Network Working Group                                        L. Masinter
Internet-Draft                                                     Adobe
Obsoletes: 2388 (if approved)                             April 28, 2014
Intended status: Standards Track
Expires: October 30, 2014

            Returning Values from Forms: multipart/form-data


   This specification (re)defines the multipart/form-data Internet Media
   Type, which can be used by a wide variety of applications and
   transported by a wide variety of protocols as a way of returning a
   set of values as the result of a user filling out a form.  It
   replaces RFC 2388.

Status of This Memo

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   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

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   This Internet-Draft will expire on October 30, 2014.

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   document authors.  All rights reserved.

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   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.

Table of Contents

   1.  NOTE  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   3.  Advise for Forms and Form Processing  . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   4.  Definition of multipart/form-data . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     4.1.  Boundary  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     4.2.  filename attribute  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     4.3.  Multiple files for one form field . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     4.4.  Content-Type  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     4.5.  The text/plain charset parameter for text fields  . . . .   5
     4.6.  The _charset_ field for default charset . . . . . . . . .   6
     4.7.  Content-Transfer-Encoding deprecated  . . . . . . . . . .   6
     4.8.  Other Content- headers  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   5.  URL encoding non-ASCII values . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   6.  Operability considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     6.1.  Non-ASCII field names and values  . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
       6.1.1.  Avoid creating forms or applications with non-ASCII
               field names . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
       6.1.2.  Interpreting forms and creating form-data . . . . . .   7
       6.1.3.  Parsing and interpreting form data  . . . . . . . . .   8
     6.2.  Ordered fields and duplicated field names . . . . . . . .   8
     6.3.  Interoperability with web applications  . . . . . . . . .   8
     6.4.  Correlating form data with the original form  . . . . . .   8
   7.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   8.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   9.  Media type registration for multipart/form-data . . . . . . .   9
   10. References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
     10.1.  Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
     10.2.  Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   Appendix A.  Changes from RFC 2388  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   Appendix B.  Alternatives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   Author's Address  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12

1.  NOTE

   There is a GitHub repository for this draft at
   masinter/multipart-form-data along with an issue tracker.  This
   specification is a work item of the APPSAWG Applications Area working
   group,  Please raise issues in the tracker,
   and/or send to the apps-discuss list.

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2.  Introduction

   In many applications, it is possible for a user to be presented with
   a form.  The user will fill out the form, including information that
   is typed, generated by user input, or included from files that the
   user has selected.  When the form is filled out, the data from the
   form is sent from the user to the receiving application.

   The definition of "multipart/form-data" is derived from one of those
   applications, originally set out in [RFC1867] and subsequently
   incorporated into [HTML3.2] and [HTML4], where forms are expressed in
   HTML, and in which the form values are sent via HTTP or electronic
   mail.  This representation is widely implemented in numerous web
   browsers and web servers.

   However, "multipart/form-data" is used for forms that are presented
   using representations other than HTML (spreadsheets, PDF, etc.), and
   for transport using means other than electronic mail or HTTP; it is
   used in distributed applications which do not involve forms at all,
   or do not have users filling out the form.  For this reason, this
   document defines a general syntax and semantics independent of the
   application for which it is used, with specific rules for web
   applications noted in context.

3.  Advise for Forms and Form Processing

   The representation and interpretation of forms and the nature of form
   processing is not specified by this document.  However, for forms and
   form-processing that result in generation of multipart/form-data,
   some suggestions are included.

   In a form, there are a generally series of fields, where each field
   is expected to be supplied with a value, e.g., by the user who fills
   out the form.  Each field has a name.  After a form has been filled
   out, and the form's data is to be 'submitted', the form processing
   results in a set of values for each field-- the "form data".

   In forms that work with multipart/form-data, field names are Unicode
   strings, but restricting field names to ASCII avoids some
   interoperability issues.  Within a given form, insuring field names
   are unique is helpful.  Some fields may have default values or
   presupplied values in the form itself.  Fields with presupplied
   values might be hidden or invisible.

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4.  Definition of multipart/form-data

   The media-type "multipart/form-data" roughly follows the model of
   multipart MIME data streams as described in [RFC2046] Section 5.1;
   changes are noted in this document.

