PhpList Primer

PhpList is an open source software application for managing mailing lists and conducting digital marketing campaigns. The software allows business owners and marketing teams to easily gather and sort subscription information, organizing it according to specific attributes. With this information in hand digital marketers can create more effective email marketing campaigns, dispatching bulk emails, newsletter and other announcements to a targeted list of subscribers.

PhpList also allows marketers to monitor the ongoing status of their campaigns. Once the campaign has been launch, phpList collects statistics on the number of mail recipients who opened their emails and clicked on any embedded links. PhpList also collects data on any failed email deliveries, removing those email addresses from the database to maintain an active and accurate list of subscribers.

As an open source application, phpList is free to download and install on any server and is often available as an optional added service from many web-hosting providers.


The phpList project was launched in 2000 by a team of international software developers led by Michiel Dethmers. Dethmers remains the technical director of the project, and continues to oversee the development of phpList. Since its initial launch, phpList has undergone several revisions and updates. The latest iteration was released in the first quarter of 2016. Designated phpList 3.2.5, this version of the software contained several security fixes as well as a number of feature upgrades. While still an open source product, the software remains under constant development by phpList, Ltd.

Technical Specs

PhpList is a full featured, easily integrated, mailing list management system for business. As an open source software application it can be downloaded directly from phpList, Ltd, or from a variety of alternative mirrors. The software itself can be installed manually, or by using one of the popular auto installers like Softaculous or Fantastico. It is worth noting that phpList has undergone several revisions, so those interested in the product will want to search for the most recent iteration of the software.

PhpList was initially developed for Linux, Apache and MySQL. However, the software is also fully compatible with OpenBSD, FreeBSD, OS X, and Windows. PhpList was primarily designed to connect to a MySQL database. But again, recent upgrades have extended connectivity to alternative database platforms such as Microsoft SQL Server, PostreSQL, SQLite, and Oracle.

Overview of Features

The features of phpList can be broken down into three basic parts. The first, managing a subscriber list, allows business owners and marketers to collect subscriber data through a subscription form that can be integrated into any existing website. The information gathered through this form allows subscribers to be organized by data profile, so that marketing campaigns can be structured to target a specific group of recipients. For example, subscribers might be sorted by location, age, education, income, or personal interests. This not only ensures that notifications reach predisposed recipients, but also that enterprises engaged in bulk mailings avoid the stigma of spammy emails.

With this information in hand, marketers can use phpList to create highly targeted email campaigns. The data collected allows for the personalization of emails and notifications, while ensuring that the messages sent are prioritized to reach those parties most likely to be interested in the content. PhpList supports message queuing, so that no subscriber is left out of the campaign and no one receives more than a single email. Campaigns can also be strictly controlled to limit the potential for load or domain throttling.

Finally, phpList allows marketers to follow the progress of their email campaigns. The software provides real time data, allowing marketers to see who opened their emails and who bounced them into the spam or trash folder. Subscribers with a high bounce rate will be automatically removed from the database, ensuring the mailing list remains current and productive.

Getting Started - Online Tutorials and Supplemental Reading

PhpList has been designed to be simple to install and configure. That being said, with the extensive features the software delivers there will be something of a learning curve involved — particularly if users are to exploit the full benefits of the software.

Fortunately, there are a number of online tutorials available that explore phpList more fully, taking users from initial install and configuration to daily use. Some of these consist of simple video introductions to the software, while others offer more extensive guides to phpList's installation and performance features.

  • Configuring PhpList: this is a three-part video series. Part one provides an overview of phpList and its basic architecture. Part two discusses the basic settings in the phpList web interface, their purpose, and suggests basic values for their configuration. Part three explores the settings that are only available by logging into the user's server. Instructions are given for locating the file, and suggested values for user settings.
  • PhpList Overview: from the phpList support group comes this short overview discussing the basic uses of phpList. The overview is supported by screenshots and real time examples that walk the viewer through the various steps of managing an email campaign. Topics include importing a subscriber list, creating email notifications (with or without embedded links), and initializing and managing a simple email campaign.
  • Setting Up PhpList (Open Source Newsletter Manager): from HowtoForge comes this detailed guide to setting up phpList with an emphasis on integrating the software with Fedora, Ubunto, and CentOS operating systems.
  • PhpList User's Manual: available both online and as a downloadable PDF file, this manual has been prepared by phpList, Ltd. It represents the most authoritative guide to phpList, teaching basic installation and configuration, common usage, and troubleshooting techniques.
  • PhpList 2 — Email Campaign Manager (2011) by David Young: this guide to phpList is somewhat outdated and does not address any of the later iterations of the software. However, it does provide a solid overview of phpList and its value as a mailing list management tool.


Since its original launch in 2000, phpList has become one of the most popular open source email management tools on the market. With support for multiple languages, it is an ideal fit for businesses with international subscriber lists, and it has been widely adopted by organizations around the globe. Its user friendly web interface, and full featured performance profile, makes phpList a valuable digital marketing tool for enterprises of all sizes.

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