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A Developer’s Guide to List-Unsubscribe with Code Samples

  • 23 May, 2024

In 2024, Gmail and Yahoo will begin requiring emails to include a List-Unsubscribe header, specifically mandating a valid URL-based option that supports one-click unsubscribe. This change marks a significant shift in how email senders must approach their unsubscribe mechanisms, emphasizing the importance of easy and direct user control over email communications.

This guide aims to thoroughly explore the List-Unsubscribe feature, detailing its essential role in enhancing recipient experiences and complying with evolving email regulations. We'll delve into what List-Unsubscribe is, why it benefits both senders and recipients, when it’s mandatory to include, when you can omit having it in your emails, and the technical steps involved in its implementation. By understanding how to effectively integrate this feature, developers and business owners can ensure their email strategies meet current standards, improve deliverability, and maintain a positive engagement with their audience.

What is the List-Unsubscribe header?

List-Unsubscribe is a standard feature in email headers designed to make unsubscribing from email communications as straightforward as possible. When an email includes a List-Unsubscribe header, recipients can see an "Unsubscribe" button or link directly in their email client, next to the sender information or within the message menu. This visibility allows users to easily opt out of unwanted emails without having to search for a less conspicuous unsubscribe link buried in the email footer.

GMail One-Click Unsubscribe Button

Key aspects of how List-Unsubscribe appears to users include:

  • Visibility: The unsubscribe option is prominently displayed, making it accessible with just one or two clicks.
  • Convenience: It eliminates the need for the recipient to navigate away from their email client to manage their email preferences.

This direct approach helps enhance the user experience by providing a clear, simple way to manage email interactions. For senders, it's an effective method to maintain compliance with email marketing regulations and improve overall email list health by reducing spam complaints.

Why Implement List-Unsubscribe?

Implementing the List-Unsubscribe header in your email communications isn't just a good practice — it's becoming a necessary part of meeting industry standards and regulations. With major email service providers like Gmail and Yahoo now requiring a visible and functional unsubscribe mechanism, ensuring your emails comply is crucial for maintaining access to your audience's inboxes.

How List-Unsubscribe Benefits Senders

Integrating the List-Unsubscribe header into your email campaigns offers significant benefits that go beyond just staying compliant with the mailbox providers’ sending rules. It's about fostering a positive relationship with your audience while enhancing the effectiveness of your email marketing strategy.

  • Reduced Spam Complaints: One of the biggest advantages of having an easily accessible unsubscribe option is the reduction in spam complaints. When subscribers can easily opt-out of receiving emails, they are less likely to mark your messages as spam, which can negatively impact your sender reputation.
  • Better Sender Reputation: Email service providers monitor how recipients interact with your emails, including how often they are marked as spam. By facilitating a straightforward unsubscribe process, you help ensure that your emails are welcomed, thus maintaining a positive sender score. This, in turn, improves the likelihood that your emails will be delivered successfully to your subscribers' inboxes.
  • Higher Quality Subscriber List: By making it easy for disinterested subscribers to leave your list, you naturally curate a more engaged audience. Those who choose to stay are more likely to have a genuine interest in your content, leading to higher open and interaction rates.

How List-Unsubscribe Helps End Users

Implementing the List-Unsubscribe feature in email campaigns significantly enhances the overall user experience by providing recipients with an easy and transparent way to manage their email preferences. This functionality not only respects user autonomy but also contributes to a cleaner, more relevant inbox.

  • Immediate Unsubscribe Options: The List-Unsubscribe feature typically includes a prominent link or button within the email client, allowing users to unsubscribe from further communications with just one click. This immediate access eliminates the need for navigating through the email to find a small, often hidden unsubscribe link.
  • Reduced Email Clutter: By facilitating a straightforward unsubscribe process, users can quickly remove themselves from unwanted mailing lists, which helps to keep their inboxes free from clutter and irrelevant content.
  • Trust and Transparency: When companies make it easy to unsubscribe, it builds trust. Users feel more in control and are likely to view the organization as transparent and user-friendly. This perception can enhance the overall relationship between the user and the brand.
  • Protection from Spam: An accessible unsubscribe option means users are less likely to resort to marking emails as spam as a way to stop receiving them. This not only helps the user manage their email preferences more efficiently but also aids in keeping their email environment safe and clean.

