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Emailing to a Distribution List from Your iPad

[IMPORTANT: This workaround is for Exchange accounts. If you use Gmail, scroll to the bottom of this post to find the entry on creating Gmail distribution lists.]

If you use email distribution lists, you may have noticed that your iPad doesn’t. Here’s how to fix that.

You’ll need to fool your iPad by creating an individual contact for your distribution list in the Contacts app on your iPad. Enter all of the emails for your list in the email field for this individual contact. Please know that this workaround isn’t pretty. Every time you send an email to this contact from your iPad, you’ll receive an error. Just tell the iPad to send anyway and you’ll have successfully tricked your iPad into sending an email out to a group.

Here is how to create a contact for your distribution list, step by step.

First, find an email that you’ve sent to the distribution list. Copy all of the email addresses in the “To:” field and paste these into a Word document. You’ll get something that looks like this:

Then, strip out all text other than the email addresses and separate the email addresses with semicolons. You’ll get something that looks like this:

Copy this block of email addresses into the BODY of an email (not the “To:” field) and send it to yourself. Open this email on your iPad and copy the block of addresses.

Next, open the Contacts app on your iPad and create an individual contact for this distribution list. Paste that entire block of email addresses in the email field for that individual contact. Name your contact something easy to type and you’re set.

You can send an email to this list by typing the name of this contact in the “To:” field of any email you send from the Mail app on your iPad. Remember, when you send the email, it will give you an error, saying that it looks like there’s something wrong with the email address. Go ahead and send anyway.

It takes a bit of work to set up a list as a contact, but if you use lists, the extra time involved is worth it.

Please let me know in the comments whether you’ve found an easier way to do this. I know that there are also apps that will allow you to send a single email to a group of people, but I’ve heard that emails sent this way do not go through the Exchange server. Again, if I’m wrong, let me know.

-Rebecca Johnson

UPDATE: I noticed that a number of comments indicate that emails to groups are being rejected by the server. I have been testing this on a mail server running Exchange 2007. I just tried it using my gmail account to send an email to the group I’d created and I was rejected. So, many apologies to those folks on gmail who are using the advice in this post. However, one of our brilliant student employees came up with this workaround for gmail accounts. For those folks who have gmail: consult Creating an Email Distribution List for Your Gmail Account. Please let us know if this works for you. Thanks!

  1. Jeff Parker
    February 4th, 2012 at 20:28 | #1

    I tried every app out there I could find until stumbling upon this idea myself a few months ago. It works and is elegantly simple albeit clumsy. It is important to remove all extraneous text from the string of emails and to separate the individual email addresses with a semicolon. Otherwise the iPad parses the address in odd ways. But at least it works!

    • rljohnson
      February 6th, 2012 at 16:00 | #2

      Thanks for the confirmation that this workaround does indeed work and for the tips on removing extraneous text and using semicolons. Much appreciated!

  2. Penny
    June 1st, 2012 at 21:46 | #3

    It works. Thanks so very much. I did it all on the iPad in Notes. Easy as could be…

  3. Benjie
    July 6th, 2012 at 03:18 | #4

    I tried following your procedure but it refuses to send. It goes to the outbox mail. What can do? Thanks

    • rljohnson
      July 6th, 2012 at 14:09 | #5

      One thing you could check, Benjie, would be whether you have separated the addresses with a semicolon and just one space. If you have more than one space between the semicolon and the next email address in the list, that might cause your email to get hung up in the outbox.

      • Felix
        February 27th, 2013 at 09:03 | #6

        It goes to the outbox and then is rejected by the server. I have double checked for the semicolons and the me space.

  4. James
    July 6th, 2012 at 21:01 | #7

    What do recipients see if you place this group contact in the bcc field?

    • rljohnson
      July 9th, 2012 at 17:19 | #8

      Huh, I’m so glad you asked, James. I sent a test email from my iPad to my distribution list. I had assumed that like the usual BCC email, my name would show up in both the To and From fields. However, nothing at all shows up in the To field. How odd. When I asked one of my coworkers to reply to the email, her response appeared in my inbox as it should have, showing her name in the From field and my name in the To field. So, odd, yes, but it seems to work . . .

  5. jer
    July 8th, 2012 at 23:47 | #9

    Is this for the ipad2? I also tried it and when I sent the e-mail the “To:” says 1 recipient. Then the e-mail comes back into my outbox saying “name@mail.com; anothername@mail.com; andanothername@mail.com” e-mail address does not exist.

    • rljohnson
      July 9th, 2012 at 16:58 | #10

      One of the difficulties with this approach is that you have to be hyper-vigilant about how the list is entered. There can be no extra spaces between email addresses and the semicolons. You may want to copy the list of email addresses to Microsoft Word (or some similar program), turn on the “Show all nonprinting characters” option, and check to see if you have two or more spaces between the email address and the preceding semicolon or any spaces at all between an email address and the trailing semicolon.

  6. CPOTT
    July 13th, 2012 at 09:17 | #11

    You can fool the mighty ipad by sending an email to yourself with the colon or semi-colon in the main body of text, open it, copy the relevant one and then paste it wherever you want it………….

  7. Deborah
    August 14th, 2012 at 13:58 | #12

    I went into Contacts to create a list as suggested. I found another option once I was in there. Contacts allowed me to “link” to the List name people who are already in Contacts as individual contacts. So I’ve tried that method.

    Of course I haven’t yet tried to mail anything to the group. I guess I should try that . . .

  8. Gord
    September 12th, 2012 at 01:11 | #13

    Hmmmm. Why doesn’t Apple just allow this in the contacts app???

