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AMSAT.ORG Mail Alias Frequently Asked Questions

See also:

If you have additional questions about the mail alias system, please send them to mail-alias-service@amsat.org. A volunteer will respond within a few days.


Questions


Questions & Answers



General questions

1.1 What is a mail alias?

A mail alias on AMSAT.ORG is an email address of the form callsign@amsat.org, where callsign is your amateur radio callsign. When somebody sends an email message addressed to callsign@amsat.org, the message is first delivered to the AMSAT.ORG computer in San Diego. That computer then looks up your real email address, and re-delivers the message to your regular mailbox. You receive the mail as you normally would, but the sender never had to know your real email address.

1.2 Why might I want a mail alias?

The primary reason is that, among radio amateurs, callsigns are familiar and easy to remember. If you speak to someone on the air (especially on the amateur radio satellites) it is far easier and less error-prone to tell them "my callsign at amsat dot org" than to spell out most real email addresses. Other possible reasons include:

  • Your real email address is long and ugly, and you want a shorter one;
  • Your real email address includes your previous callsign, and it's confusing to give that out;
  • Your real email address changes from time to time, and you want an address that stays the same "forever";
  • You wish to express your affiliation with AMSAT.

1.3 Why might I not want a mail alias?

Someone wishing to send you mail may be able to guess that you have a mail alias on AMSAT.ORG. If you don't wish to receive any messages from people you don't specifically authorize, you might not want to get a mail alias.

1.4 May I have a mail alias?

Yes, if you have a valid amateur radio callsign. You don't need to be a member of AMSAT, though you are certainly invited to join. See 7.4 below.

1.5 Why do I have to use my amateur radio callsign as my alias?

Amateur radio callsigns are globally unique and recognized world-wide. By restricting mail aliases to valid callsigns, we avoid any arguments over who gets to be "bob@amsat.org". Besides, other identifiers don't meet the primary purpose of the mail alias service, which is to help radio amateurs find each other by email.

We have made exceptions for amateur radio organizations with world-wide recognition, and for certain special functions of AMSAT-NA.

1.6 Can I have more than one mail alias?

Yes, if you have more than one valid amateur radio callsign assigned to you.

If you change callsigns, you may retain your old mail alias as long as the old callsign remains unassigned. That way, if someone who hasn't heard about your new callsign wants to send you mail, he can still reach you. It is your responsibility to delete the old mail alias (see 2.4 below) when you no longer need it.

1.7 Can we have a mail alias for our club station?

Yes, if it has a valid amateur radio callsign assigned to it. The club officers or station trustee should agree on who should receive email for the club station.

1.8 Can we have a mail alias for our temporary special event callsign?

No. Temporary special event callsigns are re-assigned too often. By the time people get the idea that they can send email to the callsign@amsat.org, the next special event would be wanting to use it. Instead, give out the mail alias of a participant or sponsoring club station.


Setting up, changing, or deleting a mail alias

2.1 How do I get a mail alias?

Start at the mail alias page, enter your callsign in the box, and click the "Submit" button (or just hit Enter). If you don't already have a mail alias, the system will say so. Enter your real everyday email address in the box, and click the "Create a new alias for me" button.

The system will then send you an email message to confirm that the address you entered is correct (and that it is yours). That message will contain a special URL. You must wait for that email message to arrive before proceeding.

When the email comes, visit the URL in the email. In most email programs, this is best done by clicking or double-clicking on the URL right there in the message. If your email program doesn't support that, copy the URL and paste it into your web browser. Re-type the URL only as a last resort.

If all goes well, the system will show you a confirmation page. You can begin using your new mail alias right away (see 4.1 below).

2.2 Why do I have to enter a special URL to set up my mail alias?

The email URL scheme is a little awkward, but it's important. It ensures that you typed your email address correctly, and that your email address is actually working, and that the AMSAT.ORG system can successfully deliver email to your address. Without that verification step, it would be easy for a typing error to foul up the process.

Also, this scheme prevents somebody else from signing you up for an unwanted mail alias.