List-Unsubscribe for Different Email Types

The List-Unsubscribe feature plays a critical role in various types of email communications, but its application and necessity can differ between transactional and marketing emails. Understanding these differences is essential for tailoring your email strategy to be both effective and compliant.

List-Unsubscribe for Transactional Emails: Not Required

  • Typically Optional: Transactional emails, such as order confirmations, shipping notifications, or account alerts, are essential communications that recipients expect as part of a service. Because these emails are often crucial for the recipient, the inclusion of a List-Unsubscribe link is generally optional and less common.
  • Consider User Experience: However, providing an unsubscribe option in transactional emails can still be beneficial. It allows users to opt-out of non-essential updates while maintaining crucial communications, enhancing their control over what they receive.

List-Unsubscribe for Marketing Emails: Mandatory

  • Mandatory Inclusion: For marketing emails, which include promotional content and newsletters, the inclusion of a List-Unsubscribe header is typically mandatory under most email marketing regulations. These regulations are designed to protect consumers from unsolicited emails.
  • Direct Impact on Engagement: Including an easy-to-find unsubscribe option in these emails not only complies with legal requirements but also positively impacts recipient engagement. Users who find it easy to unsubscribe are less likely to mark emails as spam, maintaining the sender's reputation and deliverability.

Technical Requirements for List-Unsubscribe Implementation

Effectively integrating the List-Unsubscribe feature into your email campaigns involves more than just adding a line of text to your email headers. It requires a solid understanding of both the structure of email headers and the infrastructure needed to handle unsubscribe actions efficiently. Let’s walk through the key components you’ll need to set up to make the List-Unsubscribe feature a seamless part of your email communications.

  • List-Unsubscribe header: The List-Unsubscribe header must be formatted correctly to function across different email clients. According to RFC 8058 this header must include at least one HTTPS URL, and can contain other HTTP(S) and/or mailto links. The HTTPS URL is required, while the mailto link is optional and sometimes even completely ignored. Most MBPs will use the first HTTPS URL in the they find in the header and will not use any other links unless POSTing to the first HTTPS URL fails by returning a HTTP status code outside 200-299 range.

    List-Unsubscribe: <>
    List-Unsubscribe: <>,<mailto: [email protected]?subject=unsubscribe>
  • List-Unsubscribe-Post header: According to the RFC The List-Unsubscribe-Post header MUST contain the single key/value pair List-Unsubscribe=One-Click.

    List-Unsubscribe-Post: List-Unsubscribe=One-Click

Requirements for the List-Unsubscribe HTTPS URL

Once the user clicks on the unsubscribe button within their email client, the email client will issue an empty POST request to the HTTPS URL included in the List-Unsubscribe header. 

  • URL parameters: This POST request will not contain any arguments or payload, and therefore it’s necessary that the URL itself includes enough information to uniquely identify the recipient and the mailing list they want to unsubscribe from.
  • No cookies and no authorization: The URL should not require any form of authorization or cookies to work.
  • No redirects: The URL should not issue any HTTPS redirects since POST requests typically don’t work correctly with redirect responses in most environments.
  • Security considerations: URL arguments and parameters should either incorporate an opaque, hard-to-forge component mapped to the user/list combination on your server, without containing any plaintext information like email addresses or lists for unsubscription, or if they include plaintext components, they must also contain a hard-to-forge element validated by your server before processing the unsubscription request. This measure prevents malicious senders from using your one-click unsubscribe URLs in their emails, which could lead to unintended unsubscriptions when recipients mark these unsolicited emails as spam.

