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Mailing Lists and Non-ASCII Addresses

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 6783.
Authors John R. Levine , Randall Gellens
Last updated 2015-10-14 (Latest revision 2012-07-14)
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Intended RFC status Informational
Additional resources Mailing list discussion
Stream WG state WG Document
Document shepherd Joseph Yee
IESG IESG state Became RFC 6783 (Informational)
Action Holders
Consensus boilerplate Unknown
Telechat date (None)
Responsible AD Pete Resnick
Send notices to (None)
EAI                                                            J. Levine
Internet-Draft                                      Taughannock Networks
Intended status: Informational                                R. Gellens
Expires: December 31, 2012                         Qualcomm Incorporated
                                                               July 2012

                 Mailing Lists and non-ASCII Addresses


   This document describes considerations for mailing lists with the
   introduction of non-ASCII UTF-8 email addresses.  It outlines some
   possible scenarios for handling lists with mixtures of non-ASCII and
   traditional addresses, but does not specify protocol changes or offer
   implementation or deployment advice.

   *NOTE TO REVIEWERS: Missing or odd-looking references between
   sections are due to bugs in xml2rfc.  The XML is OK, and the HTML
   output looks reasonable.*

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 December 31, 2012.

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 (
   license-info) 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

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   extracted from this document must include Simplified BSD License text
   as described in Section 4.e of the Trust Legal Provisions and are
   provided without warranty as described in the Simplified BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  2
     1.1.  Mailing list header additions and modifications  . . . . .  3
     1.2.  Non-ASCII email addresses  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   2.  Scenarios Involving Mailing Lists  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
     2.1.  Fully SMTPUTF8 lists . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
     2.2.  Mixed SMTPUTF8 and ASCII lists . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
     2.3.  SMTP issues  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   3.  List headers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
     3.1.  SMTPUTF8 list headers  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
     3.2.  Downgrading list headers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
     3.3.  Subscribers' addresses in downgraded headers . . . . . . .  8
   4.  Security considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   5.  IANA considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   6.  References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
     6.1.  Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
     6.2.  Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   Appendix A. Change Log . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
     Appendix A.1.  Change from -04 to -05  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
     Appendix A.2.  Change from -03 to -04  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
     Appendix A.3.  Change from -02 to -03  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
     Appendix A.4.  Changes up to -02 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
     Appendix A.5.  Changes up to -00 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
   Authors' Addresses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9

1.  Introduction

   This document describes considerations for mailing lists with the
   introduction of non-ASCII UTF-8 email addresses.  The usage of such
   addresses is described in [RFC6530].

   Mailing lists are an important part of email usage and collaborative
   communications.  The introduction of internationalized email
   addresses affects mailing lists in three main areas: (1) transport
   (receiving and sending messages); (2) message headers of received and
   retransmitted messages; and (3) mailing list operational policies.

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   A mailing list is a mechanism that distributes a message to multiple
   recipients when the originator sends it to a single address.  An
   agent, usually software rather than a person, at that single address
   receives the message and then causes the message to be redistributed
   to a list of recipients.  This agent usually sets the envelope return
   address (henceforth called the bounce address) of the redistributed
   message to a different address from that of the original message.
   Using a different bounce address directs error and other
   automatically generated messages to an error handling address
   associated with the mailing list.  This sends error and other
   automatic messages to the list agent, which can often do something
   useful with them, rather than to the original sender, who typically
   doesn't control the list and hence can't do anything about them.

   In most cases, the mailing list agent redistributes a received
   message to its subscribers as a new message, that is, conceptually it
   uses message submission [RFC6409] (as did the sender of the original
   message).  The exception, where the mailing list is not managed by a
   separate agent that receives and redistributes messages in separate
   transactions, but is implemented by an expansion step within an SMTP
   transaction where one local address expands to multiple local or non-
   local addresses, is not addressed by this document.

1.1.  Mailing list header additions and modifications

   Some list agents alter message header fields, while others do not.  A
   number of standardized list-related header fields have been defined,
   and many lists add one or more of these headers.  Separate from these
   standardized list-specific header fields, and despite a history of
   interoperability problems from doing so, some lists alter or add
   header fields in an attempt to control where replies are sent.  Such
   lists typically add or replace the "Reply-To" field and some add or
   replace the "Sender" field.  Some lists alter or replace other
   fields, including "From".

