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phpList Overview

What is phpList?

phpList is an open source digital subscription management tool. It is written in the programming language 'PHP', and it is used to disseminate information to a large number of subscribers. The individuals signing up to receive content are called Subscribers. Subscribers are members of Lists, while the individuals that create the material and disseminate content using phpList are the Administrators. Content is sent out via emails known as campaign messages.


The Administrator (Admin for short) is the system user that manages phpList. S/he is responsible for configuration, administering lists, capturing statistics, sending the campaign messages, and can make use of the full functionality of phpList. An Admin has a login and a password that allows them to access the administrative functions of phpList (a.k.a. the backend). There are two different levels of administrator, a SuperUser with all system rights and capabilities, and Admins that manage specific lists.


phpList supports a very flexible concept of “membership”. Subscribers are primarily identified by an email address registered in the phpList database. Each email address represents a subscriber and each subscriber has their own file with values chosen from created attributes. That is, a Subscriber is an email address plus specific Preferences, such as “I always want HTML emails”, and additionally any Attributes (name, address, occupation etc.) chosen by the Admin. Attributes can be freely created by the Admin without limit and a Subscriber may be a member of multiple Lists.

By default (unless approved manually by the Administrator), Subscribers do not begin receiving messages until they confirm their membership. As soon as they sign up to a list, the Subscriber will receive a confirmation request message to the email address they provided. They must then follow the link included within the email to acknowledge and confirm that it was them who signed up. Opt-out of subscribing to a list, on the other hand, is a single-step process.


A List has a title and subscribers. The title is created by the Admin and the subscribers sign up as above. Lists have Messages and Members (Subscribers). Lists are used to send messages from the Admin to the Subscriber. It is not a discussion forum.

Subscriber and List Relationship

There is a “Many-to-Many” relationship between Lists and Subscribers, meaning each List may have many Subscribers, and each Subscriber may belong to many Lists. This is evident in sites that use phpList to manage multiple related lists. Subscribers have the option to become a member of any or all of a group of lists.

Administrator and List Relationship

Each list is owned by only one administrator, yet each administrator can own several lists. An administrator cannot send a message to lists owned by other administrators. Important: Each administrator can only have access to the files of people who have subscribed to at least one list they administer. Unlike admins, SuperAdmins have access to all the subscribers and all the lists.

Campaign Message and Templates

A Campaign Message is a single email (event) sent to the Members/subscribers of one or more Lists. A Message may use a Template or you may enter the Message Content in a “one-off” fashion, entering your HTML directly. By design, a single message is only sent to any subscriber once. In other words, if an admin sends the same message to multiple lists (which share the same subscribers), each subscriber in these lists would only get that message once.