Do not unsubscribe with GET requests

Most Mailbox Providers (MBPs) and antivirus software automatically issue GET requests to URLs in an email to check for unsafe or malicious content. If your system processes one-click unsubscriptions through GET requests, automated safety checks could inadvertently unsubscribe all your list members. To prevent this, configure the one-click unsubscribe URL to only process unsubscriptions via POST requests. For GET requests at the List-Unsubscribe URL, it is recommended to display an unsubscription form where the user can confirm their unsubscription by clicking a button as the automated safety mechanisms generally don’t click on buttons and doing this won’t cause unwanted unsubscriptions.

Implementing List-Unsubscribe: technical details

The List-Unsubscribe URL is nothing other than a regular route in your backend code with at least a route handler (controller method) for handling POST calls. As mentioned above, you can also handle the GET requests and show a unsubscription form to improve user experience.

The important part is that the URL should contain enough information for you to be able to uniquely identify the recipient and the mailing list (if necessary) from the URL itself as the POST request won’t have any arguments or payload associated with it.

To prevent malicious actors from forging unsubscribe requests, the URL should either not include any plaintext information about the recipient and the list, or include a key that you can validate in the backend before accepting and processing the request. Therefore, the following URLs are valid and safe:

  •{unsubscribe_key}[email protected]&list=newsletter

but this URL is unsafe and will open your mailing lists to request forgery attacks:

To be able to verify the unsubscribe_key parameter, you need to generate and save a random value and save it in the users table in your database.

Then, for every POST request to the List-Unsubscribe URL, run a query to the database to check if the provided value for the unsubscribe_key parameter matches the email address of the user.

If you decide not to include the email address as a parameter in the List-Unsubscribe URL (e.g.{unsubscribe_key} if you only have a single list that you need to manage, or{unsubscribe_key}?list=newsletter if you have multiple lists), you can use the unsubscribe_key to find the user in your database.

List-Unsubscribe in PHP and Laravel: Code Samples

To implement the described List-Unsubscribe feature in a Laravel application, you would need to manage database changes, update the User model, define routes, and create controller methods for handling the unsubscribe process. Here's a comprehensive guide on setting this up:

1. Database Migration

First, you need to create a migration to add the unsubscribe_key column to the users table. This column will store a unique key for each user, which will be used to handle unsubscribe requests securely.

// Create a new migration file by running:
// php artisan make:migration add_unsubscribe_key_to_users_table

use Illuminate\Database\Migrations\Migration;
use Illuminate\Database\Schema\Blueprint;
use Illuminate\Support\Facades\Schema;

class AddUnsubscribeKeyToUsersTable extends Migration
    public function up()
        Schema::table('users', function (Blueprint $table) {

    public function down()
        Schema::table('users', function (Blueprint $table) {

2. Update the User Model

Next, add the unsubscribe_key field to your User model to make it accessible through the model. You can also implement the boot() method to automatically generate a random string and set the unsubscribe_key attribute before creating a new user.

// In app/Models/User.php
namespace App\Models;

use Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Model;
use Illuminate\Support\Str; // Laravel helper for string operations

class User extends Model
    protected $fillable = [
        'name', 'email', 'password', 'unsubscribe_key',
    protected static function boot()
        // Automatically generate unsubscribe_key before creating a new user
        static::creating(function ($user) {
            $user->unsubscribe_key = Str::random(64); // Generates a 64-character random string

3. Route Definition

Define routes to handle both GET and POST requests for the /unsubscribe/{unsubscribe_key} endpoint.

// In routes/web.php

use App\Http\Controllers\UnsubscribeController;

Route::get('/unsubscribe/{unsubscribe_key}', [UnsubscribeController::class, 'showForm']);
Route::post('/unsubscribe/{unsubscribe_key}', [UnsubscribeController::class, 'unsubscribe']);

4. Unsubscribe Controller Methods

Create a controller to handle the unsubscribe operations. This controller will handle the form display and the actual unsubscribe action.