   A "multipart/form-data" body contains a series of parts.  Each part
   MUST contain a "Content-Disposition" header [RFC1806] [RFC2183] where
   the disposition type is "form-data".  The Content-Disposition header
   also (optionally) contains an additional parameter of "name"; the
   value of the parameter is the original field name from the form
   (possibly encoded, see Section 6.1).  For example, a part might
   contain a header:

           Content-Disposition: form-data; name="user"

   with the value corresponding to the entry of the "user" field.

4.1.  Boundary

   As with other multipart types, the parts are delimited with a
   boundary, selected such that it does not occur in any of the data.
   Each field of the form is sent, in the order defined by the sending
   application and form, as a part of the multipart stream.  The
   boundary is supplied as a "boundary" parameter to the multipart/form-
   data type, e.g.,


   Note that many sending implementations do not quote the boundary
   parameter, e.g.,


4.2.  filename attribute

   For form data that represents the content of a local file, a name for
   the file SHOULD be supplied as well, by using a "filename" parameter
   of the "Content-Disposition" header.  A file name isn't mandatory;
   file uploads might result from selection or drag-and-drop even in
   systems where the file name is meaningless or private, where the form
   data content is streamed directly from a device, or where the file
   name is not user visible and would be unrecognized.)

   In other multipart types, the MIME headers in each part are
   restricted to US-ASCII, and for compatibility with those systems,
   file names normally visible to users MAY be encoded (using the URL-

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   encoding method in Section 5; this is generally the way that a
   "file:" URI would be encoded.

   However, commonly deployed systems use multipart/form-data with file
   names directly encoded including octets outside the US-ASCII range.
   The encoding used for the file names is typically UTF-8, although
   HTML forms will use the charset associated with the form.

4.3.  Multiple files for one form field

   The form data for a form field might include multiple files.

   Previously, it was suggested that multiple files for a single form
   field could be transmitted using a nested multipart/mixed part.

   To match widely deployed implementations, multiple files MUST be sent
   by supplying each file in a separate part, but all with the same
   "name" parameter.

   Reciving applications intended for wide applicability (e.g.,
   multipart/form-data parsing libraries) SHOULD support the older
   method of nesting.

4.4.  Content-Type

   Each part has an (optional) "Content-Type", which defaults to "text/
   plain".  If the contents of a file are to be sent, the file data
   SHOULD be labeled with an appropriate media type, if known, or

4.5.  The text/plain charset parameter for text fields

   NOTE: The examples in this document should be in Unicode using new
   RFC rules.  Using quoted-printable is deprecated.

   In the case where a field value is text, the charset parameter for
   the "text/plain" Content-Type MAY be used to indicate the character
   encoding used in that part.  For example, a form with a text field in
   which a user typed "Joe owes <eu>100" where <eu> is the Euro symbol
   might have form data returned as:

         content-disposition: form-data; name="field1"
         content-type: text/plain;charset=UTF-8
         content-transfer-encoding: quoted-printable

         Joe owes =E2=82=AC100.

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   In practice, most widely deployed implementations do not supply a
   charset parameter in each part, but, rather, they rely on the notion
   of a "default charset" for a multipart/form-data instance.
   Subsequent sections will explain how the default charset is

4.6.  The _charset_ field for default charset

   Some form processing applications (including HTML) have the
   convention that the value of a form entry with entry name "_charset_"
   and type "hidden" is automatically set when the form is opened; the
   value is used as the default charset of text field values (see form-
   charset in Section 6.1.2).  In such cases, the value of the default
   charset for each text/plain part without a charset parameter is the
   supplied value.  For example:

         content-disposition: form-data; name="_charset_"
         content-type: text/plain

         content-type: text/plain
         content-disposition: form-data; name="field1"

         ...text encoded in iso-8859-1 ...

4.7.  Content-Transfer-Encoding deprecated

   Previously, it was recommended that senders use a "Content-Transfer-
   Encoding" encoding (such ss quoted-printable) for each non-ASCII part
   of a multipart/form-data body.  This recommendation is "deprecated":
   senders MUST NOT send any parts with a content-transfer-encoding
   header.  No deployed implementations that send such bodies have been

4.8.  Other Content- headers

   The "multipart/form-data" media type does not support any MIME
   headers in the parts other than Content-Type and Content-Disposition.