2.3 What if I don't receive the email with my special URL to set up a new mail alias?

If all is working well, you should receive the email within a few minutes. If you don't, something is wrong. It could be a temporary problem in the network (or at AMSAT.ORG or at your email provider's system). Or, it could be a permanent problem, such as your provider blocking email from the AMSAT.ORG system. However, the most likely thing is that you made a mistake in typing your email address. Go back and try again, carefully.

If you're convinced that you have typed your email address correctly, and you still haven't received the special URL after 24 hours, you may write to mail-alias-service@amsat.org with a brief explanation of your problem. A volunteer will respond within a few days.

2.4 How do I change or delete my existing mail alias?

Start at the mail alias page, enter your callsign in the box, and click the "Submit" button (or just hit Enter). If you do already have a mail alias, the system will say so, and offer to send you an email message containing a special URL you will need to administer your mail alias. Click the "Email my administration URL". The system will then send you an email message containing the URL you need to change or delete your mail alias. If you already have that email (for the exact same callsign and email address) you may skip the above steps and go directly to your saved email.

When you have the email, visit the URL contained in the message. In most email programs, this is best done by clicking or double-clicking on the URL right there in the message. If your email program doesn't support that, copy the URL and paste it into your web browser. Re-type the URL only as a last resort.

The system will present you with the administration page for your mail alias. It displays the currently registered real email address, in case you aren't sure exactly how it was entered. You then have two options. To delete the mail alias entirely, click the "Delete this alias" button. To change your real email address, type the new one into the box and click the "Change my address" button.

A deletion needs no further confirmation, so it happens immediately. The system will show you a confirmation page.

For a change of address, the system needs to confirm that the new address you entered is correct, and belongs to you. So, it sends you yet another email message, at the new address, containing yet another special URL. You must receive that message and visit that URL (just as before) to complete the change. Until you do, the system will continue to forward your messages to the old address. When you visit the URL, the system will display a confirmation page and your email will begin to come to your new address. (It is possible that a few messages might already be on their way to the old address.)

If you want to change your callsign, see 2.8 below.

2.5 Why do I have to visit a special URL to change or delete my mail alias?

This procedure prevents somebody else from changing or deleting your mail alias without your permission (or at least without access to your mailbox).

The additional round of email confirmation for an address change also catches any problems that may exist with the new email address you typed.

2.6 What if I don't receive the email with my special URL to change or delete my existing mail alias?

If you are no longer receiving mail on your old address, see the next question. If you received the first URL OK, but didn't get the special URL sent to your new address, see 2.3 above, since this case is similar to the new alias case.

If you didn't even get the first message, but you know that your old mail alias is working and you're still receiving email at the old address, then something strange has happened. Try again. If it still doesn't work after 24 hours, you may write to mail-alias-service@amsat.org with a brief explanation of your problem. Be sure to include your callsign and email address(es). A volunteer will respond within a few days.

2.7 What if I no longer have access to my old email account?

If you lost access to the old email account before you had a chance to change your mail alias, click on the button that says "My old address is not working". This will allow you to proceed, but notification will be sent to the system operator and to your old email address.

2.8 How do I change my callsign?

Just delete your old mail alias (see 2.4 above) and create a new mail alias (see 2.1 above) using your new callsign.

You aren't required to delete your old mail alias right away. If people have been using it, it may take them a while to catch up and start using your new callsign. If you do leave the old mail alias in place, please make sure to come back and delete it when you no longer need it. If your old callsign is re-issued, please delete your old mail alias so the new holder of that callsign may use it if he wishes.


Setting up my computer

3.1 Do I need to change any settings on my computer?

No. The AMSAT.ORG system will forward your mail to your regular mailbox, as you specified when you set it up. You'll get that mail when you check your regular mail. No changes are needed.

You might want to edit your "signature" (appended automatically to the bottom of all outgoing messages by many email programs) to include a reference to your mail alias. That's up to you. It is common to put your preferred email address there.

