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IMAP Support for UTF-8

The information below is for an old version of the document that is already published as an RFC.
Document Type
This is an older version of an Internet-Draft that was ultimately published as RFC 6855.
Authors Pete Resnick , Chris Newman , Sean Shen
Last updated 2020-01-21 (Latest revision 2012-11-16)
Replaces draft-ietf-eai-5378bis
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Additional resources Mailing list discussion
Stream WG state WG Document
Document shepherd Dr. John C. Klensin
Shepherd write-up Show Last changed 2012-08-24
IESG IESG state RFC 6855 (Proposed Standard)
Consensus boilerplate Unknown
Telechat date (None)
Responsible AD Barry Leiba
Send notices to (None)
Internet Engineering Task Force                          P. Resnick, Ed.
Internet-Draft                                     Qualcomm Incorporated
Obsoletes: RFC5738 (if approved)                          C. Newman, Ed.
Intended status: Standards Track                                  Oracle
Expires: May 20, 2013                                       S. Shen, Ed.
                                                       November 16, 2012

                         IMAP Support for UTF-8


   This specification extends the Internet Message Access Protocol
   version 4rev1 (IMAP4rev1) to support UTF-8 encoded international
   characters in user names, mail addresses and message headers.  This
   specification replaces RFC 5738.

Status of This Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF).  Note that other groups may also distribute
   working documents as Internet-Drafts.  The list of current Internet-
   Drafts is at

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
   and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any
   time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on May 20, 2013.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2012 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
   ( in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
   carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
   to this document.  Code Components extracted from this document must
   include Simplified BSD License text as described in Section 4.e of

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   the Trust Legal Provisions and are provided without warranty as
   described in the Simplified BSD License.

   This document may contain material from IETF Documents or IETF
   Contributions published or made publicly available before November
   10, 2008.  The person(s) controlling the copyright in some of this
   material may not have granted the IETF Trust the right to allow
   modifications of such material outside the IETF Standards Process.
   Without obtaining an adequate license from the person(s) controlling
   the copyright in such materials, this document may not be modified
   outside the IETF Standards Process, and derivative works of it may
   not be created outside the IETF Standards Process, except to format
   it for publication as an RFC or to translate it into languages other
   than English.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   2.  Conventions Used in this Document  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   3.  UTF8=ACCEPT IMAP Capability and UTF-8 in IMAP Quoted
       Strings  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   4.  IMAP UTF8 Append Data Extension  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   5.  LOGIN Command and UTF-8  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   6.  UTF8=ONLY Capability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
   7.  Dealing With Legacy Clients  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
   8.  Issues with UTF-8 Header Mailstore . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   9.  IANA Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   10. Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
   11. References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
     11.1.  Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
     11.2.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
   Appendix A.  Design Rationale  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   Appendix B.  Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

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1.  Introduction

   This specification forms part of the Email Address
   Internationalization protocols described in the Email Address
   Internationalization Framework document [RFC6530].  It extends
   IMAP4rev1 [RFC3501] to permit UTF-8 [RFC3629] in headers as described
   in "Internationalized Email Headers" [RFC6532].  It also adds a
   mechanism to support mailbox names using the UTF-8 charset.  This
   specification creates two new IMAP capabilities to allow servers to
   advertise these new extensions.

   This specification assumes that the IMAP server will be operating in
   a fully internationalized environment, i.e., one in which all clients
   accessing the server will be able to accept non-ASCII message header
   fields and other information as specified in Section 3.  At least
   during a transition period, that assumption will not be realistic for
   many environments; the issues involved are discussed in Section 7

   This specification replaces an earlier, experimental, approach to the
   same problem [RFC5738].

2.  Conventions Used in this Document

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", and "MAY"
   in this document are to be interpreted as defined in "Key words for
   use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels" [RFC2119].

   The formal syntax uses the Augmented Backus-Naur Form (ABNF)
   [RFC5234] notation.  In addition, rules from IMAP4rev1 [RFC3501],
   UTF-8 [RFC3629], "Collected Extensions to IMAP4 ABNF" [RFC4466], and
   IMAP4 LIST Command Extensions [RFC5258] are also referenced.  This
   document assumes that the reader will have a reasonably good
   understanding of the RFCs above.

