Email Address Internationalization J. Klensin
Internet-Draft Y. Ko
Obsoletes: RFC4952 ICU
June 25, July 3, 2010
Intended status: Informational
Expires: December 27, 2010 January 4, 2011
Overview and Framework for Internationalized Email
Full use of electronic mail throughout the world requires that,
subject to other constraints, people be able to use close variations
on their own names, written correctly in their own languages and
scripts, as mailbox names in email addresses. This document
introduces a series of specifications that define mechanisms and
protocol extensions needed to fully support internationalized email
addresses. These changes include an SMTP extension and extension of
email header syntax to accommodate UTF-8 data. The document set also
includes discussion of key assumptions and issues in deploying fully
internationalized email. This document is an update of RFC 4952 that
reflects additional issues identified since that document was
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 http://datatracker.ietf.org/drafts/current/.
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 27, 2010. January 4, 2011.
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Table of Contents
1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
2. Role of This Specification . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
3. Problem Statement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
4. Terminology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
4.1. Mail User and Mail Transfer Agents . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
4.2. Address Character Sets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
4.3. User Types . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
4.4. Messages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
4.5. Mailing Lists . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
4.6. Conventional Message and Internationalized Message . . . . 8
4.7. Undeliverable Messages and Notification . . . . . . . . . 8
5. Overview of the Approach . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 8
6. Document Plan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
7. Overview of Protocol Extensions and Changes . . . . . . . . . 9
7.1. SMTP Extension for Internationalized Email Address . . . . 9
7.2. Transmission of Email Header Fields in UTF-8 Encoding . . 11 10
8. Downgrading before and after SMTP Transactions . . . . . . . . 11
8.1. Downgrading before or during Message Submission . . . . . 12
8.2. Downgrading or Other Processing After Final SMTP
Delivery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
9. Downgrading in Transit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
10. User Interface and Configuration Issues . . . . . . . . . . . 13
10.1. Choices of Mailbox Names and Unicode Normalization . . . . 14
11. Additional Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
11.1. Impact on URIs and IRIs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
11.2. Interaction with Delivery Notifications . . . . . . . . . 15
11.3. Use of Email Addresses as Identifiers . . . . . . . . . . 16
11.4. Encoded Words, Signed Messages, and Downgrading . . . . . 16
11.5. LMTP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
11.6. SMTP Service Extension for DSNs . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
11.7. Other Uses of Local Parts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
11.7. Non-Standard Encapsulation Formats . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
12. Experimental Targets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
13. IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 17
14. Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 17
15. Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 19
16. References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 19
16.1. Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 19
16.2. Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 20
Appendix A. Change Log . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
A.1. Changes between -00 and -01 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
[[anchor1: Note to EAI WG: this these two initial draft is drafts are intended to
initiate discussion on what should, and should not, be in the
Framework document and how we want those topics covered. As such, it
is more of an intermediate draft between RFC 4952 and the first draft
of 4952bis that could be a Last Call candidate. If we are going to
keep the rather aggressive schedule we agreed to in the charter, we
need to have enough discussion on critical-path points that a
revision suitable (at least) for final review prior to Last Call can
be posted before the 12 July I-D cutoff. For that to happen, we
should have enough discussion to start determining consensus within
the next ten days. So, focused comments and soon, please.]]
In order to use internationalized email addresses, we need to
internationalize both the domain part and the local part of email
addresses. The domain part of email addresses is already
internationalized [RFC5890], while the local part is not. Without
the extensions specified in this document, the mailbox name is
restricted to a subset of 7-bit ASCII [RFC5321]. Though MIME
[RFC2045] enables the transport of non-ASCII data, it does not
provide a mechanism for internationalized email addresses. In RFC
2047 [RFC2047], MIME defines an encoding mechanism for some specific
message header fields to accommodate non-ASCII data. However, it
does not permit the use of email addresses that include non-ASCII
characters. Without the extensions defined here, or some equivalent
set, the only way to incorporate non-ASCII characters in any part of
email addresses is to use RFC 2047 coding to embed them in what RFC
5322 [RFC5322] calls the "display name" (known as a "name phrase" or
by other terms elsewhere) of the relevant headers. header fields. Information
coded into the display name is invisible in the message envelope and,
for many purposes, is not part of the address at all.
