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What is phpList Hosting?

PhpList is a software package for the management of mailing lists. It owes much of its popularity to the fact that it is written in PHP and uses a standard MySQL database. In addition, it is open-source, published under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Whether you run an e-commerce site, a B2B site, or just blog about a certain subject, keeping in touch with readers and customers is an important step in making your site successful. This is especially true of niche sites and businesses that do not rely on regular traffic. Once someone leaves your site, there's no guarantee they'll ever come back.

However, email marketing hopes to overcome this problem by giving you the ability to reach out to customers long after they first used your services. This may prove useful for promotional programmes and improve customer loyalty.

Don't spam, provide useful and informative updates

Part of the purpose of email marketing is to generate revenue and convert readers into customers, keep regular customers informed, announce promotional contests, sales and disseminate other information that may be of use.

Of course, you should tread carefully and stop short of spamming your customers' inboxes with countless updates they may not find relevant, but this is another matter. We are talking about the technical aspects of phpList, the marketing department should handle the rest.

In case you deal with an international audience, phpList can be a useful tool for reaching out to clients abroad, in their language. Bear in mind that phpList supports a number of major languages (English, Spanish, German, Japanese, French, Portuguese, Vietnamese, and Traditional Chinese). Support for new ones is constantly being added.

The software can also handle extensive mailing lists with hundreds of thousands of subscribers, which makes it very scalable – phpList can be used by small, niche sites, or large e-commerce or B2B services.

System requirements for phpList

While phpList was originally developed for the Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP environment (LAMP), it is also compatible with OpenBSD, FreeBSD, Apple's OS X and Microsoft environments such as Windows Server or IIS 7.0 and above.

As far as LAMP is concerned, you will need PHP version 4.3.x or higher with an IMAP module for bounce processing. The required MySQL version is 4.0 or higher.

On Windows, you will need Apache, PHP and MySQL. The phpList team recommends XAMPP server for testing and development. While Windows IIS web server is not officially supported and the environment is not recommended by the developer, it is possible with a bit of tinkering.

Support for PHP with IMAP is another requirement if you want phpList to automatically process your bounces. The phpList team is also working on support for ADOdb, but it is still not officially supported.

It is highly recommended to run phpList with "safe mode" in PHP off. This should not be an issue with small operations, but with more than 500 users safe mode will not work. In addition, safe mode will prevent automatic bounce processing.

Installing phpList

Installation is relatively straightforward and phpList documentation will guide you step by step.

You simply need to download the distribution files from phpList, unpack it and allow it to recreate default directories and subdirectories, then upload the contents of the lists directory into your web folder.

The next step is to create a database compatible with phpList. This can be done from the prompt or with the help of phpMyAdmin. In case your host does not allow the creation of new databases, you can use an existing one by specifying a prefix for table names in the config.php file. This is done with a simple text editor, but it can take a while. Luckily detailed instructions are available on the phpList website.

Once the configuration is complete, you can initialise the installation process by pointing your browser to the web directory where the phpList backend is located. From then on, it is all down to the installer.

The process may differ for OpenBSD users, but it is still relatively straightforward.

Don't forget to backup and upgrade

The upgrade process is not entirely automated, so the operator still needs to backup the database and old config.php file.

Another alternative is to backup phpList entirely, so you can rollback the update in case it starts misbehaving. It is recommended to download the contents of the entire phpList directory from your server to your hard disk for recovery.

The next step is to download the latest phpList version and unpack it while deleting all files from your phpList folder. It is also necessary to create a new config.php file. Although the old config file can be reused, this is not recommended.

phpList Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is phpList used for?

    PhpList is an open source software solution for mailing list management. It is designed to distribute information, such as newsletters, news, or advertising, to a list of subscribers. It is written in PHP and uses a MySQL database to store the information.

  • So it only works with MySQL? What if I need to use PostgreSQL or other databases?

    PhpList is originally designed to connect to a MySQL database. However, it is possible to extend the connectivity to other databases such as PostgreSQL, Microsoft SQL Server, SQLite, Sybase, IBM DB2, and Oracle with phpList’s support for ADOdb

  • Does phpList have any special requirements? Can it run on my server?

    Since it is based on PHP, you should have no trouble running phpList on just about any server. However, there are some things to keep in mind. You will need PHP 4.3.x or higher (an IMAP module is required for bounce processing), MySQL version 4.0 or higher, and Apache 1.13.19 or higher. The user interface is browser-based and every server with the necessary components installed should have no trouble dealing with phpList.

  • How do I install phpList? Will it run on my Linux distro?

    You can install phpList on Linux, Windows and OS X. Detailed guides are available online from the community. Every major Linux distribution is compatible with phpList and you should have no trouble using it.

  • How are phpList updates managed, should I backup my data first?

    Updating phpList is done manually. You should backup your database and the configuration file config.php, or even better, backup the entire phpList installation before the upgrade. Then, you simply replace your phpList with the new version and restore your old configuration file. Detailed instructions and guides are available online.

  • I am working in a Windows environment and I’m worried about IIS compatibility. Is there anything to watch out for?

    Use of phpList on Windows IIS servers is not endorsed and the Microsoft platform is not officially supported, but users have reported that it can be adapted to run on IIS. It all depends on your skills, but in case you want to try it, instructions are available online. To run phpList on Windows, you will need Apache, PHP, and MySql. XAMPP server and IIS 7 are recommended by the phpList community.

  • I have loads of ancient MySQL databases on my server. Which MySQL versions are supported by phpList?

    You should have no trouble dealing with most of them, but bear in mind that the latest phpList releases are designed to support MySQL 4.0 and newer databases. Ultimately, you should consider migrating old databases to an up-to-date version of MySQL.

  • I know phpList is free, but do I need to worry about any unexpected expenses?

    There is nothing to worry about – phpList is completely free. The software is published under the GNU General Public License.

  • How many languages is phpList available in?

    The phpList public interface is translated into 35 languages, and software documentation is available in English, Spanish, French and Dutch, so you should have no problems as far as localization is concerned.

  • What about importing and exporting data via phpList?

    PhpList allows data imports from standard CSV or TAB delimited files. It is recommended to use tab as a field delimiter because your data is not likely to contain a TAB. The maximum size of the file that can be imported is 1Mb, so if you need to import a larger file, you will have to split it. Exporting data is available only if you have the necessary administrative permissions. The exported format tab delimited CSV.

  • Can a shared hosting plan handle phpList, or should I consider VPS hosting?

    A shared web host can definitely handle phpList, but you have to be aware of the hourly and daily mailing limits of your host. Also, on a shared web hosting plan, you will be sharing a mail IP address with all the other users on the shared server, so your mailings could fail if your server’s IP gets blacklisted. You should consider VPS hosting plans if you already have, or plan to have, really high mail volumes. Another option is to start with shared web hosting, as you can always upgrade to a VPS package as demand gets higher.

  • Can I control the number of emails sent per hour in phpList?

    Yes, phpList can throttle outgoing e-mails, and throttling is highly recommended for managing bandwidth and respecting the mailing limits of the host. It is easily done in the batch processing segment of the config.php configuration file of your phpList installation.

  • What if need some expert advice or support?

    The good news is that phpList is well documented, so you should be able to find a solution to practically any problem online. The downside is that there is no commercial support, since we are talking about free software. However, thanks to its widespread use and comprehensive documentation, this is really not an issue.

  • What are the chances of getting phpList preinstalled on a shared hosting account?

    Pretty good. Since phpList is free, well documented and very popular, a lot of hosting companies will provide you with access to phpList “out of the box” or via one click installs. If phpList is not already installed, you or your host should have no problems installing it.

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