   Among these list-specific header fields are those specified in RFCs
   2369 [RFC2369] and 2919 [RFC2919].  For more information, see Section

1.2.  Non-ASCII email addresses

   While the mail transport protocol is the same for regular email
   recipients and mailing list recipients, list agents have special
   considerations with non-ASCII email addresses because they retransmit
   messages composed by other agents to potentially many recipients.

   There are considerations for non-ASCII email addresses in the
   envelope as well as in header fields of redistributed messages.  In
   particular, a message with non-ASCII addresses in the headers or
   envelope cannot be sent to non-SMTPUTF8 recipients.

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   With mailing lists, there are two different types of considerations:
   first, the purely technical ones involving message handling, error
   cases, and the like, and second, those that arise from the fact that
   humans use mailing lists to communicate.  As an example of the first,
   list agents might choose to reject all messages from non-ASCII
   addresses if they are unprepared to handle SMTPUTF8 mail.  As an
   example of the second, a user who sends a message to a list often is
   unaware of the list membership.  In particular, the user often
   doesn't know if the members are SMTPUTF8 mail users or not, and often
   neither the original sender nor the recipients personally know each
   other.  As a consequence of this, remedies that may be readily
   available for one-to-one communication might not be appropriate when
   dealing with mailing lists.  For example, if a user sends a message
   which is undeliverable, normally the telephone, instant messaging, or
   other forms of communication are available to obtain a working
   address.  With mailing lists, the users may not have any recourse.
   Of course, with mailing lists, the original sender usually does not
   know which list members successfully received a message, or if it was
   undeliverable to some.

   Conceptually, a mailing list's internationalization can be divided
   into three capabilities: First, does the list have a non-ASCII
   submission address?  Second, does the list agent accept subscriptions
   for addresses containing non-ASCII characters?  And third, does the
   list agent accept messages that require SMTPUTF8 capabilities?

   If a list has subscribers with ASCII addresses, those subscribers
   might or might not be able to accept SMTPUTF8 messages.

2.  Scenarios Involving Mailing Lists

   Generally (and exclusively within the scope of this document), an
   original message is sent to a mailing list as a completely separate
   and independent transaction from the list agent sending the
   retransmitted message to one or more list recipients.  In both cases,
   the message might be addressed only to the list address, or might
   have recipients in addition to the list.  Furthermore, the list agent
   might choose to send the retransmitted message to each list recipient
   in a separate message submission transaction, or might choose to
   include multiple recipients per transaction.  Often, list agents are
   constructed to work in cooperation with, rather than include the
   functionality of, a message submission server, and hence the list
   transmits to a single submission server one copy of the retransmitted
   message.  The submission server then decides which recipients to
   include in which transaction.

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2.1.  Fully SMTPUTF8 lists

   Some lists may wish to be fully SMTPUTF8.  That is, all subscribers
   are expected to be able to receive SMTPUTF8 mail.  For list hygiene
   reasons, such a list would probably want to prevent subscriptions
   from addresses that are unable to receive SMTPUTF8 mail.  If a
   putative subscriber has a non-ASCII address, it must be able to
   receive SMTPUTF8 mail, but there is no way to tell whether a
   subscriber with an ASCII address can receive SMTPUTF8 mail short of
   sending an SMTPUTF8 probe or confirmation message and somehow finding
   out whether it was delivered, e.g., if the user clicked a link in the
   confirmation message.

2.2.  Mixed SMTPUTF8 and ASCII lists

   Other lists may wish to handle a mixture of SMTPUTF8 and ASCII
   subscribers, either as a transitional measure as subscribers upgrade
   to SMTPUTF8-capable mail software, or as an ongoing feature.  While
   it is not possible in general to downgrade SMTPUTF8 mail to ASCII
   mail, list software might divide the recipients into two sets,
   SMTPUTF8 and ASCII recipients, and create a downgraded version of
   SMTPUTF8 list messages to send to ASCII recipients.  See Section 3.2
   and Section 3.3.

   To determine which set an address belongs in, list software might
   make the conservative assumption that ASCII addresses get ASCII
   messages, it might try to probe the address with an SMTPUTF8 test
   message, or it might let the subscriber set the message format
   manually, similar to the way that some lists now let subscribers
   choose between plain text and HTML mail, or individual messages and a
   daily digest.

