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Autoreply deferentially or better not at all

I do not like automatic mail replies. As a system administrator, bounces such as out-of-office notes, the vacation show-offs, got-a-new-address naggings, or not-read receipts, have caused me a lot of pain. They also pay my bills, I should say, but I do have enough to work anyway and could well get along without autoreplies.

Personally, I observe that the vast majority of autoreplies fits into at least one of the following categories:

  • The autoreply does not concern me. For instance because it was sent to a mailing list, or because I hardly know the person for whom it is sent.
  • The autoreply does not bother me. For example, I do not care whether a bank accountant is out-of-office or not, because I expect the bank to respond timely anyway (and my bank knows this).
  • The autoreply does not tell me anything new. Either because I already know (e.g. that my boss is on vacation) or because the autoreply gets sent multiple times.

Of course, there are exceptions, but I think they are rare and do not justify the efforts it needs to come by all the technical problems, and the nuisance. Indeed, there are plenty of technical issues:

Wholeheartedly, I recommend not to use autoresponders. Instead, try to tackle the situations proactively: Write in advance and personally to the people who need to know. Redirect your mail, give your secretary or your colleague access, or simply try to get on-line from time to time and have a look yourself.


In 2007, René Pfeiffer asked for good vacation mailers?. We don't like them, we do not recommend them, nevertheless, sometimes administrators are required (forced I should say;) to install them. I promised René to post my solution. Took me a while, though.

autoreply_deferentially.rc is a procmail based approach which tries to be cautious and to reply (hopefully) only to directly addressed, personal messages while avoiding the typical pitfalls.

Fortunately, the code is complicated enough so that there's no need to fear that it gets widely applied :-X


Andreas Schamanek, 2017-06-13 17:27, 2017-06-13 17:27

Detecting autoresponders by James McKinney is a great compilation of criteria.

blog/091116_autoreply_deferentially_or_better_not_at_all.txt · Last modified: 2016-10-04 11:25 by andreas