, I now know better than to use SourceForge for my next open-source project. :-(

I think that may be a bit unfair. I think most of SF's services are actually very good. And there's nothing preventing you from running project mailing lists elsewhere; you don't have to use SF's mailman system.

Mail loops, posted 20 Jan 2002 at 18:23 UTC by rlk » (Journeyer)

Way back when, I ran a large (for the time) mailing list, info-nets{,}. Every now and then -- not too frequently -- it would get a catastrophic mail loop from some mail bounce. Back then (this was the 1980's and early 1990's) there were a lot of very strange mailers around that would send bounces to the reply-to: address, or even the from: or sender address. There probably aren't a lot of these strange mailers around, because the oddball networking protocols (such as UUCP, and BSMTP on Bitnet) have largely gone away, but I don't think I would be comfortable running a list with the reply-to: set to the list. Loop detection doesn't always work very well when the bounce message is an entirely new message, with brand new headers, and the original headers entirely stripped out. Indeed, I did a fair bit of header munging (inserting a fake sender: and errors-to: address, pointing back to the administrative address) to reduce these problems. There were the usual complaints from a few people about violating this or that RFC.

That said, though, there certainly are fewer of these broken mailers around today. And I don't buy the excuse about it taking choice away from users. Nobody argues with moderated or digested lists setting the reply, or even from, address to the list address. My take on this is that a message to a list comes out the other side a brand new message. A list is not simply a relaying agent, like a firewall. The fact that the list maintainer chooses to delegate forwarding authority to the list software doesn't change anything; the forwarding is still being done by an "intelligent" agent that should make its own decisions about policy like that. So I'm not happy with Sourceforge's reasoning. If they simply said that there's an increased risk of bounce storms from reply-to: being set to the list address, I wouldn't have an issue with it.

We need smarter e-mail applications, posted 20 Jan 2002 at 20:11 UTC by tnt » (Master)

I'm on the side of "Reply-To Considered Harmful". (Although, not to long ago, I was on the side of "Reply-To Considered Useful".)

For users, having their messages automagically getting sent to the mailing list or lists, from which it came, is an important usability feature (for e-mail clients). This is why I was originally on the side of "Reply-To Considered Useful"; because the Reply-To mudge (almost) made this happen. (It actually didn't work when more than one mailing list was involved.)

However, I eventually saw that this was the wrong way to accomplish this. That using the Reply-To mudge, to get e-mail replies automagically sent back to the mailing list from which it came, was the wrong way to do this.

I still felt that it was important to have e-mail replies sent back to the mailing list or lists from which it came. (Because it was [and is] an important usability feature.) However, I felt that another solution was needed.

I think that e-mail applications need to detect when a message is from one or more mailing lists. And in such a case, when it detects that the message is from a mailing list, it can automagically send it to the mailing list. (Note, this does not mean that the message would not be sent to the authour of the e-mail also... in addition to having it sent to the mailing list. Of course, it doesn't say it will either.)

E-mail application could have multiple ways of detecting when a e-mail message is from a mailing list. The user of the application might tell the application that certain e-mail messages are from a mailing list. (The telling would be a one time step.) Also, the e-mail application could look for things like List-Post, List-Id, List-Help, List-Subscribe, List-Unsubscribe, List-Archive, e-mail message header items.

On detecting that an e-mail message is from a mailing list, the e-mail application could have a smart reply button, that, when clicked, would do something smart; instead of just sending the message to the authour. On clicking the reply button, if the e-mail application detects that the e-mail is from a mailing list, then it could take a variety of smart actions. Like simply replying to everyone; like only replying to what's in the List-Post header item; or like doing some user configured action... maybe choosing from the stuff in the List-Post, To, From, etc, header items; or even poping up some message box, asking the user how he or she want to send the reply to.

As if sourceforge would care about your wants..., posted 20 Jan 2002 at 22:57 UTC by Miod » (Master)

So basically your problem is, sourceforge used to behave on way, and did not tell you when they changed their rules?

Come on.

Has SF ever been receiptive to the developer's needs?