3.2 What if I want replies to come to my mail alias?

Your mail client may provide a way to set a "Reply-To" address in your outgoing messages. If so, you might want to set that address to your mail alias address. This could be useful if you anticipate that your real email address might change soon. Otherwise, there's really no point.

3.3 What if I want my messages to appear to come "From" my mail alias?

Some people have chosen to set up their email programs to make their mail appear to come "From" their mail alias address. This is not recommended. It may work fine most of the time, but when things go wrong email administrators may not be able to find you to correct them. Also, if the mail alias system goes down for a while, you may be unreachable because even your regular correspondents don't have your real email address.

The exact procedure for doing this depends on your email program. Be aware that some email providers may not permit this type of address forgery. If yours does, and you know what you're doing, you may set up your email program that way.

3.4 How do I receive mail sent to my mail alias?

You don't do anything special. Just check your regular email, and any messages that have been sent to your mail alias will be in there too.

3.5 How do I send mail through the AMSAT.ORG system?

You don't. Continue to send mail through your email provider just as you have always done.


Using my mail alias

4.1 How should I start using my mail alias?

The first thing you should do is send yourself a test message to make sure it all works. Send it to your mail alias address, callsign@amsat.org, and wait for it to come back. When it comes, you'll know that everything is really working. If you get an error message instead, read the error message to see what went wrong. If it doesn't make any sense to you, you may write to mail-alias-service@amsat.org with a brief explanation of your problem. A volunteer will respond within a few days.

Some email providers will block messages that go out from their system and also come back into their system from outside, so your test message might fail that way. If it does, you may still be able to use your mail alias, but note that other users of the same email provider will not be able to send you email using your mail alias.

The second thing you should do is to decide how widely you will publish your mail alias address. You may wish to keep it pretty secret, and tell only specific people you meet (on the air or otherwise). That way, it's unlikely that your mail alias address will end up on any commercial "spam" mailing lists. Or, you may decide to use your mail alias address as your primary address, and put it on your web page, on your QSL cards, in the "signature" at the bottom of the email messages you send, and so on. It's up to you.

Once you've told people about your mail alias address, you don't have to do anything special. Just wait for email to arrive. Don't forget to change your mail alias (see 2.4 above) if your real email address changes.

4.2 Should I use my mail alias to subscribe to mailing lists on AMSAT.ORG?

You can if you want. Here's the tradeoff:

If you subscribe using your mail alias, and your real email address changes, you will only have to change your mail alias. The subscriptions will follow automatically. On the other hand, if you want to subscribe to or unsubscribe from mailing lists, you'll have to specify your mail alias address explicitly in the command to majordomo, like this:
subscribe amsat-bb mycall@amsat.org
unless of course you configure your email program to send messages that appear to be "From" your mail alias address (as discussed in 3.3 above).

If you subscribe using your real email address, and it changes, you'll have to change all your subscriptions manually (by unsubscribing the old address and subscribing the new address).

You may find it convenient to receive messages from a mailing list in a different mailbox than your mail alias messages. In that case, you won't want to use your mail alias for subscribing to mailing lists.

4.3 Should I use my mail alias to subscribe to mailing lists on other systems?

No. Please don't. Mailing lists can generate a lot of traffic, and that traffic puts an unnecessary load on the AMSAT.ORG system. When there are problems with delivering your mail, the mailing list administrator might not be able to connect your subscribed address with the one for which he's receiving error messages. And finally, your mail will travel unnecessarily through the AMSAT.ORG system, which might be down or having trouble with the network. The mail alias system is designed for the convenience of other people sending you email, and that's not applicable when the sender is another automated system.

This is not an absolute rule. For instance, if you subscribe to a mailing list that's maintained manually (with no majordomo or listserv to let you change your address automatically) and you expect your email address to change from time to time, it might make sense to subscribe using your mail alias.

4.4 Should I use my mail alias to sign up for other mail aliases elsewhere?

No. Please don't. Each mail alias you sign up for should point directly to your real email address. Otherwise, it's much more difficult for mail administrators to sort out problems when they occur. Your mail will travel unnecessarily through multiple systems (any of which may be down or having trouble with the network) before getting to your mailbox, adding delay and decreasing reliability.

