Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)                          B. Leiba
Request for Comments: 6854                           Huawei Technologies
Updates: 5322                                                 March 2013
Category: Standards Track
ISSN: 2070-1721

       Update to Internet Message Format to Allow Group Syntax in
                the "From:" and "Sender:" Header Fields


   The Internet Message Format (RFC 5322) allows "group" syntax in some
   email header fields, such as "To:" and "CC:", but not in "From:" or
   "Sender:".  This document updates RFC 5322 to relax that restriction,
   allowing group syntax in those latter fields, as well as in
   "Resent-From:" and "Resent-Sender:", in certain situations.

Status of This Memo

   This is an Internet Standards Track document.

   This document is a product of the Internet Engineering Task Force
   (IETF).  It represents the consensus of the IETF community.  It has
   received public review and has been approved for publication by the
   Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG).  Further information on
   Internet Standards is available in Section 2 of RFC 5741.

   Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
   and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2013 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

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

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Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
     1.1.  Notational Conventions  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
       1.1.1.  Requirements Notation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
       1.1.2.  Syntactic Notation  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
   2.  Allowing Group Syntax in "From:" and "Sender:"  . . . . . . . . 3
     2.1.  Replacement of RFC 5322, Section 3.6.2. Originator Fields . 4
     2.2.  Update to RFC 5322, Section 3.6.6. Resent Fields  . . . . . 5
   3.  Applicability Statement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
   4.  Examples  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
   5.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
   6.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
   7.  References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
     7.1.  Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
     7.2.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

1.  Introduction

   The Internet Message Format, as far back as RFC 822 [RFC0822], has
   always required a usable address to appear in the "From:" header
   field of messages in order to allow replies to be sent.  To this end,
   the syntax of messages, up to and including the current specification
   [RFC5322], has required the use of the mailbox address form in the
   originator ("From:" and "Sender:") fields of messages and has
   specifically forbidden the use of the group address form, which
   permits an empty list of addresses (that is, an address list with no
   address included that might be used for a reply).

   However, the use cases for the "From:" field have evolved.  There are
   numerous instances of automated systems that wish to send email but
   cannot handle replies, and a "From:" field with no usable addresses
   would be extremely useful for that purpose.  More recently, work with
   internationalized email addresses [RFC6530] creates a real need to
   take a message with an internationalized email address and hand it to
   an older client that would have no ability to reply to such an
   address but might still wish to display the contents of the message.
   The group construct provides an existing syntax for unusable
   addresses (using the empty list of addresses) and also allows for a
   text label that describes the originator.  For example:

      From: Automated System:;

   A review of many current email programs finds that all reviewed
   clients will properly display a message with group syntax in the
   "From:" field.  At worst, such programs generate an error message
   when an attempt is made to reply to such a message.  No other
   interoperability problems have been discovered.

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   This document therefore updates the Internet Message Format
   specification [RFC5322] to relax that restriction, allowing group
   syntax to be used in the originator ("From:" and "Sender:") fields,
   as well as in their corresponding resent ("Resent-From:" and
   "Resent-Sender:") fields.  This change permits empty groups, as
   described above, and also permits named groups of mailboxes (groups
   with non-empty lists of addresses; see Section 4).  Nevertheless,
   this document recommends against the general use of group syntax in
   these fields at this time (see Section 3).

1.1.  Notational Conventions

   The notational conventions here are the same as those in RFC 5322,
   and the following two subsections are copied directly from that

1.1.1.  Requirements Notation

   This document occasionally uses terms that appear in capital letters.
   When the terms "MUST", "SHOULD", "RECOMMENDED", "MUST NOT", "SHOULD
   NOT", and "MAY" appear capitalized, they are being used to indicate
   particular requirements of this specification.  A discussion of the
   meanings of these terms appears in the Key Words document [RFC2119].

1.1.2.  Syntactic Notation

   This specification uses the Augmented Backus-Naur Form (ABNF)
   [RFC5234] notation for the formal definitions of the syntax of
   messages.  Characters will be specified either by a decimal value
   (e.g., the value %d65 for uppercase A and %d97 for lowercase A) or by
   a case-insensitive literal value enclosed in quotation marks (e.g.,
   "A" for either uppercase or lowercase A).