   In examples, "C:" and "S:" indicate lines sent by the client and
   server, respectively.  If a single "C:" or "S:" label applies to
   multiple lines, then the line breaks between those lines are for
   editorial clarity only and are not part of the actual protocol

3.  UTF8=ACCEPT IMAP Capability and UTF-8 in IMAP Quoted Strings

   The "UTF8=ACCEPT" capability indicates that the server supports the
   ability to open mailboxes containing internationalized messages with
   SELECT and EXAMINE, and can provide UTF-8 responses to the LIST and
   LSUB commands.  This capability also affects other IMAP extensions
   that can return mailbox names or their prefixes, such as NAMESPACE

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   [RFC2342] and ACL [RFC4314].

   The "UTF8=ONLY" capability described in Section 6 implies the
   "UTF8=ACCEPT" capability.  A server is said to "support UTF8=ACCEPT"
   if it advertises either "UTF8=ACCEPT" or "UTF8=ONLY".

   A client MUST use the "ENABLE" command (defined in [RFC5161]) with
   the "UTF8=ACCEPT" option (defined in Section 4 below) to indicate to
   the server that the client accepts UTF-8 in quoted-strings and
   supports UTF8=ACCEPT extension.  The "ENABLE UTF8=ACCEPT" command is
   only valid in the authenticated state.

   The IMAP4rev1 [RFC3501] base specification forbids the use of 8-bit
   characters in atoms or quoted strings.  Thus, a UTF-8 string can only
   be sent as a literal.  This can be inconvenient from a coding
   standpoint, and unless the server offers IMAP4 non-synchronizing
   literals [RFC2088], this requires an extra round trip for each UTF-8
   string sent by the client.  When the IMAP server supports
   "UTF8=ACCEPT" it supports UTF-8 in quoted-strings with the following

            quoted        =/ DQUOTE *uQUOTED-CHAR DQUOTE
                   ; QUOTED-CHAR is not modified, as it will affect
                   ; other RFC 3501 ABNF non terminal.

            uQUOTED-CHAR  = QUOTED-CHAR / UTF8-2 / UTF8-3 / UTF8-4

            UTF8-2        =   <Defined in Section 4 of RFC3629>

            UTF8-3        =   <Defined in Section 4 of RFC3629>

            UTF8-4        =   <Defined in Section 4 of RFC3629>

   When this extended quoting mechanism is used by the client, then the
   server MUST reject with a "BAD" response any octet sequences with the
   high bit set that fail to comply with the formal syntax in [RFC3629].
   The IMAP server MUST NOT send UTF-8 in quoted strings to the client
   unless the client has indicated support for that syntax by using the
   "ENABLE UTF8=ACCEPT" command.

   If the server supports "UTF8=ACCEPT", the client MAY use extended
   quoted syntax with any IMAP argument that permits a string (including
   astring and nstring).  However, if characters outside the US-ASCII
   repertoire are used in an inappropriate place, the results would be
   the same as if other syntactically valid but semantically invalid
   characters were used.  Specific cases where UTF-8 characters are
   permitted or not permitted are described in the following paragraphs.

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   All IMAP servers that support "UTF8=ACCEPT" SHOULD accept UTF-8 in
   mailbox names, and those that also support the "Mailbox International
   Naming Convention" described in RFC 3501, Section 5.1.3, MUST accept
   utf8-quoted mailbox names and convert them to the appropriate
   internal format.  Mailbox names MUST comply with the Net-Unicode
   Definition ([RFC5198], Section 2) with the specific exception that
   they MUST NOT contain control characters (0000-001F, 0080-009F),
   delete (007F), line separator (2028), or paragraph separator (2029).

   Once an IMAP client has enabled UTF-8 support with the "ENABLE
   UTF8=ACCEPT" command, it MUST NOT issue a SEARCH command that
   contains a CHARSET specification.  If an IMAP server receives such a
   SEARCH command in that situation, it SHOULD reject the command with a
   BAD response (due to the conflicting charset labels).