5.  URL encoding non-ASCII values

   Within this specification, "URL-encoding" is offered as a possible
   way of encoidng non-ASCII characters in file names.  The encoding is
   created replacing each non-ASCII or disallowed character with a
   sequence, where each byte of the UTF-8 encoding of the character is

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   represented by a percent-sign (%) followed by the (lower case)
   hexadecimal of that byte.

6.  Operability considerations

6.1.  Non-ASCII field names and values

   Normally, MIME headers in multipart bodies are required to consist
   only of 7-bit data in the US-ASCII character set.  While [RFC2388]
   suggested that non-ASCII field names should be encoded according to
   the method in [RFC2047] if they contain characters outside of US-
   ASCII, this practice doesn't seem to have been followed widely.

   This specification makes three sets of recommendations for three
   different states of workflow.

6.1.1.  Avoid creating forms or applications with non-ASCII field names

   For broadest interoperability with existing deployed software, those
   creating forms SHOULD avoid non-ASCII field names.  This should not
   be a burden, because in general the field names are not visible to

   If non-ASCII field names are unavoidable, form or application
   creators SHOULD use UTF-8 uniformly.  This will minimize
   interoperability problems.

6.1.2.  Interpreting forms and creating form-data

   Some applications of this specification will supply a character
   encoding to be used for interpretation of the multipart/form-data
   body.  In particular, [HTML5] uses:

   1.  The content of a '_charset_' field, if there is one.

   2.  the value of an accept-charset attribute of the <form> element,
       if there is one,

   3.  the character encoding of the document containing the form, if it
       is US-ASCII compatible,

   4.  otherwise UTF-8.

   Call this the form-charset.  Any field name or file name which is not
   in US-ASCII MUST be encoded by the URL-encoding method in Section 5.

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   multipart/form-data parts which do not have a Content-Type header and
   which are not the result of supplying a local file MUST be
   transformed by the same algorithm.

6.1.3.  Parsing and interpreting form data

   While this specification provides guidance for creation of multipart/
   form-data, interpreters of multipart/form-data should be aware of the
   variety of implementations.  File systems differ as to whether and
   how they normalize Unicode names, for example.

   Generally, interpreting "multipart/form-data" (even from conforming
   generators) may require knowing the charset used in form encoding, in
   cases where the _charset_ field value or a charset parameter of a
   text/plain Content-Type header is not supplied.

6.2.  Ordered fields and duplicated field names

   Form processors given forms with a well-defined ordering SHOULD send
   back results in the order received and preserve duplicate field
   names, in order.  Intermediaries MUST NOT reorder the results.  (Note
   that there are some forms which do not define a natural order of

6.3.  Interoperability with web applications

   Many web applications use the "application/x-url-encoded" method for
   returning data from forms.  This format is quite compact, e.g.:


   However, there is no opportunity to label the enclosed data with
   content type, apply a charset, or use other encoding mechanisms.

   Many form-interpreting programs (primarily web browsers) now
   implement and generate multipart/form-data, but an existing
   application might need to optionally support both the application/x
   -url-encoded format as well.

6.4.  Correlating form data with the original form

   This specification provides no specific mechanism by which multipart/
   form-data can be associated with the form that caused it to be
   transmitted.  This separation is intentional; many different forms
   might be used for transmitting the same data.  In practice,
   applications may supply a specific form processing resource (in HTML,
   the ACTION attribute in a FORM tag) for each different form.
   Alternatively, data about the form might be encoded in a "hidden

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   field" (a field which is part of the form but which has a fixed value
   to be transmitted back to the form-data processor.)

7.  IANA Considerations

   IANA please update the registration of multipart/form-data to point
   to this document.

8.  Security Considerations

   It is important when interpreting the filename of the Content-
   Disposition header to not overwrite files in the recipient's file
   space inadvertently.

   User applications that request form information from users must be
   careful not to cause a user to send information to the requestor or a
   third party unwillingly or unwittingly.  For example, a form might
   request 'spam' information to be sent to an unintended third party,
   or private information to be sent to someone that the user might not
   actually intend.  While this is primarily an issue for the
   representation and interpretation of forms themselves (rather than
   the data representation of the form data), the transportation of
   private information must be done in a way that does not expose it to
   unwanted prying.