   To determine whether a message needs to be downgraded for ASCII
   recipients, list software might assume that any message received via
   an SMTPUTF8 SMTP session is an SMTPUTF8 message, or might examine the
   headers and body of the message to see whether it needs SMTPUTF8
   treatment.  Depending on the interface between the list software and
   the MTA and MDA that handle incoming messages, it may not be able to
   tell the type of session for incoming messages.

2.3.  SMTP issues

   Mailing list software usually changes the envelope addresses on each
   message.  The bounce address is set to an address that will return
   bounces to the list agent, and the recipient addresses are set to the
   subscribers of the list.  For some lists, all messages to a list get
   the same bounce address.  For others, list software may create a

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   bounce address per recipient, or a unique bounce address per message
   per recipient, bounce management techniques known as Variable
   Envelope Return Path or VERP [VERP].

   The bounce address for a list typically includes the name of the
   list, so a list with a non-ASCII name will have a non-ASCII bounce
   address.  Given the unknown paths that bounce messages might take,
   list software might instead use an ASCII bounce address to make it
   more likely that bounces can be delivered back to the list agent.
   Similarly, a VERP address for each subscriber typically embeds a
   version of the subscriber's address so the VERP bounce address for a
   non-ASCII subscriber address will be a non-ASCII address.  For the
   same reason, the list software might use ASCII bounce addresses that
   encode the recipient's identity in some other way.

3.  List headers

   List agents typically adds list-specific headers to each message
   before resending the message to list recipients.

3.1.  SMTPUTF8 list headers

   The list headers in RFCs 2369 [RFC2369] and 2919 [RFC2919] were all
   specified before SMTPUTF8 mail existed and their definitions do not
   address where non-ASCII characters might appear.  These include, for

   List-Id: List Header Mailing List
      <> (Contact Person for Help)
   List-Archive: <>

   As described in [RFC2369], "The contents of the list header fields
   mostly consist of angle-bracket ('<', '>') enclosed URLs, with
   internal whitespace being ignored."  [RFC2919] specifies that "The
   list identifier will, in most cases, appear like a host name in a
   domain of the list owner."  Since these headers were defined in the
   context of ASCII mail, these headers permit only ASCII text including
   in the URLs.

   The most commonly-used URI schemes in List-* headers tend to be http
   and mailto [RFC6068], although they sometimes include https and ftp,
   and in principle can contain any valid URI.

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   Even if a scheme permits an internationalized form, it should use a
   pure ASCII form of the URI described in [RFC3986].  Future work may
   extend these header fields or define replacements to directly support
   unencoded non-ASCII outside the ASCII repertoire in these and other
   header fields, but in the absence of such extension or replacement,
   non-ASCII characters can only be included by encoding them as ASCII.

   The encoding technique specified in [RFC3986] is to use a pair of hex
   digits preceded by a percent sign, but percent signs have been used
   informally in mail addresses to do source routing.  Although few mail
   systems still permit source routing, a lot of mail software still
   forbids or escapes characters formerly used for source routing, which
   can lead to unfortunate interactions with percent-encoded URIs or any
   URI that includes one of those characters.  If a program interpreting
   a mailto: URI knew that the MUA in use were able to handle non-ASCII
   data, the program could pass the URI in unencoded non-ASCII, avoiding
   problems with misinterpreted percent signs, but at this point there
   is no standard or even informal way for MUAs to signal SMTPUTF8
   capabilities.  Also, note that whether internationalized domain names
   should be percent-encoded or puny-coded depends on the context in
   which they occur.

   The List-ID header field uniquely identifies a list.  The intent is
   that the value of this header remain constant, even if the machine or
   system used to operate or host the list changes.  This header field
   is often used in various filters and tests, such as client-side
   filters, Sieve filters [RFC5228], and so forth.  If the definition of
   a List-ID header field were to be extended to allow non-ASCII text,
   filters and tests might not properly compare encoded and unencoded
   versions of a non-ASCII value.  In addition to these comparison
   considerations, it is generally desirable that this header field
   contain something meaningful that users can type in.  However, ASCII
   encodings of non-ASCII characters are unlikely to be meaningful to
   users or easy for them to accurately type.

