[Docs] [txt|pdf] [draft-goldsmith-m...] [Diff1] [Diff2]

Obsoleted by: 2152 EXPERIMENTAL

Network Working Group                                       D. Goldsmith
Request for Comments: 1642                                      M. Davis
Category: Experimental                                    Taligent, Inc.
                                                               July 1994


                                 UTF-7


              A Mail-Safe Transformation Format of Unicode

Status of this Memo

   This memo defines an Experimental Protocol for the Internet
   community.  This memo does not specify an Internet standard of any
   kind.  Distribution of this memo is unlimited.

Abstract

   The Unicode Standard, version 1.1, and ISO/IEC 10646-1:1993(E)
   jointly define a 16 bit character set (hereafter referred to as
   Unicode) which encompasses most of the world's writing systems.
   However, Internet mail (STD 11, RFC 822) currently supports only 7-
   bit US ASCII as a character set. MIME (RFC 1521 and RFC 1522) extends
   Internet mail to support different media types and character sets,
   and thus could support Unicode in mail messages. MIME neither defines
   Unicode as a permitted character set nor specifies how it would be
   encoded, although it does provide for the registration of additional
   character sets over time.

   This document describes a new transformation format of Unicode that
   contains only 7-bit ASCII characters and is intended to be readable
   by humans in the limiting case that the document consists of
   characters from the US-ASCII repertoire. It also specifies how this
   transformation format is used in the context of RFC 1521, RFC 1522,
   and the document "Using Unicode with MIME".

Motivation

   Although other transformation formats of Unicode exist and could
   conceivably be used in this context (most notably UTF-1 and UTF-8,
   also known as UTF-2 or UTF-FSS), they suffer the disadvantage that
   they use octets in the range decimal 128 through 255 to encode
   Unicode characters outside the US-ASCII range. Thus, in the context
   of mail, those octets must themselves be encoded. This requires
   putting text through two successive encoding processes, and leads to
   a significant expansion of characters outside the US-ASCII range,
   putting non-English speakers at a disadvantage. For example, using



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RFC 1642                         UTF-7                         July 1994


   UTF-FSS together with the Quoted-Printable content transfer encoding
   of MIME represents US-ASCII characters in one octet, but other
   characters may require up to nine octets.

Overview

   UTF-7 encodes Unicode characters as US-ASCII, together with shift
   sequences to encode characters outside that range. For this purpose,
   one of the characters in the US-ASCII repertoire is reserved for use
   as a shift character.

   Many mail gateways and systems cannot handle the entire US-ASCII
   character set (those based on EBCDIC, for example), and so UTF-7
   contains provisions for encoding characters within US-ASCII in a way
   that all mail systems can accomodate.

   UTF-7 should normally be used only in the context of 7 bit
   transports, such as mail and news. In other contexts, straight
   Unicode or UTF-8 is preferred.

   See the document "Using Unicode with MIME" for the overall
   specification on usage of Unicode transformation formats with MIME.

Definitions

   First, the definition of Unicode:

      The 16 bit character set Unicode is defined by "The Unicode
      Standard, Version 1.1". This character set is identical with the
      character repertoire and coding of the international standard
      ISO/IEC 10646-1:1993(E); Coded Representation Form=UCS-2;
      Subset=300; Implementation Level=3.

      Note. Unicode 1.1 further specifies the use and interaction of
      these character codes beyond the ISO standard. However, any valid
      10646 BMP (Basic Multilingual Plane) sequence is a valid Unicode
      sequence, and vice versa; Unicode supplies interpretations of
      sequences on which the ISO standard is silent as to
      interpretation.