This document is an update of RFC 4952 [RFC4952] that reflects
additional issues, shared terminology, and some architectural changes
identified since that document was published.
The pronouns "he" and "she" are used interchangeably to indicate a
human of indeterminate gender.
The key words "MUST", "SHALL", "REQUIRED", "SHOULD", "RECOMMENDED",
and "MAY" in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC
2. Role of This Specification
This document presents the overview and framework for an approach to
the next stage of email internationalization. This new stage
requires not only internationalization of addresses and headers, header
fields, but also associated transport and delivery models. A prior
version of this specification, RFC 4952 [RFC4952], also provided an
introduction to a series of experimental protocols [RFC5335]
[RFC5336] [RFC5337] [RFC5504] [RFC5721] [RFC5738] [RFC5825].
[[anchor2: Note in Draft: Is 5825 still relevant, or is a victim of
the "no in-transit downgrade" decision.??]]
This revised form document provides overview and conceptual information
for the standards-track successors of those protocols. Details of
the documents and the relationships among them appear in Section 6.
Taken together, these specifications provide the details for a way to
implement and support internationalized email. The document itself
describes how the various elements of email internationalization fit
together and the relationships among the [[anchor3: ??? provides a
roadmap for navigating the]] various documents are involved.
3. Problem Statement
Internationalizing Domain Names in Applications (IDNA) [RFC5890]
permits internationalized domain names, but deployment has not yet
reached most users. One of the reasons for this is that we do not
yet have fully internationalized naming schemes. Domain names are
just one of the various names and identifiers that are required to be
internationalized. In many contexts, until more of those identifiers
are internationalized, internationalized domain names alone have
Email addresses are prime examples of why it is not good enough to
just internationalize the domain name. As most of us have learned
from experience, users strongly prefer email addresses that resemble
names or initials to those involving seemingly meaningless strings of
letters or numbers. Unless the entire email address can use familiar
characters and formats, users will perceive email as being culturally
unfriendly. If the names and initials used in email addresses can be
expressed in the native languages and writing systems of the users,
the Internet will be perceived as more natural, especially by those
whose native language is not written in a subset of a Roman-derived
Internationalization of email addresses is not merely a matter of
changing the SMTP envelope; or of modifying the From, To, and Cc
header fields; or of permitting upgraded Mail User Agents (MUAs) to
decode a special coding and respond by displaying local characters.
To be perceived as usable, the addresses must be internationalized
and handled consistently in all of the contexts in which they occur.
This requirement has far-reaching implications: collections of
patches and workarounds are not adequate. Even if they were
adequate, a workaround-based approach may result in an assortment of
implementations with different sets of patches and workarounds having
been applied with consequent user confusion about what is actually
usable and supported. Instead, we need to build a fully
internationalized email environment, focusing on permitting efficient
communication among those who share a language or other community.
That, in turn, implies changes to the mail header environment to
permit the full range of Unicode characters where that makes sense,
an SMTP Extension to permit UTF-8 [RFC3629] mail addressing and
delivery of those extended headers, header fields, and (finally) a requirement
for support of the 8BITMIME SMTP Extension [RFC1652] so that all of
these can be transported through the mail system without having to
overcome the limitation that headers header fields do not have content-transfer-encodings. content-
This document assumes a reasonable understanding of the protocols and
terminology of the core email standards as documented in [RFC5321]
4.1. Mail User and Mail Transfer Agents
Much of the description in this document depends on the abstractions
of "Mail Transfer Agent" ("MTA") and "Mail User Agent" ("MUA").
However, it is important to understand that those terms and the
underlying concepts postdate the design of the Internet's email
architecture and the application of the "protocols on the wire"
principle to it. That email architecture, as it has evolved, and
that "wire" principle have prevented any strong and standardized
distinctions about how MTAs and MUAs interact on a given origin or
destination host (or even whether they are separate).