3.2.  Downgrading list headers

   If list software prepares a downgraded version of an SMTPUTF8
   message, all the List-* headers must be downgraded.  In particular,
   if a List-* header contains a non-ASCII mailto (even encoded in
   ASCII), it may be advisable to edit the header to remove the non-
   ASCII address, or replace it with an equivalent ASCII address if one
   is known to the list software.  Otherwise, a client might run into
   trouble if the decoded mailto results in a non-ASCII address.  If a
   header that contains a mailto URL is downgraded by percent encoding,
   some mail software may misinterpret the percent signs as attempted
   source routing.

   When downgrading list headers, it may not be possible to produce a
   downgraded version that is satisfactorily equivalent to the original
   header.  In particular, if a non-ASCII List-ID is downgraded to an
   ASCII version, software and humans at recipient systems will
   typically not be able to tell that both refer to the same list.

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   If lists permit mail with multiple MIME parts, some MIME headers in
   SMTPUTF8 messages may include non-ASCII characters in file names and
   other descriptive text strings.  Downgrading these strings may lose
   the sense of the names, break references from other MIME parts (such
   as HTML IMG references to embedded images) and otherwise damage the

3.3.  Subscribers' addresses in downgraded headers

   List software typically leaves the original submitter's address in
   the From: line, both so that recipients can tell who wrote the
   message, and so that they have a choice of responding to the list or
   directly to the submitter.  If a submitter has a non-ASCII address,
   there is no way to downgrade the From: header and preserve the
   address so that ASCII recipients can respond to it, since non-
   SMTPUTF8 mail systems can't send mail to non-ASCII addresses.

   Possible work arounds (none implemented that we know of) might
   include allowing subscribers with non-ASCII addresses to register an
   alternate ASCII address with the list software, having the list
   software itself create ASCII forwarding addresses, or just putting
   the list's address in the From: line and losing the ability to
   respond directly to the submitter.

4.  Security considerations

   None beyond what mailing list agents do now.

5.  IANA considerations

   *NOTE TO RFC EDITOR: This section may be removed upon publication of
   this document as an RFC.*

   This document makes no requests to IANA.

6.  References

6.1.  Normative References

   [RFC3986]  Berners-Lee, T., Fielding, R. and L. Masinter, "Uniform
              Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax", STD 66, RFC
              3986, January 2005.

   [RFC6068]  Duerst, M., Masinter, L. and J. Zawinski, "The 'mailto'
              URI Scheme", RFC 6068, October 2010.

   [RFC6409]  Gellens, R. and J. Klensin, "Message Submission for Mail",
              STD 72, RFC 6409, November 2011.

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

6.2.  Informative References

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   [RFC2369]  Neufeld, G. and J.D. Baer, "The Use of URLs as Meta-Syntax
              for Core Mail List Commands and their Transport through
              Message Header Fields", RFC 2369, July 1998.

   [RFC2919]  Chandhok, R. and G. Wenger, "List-Id: A Structured Field
              and Namespace for the Identification of Mailing Lists",
              RFC 2919, March 2001.

   [RFC5228]  Guenther, P. and T. Showalter, "Sieve: An Email Filtering
              Language", RFC 5228, January 2008.

   [VERP]     "Variable Envelope Return Path", .

Appendix A.  Change Log

   *NOTE TO RFC EDITOR: This section may be removed upon publication of
   this document as an RFC.*

Appendix A.1.  Change from -04 to -05

   Add place holder IANA considerations

Appendix A.2.  Change from -03 to -04

   Update references

Appendix A.3.  Change from -02 to -03

   Distinguish lists from agents.

   Change refs to EAI to non-ASCII addresses or SMTPUTF8 mail

   Reference for VERP

   Clarify discussions of IRIs.

   CapiTALiZe MaiLto and hTTp ConsistentlY.

Appendix A.4.  Changes up to -02

   Various editorial changes.

   Refer to RFC 6068.

Appendix A.5.  Changes up to -00

   Rewrite completely.

Authors' Addresses

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   John Levine
   Taughannock Networks
   PO Box 727
   Trumansburg, NY 14886
   Phone: +1 831 480 2300

   Randall Gellens
   Qualcomm Incorporated
   5775 Morehouse Drive
   San Diego, CA 92121

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