   Next, some handy definitions of US-ASCII character subsets:

      Set D (directly encoded characters) consists of the following
      characters (derived from RFC 1521, Appendix B): the upper and
      lower case letters A through Z and a through z, the 10 digits 0-9,
      and the following nine special characters (note that "+" and "="
      are omitted):




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               Character   ASCII & Unicode Value (decimal)
                  '           39
                  (           40
                  )           41
                  ,           44
                  -           45
                  .           46
                  /           47
                  :           58
                  ?           63

      Set O (optional direct characters) consists of the following
      characters (note that "\" and "~" are omitted):

               Character   ASCII & Unicode Value (decimal)
                  !           33
                  "           34
                  #           35
                  $           36
                  %           37
                  &           38
                  *           42
                  ;           59
                  <           60
                  =           61
                  >           62
                  @           64
                  [           91
                  ]           93
                  ^           94
                  _           95
                  `           96
                  {           123
                  |           124
                  }           125

   Rationale. The characters "\" and "~" are omitted because they are
   often redefined in variants of ASCII.

   Set B (Modified Base 64) is the set of characters in the Base64
   alphabet defined in RFC 1521, excluding the pad character "="
   (decimal value 61).

   Rationale. The pad character = is excluded because UTF-7 is designed
   for use within header fields as set forth in RFC 1522. Since the only
   readable encoding in RFC 1522 is "Q" (based on RFC 1521's Quoted-
   Printable), the "=" character is not available for use (without a lot
   of escape sequences). This was very unfortunate but unavoidable. The



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RFC 1642                         UTF-7                         July 1994


   "=" character could otherwise have been used as the UTF-7 escape
   character as well (rather than using "+").

   Note that all characters in US-ASCII have the same value in Unicode
   when zero-extended to 16 bits.

UTF-7 Definition

   A UTF-7 stream represents 16-bit Unicode characters in 7-bit US-ASCII
   as follows:

      Rule 1: (direct encoding) Unicode characters in set D above may be
      encoded directly as their ASCII equivalents. Unicode characters in
      Set O may optionally be encoded directly as their ASCII
      equivalents, bearing in mind that many of these characters are
      illegal in header fields, or may not pass correctly through some
      mail gateways.

      Rule 2: (Unicode shifted encoding) Any Unicode character sequence
      may be encoded using a sequence of characters in set B, when
      preceded by the shift character "+" (US-ASCII character value
      decimal 43). The "+" signals that subsequent octets are to be
      interpreted as elements of the Modified Base64 alphabet until a
      character not in that alphabet is encountered. Such characters
      include control characters such as carriage returns and line
      feeds; thus, a Unicode shifted sequence always terminates at the
      end of a line. As a special case, if the sequence terminates with
      the character "-" (US-ASCII decimal 45) then that character is
      absorbed; other terminating characters are not absorbed and are
      processed normally.

      Rationale. A terminating character is necessary for cases where
      the next character after the Modified Base64 sequence is part of
      character set B. It can also enhance readability by delimiting
      encoded sequences.

      Also as a special case, the sequence "+-" may be used to encode
      the character "+". A "+" character followed immediately by any
      character other than members of set B or "-" is an ill-formed
      sequence.

      Unicode is encoded using Modified Base64 by first converting
      Unicode 16-bit quantities to an octet stream (with the most
      significant octet first). Text with an odd number of octets is
      ill-formed.

      Rationale. ISO/IEC 10646-1:1993(E) specifies that when characters
      in the UCS-2 form are serialized as octets, that the most



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RFC 1642                         UTF-7                         July 1994


      significant octet appear first.  This is also in keeping with
      common network practice of choosing a canonical format for
      transmission.

      Next, the octet stream is encoded by applying the Base64 content
      transfer encoding algorithm as defined in RFC 1521, modified to
      omit the "=" pad character. Instead, when encoding, zero bits are
      added to pad to a Base64 character boundary. When decoding, any
      bits at the end of the Modified Base64 sequence that do not
      constitute a complete 16-bit Unicode character are discarded. If
      such discarded bits are non-zero the sequence is ill-formed.

      Rationale. The pad character "=" is not used when encoding
      Modified Base64 because of the conflict with its use as an escape
      character for the Q content transfer encoding in RFC 1522 header
      fields, as mentioned above.