However, the term "final delivery MTA" is used in this document in a
fashion equivalent to the term "delivery system" or "final delivery
system" of RFC 5321. This is the SMTP server that controls the
format of the local parts of addresses and is permitted to inspect
and interpret them. It receives messages from the network for
delivery to mailboxes or for other local processing, including any
forwarding or aliasing that changes envelope addresses, rather than
relaying. From the perspective of the network, any local delivery
arrangements such as saving to a message store, handoff to specific
message delivery programs or agents, and mechanisms for retrieving
messages are all "behind" the final delivery MTA and hence are not
part of the SMTP transport or delivery process.
4.2. Address Character Sets
In this document, an address is "all-ASCII", or just an "ASCII
address", if every character in the address is in the ASCII character
repertoire [ASCII]; an address is "non-ASCII", or an "i18n-address",
if any character is not in the ASCII character repertoire. Such
addresses may be restricted in other ways, but those restrictions are
not relevant to this definition. The term "all-ASCII" is also
applied to other protocol elements when the distinction is important,
with "non-ASCII" or "internationalized" as its opposite.
The umbrella term to describe the email address internationalization
specified by this document and its companion documents is
[[anchor7: Note in Draft: Keyword to be changed before publication.]]
For example, an address permitted by this specification is referred
to as a "UTF8SMTPbis (compliant) address".
Please note that, according to the definitions given here, the set of
all "all-ASCII" addresses and the set of all "non-ASCII" addresses
are mutually exclusive. The set of all addresses permitted when
UTF8SMTPbis appears is the union of these two sets.
4.3. User Types
An "ASCII user" (i) exclusively uses email addresses that contain
ASCII characters only, and (ii) cannot generate recipient addresses
that contain non-ASCII characters.
An "i18mail user" has one or more non-ASCII email addresses. Such a
user may have ASCII addresses too; if the user has more than one
email account and a corresponding address, or more than one alias for
the same address, he or she has some method to choose which address
to use on outgoing email. Note that under this definition, it is not
possible to tell from an ASCII address if the owner of that address
is an i18mail user or not. (A non-ASCII address implies a belief
that the owner of that address is an i18mail user.) There is no such
thing as an "i18mail message"; the term applies only to users and
their agents and capabilities.
A "message" is sent from one user (sender) using a particular email
address to one or more other recipient email addresses (often
referred to just as "users" or "recipient users").
A conventional message is one that does not use any extension defined
in the SMTP extension document [RFC5336] or in the UTF8header
specification [RFC5335], and is strictly conformant to RFC 5322
An internationalized message is a message utilizing one or more of
the extensions defined in this specification or in the UTF8header
specification [RFC5335], so that it is no longer conformant to the
RFC 5322 specification of a message.
4.5. Mailing Lists
A "mailing list" is a mechanism whereby a message may be distributed
to multiple recipients by sending it to one recipient address. An
agent (typically not a human being) at that single address then
causes the message to be redistributed to the target recipients.
This agent sets the envelope return address of the redistributed
message to a different address from that of the original single
recipient message. Using a different envelope return address
(reverse-path) causes error (and other automatically generated)
messages to go to an error handling address.
Special provisions for managing mailing lists that might contain non-
ASCII addresses are discussed in a document that is specific to that
4.6. Conventional Message and Internationalized Message
o A conventional message is one that does not use any extension
defined in the SMTP extension document [RFC5336] or in the
UTF8header specification [RFC5335], and is strictly conformant to
RFC 5322 [RFC5322].
o An internationalized message is a message utilizing one or more of
the extensions defined in this specification or in the UTF8header
specification [RFC5335], so that it is no longer conformant to the
RFC 5322 specification of a message.