4.  IMAP UTF8 Append Data Extension

   If the server supports "UTF8=ACCEPT", then the server accepts UTF-8
   headers in the APPEND command message argument.  A client that sends
   a message with UTF-8 headers to the server MUST send them using the
   "UTF8" APPEND data extension.  If the server also advertises the
   CATENATE capability (as specified in [RFC4469]), the client can use
   the same data extension to include such a message in a CATENATE
   message part.  The ABNF for the APPEND data extension and CATENATE
   extension follows:

        utf8-literal   = "UTF8" SP "(" literal8 ")"

        literal8   = <Defined in RFC 4466>

        append-data    =/ utf8-literal

        cat-part       =/ utf8-literal

   If an IMAP server supports "UTF8=ACCEPT" and the IMAP client has not
   issued the "ENABLE UTF8=ACCEPT" command, the server MUST reject with
   a "NO" response an APPEND command that includes any 8-bit character
   in message header fields.

5.  LOGIN Command and UTF-8

   This specification doesn't extend the IMAP LOGIN command [RFC3501] to
   support UTF-8 usernames and passwords.  Whenever a client needs to
   use UTF-8 username/passwords, it MUST use the IMAP AUTHENTICATE
   command which is already capable of passing UTF-8 user names and

   Although the use of the IMAP AUTHENTICATE command in this way makes

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   it syntactically legal to have a UTF-8 user name or password, there
   is no guarantee the user provisioning system used by the IMAP server
   will allow such identities.  This is an implementation decision and
   may depend on what identity system the IMAP server is configured to

6.  UTF8=ONLY Capability

   The "UTF8=ONLY" capability indicates that the server supports
   "UTF8=ACCEPT" (see Section 4), and also that it requires support for
   UTF-8 from clients.  In particular, this means that it will send
   UTF-8 in quoted strings, and it will not accept the older
   international mailbox name convention (modified UTF-7).  Because
   these are incompatible changes to IMAP, explicit server announcement
   and client confirmation is necessary: clients MUST use the "ENABLE
   UTF8=ACCEPT" command before using this server.  A server that
   advertises "UTF8=ONLY" will reject with a "NO [CANNOT]" response any
   command that might require UTF-8 support and is not preceded by an
   "ENABLE UTF8=ACCEPT" command.

   IMAP clients that find support for a server that announces
   "UTF8=ONLY" problematic are encouraged to at least detect the
   announcement and provide an informative error message to the end-

   Because the "UTF8=ONLY" server capability includes support for
   "UTF8=ACCEPT", the capability string will include at most one of
   those and never both.  For the client, "ENABLE UTF8=ACCEPT" is always
   used -- never "ENABLE UTF8-ONLY".

7.   Dealing With Legacy Clients

   In most situations, it will be difficult or impossible for the
   implementer or operator of an IMAP (or POP) server to know whether
   all of the clients that might access it, or the associated mail store
   more generally, will be able to support the facilities defined in
   this document.  In almost all cases, servers who conform to this
   specification will have to be prepared to deal with clients that do
   not enable the relevant capabilities.  Unfortunately, there is no
   completely satisfactory way to do so other than for systems that wish
   to receive email that requires SMTPUTF8 capabilities to be sure that
   all components of those systems -- including IMAP and other clients
   selected by users -- are upgraded appropriately.

   Choices available to the server when a message that requires SMTPUTF8
   is encountered and the client doesn't enable UTF-8 capability include
   hiding the problematic message(s), creating in band or out of band
   notifications or error messages, or somehow trying to create a

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   variation on the message with the intention of providing useful
   information to that client about what has occurred.  Such variant
   messages cannot be actual substitutes for the original message: they
   will almost always be impossible to reply to (either at all or
   without loss of information); the new header fields or specialized
   constructs for server-client communication may go beyond the
   requirements of, e.g., RFC 5322; they may consequently confuse some
   legacy mail user agents (including IMAP clients) or otherwise may not
   provide the expected information to users.  There are also tradeoffs
   in constructing variants of the original message between accepting
   complexity and additional computation costs in order to try to
   preserve as much information as possible (for example, in
   [I-D.ietf-eai-popimap-downgrade]) and trying to minimize those costs
   while still providing useful information (for example, in

   Implementations that choose to do downgrading SHOULD use one of the
   standardized algorithms, [I-D.ietf-eai-popimap-downgrade] or
   [I-D.ietf-eai-simpledowngrade].  Getting downgrade algorithms right,
   and minimizing the risk of operational problems and harm to the email
   system, is tricky and requires careful engineering.  These two
   algorithms are well understood and carefully designed.