      Rule 3: The space (decimal 32), tab (decimal 9), carriage return
      (decimal 13), and line feed (decimal 10) characters may be
      directly represented by their ASCII equivalents. However, note
      that MIME content transfer encodings have rules concerning the use
      of such characters. Usage that does not conform to the
      restrictions of RFC 822, for example, would have to be encoded
      using MIME content transfer encodings other than 7bit or 8bit,
      such as quoted-printable, binary, or base64.

   Given this set of rules, Unicode characters which may be encoded via
   rules 1 or 3 take one octet per character, and other Unicode
   characters are encoded on average with 2 2/3 octets per character
   plus one octet to switch into Modified Base64 and an optional octet
   to switch out.

      Example. The Unicode sequence "A<NOT IDENTICAL TO><ALPHA>."
      (hexadecimal 0041,2262,0391,002E) may be encoded as follows:

            A+ImIDkQ.

      Example. The Unicode sequence "Hi Mom <WHITE SMILING FACE>!"
      (hexadecimal 0048, 0069, 0020, 004D, 006F, 004D, 0020, 263A, 0021)
      may be encoded as follows:

            Hi Mom +Jjo-!

      Example. The Unicode sequence representing the Han characters for
      the Japanese word "nihongo" (hexadecimal 65E5,672C,8A9E) may be
      encoded as follows:

            +ZeVnLIqe-



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Use of Character Set UTF-7 Within MIME

   Character set UTF-7 is safe for mail transmission and therefore may
   be used with any content transfer encoding in MIME (except where line
   length and line break restrictions are violated). Specifically, the 7
   bit encoding for bodies and the Q encoding for headers are both
   acceptable. The MIME character set identifier is UNICODE-1-1-UTF-7.

      Example. Here is a text portion of a MIME message containing the
      Unicode sequence "Hi Mom <WHITE SMILING FACE>!" (hexadecimal 0048,
      0069, 0020, 004D, 006F, 004D, 0020, 263A, 0021).

      Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UNICODE-1-1-UTF-7

      Hi Mom +Jjo-!

      Example. Here is a text portion of a MIME message containing the
      Unicode sequence representing the Han characters for the Japanese
      word "nihongo" (hexadecimal 65E5,672C,8A9E).

      Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UNICODE-1-1-UTF-7

      +ZeVnLIqe-

      Example. Here is a text portion of a MIME message containing the
      Unicode sequence "A<NOT IDENTICAL TO><ALPHA>." (hexadecimal
      0041,2262,0391,002E).

      Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UNICODE-1-1-UTF-7

      A+ImIDkQ.

      Example. Here is a text portion of a MIME message containing the
      Unicode sequence "Item 3 is <POUND SIGN>1."  (hexadecimal 0049,
      0074, 0065, 006D, 0020, 0033, 0020, 0069, 0073, 0020, 00A3, 0031,
      002E).

      Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UNICODE-1-1-UTF-7

      Item 3 is +AKM-1.

   Note that to achieve the best interoperability with systems that may
   not support Unicode or MIME, when preparing text for mail
   transmission line breaks should follow Internet conventions. This
   means that lines should be short and terminated with the proper SMTP
   CRLF sequence. Unicode LINE SEPARATOR (hexadecimal 2028) and
   PARAGRAPH SEPARATOR (hexadecimal 2029) should be converted to SMTP
   line breaks. Ideally, this would be handled transparently by a



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RFC 1642                         UTF-7                         July 1994


   Unicode-aware user agent.

   This preparation is not absolutely necessary, since UTF-7 and the
   appropriate MIME content transfer encoding can handle text that does
   not follow Internet conventions, but readability by systems without
   Unicode or MIME will be impaired. See RFC 1521 for an in-depth
   discussion of mail interoperability issues.

   Lines should never be broken in the middle of a UTF-7 shifted
   sequence, since such sequences may not cross line breaks. Therefore,
   UTF-7 encoding should take place after line breaking. If a line
   containing a shifted sequence is too long after encoding, a MIME
   content transfer encoding such as Quoted Printable can be used to
   encode the text. Another possibility is to perform line breaking and
   UTF-7 encoding at the same time, so that lines containing shifted
   sequences already conform to length restrictions.