2.  Allowing Group Syntax in "From:" and "Sender:"

   Section 3.6.2 of RFC 5322 defines the "From:" header field as
   containing a <mailbox-list> syntax element.  This specification
   changes that definition to use the <address-list> syntax element, as
   is used in other fields, such as "To:", "CC:", and "Reply-To:".  This
   specification also changes the definition of the "Sender:" header
   field from the <mailbox> syntax element to the <address> syntax
   element.  While the <address> element includes the <mailbox> element
   already, we have chosen to specify both in the updated syntax as a
   way of highlighting the limited use intended for the change (see
   Section 3).

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   Section 2.1 below is a full replacement for Section 3.6.2 of RFC
   5322, containing the new syntax as well as a new description of the
   semantics for the "From:" and "Sender:" fields.  Section 2.2 below is
   a replacement of only the ABNF syntax for the "Resent-From:" and
   "Resent-Sender:" fields in Section 3.6.6 of RFC 5322; the rest of the
   syntax as well as the descriptive text of Section 3.6.6 of RFC 5322
   remains unchanged.

   [The text in the following section is not consistent within itself
   nor with the rest of this document in how it refers to message header
   fields, sometimes putting the field name in quotation marks and
   sometimes not, sometimes capitalizing the field name and sometimes
   not, and sometimes including the final colon and sometimes not.
   Because minimizing changes to the original text is more important, in
   this case, than attaining consistency, the text in Section 2.1, as
   well as that in Sections 1.1.1 and 1.1.2 above, is left as it was in
   RFC 5322.]

2.1.  Replacement of RFC 5322, Section 3.6.2. Originator Fields

   The originator fields of a message consist of the from field, the
   sender field (when applicable), and optionally the reply-to field.
   The from field consists of the field name "From" and a
   comma-separated list of one or more addresses (either mailbox or
   group syntax).  If the from field contains more than one mailbox
   specification (including all mailboxes included in any groups), then
   the sender field, containing the field name "Sender" and a single
   address, MUST appear in the message.  The from field and the sender
   field SHOULD NOT use group syntax; rather, the from field SHOULD use
   only the mailbox-list syntax and the sender field SHOULD use only
   mailbox syntax (see RFC 6854, Section 3).  If the sender field uses
   group syntax, the group MUST NOT contain more than one mailbox.  In
   either case, an optional reply-to field MAY also be included, which
   contains the field name "Reply-To" and a comma-separated list of one
   or more addresses.

   from = "From:" (mailbox-list / address-list) CRLF

   sender = "Sender:" (mailbox / address) CRLF

   reply-to = "Reply-To:" address-list CRLF

   The originator fields indicate the mailbox(es) of the source of the
   message.  The "From:" field specifies the author(s) of the message,
   that is, the mailbox(es) of the person(s) or system(s) responsible
   for the writing of the message.  The "Sender:" field specifies the
   mailbox of the agent responsible for the actual transmission of the
   message.  For example, if a secretary were to send a message for

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   another person, the mailbox of the secretary would appear in the
   "Sender:" field and the mailbox of the actual author would appear in
   the "From:" field.  If the originator of the message can be indicated
   by a single mailbox and the author and transmitter are identical, the
   "Sender:" field SHOULD NOT be used.  Otherwise, both fields SHOULD

      Note: The transmitter information is always present.  The absence
      of the "Sender:" field is sometimes mistakenly taken to mean that
      the agent responsible for transmission of the message has not been
      specified.  This absence merely means that the transmitter is
      identical to the author and is therefore not redundantly placed
      into the "Sender:" field.

   The originator fields also provide the information required when
   replying to a message.  When the "Reply-To:" field is present, it
   indicates the address(es) to which the author of the message suggests
   that replies be sent.  In the absence of the "Reply-To:" field,
   replies SHOULD by default be sent to the mailbox(es) specified in the
   "From:" field unless otherwise specified by the person composing the

   In all cases, the "From:" field SHOULD NOT contain any mailbox that
   does not belong to the author(s) of the message.  See also Section
   3.6.3 of RFC 5322 [RFC5322] for more information on forming the
   destination addresses for a reply.

2.2.  Update to RFC 5322, Section 3.6.6. Resent Fields

   This section updates RFC 5322, Section 3.6.6, to allow groups (via
   the address-list ABNF production) in the "Resent-From:" and
   "Resent-Sender:" fields, to parallel the change to "From:" and
   "Sender:" above.  The ABNF for these fields is changed as follows:

   resent-from = "Resent-From:" (mailbox-list / address-list) CRLF

   resent-sender = "Resent-Sender:" (mailbox / address) CRLF

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3.  Applicability Statement

   Mailbox syntax is the normal syntax to use in the "From:" and
   "Sender:" header fields; the address syntax defined in Section 2.1,
   which allows the specification of a group, is only for Limited Use
   (see RFC 2026 [RFC2026], Section 3.3, item (d)) for the reasons
   described below.