   Because such messages are really variations on the original ones, not
   really "downgraded ones" (although that terminology is often used for
   convenience), they inevitably have relationships to the original ones
   that the IMAP specification [RFC3501] did not anticipate.  This
   brings up two concerns in particular: First, digital signatures
   computed over and intended for the original message will often not be
   applicable to the variant message, and will often fail signature
   verification.  (It will be possible for some digital signatures to be
   verified, if they cover only parts of the original message that are
   not affected in the creation of the variant.)  Second, servers that
   may be accessed by the same user with different clients or methods
   (e.g., POP or webmail systems in addition to IMAP or IMAP clients
   with different capabilities) will need to exert extreme care to be
   sure that UIDVALIDITY behaves as the user would expect.  Those issues
   may be especially sensitive if the server caches the variant message
   or computes and stores it when the message arrives with the intent of
   making either form available depending on client capabilities.
   Additionally, in order to cope with the case when a server compliant
   with this extension returns the same UIDVALIDITY to both legacy and
   UTF8=ACCEPT-aware clients, a client upgraded from non UTF8=ACCEPT
   aware MUST discard its cache of messages downloaded from the server.

   The best (or "least bad") approach for any given environment will
   depend on local conditions, local assumptions about user behavior,
   the degree of control the server operator has over client usage and

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   upgrading, the options that are actually available, and so on.  It is
   impossible, at least at the time of publication of this
   specification, to give good advice that will apply to all situations,
   or even particular profiles of situations, other than "upgrade legacy
   clients as soon as possible".

8.  Issues with UTF-8 Header Mailstore

   When an IMAP server uses a mailbox format that supports UTF-8 headers
   and it permits selection or examination of that mailbox without
   issuing "ENABLE UTF8=ACCEPT" first, it is the responsibility of the
   server to comply with the IMAP4rev1 base specification [RFC3501] and
   [RFC5322] with respect to all header information transmitted over the
   wire.  The issue of handling messages containing non-ASCII characters
   in legacy environments is discussed in Section 7.

9.  IANA Considerations

   This document redefines two capabilities ("UTF8=ACCEPT" and
   "UTF8=ONLY") in the IMAP 4 Capabilities registry [RFC3501].  Three
   other capabilities that were described in the experimental
   predecessor to this document (UTF8=ALL, UTF8=APPEND, UTF8=USER) are
   now made OBSOLETE.  IANA is asked to change the IMAP 4 Capabilities
   registry as follows:

      | UTF8=ACCEPT  |  [RFC5738]                |
      | UTF8=ALL     |  [RFC5738]                |
      | UTF8=APPEND  |  [RFC5738]                |
      | UTF8=ONLY    |  [RFC5738]                |
      | UTF8=USER    |  [RFC5738]                |

      | UTF8=ACCEPT  |  [[this RFC]]             |
      | UTF8=ALL     |  OBSOLETE (was [RFC5738]) |
      | UTF8=APPEND  |  OBSOLETE (was [RFC5738]) |
      | UTF8=ONLY    |  [[this RFC]]             |
      | UTF8=USER    |  OBSOLETE (was [RFC5738]) |

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10.  Security Considerations

   The security considerations of UTF-8 [RFC3629] and SASLprep [RFC4013]
   apply to this specification, particularly with respect to use of
   UTF-8 in user names and passwords.  Otherwise, this is not believed
   to alter the security considerations of IMAP4rev1.

   Special considerations, some of them with security implications,
   occur if a server that conforms to this specification is accessed by
   a client that does not, as well as in some more complex situations in
   which a given message is accessed by multiple clients that might use
   different protocols and/or support different capabilities.  Those
   issues are discussed in Section 7 above.

11.  References

11.1.  Normative References

   [RFC2119]                         Bradner, S., "Key words for use in
                                     RFCs to Indicate Requirement
                                     Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119,
                                     March 1997.

   [RFC3501]                         Crispin, M., "INTERNET MESSAGE
                                     ACCESS PROTOCOL - VERSION 4rev1",
                                     RFC 3501, March 2003.

   [RFC3629]                         Yergeau, F., "UTF-8, a
                                     transformation format of ISO
                                     10646", STD 63, RFC 3629,
                                     November 2003.

   [RFC4013]                         Zeilenga, K., "SASLprep: Stringprep
                                     Profile for User Names and
                                     Passwords", RFC 4013,
                                     February 2005.