Discussion

   In this section we will motivate the introduction of UTF-7 as opposed
   to the alternative of using the existing transformation formats of
   Unicode (e.g., UTF-8) with MIME's content transfer encodings. Before
   discussing this, it will be useful to list some assumptions about
   character frequency within typical natural language text strings that
   we use to estimate typical storage requirements:

   1. Most Western European languages use roughly 7/8 of their letters
      from US-ASCII and 1/8 from Latin 1 (ISO-8859-1).

   2. Most non-European alphabet-based languages (e.g., Greek) use about
      1/6 of their letters from ASCII (since white space is in the 7-bit
      area) and the rest from their alphabets.

   3. East Asian ideographic-based languages (including Japanese) use
      essentially all of their characters from the Han or CJK syllabary
      area.

   4. Non-directly encoded punctuation characters do not occur
      frequently enough to affect the results.

   Notice that current 8 bit standards, such as ISO-8859-x, require use
   of a content transfer encoding. For comparison with the subsequent
   discussion, the costs break down as follows (note that many of these
   figures are approximate since they depend on the exact composition of
   the text):






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RFC 1642                         UTF-7                         July 1994


   8859-x in Base64

      Text type          Average octets/character
      All                      1.33

   8859-x in Quoted Printable

      Text type          Average octets/character
      US-ASCII                 1
      Western European         1.25
      Other                    2.67

   Note also that Unicode encoded in Base64 takes a constant 2.67 octets
   per character. For purposes of comparison, we will look at UTF-8 in
   Base64 and Quoted Printable, and UTF-7. UTF-1 gives results
   substantially similar to UTF-8.  Also note that fixed overhead for
   long strings is relative to 1/n, where n is the encoded string length
   in octets.

   UTF-8 in Base64

      Text type          Average octets/character
      US-ASCII                 1.33
      Western European         1.5
      Some Alphabetics         2.44
      All others               4

   UTF-8 in Quoted Printable

      Text type          Average octets/character
      US-ASCII                 1
      Western European         1.63
      Some Alphabetics         5.17
      All others               7-9

   UTF-7

      Text type          Average octets/character
      Most US-ASCII            1
      Western European         1.5
      All others               2.67+2/n

   We feel that the UTF-8 in Quoted Printable option is not viable due
   to the very large expansion of all text except Western European. This
   would only be viable in texts consisting of large expanses of US-
   ASCII or Latin characters with occasional other characters
   interspersed. We would prefer to introduce one encoding that works
   reasonably well for all users.



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RFC 1642                         UTF-7                         July 1994


   We also feel that UTF-8 in Base64 has high expansion for non-
   Western-European users, and is less desirable because it cannot be
   read directly, even when the content is largely US-ASCII. The base
   encoding of UTF-7 gives competitive results and is readable for ASCII
   text.

   UTF-7 gives results competitive with ISO-8859-x, with access to all
   of the Unicode character set. We believe this justifies the
   introduction of a new transformation format of Unicode.

   As an alternative to use of UTF-7, it is possible to intermix Unicode
   characters with other character sets using an existing MIME
   mechanism, the multipart/mixed content type (thanks to Nathaniel
   Borenstein for pointing this out). For instance (repeating an earlier
   example):

      Content-type: multipart/mixed; boundary=foo

      --foo
      Content-type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii

      Hi Mom
      --foo
      Content-type: text/plain; charset=UNICODE-1-1
      Content-transfer-encoding: base64

      Jjo=
      --foo
      Content-type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii

      !
      --foo--

   Theoretically, this removes the need for UTF-7 in message bodies
   (multipart may not be used in header fields). However, we feel that
   as use of the Unicode character set becomes more widespread,
   intermittent use of specialized Unicode characters (such as dingbats
   and mathematical symbols) will occur, and that text will also
   typically include small snippets from other scripts, such as
   Cyrillic, Greek, or East Asian languages (anything in the Roman
   script is already handled adequately by existing MIME character
   sets). Although the multipart technique works well for large chunks
   of text in alternating character sets, we feel it does not adequately
   support the kinds of uses just discussed, and so we still believe the
   introduction of UTF-7 is justified.






