Block list vs black list in my books

Open source software has been adjusting its language. In a world without systemic racism, technologists could use words like “master” and “slave” without worries. While the Internet’s primordial developers chose those words without malice1, we don’t live in that world. Much of the software in Run Your Own Mail Server is older, however. Many people who don’t speak English natively don’t fully understand the implications of “black list” and “white list” and don’t want to go through the annoyance of changing them in large code bases.

Part of my job is to be easily approachable to all readers who connect with my voice.2 That means using language correctly. block list.

Another part of my job is to tell the truth. The software calls it black list. No matter how hard you search, you will not find rspamd’s block list.

I’m not going to reject rspamd or postwhite because of their language. To do so would inflict extra pain on my readers. So I’m putting this (raw, unedited) text in Chapter 0.

Today, we use the term “allow list” for entities that are permitted to skip a layer of protections, and “block list” for entities that are categorically refused. Many older programs and some software developed by non-native English speakers, still use the older blacklist and whitelist. This book uses modern language except when configuring those programs. Do please encourage your favorite developers to update their language to the 21st century, however.

This is the same approach I used in the latest Absolute FreeBSD with my beloved blacklistd, but made explicit. Also, blacklistd has been renamed. Even we greybeards can do better.

I much prefer using consistent language throughout, but reality has its own opinions.

Comments defending the old language will be summarily deleted. You also acted without malice? Fine. Now you know better. Do better.

  1. It’s not that those developers picked up a dictionary to search for the words that best expressed “this is the controller, this is the backup.” The words master and slave are prominent in our culture, so they used them. They are prominent for very specific reasons, however.
  2. People who don’t like my voice are welcome to read someone else, as per my FAQ.

2 Replies to “Block list vs black list in my books”

  1. Since you’re writing a mail book… is greylisting ok?
    Is it an affront to the grey hair _and_ grey beard community?

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