   [RFC4466]                         Melnikov, A. and C. Daboo,
                                     "Collected Extensions to IMAP4
                                     ABNF", RFC 4466, April 2006.

   [RFC4469]                         Resnick, P., "Internet Message
                                     Access Protocol (IMAP) CATENATE
                                     Extension", RFC 4469, April 2006.

   [RFC5161]                         Gulbrandsen, A. and A. Melnikov,
                                     "The IMAP ENABLE Extension",
                                     RFC 5161, March 2008.

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   [RFC5198]                         Klensin, J. and M. Padlipsky,
                                     "Unicode Format for Network
                                     Interchange", RFC 5198, March 2008.

   [RFC5234]                         Crocker, D. and P. Overell,
                                     "Augmented BNF for Syntax
                                     Specifications: ABNF", STD 68,
                                     RFC 5234, January 2008.

   [RFC5258]                         Leiba, B. and A. Melnikov,
                                     "Internet Message Access Protocol
                                     version 4 - LIST Command
                                     Extensions", RFC 5258, June 2008.

   [RFC6532]                         Yang, A., Steele, S., and N. Freed,
                                     "Internationalized Email Headers",
                                     RFC 6532, February 2012.

   [RFC5322]                         Resnick, P., Ed., "Internet Message
                                     Format", RFC 5322, October 2008.

   [RFC6530]                         Klensin, J. and Y. Ko, "Overview
                                     and Framework for Internationalized
                                     Email", RFC 6530, February 2012.

   [I-D.ietf-eai-popimap-downgrade]  Fujiwara, K., "Post-delivery
                                     Message Downgrading for
                                     Internationalized Email Messages",
                                     (work in progress), October 2012.

   [I-D.ietf-eai-simpledowngrade]    Gulbrandsen, A., "Simplified POP/
                                     IMAP Downgrading for
                                     Internationalized Email",
                                     (work in progress), August 2012.

11.2.  Informative References

   [RFC2088]                         Myers, J., "IMAP4 non-synchronizing
                                     literals", RFC 2088, January 1997.

   [RFC5738]                         Resnick, P. and C. Newman, "IMAP
                                     Support for UTF-8", RFC 5738,
                                     March 2010.

   [RFC2342]                         Gahrns, M. and C. Newman, "IMAP4
                                     Namespace", RFC 2342, May 1998.

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   [RFC4314]                         Melnikov, A., "IMAP4 Access Control
                                     List (ACL) Extension", RFC 4314,
                                     December 2005.

Appendix A.  Design Rationale

   This non-normative section discusses the reasons behind some of the
   design choices in the above specification.

   The basic approach of advertising the ability to access a mailbox in
   UTF-8 mode is intended to permit graceful upgrade, including servers
   that support multiple mailbox formats.  In particular, it would be
   undesirable to force conversion of an entire server mailstore to
   UTF-8 headers, so being able to phase-in support for new mailboxes
   and gradually migrate old mailboxes is permitted by this design.

   The "UTF8=ONLY" mechanism simplifies diagnosis of interoperability
   problems when legacy support goes away.  In the situation where
   backwards compatibility is broken anyway, just-send-UTF-8 IMAP has
   the advantage that it might work with some legacy clients.  However,
   the difficulty of diagnosing interoperability problems caused by a
   just-send-UTF-8 IMAP mechanism is the reason the "UTF8=ONLY"
   capability mechanism was chosen.

Appendix B.  Acknowledgments

   The authors wish to thank the participants of the EAI working group
   for their contributions to this document with particular thanks to
   Harald Alvestrand, David Black, Randall Gellens, Arnt Gulbrandsen,
   Kari Hurtta, John Klensin, Xiaodong Lee, Charles Lindsey, Alexey
   Melnikov, Subramanian Moonesamy, Shawn Steele, Daniel Taharlev, and
   Joseph Yee for their specific contributions to the discussion.

Authors' Addresses

   Pete Resnick (editor)
   Qualcomm Incorporated
   5775 Morehouse Drive
   San Diego, CA  92121-1714

   Phone: +1 858 651 4478

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   Chris Newman (editor)
   800 Royal Oaks
   Monrovia, CA 91016


   Sean Shen (editor)
   No.4 South 4th Zhongguancun Street
   Beijing, 100190

   Phone: +86 10-58813038

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