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RFC 1642                         UTF-7                         July 1994


Summary

   The UTF-7 encoding allows Unicode characters to be encoded within the
   US-ASCII 7 bit character set. It is most effective for Unicode
   sequences which contain relatively long strings of US-ASCII
   characters interspersed with either single Unicode characters or
   strings of Unicode characters, as it allows the US-ASCII portions to
   be read on systems without direct Unicode support.

   UTF-7 should only be used with 7 bit transports such as mail and
   news. In other contexts, use of straight Unicode or UTF-8 is
   preferred.

Acknowledgements

   Many thanks to the following people for their contributions,
   comments, and suggestions. If we have omitted anyone it was through
   oversight and not intentionally.

         Glenn Adams
         Harald T. Alvestrand
         Nathaniel Borenstein
         Lee Collins
         Jim Conklin
         Dave Crocker
         Steve Dorner
         Dana S. Emery
         Ned Freed
         Kari E. Hurtta
         John H. Jenkins
         John C. Klensin
         Valdis Kletnieks
         Keith Moore
         Masataka Ohta
         Einar Stefferud
         Erik M. van der Poel















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RFC 1642                         UTF-7                         July 1994


Appendix A -- Examples

   Here is a longer example, taken from a document originally in Big5
   code. It has been condensed for brevity. There are two versions: the
   first uses optional characters from set O (and thus may not pass
   through some mail gateways), and the second uses no optional
   characters.

   Content-type: text/plain; charset=unicode-1-1-utf-7

   Below is the full Chinese text of the Analects (+itaKng-).

   The sources for the text are:

   "The sayings of Confucius," James R. Ware, trans.  +U/BTFw-:
   +ZYeB9FH6ckh5Pg-, 1980.  (Chinese text with English translation)

   +Vttm+E6UfZM-, +W4tRQ066bOg-, +UxdOrA-:  +Ti1XC2b4Xpc-, 1990.

   "The Chinese Classics with a Translation, Critical and
   Exegetical Notes, Prolegomena, and Copius Indexes," James
   Legge, trans., Taipei:  Southern Materials Center Publishing,
   Inc., 1991.  (Chinese text with English translation)

   Big Five and GB versions of the text are being made available
   separately.

   Neither the Big Five nor GB contain all the characters used in
   this text.  Missing characters have been indicated using their
   Unicode/ISO 10646 code points.  "U+-" followed by four
   hexadecimal digits indicates a Unicode/10646 code (e.g.,
   U+-9F08).  There is no good solution to the problem of the small
   size of the Big Five/GB character sets; this represents the
   solution I find personally most satisfactory.

   (omitted...)

   I have tried to minimize this problem by using variant
   characters where they were available and the character
   actually in the text was not.  Only variants listed as such in
   the +XrdxmVtXUXg- were used.

   (omitted...)

   John H. Jenkins
   +TpVPXGBG-
   John_Jenkins@taligent.com
   5 January 1993



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RFC 1642                         UTF-7                         July 1994


   (omitted...)


   Content-type: text/plain; charset=unicode-1-1-utf-7

   Below is the full Chinese text of the Analects (+itaKng-).

   The sources for the text are:

   +ACI-The sayings of Confucius,+ACI- James R. Ware, trans.  +U/BTFw-:
   +ZYeB9FH6ckh5Pg-, 1980.  (Chinese text with English translation)

   +Vttm+E6UfZM-, +W4tRQ066bOg-, +UxdOrA-:  +Ti1XC2b4Xpc-, 1990.

   +ACI-The Chinese Classics with a Translation, Critical and
   Exegetical Notes, Prolegomena, and Copius Indexes,+ACI- James
   Legge, trans., Taipei:  Southern Materials Center Publishing,
   Inc., 1991.  (Chinese text with English translation)

   Big Five and GB versions of the text are being made available
   separately.

