The Netiqette of auto-responders

If you're going away for a few days and plan to use an auto-responder to answer emails in your absence, these tips could save you untold embarrassment, not only on UKPress but with your colleagues and friends ...

Consider this: a colleague writes to say she's leaving for a two week holiday. It's her last email before she switches on her auto-responder. But you left for your hols ten minutes earlier, so it's your auto-responder which replies. Her system is set-up badly, failing to recognise an auto-response (a very common failure!), so her auto-responder replies to your auto-responder, less than a second later. Your system is also set up badly, so your auto-responder replies to hers, less than a second after that. And hers replies. And yours replies. And so on. An email every nth of a second for two weeks ... or rather, until clogged mailboxes and a crashed mailserver cause your IT manager or - worse - your ISP to close your (or your company's) account and ban you for ever more.

So ...

Mailing List Netiquette

Before you go away, visit and any other mailing lists you're subscribed to and set your subscription to 'Nomail'. This means that you'll remain a member but won't receive any postings until you set yourself to ' Resume mail'.

To set 'Nomail' on UKPress, log in here:

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This is worth doing even if you don't use auto-responders. It ensures your inbox won't get crammed while you're gone. An over-full (over-quota) inbox could lose you valuable mail.

Auto-responder netiquette

In the SUBJECT line of your auto-response:-

  • make the nature of your email clear from the outset
  • start with a common form of words like "Out of Office Reply" or "Automatic Response", perhaps followed by a brief note like "John Smith is on holiday". These admittedly prosaic messages are used because they work, and most mailing lists (including UKPress) have filters that look out for them. They also let recipients know that the email can be skipped
  • avoid obscure, unclear, 'clever' or 'humorous' phrases. These may seem warm or funny the first time but once their recipients are seeing them for the umpteenth time, they'll be anything but!

In the message BODY of your auto-response:-

  • keep your message brief and to the point. The information you usually need
    to get across is
    -  that this is an auto-response
    -  your name
    -  when you're back
    -  who is to be contacted in your absence
  • remember that recipients may read your message many times, so don't try something that seems chatty at first but becomes wearisome when repeated.

In the HEADERS of your auto-response:-

Your auto-response software may be managed within your office or by your ISP. It should permit control over your email headers or should have pre-set them correctly. However, experience on UKPress shows that a great many are set incorrectly. It's worth checking your headers to see if they comply with the following - this can be done by briefly engaging your auto-responder and examining the headers of any mail it sends out.

If you can't control your auto-responder headers, click here for further advice.

  • Set the headers to include the line:-
    MAIL FROM: <>

    This will stop most machines such as mailing list servers and other people's auto-responders from replying.

    The area between the <> should be empty. If the line MAIL FROM: appears in your headers but contains an email address, that email address should be deleted. It should be restored when you're manually sending out emails.

    The line should not be confused with
    which should contain your email address, as always.

In the general settings of your auto-responder:-

If you can't control your auto-responder configuration, click here for further advice.

  • Set the auto-responder to detect, and NOT reply to emails containing:-
    -  "MAIL FROM: <>" (this indicates automated mail)
    -  "Precedence: bulk" (this indicates a mailing list or automated message)
    -  "Precedence: list" (this indicates a mailing list)
    -  Headers or subject lines that indicate automated replies

  • Set the auto-responder to detect, and NOT reply to, emails NOT containing your address in the "To:" or "Cc:" lines (such emails will most probably be mailing list messages, press releases, newsletters or spam)

  • Set the auto-responder to limit the frequency of auto-responses to any one address, eg. one reply per address per week

A valuable tip:-

If you have the ability to set up additional email addresses and/or additional mailboxes, it's a good idea to have one exclusively for mailing lists. Typically, people use an address like or even an address for each mailing list they subscribe to. When you go away, set up an autoresponder on your main address but not on your lists address(es). This is especially useful if you can't easily manage your autoresponder settings.

This advice is culled from's Mailing List Guide, which is currently in preparation.

UKPress auto-responder policy

UKPress goes to a great deal of trouble to filter out auto-responses and "out of office" messages, and succeeds in the vast majority of cases. However, auto-responses do occasionally slip through because the above advice has not been followed. UKPress apologises to list members that this can happen but there's little we can do other than mop up afterwards, analyse what happened and expand our filtration to take the latest trend into account.

Where a UKPress member sends an auto-response that goes out to the list, we will set that member to "Nomail" and will NOT notify that member of the change: it is the responsibility of the member to be aware of the situation and take appropriate steps, sorting out the auto-responder and then setting UKPress options to "Resume mail". UKPress reserves the absolute right to unsubscribe any member at any time, with or without notification.

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