    • rljohnson
      September 12th, 2012 at 14:33 | #14

      That is an excellent question. I’m sure someone has the answer. Jason Miller? Anyone?

  9. Michelle
    September 12th, 2012 at 03:56 | #15

    This is a great workaround, I have set this up this morning for my Exchange account with no issues. As long as you ignore the first error po-up its all good to go. Thanks heaps!

    • rljohnson
      September 12th, 2012 at 14:33 | #16

      You’re welcome!

  10. Mel
    October 10th, 2012 at 13:47 | #17

    Did it exactly as instructed. Didn’t work. Went into Outbox.

    • rljohnson
      October 10th, 2012 at 20:28 | #18

      Mel, thanks for the comment. I asked Jason Miller, our sys admin, to retest this to see whether iOS 6.0 might have broken this workaround. Nope, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’d suggest you go back and check your address list VERY carefully. Just one extra space or a comma instead of a semicolon can get things hung up in the Outbox.

    • Pphogan
      December 15th, 2012 at 12:13 | #19

      Mine worked using one space and no semi colon or comma.

  11. Cfmoyer
    October 31st, 2012 at 02:09 | #20

    I’ve recently made the transition from Windows to Apple…maybe it’s my 20 yr history with Microsoft but I’m having a hard time finding all the intuitively great and seamless things I’ve heard about Apple OS. This work around is just another example…you mean you can’t make a contact list? How basic is that?

  12. Chui
    November 11th, 2012 at 04:58 | #21

    Hi, I got it to work by NOT giving the new contact a name AND using comma instead of semicolon. This is because if there is a name for the contact, either the mail server (yahoo and google) or iPad, adds to the list making the list look like this .

    So if you don’t give the contact a name, the list would just look like this abc@123.com, efg@123.com, def@123.com to the mail server.

    It did not work with semicolons and worked once i changed to commas. I notice that the Contacts app does not allow semicolons in the email address field.

    Hope this helps.

    • rljohnson
      November 16th, 2012 at 17:50 | #22

      Great comment! I like this solution much better than the one that we’ve posted. My difficulty with our solution is that if I’m not careful, I may inadvertently email the list when intending to email just the first person on the list. Look for a new blog post soon with a tip of the hat to your solution, Chui!

    • Law illy
      March 4th, 2013 at 20:46 | #23

      There was no example of what your list should look like, and I am confused as to how to enter a contact without giving It a name.

      I may be a bit slow, but I can’t get either method to work.

  13. Barbara
    November 13th, 2012 at 15:31 | #24

    I have tried this unsuccessfully. i get the gang list, I get it to send and it shows up in the sent messages box but then a mail delivery error shows up instead of the e-mail itself. I have the addresses correctly entered. Any further suggestions?

  14. rick
    January 5th, 2013 at 14:20 | #25

    I found that the coma options worked but the semi-colon did not. I am using a brand new iPad Mini. But to note, I was searching the App Store and found an app called Group Contact Light by EJing. It’s not the most user intuitive but once you figure it out, it syncs with your contacts, lets you build groups and then email them easily using the iPad built-in email app. And it is free.

  15. Eileen PINo
    January 17th, 2013 at 10:22 | #26

    Cannot get ipad to send it anyway? how do i do that ?

  16. Eileen PINo
    January 17th, 2013 at 10:23 | #27

    please help I send out a lot of mail as I am sure we do and I carry my ipad but cannot forward my messages to the group when I am on the go? HELP ME

  17. iain munro
  18. Cheryl Fuller
    April 14th, 2013 at 09:26 | #29

    I need help. I am the director of a large motorcycle riding group and have to send out “blasts” every Sunday. This is done from a gmail acct. We travel a lot so I need to be able to do these from my iPad. I have followed all the directions and still cannot get the gmail acct to recognize this distribution list. The blast goes to about 250 people. I added microsoft as an exchange, created a contact with all the names and email addresses in it and did a test run….gmail did not pick up the list. I then added gmail as an exchange, just in case….still nothing.

  19. Curt
    April 18th, 2013 at 06:27 | #30

    an easier way is to set up the addresses you want on the distribution list–including your own–send it and then keep the resulting e-mail with the address in your in box–when you want to send an e-mail to the list just “reply to all”

  20. May 16th, 2013 at 12:45 | #31

    Curt’s suggestion works the best and is the easiest.
    To set up my golf group correspondence, I sent one completely addressed email, with ” only a test email” in the subject box, including my email address in the body. After receiving this email, I simply used “forward to all” when I sent out subsequent emails, and type in whatever info I want to send.

    Of course, I must remember not to erase the original, but if I do, I would simply repeat the routine.

  21. Jason
    May 20th, 2013 at 15:24 | #32

    Thanks for the tip I’ve been trying to make figure out how to do this forever. Not sure why apple just doesn’t add the ability to create distribution lists. Followed instructions exactly as listed and worked perfectly, I have the new iPad with iOS 6.1.3 so people that it doesn’t work for must be missing something.

  22. Jennifer
    July 21st, 2013 at 21:54 | #33

    Thanks heaps for this tip! Been looking around for ages for a work around for this. Why wouldn’t they just build it in???

  23. Paul
    August 2nd, 2013 at 06:21 | #34

    Thanks. Worked first time (using commas)!!

  24. Wayne
    August 17th, 2013 at 18:40 | #35

    I use an app called Text2Group. It’s brilliant. You can send group text messages or group emails. Has a lot of nice filtering tools too which makes constructing groups really easy.

  25. Nar
    September 7th, 2013 at 12:15 | #36

    Worked for me. Thanks.