   Neither the Big Five nor GB contain all the characters used in
   this text.  Missing characters have been indicated using their
   Unicode/ISO 10646 code points.  +ACI-U+-+ACI- followed by four
   hexadecimal digits indicates a Unicode/10646 code (e.g.,
   U+-9F08).  There is no good solution to the problem of the small
   size of the Big Five/GB character sets+ADs- this represents the
   solution I find personally most satisfactory.

   (omitted...)

   I have tried to minimize this problem by using variant
   characters where they were available and the character
   actually in the text was not.  Only variants listed as such in
   the +XrdxmVtXUXg- were used.

   (omitted...)

   John H. Jenkins
   +TpVPXGBG-
   John+AF8-Jenkins+AEA-taligent.com
   5 January 1993
   (omitted...)







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RFC 1642                         UTF-7                         July 1994


Security Considerations

   Security issues are not discussed in this memo.

References

[UNICODE 1.1]  "The Unicode Standard, Version 1.1": Version 1.0, Volume
               1 (ISBN 0-201-56788-1), Version 1.0, Volume 2 (ISBN 0-
               201-60845-6), and "Unicode Technical Report #4, The
               Unicode Standard, Version 1.1" (available from The
               Unicode Consortium, and soon to be published by Addison-
               Wesley).

[ISO 10646]    ISO/IEC 10646-1:1993(E) Information Technology--Universal
               Multiple-octet Coded Character Set (UCS).

[MIME/UNICODE] Goldsmith, D., and M. Davis, "Using Unicode with MIME",
               RFC 1641, Taligent, Inc., July 1994.

[US-ASCII]     Coded Character Set--7-bit American Standard Code for
               Information Interchange, ANSI X3.4-1986.

[ISO-8859]     Information Processing -- 8-bit Single-Byte Coded Graphic
               Character Sets -- Part 1: Latin Alphabet No. 1, ISO
               8859-1:1987.  Part 2: Latin alphabet No.  2, ISO 8859-2,
               1987.  Part 3: Latin alphabet No. 3, ISO 8859-3, 1988.
               Part 4: Latin alphabet No.  4, ISO 8859-4, 1988.  Part 5:
               Latin/Cyrillic alphabet, ISO 8859-5, 1988.  Part 6:
               Latin/Arabic alphabet, ISO 8859-6, 1987.  Part 7:
               Latin/Greek alphabet, ISO 8859-7, 1987.  Part 8:
               Latin/Hebrew alphabet, ISO 8859-8, 1988.  Part 9: Latin
               alphabet No. 5, ISO 8859-9, 1990.

[RFC822]       Crocker, D., "Standard for the Format of ARPA Internet
               Text Messages", STD 11, RFC 822, UDEL, August 1982.

[RFC-1521]     Borenstein N., and N. Freed, "MIME (Multipurpose Internet
               Mail Extensions) Part One:  Mechanisms for Specifying and
               Describing the Format of Internet Message Bodies", RFC
               1521, Bellcore, Innosoft, September 1993.

[RFC-1522]     Moore, K., "Representation of Non-Ascii Text in Internet
               Message Headers" RFC 1522, University of Tennessee,
               September 1993.







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RFC 1642                         UTF-7                         July 1994


[UTF-8]        X/Open Company Ltd., "File System Safe UCS Transformation
               Format (FSS_UTF)", X/Open Preliminary Specification,
               Document Number: P316. This information also appears in
               Unicode Technical Report #4, and in a forthcoming annex
               to ISO/IEC 10646.

Authors' Addresses

   David Goldsmith
   Taligent, Inc.
   10201 N. DeAnza Blvd.
   Cupertino, CA 95014-2233

   Phone: 408-777-5225
   Fax: 408-777-5081
   EMail: david_goldsmith@taligent.com


   Mark Davis
   Taligent, Inc.
   10201 N. DeAnza Blvd.
   Cupertino, CA 95014-2233

   Phone: 408-777-5116
   Fax: 408-777-5081
   EMail: mark_davis@taligent.com

























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