[Mimedefang] auto reply / vacation

Les Mikesell lesmikesell at gmail.com
Tue Feb 2 08:55:15 EST 2010

Tilman Schmidt wrote:
>>> --- On Mon, 2/1/10, ml ml <mliebherr99 at googlemail.com> wrote:
>>>> has anyone got some hints for me how to write a  auto  reply /
>>>> vacation script? Or is there already such a project out ...
>>> Yes:  DON'T.  There are enough problems with existing autoresponders out there.
>> well, there is the feature request which needs to be done. So there is
>> no way around it.
> In my experience, there is almost always a way around unreasonable
> feature requests, although it typically involves hurdles such as
> actually talking to the requestors.
>> What problems exactly, how can they be avoided?
> Firstly, using an autoresponder very rarely serves any useful purpose.
> In many cases it actually harms, for example by leaking internal
> information (such as the existence of the mail address, the real name of
> its owner, or the reason and/or duration of his or her absence), creates
> false expectations ("will reply promptly after my return" :-) and/or
> annoys the recipient ("why is no one filling in?").
> Secondly, autoresponders frequently respond to mails they shouldn't,
> such as mailing lists, newsletters, SPAM, "do not reply" mails, machine
> generated notification mails, DSNs, mails from other autoresponders ...
> Reliably avoiding that is very hard.
> Thirdly, autoresponders may send their autoresponse to the wrong
> recipient. It's of course not always obvious who the correct recipient
> of an autoresponse should be or how to determine that algorithmically.
> Fourthly, the autoresponse is often useless to the recipient. I
> regularly receive automatic "I have received your mail and will reply to
> it promptly" messages which don't give me any clue to which mail they
> might refer to, and from mailboxes to which I never consciously sent a mail.
> And fifthly (does that word exist?), autoresponders interact badly with
> another nuisance "feature request", legal disclaimers. The autoresponder
> emits a canned message that doesn't give a clue to whom it might be
> addressed and what it might referred to, and the attached disclaimer
> then asks the recipient to "delete all copies of the message" if he or
> she is "not the intended recipient". What kind of impression will the
> recipient of such a message get about the legal and technical competence
> of the organization that was responsible for the emission of such an
> incoherent piece of mail?

On the other hand, there are people who use email regularly in situations where 
it is useful to know that the recipient is away and, if they want to provide 
that information, when they will return.  But, the feature really needs a way 
for the user to provide the input and might not be possible in Mimedefang 
running on an internet gateway.  On unix-like systems where it is possible to 
forward to a program with a .forward file in the user's home directory it is 
done with a program called 'vacation', and the 'usermin' (an offshoot of webmin) 
can be used as a web interface to manage the setup if people don't ordinarily 
log in directly to the mail server.  It is important to get several things right 
in a program like this (don't respond more than once, don't respond to mail list 
messages, etc.), so be sure you know what you are doing if you have to reinvent 
this wheel.

   Les Mikesell
    lesmikesell at gmail.com

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