I remember the beginnings of SF. Lots of people like me did not have much better than 56K modems. We did not have the ``chance'' to be students and use fast lines paid by the govt or else. Yet SF pages already took *minutes* to load.


It's the same thing.

Pages load slowly (``come on dude, that's because they are translated''), operations are slow (``come on dude, that' because a lot of people want to be notified of how your project evolves''), yet some people are happy (the part I don't understand. Call me names).

SF has never had a goal of helping the community.

They proved their solution worthwile, now they sell it.

And what kindness are you expecting from them? We have helped them to reach their goal. Now this is history. You do not exist. I do not exist. Our projects do not exist. Sorry dude. Go elsewhere.

got what you paid for, posted 21 Jan 2002 at 00:04 UTC by splork » (Master)

Sourceforge is free. You're already getting a wonderful amount for much less than you've paid for. Host your project mailing lists somewhere else if you don't like's setup.

tnt, it already exists, posted 21 Jan 2002 at 00:51 UTC by movement » (Master)

Mutt has had near-perfect mailing list handling for ages. Furthermore, it's absurdly configurable (though I found I did need a small patch for maximum usability so I could also press 'r' and have the right thing happen magically).

Reply-to screws that up, to the extent that Mutt has workarounds for the munging.

Anyone who is on a non-technical mailing list with reply-to munged will be well-acquainted with the heart-stoppingly private mail going to the list.

As for sourceforge, well who cares ? Most of their tools are awful anyway. There are lots of other places available for hosting projects.

Oh, and the "useful" link still says :

Reply-To gives the respondant an option which would not otherwise exist: namely the ability to reply only to the list.

which is obviously bullplop. Bullplop !

Source Forge is for programmers, right?, posted 21 Jan 2002 at 12:23 UTC by abraham » (Master)

And we are programmers as well, right?

Then try to see it from the point of view of a mail agent programmer, who want to give the best possible interface and functionality to the users.

1) With list Reply-To, he can no longer give the user the choise of making private and public replies to messages, unless the user provide more information. A clear loss of functionality.

2) Without list Reply-To, he can give users that choice by default, although he can't avoid sending a duplicate message to the original sender when the user initiates a wide reply. Again, unless the user provides additional information.

3) With a Mail-Followups-To, he can give the user a choice between private and public replies, without any duplicate messages.

So what SourceForge should do depend on their goals. If their goal, like most for-pay services, are to make their users happy, they should give the list manager the choice of using list Reply-To or not.

However, if their goal is to encourage the production of better software, they should ban list Reply-To and encourage the use of Mail-Followups-To.

"Boo hoo.", posted 21 Jan 2002 at 16:08 UTC by cmiller » (Master)

It's their party; you can cry if you want to.

I guess we're supposed to get hopping mad and collectively threaten SF with... something.

"SourceForge -- if you don't change your wily ways, I'm not going to use your disk-space and bandwidth! Just you try me!"

To the original poster, I do hope you get all the options you want on SF's mailing list. Don't dilute the potency of a "look-everybody!" political tactic for such a STUPID cause, though.

Go away.

SF Again, posted 21 Jan 2002 at 18:08 UTC by slef » (Master)

I've done so many comprehensive demolition runs on that stupid "Reply-To Munging considered useful" that I can't get any enthusiasm to do another one here. Suffice it to say that using "Mash Until No Good" in the header is only the beginning of the problems and that page should be removed by their ISP for inciting religious hatred.

The real thing here is to ask the "it's free beer, so stfu" people to stop trotting out their tired old line. If the community doesn't like it, the community is free to comment and there's nothing Big Corp (or whatever their name is now) can do about it except try to make them happier. What's more, the community will work to replace it.

Splork is right, posted 21 Jan 2002 at 20:22 UTC by deekayen » (Master)

Splork hit on the most important note in this thread. SF is free. It's not supported by the government, so you should remember that it's not a right to use SF, but an option and a privilege. If you don't like it, don't use it. Otherwise, I think it's only fair to praise and thank VA for making it available to the public.