4.7. Undeliverable Messages and Notification
As specified in RFC 5321, a message that is undeliverable for some
reason is expected to result in notification to the sender. This can
occur in either of two ways. One, typically called "Rejection",
occurs when an SMTP server returns a reply code indicating a fatal
error (a "5yz" code) or persistently returns a temporary failure
error (a "4yz" code). The other involves accepting the message
during SMTP processing and then generating a message to the sender,
typically known as a "Non-delivery Notification" or "NDN". Current
practice often favors rejection over NDNs because of the reduced
likelihood that the generation of NDNs will be used as a spamming
technique. The latter, NDN, case is unavoidable if an intermediate
MTA accepts a message that is then rejected by the next-hop server.
[[anchor13: ??? The term "bounce" is used informally below to cover
both the rejection and NDN cases.]]
5. Overview of the Approach
This set of specifications changes both SMTP and the format character
encoding of email message headers to permit non-ASCII characters to
be represented directly. Each important component of the work is
described in a separate document. The document set, whose members
are described in the next section, also contains informational
documents whose purpose is to provide implementation suggestions and
guidance for the protocols.
6. Document Plan
In addition to this document, the following documents make up this
specification and provide advice and context for it.
[[anchor12: ... Note to WG: if we actually include a list here, the
result will be that this document can be approved, but not published,
until those documents on the list are complete. I'm inclined to list
the SMTP extension and headers documents only and hand-wave about the
rest, but we need to discuss. Version Versions -00 and -01 simply refers refer to
the current Experimental documents --Editor.]]
o SMTP extensions. This document [RFC5336] provides an SMTP
extension (as provided for in RFC 5321) for internationalized
o Email message headers in UTF-8. This document [RFC5335]
essentially updates RFC 5322 to permit some information in email
message headers to be expressed directly by Unicode characters
encoded in UTF-8 when the SMTP extension described above is used.
This document, possibly with one or more supplemental ones, will
also need to address the interactions with MIME, including
relationships between UTF8SMTPbis and internal MIME headers and
o Extensions to the IMAP protocol to support internationalized
message headers [RFC5738].
o Parallel extensions to the POP protocol [RFC5721].
o Description of internationalization changes for delivery
notifications (DSNs) [EAI-DSN]. [RFC5337].
7. Overview of Protocol Extensions and Changes
7.1. SMTP Extension for Internationalized Email Address
An SMTP extension, "UTF8SMTPbis" is specified as follows:
o Permits the use of UTF-8 strings in email addresses, both local
parts and domain names.
o Permits the selective use of UTF-8 strings in email message
headers (see Section 7.2).
o Requires that the server advertise the 8BITMIME extension
[RFC1652] and that the client support 8-bit transmission so that
header information can be transmitted without using a special
Some general principles affect the development decisions underlying
1. Email addresses enter subsystems (such as a user interface) that
may perform charset conversions or other encoding changes. When
the left hand side of the address includes characters outside the
US-ASCII character repertoire, use of punycode on the right hand
side is discouraged to promote consistent processing of
characters throughout the address.
2. An SMTP relay must
* Either recognize the format explicitly, agreeing to do so via
an ESMTP option, or
* Reject the message or, if necessary, return a non-delivery
notification message, so that the sender can make another
3. If the message cannot be forwarded because the next-hop system
cannot accept the extension it MUST be rejected or a non-delivery
message generated and sent.
4. In the interest of interoperability, charsets other than UTF-8
are prohibited in mail addresses and message headers being
transmitted over the Internet. There is no practical way to
identify multiple charsets properly with an extension similar to
this without introducing great complexity.
Conformance to the group of standards specified here for email
transport and delivery requires implementation of the SMTP Extension
specification, including recognition of the keywords associated with
alternate addresses, and the UTF-8 Header specification. If the
system implements IMAP or POP, it MUST conform to the i18n IMAP or
POP specifications respectively.