   With the introduction of form-data that can reasonably send back the
   content of files from a user's file space, the possibility arises
   that a user might be sent an automated script that fills out a form
   and then sends one of the user's local files to another address.
   Thus, additional caution is required when executing automated
   scripting where form-data might include a user's files.

9.  Media type registration for multipart/form-data

   Media Type name:  multipart

   Media subtype name:  form-data

   Required parameters:  boundary

   Optional parameters:  none

   Encoding considerations:  For use in transports that restrict the
      encoding to 7BIT or 8BIT, each part is encoded separately.

   Security considerations:  Applications which receive forms and
      process them must be careful not to supply data back to the
      requesting form processing site that was not intended to be sent

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      by the recipient.  This is a consideration for any application
      that generates a multipart/form-data.  See Section 8 of this

10.  References

10.1.  Normative References

   [RFC1806]  Troost, R. and S. Dorner, "Communicating Presentation
              Information in Internet Messages: The Content-Disposition
              Header", RFC 1806, June 1995.

   [RFC2046]  Freed, N. and N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose Internet Mail
              Extensions (MIME) Part Two: Media Types", RFC 2046,
              November 1996.

   [RFC2047]  Moore, K., "MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions)
              Part Three: Message Header Extensions for Non-ASCII Text",
              RFC 2047, November 1996.

   [RFC2183]  Troost, R., Dorner, S., and K. Moore, "Communicating
              Presentation Information in Internet Messages: The
              Content-Disposition Header Field", RFC 2183, August 1997.

   [RFC2231]  Freed, N. and K. Moore, "MIME Parameter Value and Encoded
              Word Extensions:
              Character Sets, Languages, and Continuations", RFC 2231,
              November 1997.

10.2.  Informative References

   [HTML3.2]  Raggett, D., "HTML 3.2 Reference Specification", World
              Wide Web Consortium Recommendation REC-html32-19970114,
              January 1997, <>.

   [HTML4]    Raggett, D., Hors, A., and I. Jacobs, "HTML 4.0
              Recommendation", World Wide Web Consortium REC-
              html40-971218, December 1997,

   [HTML5]    Berjon, R., Faulkner, S., Leithead, T., Navara, E.,
              O'Connor, E., and S. Pfeiffer, "HTML5", September 2013,

   [RFC1867]  Nebel, E. and L. Masinter, "Form-based File Upload in
              HTML", RFC 1867, November 1995.

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   [RFC2388]  Masinter, L., "Returning Values from Forms: multipart/
              form-data", RFC 2388, August 1998.

Appendix A.  Changes from RFC 2388

   The handling of non-ASCII field names changed-- no longer
   recommending the RFC 2047 method, instead suggesting senders send
   UTF-8 field names directly, and file names directly in the form-

   The handling of multiple files submitted as the result of a single
   form field (e.g., HTML's <input type=file multiple> element) results
   in each file having its own top level part with the same name
   parameter; the method of using a nested "multipart/mixed" from
   [RFC2388] is no longer recommended for creators, and not required for
   recievers as there are no known implementations of senders.

   The _charset_ convention and use of an explicit form-data charset is

   'boundary' is a required parameter in Content-Type.

   The relationship of the ordeng of fields within a form and the
   ordering of returned values within multipart/form-data was not
   defined before, nor was the handling of the case where a form has
   multiple fields with the same name.

   Editorial: Removed obsolete discussion of alternatives in appendix.
   Update references.  Move outline of form processing into

Appendix B.  Alternatives

   There are numerous alternative ways in which form data can be
   encoded; many are listed in [RFC2388] section 5.2.  The multipart/
   form-data encoding is verbose, especially if there are many fields
   with short values.  In most use cases, this overhead isn't

   More problematic is the ambiguity introduced because implementations
   did not follow [RFC2388] because it used "may" instead of "MUST" when
   specifying encoding of field names, and for other unknown reasons, so
   now, parsers need to be more complex for fuzzy matching against the
   possible outputs of various encoding methods.

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Author's Address

   Larry Masinter


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