[Mailman-Users] Trying to understand charset encoding in mailman

Stephen J. Turnbull stephen at xemacs.org
Thu Apr 17 20:07:24 CEST 2014

I see you've already responded, but there are a few things I'd like to

Laura Creighton writes:

 > But you and I could quite easily both want English(USA) as the
 > default language for our lists, but you also want us-ascii while I
 > want utf-8.  The way things stand now, we cannot both use the same
 > mailman host, and both get what we want, correct?

In this particular case, you can choose UTF-8, and you both get what
you want.  US-ASCII is a subset of UTF-8.  Anybody else *may* have a
problem if they have sufficiently ancient software that it can't
handle UTF-8, but that's a rapidly vanishing issue.

In fact *right now* you and I and Wang Han Lo can use English,
Japanese, and Mandarin on the same list at the same time, each posting
and setting our subscription options in our preferred language.  It's
only footers and headers that have this issue, and that's at least
partly because even today there's no reliable way to mix charsets in a
message (too many users still use MUAs-that-suck).  For most purposes,
Mailman is pretty well internationalized, it's just that some corner
cases remain ugly.

The other cause is historical accident.  Email is very messy -- it's
one of the oldest Internet protocols.  Mailman itself goes back to a
time when neither Python nor its email package had a coherent way of
dealing with multilingual applications.  So we've been overhauling
various parts of Mailman 2 as necessary.  And users -- well, many
Mailman list admins think that they type Japanese or German rather
than EUC-JP or ISO-8859-15, and undoubtedly the "charset-per-language"
architecture was intended to make life easy for them.

Why nobody ever got around to properly internationalizing the headers
and footers (ie, allowing charsets defined per list) I'm not sure.  I
suspect it's because few users ever tried on international lists: they
just use English in the footers as lingua franca.  This is the first
time I've seen somebody reporting issues with the internationalization
of the footer, and I've been following Mailman since 1999 or so.

Getting it right by design ... well, that's why we need Mailman 3.  We
know a lot more about lots of things than we did when Mailman 2 was


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