Choice. , posted 21 Jan 2002 at 22:12 UTC by dwmw2 » (Master)

What they're doing is worse, IMNSHO -- they've taken the choice away from the people directly affected, and are thus 'forcing users' (their words) to comply with SF's opinion about how users and developers should communicate with each other.

They've taken away the list admins' choice of whether to set idiotic mailman options which take away subscribers' choices. I fail to see the harm in that. Munging the Reply-To: header is a fundamentally broken thing to do, and I see no reason why they should permit it.

Hey - if you choose to send email vir{ii,uses}, they'll probably take away that choice too - best of luck to them.

I was too harsh, posted 22 Jan 2002 at 00:33 UTC by slef » (Master)

I want to make an apology for my harsh statement above. CoopX is a project to remedy the deficiencies in SourceForge the platform, by trying to remove the "barriers to exit" that SourceForge has created. This has (as a side-effect) a way to make it possible to remove the attempted monopoly play of SourceForge the service. I have only specific criticisms of SourceForge the service, such as the bad user service actions mentioned in this article and elsewhere, while I think SourceForge the platform needs replacing pronto.

I still think "it's free so quit whining" is not a good reason to keep quiet, though. Big Corp are getting their pound of flesh with their passive archiving of lots of freely-licensed code. Ever tried getting them to delete your files? ;-)

Re: got what you paid for, posted 22 Jan 2002 at 01:51 UTC by tk » (Observer)

You're already getting a wonderful amount for much less than you've paid for.

That's the umpteenth time I've heard this argument. :-(

The argument would be valid if SourceForge's front page doesn't read "Breaking Down the Barriers to Open Source Development", but something more like "Pretending to Break Down the Barriers to Open Source Development".

If SourceForge says that it breaks down the barriers to OSS development, then it'd better stay true to its words. Whether it's making money out of this whole thing is immaterial.

And we are programmers as well, right?

I happen to use Netscape Messenger, which isn't open source. Should I switch to a different mail client just to read mailing lists?

SourceForges obligation to promote non-free software, posted 22 Jan 2002 at 11:05 UTC by abraham » (Master)

And we are programmers as well, right?

I happen to use Netscape Messenger, which isn't open source. Should I switch to a different mail client just to read mailing lists?

It is your choice. Just as it is SourceForge's choice to prioritize the progress of free mail software higher than the convenience of users who choose to stick with technically inferior and non-modificable software.

Since I'm a "contributor" to a free mail agent, I feel SourcForge's decision helps my project. We can offer better service to our users.

And I don't feel SourceForge has an obligation to promote the use of non-modificable software over the use of free sofwtare, which is what list Reply-To does.

Fix it: Mail-Followup-To & Mail-Reply-To, posted 30 Jan 2002 at 01:24 UTC by jdm » (Journeyer)

Geez, people keep fighting the same old wars without ever fixing anything. Sigh

Check out Mail-Followup-To and Mail-Reply-To.

Reply To All -- it's time has come., posted 9 Feb 2002 at 05:23 UTC by nelsonrn » (Master)


A suggested solution to list Reply-To munging, posted 9 Feb 2002 at 05:26 UTC by nelsonrn » (Master)

My essay (URL):

First, go read Chip Rosenthal's excellent essay on mailing list Reply-To munging. Next, lobby the author of the program that you use to reply to mailing lists. Tell them "I want a Reply-To-Recipient command".

Your vendor probably already has a "Reply-To-Sender" command, and a "Reply-To-All" command. The first doesn't work to reply to a mailing list because the mailing list isn't the sender -- the author is the sender. The second doesn't work for a mailing list because it also picks up everyone on a To: and CC: lists, and the author as well. Pretty soon you've got so many addresses in your headers that you don't need the list anymore, plus every one of them is getting two copies of the mail.

Reply-To-Recipient sounds weird. You received the mail -- why would you want to reply to yourself? But with a mailing list, the recipient is the list address, not you. So Reply-To-Recipient is precisely what you need. There only one problem: nobody implements it yet. That's where you come in. Since the email software vendors haven't figured out that they need Reply-To-Recipient, we need to tell them. Complain to tech support, and point them to this page.</a>

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