// Use the command: php artisan make:controller UnsubscribeController

namespace App\Http\Controllers;

use App\Models\User;
use Illuminate\Http\Request;

class UnsubscribeController extends Controller
    public function showForm($unsubscribe_key)
        // Check if the unsubscribe key exists
        $user = User::where('unsubscribe_key', $unsubscribe_key)->firstOrFail();
        return view('unsubscribe_form', compact('user'));

    public function unsubscribe(Request $request, $unsubscribe_key)
        // Validate the unsubscribe key and update user status
        $user = User::where('unsubscribe_key', $unsubscribe_key)->firstOrFail();
        $user->update(['email_subscribed' => false]); // Assuming there's an 'email_subscribed' field
        return view('unsubscribe_done', compact('user'));

This implementation ensures that the unsubscribe process is both user-friendly and secure, aligning with best practices for managing email communications in Laravel applications. Remember to create views for any user-facing pages like the unsubscribe confirmation page or the form page itself.

List-Unsubscribe in Go and Echo: Code Samples

For implementing the List-Unsubscribe feature using Golang and the Echo framework (v4), you need to set up route handlers, manage database operations, and ensure that the unique unsubscribe_key is properly handled. Here’s a step-by-step implementation:

1. Database Setup

Assuming you have a PostgreSQL database, you can use the following SQL commands to add an unsubscribe_key column to your users table:

ALTER TABLE users ADD COLUMN unsubscribe_key TEXT;
ALTER TABLE users ADD CONSTRAINT idx_users_unsubscribe_key_unique UNIQUE (unsubscribe_key);

2. Go Struct Definition

Define a Go struct for the User model to include the unsubscribe_key field. This will be used to interact with the database.

package models

import (

type User struct {
    Email           string
    // Other fields...
    UnsubscribeKey  string `gorm:"unique;not null"`
    IsSubscribed    bool

// BeforeCreate will set a random unsubscribe_key before saving
func (user *User) BeforeCreate(tx *gorm.DB) (err error) {
    uuid := uuid.New() // Generates a unique identifier, alternatively you can generate a random string yourself.
    return scope.SetColumn("unsubscribe_key", uuid.String())

3. Route Definitions

In your Echo router configuration, define routes to handle GET and POST requests:

package main

import (

func main() {
    e := echo.New()
    // Middleware

    // Routes
    e.GET("/unsubscribe/:unsubscribe_key", handlers.ShowUnsubscribeForm)
    e.POST("/unsubscribe/:unsubscribe_key", handlers.HandleUnsubscribe)

    // Start server

4. Handler Functions

You need to create controller functions to show the unsubscribe form and handle the unsubscribe request.

package handlers

import (

// Database instance, you'll need to take care of initializing the db variable somewhere.
var db *gorm.DB

func ShowUnsubscribeForm(c echo.Context) error {
    unsubscribeKey := c.Param("unsubscribe_key")
    var user models.User

    if rows := db.Where("unsubscribe_key = ?", unsubscribeKey).First(&user).RowsAffected; rows == 0 {
        return echo.NewHTTPError(http.StatusNotFound, "Invalid unsubscribe key")

    return c.Render(http.StatusOK, "unsubscribe_form.html", map[string]interface{}{
        "User": user,

func HandleUnsubscribe(c echo.Context) error {
    unsubscribeKey := c.Param("unsubscribe_key")
    var user models.User

    if rows := db.Where("unsubscribe_key = ?", unsubscribeKey).First(&user).RowsAffected; rows == 0 {
        return echo.NewHTTPError(http.StatusNotFound, "Invalid unsubscribe key")

    user.IsSubscribed = false

    return c.Render(http.StatusOK, "unsubscribe_done.html", map[string]interface{}{
        "User": user,

This setup covers the necessary components to implement the List-Unsubscribe functionality in a Golang environment using Echo. Remember to implement the template files unsubscribe_form.html and unsubscribe_done.html. Ensure you handle database errors and other potential issues in your production environment effectively.

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