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Searching list archives

How does it work?
Advanced searches
Search tips
Non-English searches

How does it work?

A search can be as simple as typing a single word in the "Search for:" box and clicking on "Start the search," or it can involve the full power of LISTSERV's database functions. Here are a few examples of simple searches (the text of the example should be entered in the "Search for:" box, and none of the other boxes should be filled in):

Advanced searches

In the previous section, we discussed how to make a simple (or even complex) search using the "Search for:" box. While this is sufficient for most searches, the other search options can be used to further restrict the scope of your search and make it easier for you to find what you are looking for.

The substring search checkbox

By default, searches will only match full words: searching for planet will not find messages containing the word "planetarium" (unless they also contain the word "planet"). But if you check the "substring search" box, your search will match any word containing the string you have entered. For instance, a substring search for chem would find both "chemistry" and "alchemy."

The subject search box

To restrict your search to messages whose subject contains specific search words, simply type them in the subject search box. The syntax is the same as for the "Search for:" box, with one difference: the "AND" operator is redundant, because a subject field is very short and all the words are considered to be "close" to each other. Thus, in the subject box there is no difference between a search for Mozart and Beethoven and a search for Mozart Beethoven.

Subject searches are a good alternative when searching large archives, or when searching for topics that are mentioned quite often. If a word that you are looking for appears in the subject of a message, it is much more likely to reflect the actual contents of the message than if it only appears in one isolated sentence. On the other hand, maybe what you are looking for is hidden in a message that was about something else, and where someone just happened to mention your topic of interest in passing.

The author search box

You can also restrict your search to messages posted by a particular person. If you know the e-mail address of the person who wrote the message you are interested in, this can be a very effective way to find what you are looking for, without having to go through dozens of unrelated messages. Note that you do not need to know the exact e-mail address. For instance, if you know that the userid is "john" and the host name is some machine at XYZ.COM, you can simply enter john in the search box. Since the author's e-mail address is a single word, there is no concept of "close" vs. "distant," and the AND operator is redundant: john and john and are equivalent.

Whatever you do, do not try to use wildcards (e.g. "john@*") as this is not the correct syntax. The author search box uses the same syntax as the subject and "Search for:" boxes.

The "since" and "until" search boxes

It is not uncommon for popular mailing lists to have archives spanning 10 or more years of activity. If the mailing list is about technology, you may not be interested in messages that are older than a few year. Or, alternatively, you may happen to know when approximately the information you are looking for was posted to the list. You can use the "Since" and "Until" boxes to restrict your search accordingly.

The syntax is very flexible and you can specify a date and/or time in just about any of the commonly used formats:

IMPORTANT: The US date format (mm/dd or mm/dd/yy) is not supported because it is ambiguous. Many other countries use dd/mm or dd/mm/yy instead, and to avoid ambiguities LISTSERV only supports the international date format, yyyy-mm-dd or yy/mm/dd.

Search tips

Here are a few tips which may prove useful if you are not getting anywhere with your search.

Non-English searches

Every effort has been made to make ISO-8859-* searches work as transparently as possible, in spite of the complexity of the situation. In order to better understand the cases where searches do not actually work as expected, you should know that the messages are archived in the format in which they were originally sent. This will typically include a mix of native 8-bit text, MIME quoted-printable text, MIME base64 text, and other proprietary encoding methods such as WINMAIL.DAT, plus of course 7-bit text. Each of these messages presents its own challenges:

In addition, there are a number of generic problems that affect all message formats:

Please note - During the past 17 years of operation, several gigabytes of Vanagon mail messages have been archived. Searching the entire collection will take up to five minutes to complete. Please be patient!

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