Listserv Distribute Protocol
RFC 1429

Document Type RFC - Informational (February 1993; No errata)
Last updated 2013-03-02
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Network Working Group                                          E. Thomas
Request for Comments: 1429                    Swedish University Network
                                                           February 1993

                      Listserv Distribute Protocol

Status of this Memo

   This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
   not specify an Internet standard.  Distribution of this memo is


   This memo specifies a subset of the distribution protocol used by the
   BITNET LISTSERV to deliver mail messages to large amounts of
   recipients.  This protocol, known as DISTRIBUTE, optimizes the
   distribution by sending a single copy of the message over heavily
   loaded links, insofar as topological information is available to
   guide such decisions, and reduces the average turnaround time for
   large mailing lists to 5-15 minutes on the average. This memo
   describes a simple interface allowing non-BITNET mailing list
   exploders (or other bulk-delivery scripts) to take advantage of this
   service by letting the BITNET distribution network take care of the


   Running a mailing list of 1,000 subscribers or more with plain
   "sendmail" while keeping turnaround time to a reasonable level is no
   easy task. Due mostly to its limited bandwidth in the mid-80's,
   BITNET has developed an efficient bulk delivery protocol for its
   mailing lists. Originally introduced in 1986, this protocol was
   refined little by little and now carries 2-6 million mail messages a
   day. In fact, this distribution mechanism implements a general-
   purpose delivery service which can be used by any user of BITNET or
   the Internet. Thus, a simple solution to the "sendmail" turnaround
   problem is to wrap the message and recipient list in a DISTRIBUTE
   envelope and pass it to a BITNET server for delivery.  This may not
   be the best possible solution, but it has the advantage of being easy
   to implement.

   In this document we will use the term "production" to refer to the
   normal operation of the mailing list (or bulk delivery application)
   you want to pipe through the DISTRIBUTE service. That is, the
   "production" options are those you should specify once everything is
   tested and you are confident that the setup is working to your

Thomas                                                          [Page 1]
RFC 1429              Listserv Distribute Protocol         February 1993

   satisfaction. In contrast, "test" and "debug" options can be used to
   experiment with the protocol but should not be used for normal
   operation because of the additional bandwidth and CPU time required
   to generate the various informational reports.

   Finally, it should be noted that the DISTRIBUTE protocol was
   developed to address a number of issues, some of them relevant only
   to BITNET, and has evolved since 1986 while keeping a compatible
   syntax. For the sake of brevity, this RFC describes only a small
   subset of the available options and syntax. This is why the syntax
   may appear unnecessarily complicated or even illogical.

1. Selecting an entry point into the DISTRIBUTE backbone

   The first thing you have to do is to find a suitable site to submit
   your distributions to. For testing, and for testing ONLY, you can


   For production use, however, you should select a DISTRIBUTE site in
   your topological vicinity: it would make no sense to pass your
   distributions from California to a server in Sweden if most of your
   recipients are in the US. If your organization is connected to BITNET
   and your BITNET system is part of the DISTRIBUTE backbone, this ought
   to be your best bet. Otherwise you will want to contact someone
   knowledgeable about BITNET (or the author of this RFC if you have no
   BITNET users). Make sure to run through the following checklist
   before sending any production traffic to the site in question:

   a. Do you have good connectivity to the host in question? Does the
      host, in general, have decent BITNET connectivity? There are still
      a few sites that insist on using 9.6k leased lines for BITNET in
      spite of having T1 IP access. You will want to avoid them.

   b. Send mail to the server with "show version" in the message body
      (not in the subject field, which is ignored). Is the server running
      version 1.7f or higher? If so, it should not have given you the
      following warning,

        >>> This server is configured to use PUNCH format for mail <<<

      which means that messages with lines longer than 80 characters
      cannot be handled properly. If the software version is less than
      1.7f, the warning will not be present; instead, check the first
      (bottom) "Received:" field. If it does not say "LMail", do not use
      this server as it probably cannot handle messages with long lines.
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