4.5 Can I receive large email messages or attached files via my mail alias?

Yes. There is no limitation imposed by the mail alias system. However, if you expect to receive a lot of large messages or attachments from one sender, it would be quicker and more reliable if you gave him your direct address.

Actually, there is a limit, based on how much disk space is free to store your message. But it's a really big limit, and generally you won't have a problem.

4.6 Can I use my mail alias to receive large numbers of email messages?

Yes. There is no limitation imposed by the mail alias system. However, if you expect to receive a lot of messages from one sender, you might want to give him your direct email address. It will be faster and more reliable.

4.7 May I use my mail alias to transact business?

Yes, but it is not recommended. The AMSAT.ORG system doesn't impose any limitations on what type of message you can receive, but it also makes no guarantees. It would not be wise to rely on it for your livelihood.

This policy is subject to change. The mail alias system is intended for amateur radio purposes.

4.8 Can I count on the mail alias service to be around forever?

We expect to operate the mail alias service indefinitely, but we can make no promises.

4.9 Can I rely on the mail alias service to be reliable?

Generally yes, but network outages and local problems at the AMSAT.ORG server do cause occasional disruptions. We make no promises about that, though we try to correct any problems as quickly as we can. If you need your mail to be absolutely reliable, then don't use the mail alias system for those messages.

4.10 Is the mail alias service private?

Generally yes, but not absolutely. The AMSAT.ORG system logs sender and receiver address and message length. The message content is stored briefly on the AMSAT.ORG system before being relayed to your mailbox. The system administrators generally do not look at specific messages, but reserve the right to do so when necessary. We take reasonable precautions to prevent others from having access to the system.

We never publish or sell a list of mail aliases (though years ago we did make such a list freely available for the convenience of other amateurs). Anyone may check a specific callsign to see whether it corresponds to a mail alias (using the Mail Alias Lookup facility).


Using mail aliases for other amateurs

5.1 How can I know if a certain other amateur has a mail alias?

You can check a specific callsign using the Mail Alias Lookup facility. If you don't know the callsign, you can try to look him up by name or address using one of the callbook servers, such as qrz.com. Or, of course, he could tell you.

You can also just try it and see. If there's no current mail alias for the callsign you try, you'll just get an automatic bounce message from the system (usually within a few minutes). That won't bother anybody.

5.2 I sent a message to a mail alias and received an error message. Why?

It depends. You should be able to learn something about the reason by studying the text of the error message. If you received a "user unknown" response from AMSAT.ORG you used a mail alias that doesn't exist (perhaps you mistyped it). If you received a "user unknown" response from some other system, then probably the user forgot to update his mail alias when his real email address changed. In that case, the AMSAT.ORG system has no information about the new email address, so you'll have to contact the person some other way.

5.3 I sent a message to a mail alias and never received a reply. Why?

If you didn't get an error message, then either the message was delivered successfully, or else the error message got lost on the way back to you. There's no way of knowing which. Quite possibly, the message was delivered OK and the recipient just didn't bother to reply.

Another possibility is that the recipient couldn't reply, because the message he received didn't contain a valid email address for you. It's quite possible to misconfigure most email programs to put garbage in the message headers so that a response is impossible. If you suspect that might be happening, include your email address (real or mail alias) in the text of the message or in your signature, so the recipient will be sure to have it.

5.4 Will you tell me the real email address used by another amateur for his mail alias?

No. That information is kept confidential.


Spam and other unwanted email

6.1 Will the mail alias service protect me from receiving spam?

No. The mail alias service makes no attempt to filter out spam (unsolicited commercial email).

It's not really possible for the AMSAT computer to do a perfect job of determining which messages are spam and which aren't. An imperfect job of filtering out spam would mean that you'd lose some legitimate email messages, and never know it. That's just not acceptable.