   Many Internet email procedures and much software assumes that the
   addresses in the "From:" and "Sender:" fields can be replied to and
   are suitable for use in organizing and filtering mail.  The use of
   groups instead of mailboxes can disrupt these uses.  Consequently,
   while this specification legitimizes the use of groups, it does so
   only to enable circumstances when that use is necessary.  Because the
   use of this mechanism is new, it is important that its use be limited
   to these circumstances and that it be used with caution.  In
   particular, user agents SHOULD NOT permit the use of groups in those
   fields in outgoing messages.

4.  Examples

   First, consider an email message that is sent by an automated nightly
   monitor program, to which replies should not be sent.  Such messages
   commonly include a valid, replyable address that will discard any
   replies that are sent to it, but recipients who do reply might be
   unaware that their replies will be discarded.  If the message is
   instead presented as follows, the recipients' email clients will not
   allow them to reply in the first place:

      From: Nightly Monitor Robot:;

   Second, consider an email message that is meant to be "from" the two
   managing partners of a business, Ben and Carol, and that is sent by
   their assistant, Dave.  This message could always have been presented
   this way:


   This change allows it to be represented this way:

      From: Managing,;

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5.  Security Considerations

   See the Internet Message Format specification [RFC5322] for general
   discussion of security considerations related to the formatting of
   email messages.

   The "From:" address is special, in that most user agents display this
   address, or the "friendly" text associated with it, to the end user,
   and label it so as to identify it as the origin of the message (as
   implied in Section 3.6.2 of RFC 5322).  Group syntax in the "From:"
   header field can be used to hide the identity of the message
   originator.  It is just as easy to use a fabricated "From:" address
   to accomplish the same thing, so allowing groups in this field does
   not exacerbate the security problem.

   Some protocols attempt to validate the originator address by matching
   the "From:" address to a particular verified domain (for one such
   protocol, see the Author Domain Signing Practices (ADSP) document
   [RFC5617]).  Such protocols will not be applicable to messages that
   lack an actual email address (whether real or fake) in the "From:"
   field.  Local policy will determine how such messages are handled,
   and senders, therefore, need to be aware that using groups in the
   "From:" might adversely affect deliverability of the message.

   Because groups have previously not been allowed in the "From:" and
   "Sender:" header fields, it is possible that some implementations
   that conform to RFC 5322 might not be prepared to handle the group
   syntax, and, indeed, might not even recognize that group syntax is
   being used.  Of those implementations, some subset might, when
   presented with group syntax in those header fields, behave in a way
   that is exploitable by an attacker.  It is deemed unlikely that this
   will be a serious problem in practice: address field parsing is
   generally an integral component of implementations, and address field
   parsers are required to understand group syntax.  In addition, if any
   implementations should be exploitable through this mechanism, it is
   already possible for attackers to do it by violating RFC 5322.  Other
   violations of RFC 5322 are commonly used by malefactors.

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6.  IANA Considerations

   IANA has updated the "Permanent Message Header Field Names" registry
   to include this document as a reference as follows:

   |  From          |  mail  |  standard  |  [RFC5322]               |

   |  Sender        |  mail  |  standard  |  [RFC5322]               |

   |  Resent-From   |  mail  |  standard  |  [RFC5322]               |

   |  Resent-Sender |  mail  |  standard  |  [RFC5322]               |

   |  From          |  mail  |  standard  |  [RFC5322] [RFC6854]     |

   |  Sender        |  mail  |  standard  |  [RFC5322] [RFC6854]     |

   |  Resent-From   |  mail  |  standard  |  [RFC5322] [RFC6854]     |

   |  Resent-Sender |  mail  |  standard  |  [RFC5322] [RFC6854]     |

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7.  References

7.1.  Normative References

   [RFC2026]  Bradner, S., "The Internet Standards Process -- Revision
              3", BCP 9, RFC 2026, October 1996.

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

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

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

7.2.  Informative References

   [RFC0822]  Crocker, D., "Standard for the format of ARPA Internet
              text messages", STD 11, RFC 822, August 1982.

   [RFC5617]  Allman, E., Fenton, J., Delany, M., and J. Levine,
              "DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) Author Domain Signing
              Practices (ADSP)", RFC 5617, August 2009.

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

Author's Address

   Barry Leiba
   Huawei Technologies

   Phone: +1 646 827 0648

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