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static
templates
.gitignore
LICENSE.txt
README.md
encryption.py
letters.py
mailfilter.sh
outgoing_email.py
server.py
system_mail_watcher.sh

README.md

Welcome to MARGY!

MARGY is a FREE service for managing confidential letters of recommendation on the academic job market.

Feedback on the site design or notes on functionality continue to be greatly appreciated. If you are a coder, you can also check out our source code on GitHub.

For bugs/specific issues, please create an "Issue" on GitHub. Go to https://github.com/davidfaraci/margy/issues and click "New Issue."

For comments and general suggestions (or if you find a bug but would prefer not to deal with the Issue system), send an email to admin@margymail.com.

Privacy

User privacy is extremely important to us. We endeavor to strike the optimal balance between privacy, system efficiency, and our ability to help users when something goes wrong. In addition to what is publicly available, we have access to:

  • metadata and filenames that show who has uploaded letters for whom*
  • the email blastlist
  • addresses suspected of spamming the system
  • addresses removed from the whitelist through our online form
  • a host of anonymized log data**

We do not have access to the content of the letters. We do not have access to which letters are sent where, with rare exceptions explained below.**

*This is obviously the most sensitive information we have access to. To remove access, we would have to have the system encrypt and decrypt the metadata each time it reads it, which would both slow the system down and make it much harder for us to help when problems arise (it would be even harder to avoid having access to filenames). Given that many people make their references publicly available on their CVs anyway, we suspect most will not object to our having access to this information. If you do have concerns, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

**When a delivery is made, the system logs how many letters were sent to what addresses, but not which letters were sent. The system also logs limited information on failed deliveries, including missing files or metadata and non-whitelisted addresses, so we can help address user issues. Finally, when the system receives an automated message letting it know that an email has failed to send, we cannot avoid logging what email addresses were involved. This last is the only time complete delivery information is logged. However, in rare cases we may be able to infer such information from the logs—e.g., if a user misspells 3 mailto codes, then moments later the system makes 3 deliveries to a whitelisted address.


How to Read the Source Code

If you're interested in understanding how MARGY works, you can view the source code here on GitHub. The following is a brief overview of what you'll find here. The two main files, letters.py and server.py have been heavily commented to ease understanding for those interested but without much relevant experience.

GitHub Contents

  • static (folder) contains files used by all parts of the site, such as fonts and CSS stylesheets, as well as the whitelist
  • templates (folder) contains the html templates for the different site pages as well as the various emails MARGY sends
  • .gitignore tells the system which files not to share publicly (e.g., the folder with all the letters in it!)
  • LICENSE.txt contains a statement of MARGY's copyright
  • README.md contains this README
  • encryption.py contains the functions MARGY uses to encrypt files during upload and to decrypt files for delivery
  • letters.py contains the code for the MARGY website (more below)
  • mailfilter.sh anonymizes the email logs
  • outgoing_email.py contains the functions that server.py uses to send email
  • server.py contains the code for the MARGY email system (more below)
  • system_mail_watcher.sh notifies the administrators when local email is received, which usually only happens if an email failed to send.

LETTERS.PY

letters.py controls what happens when someone visits any page on the MARGY site. It is based on Flask, a Python web development system. Most of what it does is take URL requests and deliver templates. The core page of the MARGY site is the index.html template, which contains the menu and the MARGY title. Each of the full pages you see adds to index.html with an extension template, and these extension templates are rendered by letters.py. For example

@app.route('/upload')
def newletter():
    return render_template('upload.html')

says that when someone goes to margymail.com/upload, the system should render the upload.html template (which is an extension of the index.html template). Most of letters.py is just short bits like this. The exception is @app.routes for /letter and /deliver, which respectively control uploading and web-based deliveries. In the former case, when someone clicks Submit on margymail.com/upload, it triggers /letter. It takes the information provided by the uploader and adds it to metadata.txt (not public). It then creates a unique file name for the letter, encrypts it using functions from encryption.py, and saves it to the letters folder (also not public). It then renders appropriate templates (e.g., saying that a letter has been successfully uploaded). In the latter case, when someone clicks Submit on margymail.com/deliver, it triggers /delivery. It then attempts to send the requested letters to the requested email addresses (assuming they are whitelisted), following a procedure similar to that used by server.py (described below).

SERVER.PY

server.py controls what happens when an email is sent to any @margymail.com address. If you look at the file, after some initial imports and definitions, you'll see a series of email handlers. These are functions that the main function, process_message, uses to send the right email for the right context.

When an email comes in, process_message does the following:

  1. Reads the email (including body and headers) and saves that information for future use.
  2. Checks the body of the message for email addresses.
  3. If the email is directed to certain special addresses (e.g., admin@), it forwards it to me.
  4. Checks whether the system has metadata associated with the incoming mailto code. If not, it sends an error reply.
  5. Decrypts the file associated with that metadata (using the key found in the mailto code) and flags it for attachment.
  6. Checks the email addresses from the incoming email against whitelist.txt. If there are no matches, it sends an error reply.
  7. Sends an email with the decrypted letter as an attachment to each whitelisted address.
  8. Sends a confirmation email to the applicant and the reply-to address (if different).