The right place to filter spam is where you have personal control over it, and where you can check up on how well it's doing. Since the AMSAT system doesn't have the resources to make this kind of customization possible on your behalf, the only good place to do the filtering is on your computer (or your provider's computer). In order to make that task simpler, the AMSAT system tags email with its judgement of how spam-like the message appears to be. You can then use (or not use) this tag to guide your own local filters. See the spam tagging page for more information.

6.2 I seem to be receiving spam from another mail alias user. Can you stop it?

No. As mentioned 3.5 above, users of the mail alias service do not send mail through the AMSAT.ORG system, they only receive mail that way. Since the AMSAT.ORG system is not involved in sending the message, there's no way it can prevent any type of abuse.

Note that it's very likely that the message you received wasn't sent by the alias user at all. It's quite common for spam to be sent with a forged "From" address.

6.3 What's the best way to protect myself against spam?

The only way to protect yourself is to make sure your email address never goes out to anybody you don't trust to keep it secret. That's really hard, and pretty much impossible if you want to be able to receive email from people you don't know.

A complete tutorial on all the ways your address can get out is beyond the scope of this FAQ.

There are some services out there that try to block spam. They probably work most of the time. Sign up for one if it's worth the money to you. Note that spam-blocking systems invariably risk blocking some messages that are not spam. Better ones minimize this problem.

6.4 What's the best way to react when I receive spam?

Just delete it. Don't waste any time getting angry. Don't reply or use the supposed "remove me" address that might be in the message (that might be taken as confirmation that your address is real). Don't bother reporting the spam to anybody; somebody else will have already done so. You might find, as I have, that if you give each spam message only 2 seconds of your time, spam isn't really a very big problem after all.

If you're filtering out spam email, you might also want to tune your filter to reject similar messages in the future.

6.5 Will the mail alias service protect me from viruses or worms?

No. The mail alias service makes no attempt to filter out dangerous messages.

6.6 I have received a virus or worm from another mail alias user. Can you stop it?

No. As mentioned 3.5 above, users of the mail alias service do not send mail through the AMSAT.ORG system, they only receive mail that way. Since the AMSAT.ORG system is not involved in sending the message, there's no way it can prevent any type of abuse.

Note that it's very likely that the apparent sender is himself a victim. If you think he might not have been otherwise warned, you might want to let him know he's infected.

6.7 What's the best way to protect myself against viruses and worms?

Don't open attached files from email messages. It's only safe to do so if you know the sender, are certain that he meant to send you the file, and are also certain that he himself (and anyone else who uses his computer) is also extremely careful. This is a tough set of conditions to meet. If you aren't really sure that the sender is very careful about safe computing, at least run the file through an up-to-date virus scanner before you open it. Some virus scanners can work with some email programs to do this automatically.

Some email programs can be configured to open attachments automatically. Don't let yours do that. Check the documentation or the author's web site for information on how to use your email program safely. You might even need to install some patches or upgrade your email software in order to be safe.

Some attachments are pretty benign. It's probably safe to open a JPEG or GIF picture, for instance.

6.8 What's the best way to react when I receive a virus or worm?

If it hasn't infected your computer, just delete it. If it has, you'll need to look into some anti-virus software to restore your system. Until you do, don't let your computer connect to the Internet.


Supporting the mail alias system

7.1 Is there any charge for getting or using a mail alias?

No. The mail alias system is provided as a free service by AMSAT-NA. We have no plans to change that, but we make no promises.

7.2 Do you accept donations?

Yes, gladly! AMSAT is always in need of funds to help with its various projects. The AMSAT store can accept a credit card (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover), or of course you can send a check.

7.3 Who is AMSAT anyway?

See the About AMSAT web pages.

7.4 How do I join AMSAT?

See the membership page.

If you have additional questions about the mail alias system, please send them to mail-alias-service@amsat.org. A volunteer will respond within a few days.


Created by Paul Williamson, KB5MU, December 22, 2003. If you have questions, please use the contact form to contact the mail list team. Permission is granted to distribute this page without restriction.


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