7.2. Transmission of Email Header Fields in UTF-8 Encoding
There are many places in MUAs or in a user presentation in which
email addresses or domain names appear. Examples include the
conventional From, To, or Cc header fields; Message-ID and
In-Reply-To header fields that normally contain domain names (but
that may be a special case); and in message bodies. Each of these
must be examined from an internationalization perspective. The user
will expect to see mailbox and domain names in local characters, and
to see them consistently. If non-obvious encodings, such as
protocol-specific ASCII-Compatible Encoding (ACE) variants, are used,
the user will inevitably, if only occasionally, see them rather than
"native" characters and will find that discomfiting or astonishing.
Similarly, if different codings are used for mail transport and
message bodies, the user is particularly likely to be surprised, if
only as a consequence of the long-established "things leak"
principle. The only practical way to avoid these sources of
discomfort, in both the medium and the longer term, is to have the
encodings used in transport be as similar to the encodings used in
message headers and message bodies as possible.
When email local parts are internationalized, it seems clear that
they should be accompanied by arrangements for the email message headers to
be in the fully internationalized form. That form should presumably use UTF-8
rather than ASCII as the base character set for the contents of
header fields (protocol elements such as the header field names
themselves will remain entirely in ASCII). For transition purposes
and compatibility with legacy systems, this can done by extending the
encoding models of [RFC2045] and [RFC2231]. However, the target is
fully internationalized message headers, as discussed in [RFC5335]
and not an extended and painful transition.
8. Downgrading before and after SMTP Transactions
An important issue with these extensions is how to handle
interactions between systems that support non-ASCII addresses and
legacy systems that expect ASCII. There is, of course, no problem
with ASCII-only systems sending to those that can handle
internationalized forms because the ASCII forms are just a proper
subset. But, when systems that support these extensions send mail,
they may include non-ASCII addresses for senders, receivers, or both
and might also provide non-ASCII header information other than
addresses. If the extension is not supported by the first-hop system
(SMTP server accessed by the Submission server acting as an SMTP
client), message originating systems should be prepared to either
send conventional envelopes and message headers or to return the
message to the originating user so the message may be manually
downgraded to the traditional form, possibly using encoded words
[RFC2047] in the message headers. Of course, such transformations
imply that the originating user or system must have ASCII-only
addresses available for all senders and recipients. Mechanisms by
which such addresses may be found or identified are outside the scope
of these specifications as are decisions about the design of
originating systems such as whether any required transformations are
made by the user, the originating MUA, or the Submission server.
A somewhat more complex situation arises when the first-hop system
supports these extensions but some subsequent server in the SMTP
transmission chain does not. It is important to note that most cases
of that situation will be the result of configuration errors:
especially if it hosts non-ASCII addresses, a final delivery server
that accepts these extensions should not be configured with lower-
preference MX hosts that do not. While the experiments that preceded
these specifications included a mechanism for passing backup ASCII
addresses to intermediate relay systems and having those systems
alter the headers relevant message header fields and substitute the
addresses, the requirements and long-term implications of that system
proved too complex to be satisfactory. Consequently, if an
intermediate SMTP relay that is transmitting a message that requires
these extensions and discovers that the next system in the chain does
not support them, it will have little choice other than to reject or
return the message.
As discussed above, downgrading to an ASCII-only form may occur
before or during the initial message submission. It might also occur
after the delivery to the final delivery MTA in order to accommodate
messages stores or IMAP or POP servers or clients that have different
capabilities than the delivery MTA. These two cases are discussed in
the subsections below.
8.1. Downgrading before or during Message Submission
Perhaps obviously, the most convenient time to find an ASCII address
corresponding to an internationalized address is at the originating
MUA. This can occur either before the message is sent or after the
internationalized form of the message is rejected. It is also the
most convenient time to convert a message from the internationalized
form into conventional ASCII form or to generate a non-delivery
message to the sender if either is necessary. At that point, the
user has a full range of choices available, including contacting the
intended recipient out of band for an alternate address, consulting
appropriate directories, arranging for translation of both addresses
and message content into a different language, and so on. While it
is natural to think of message downgrading as optimally being a
fully-automated process, we should not underestimate the capabilities
of a user of at least moderate intelligence who wishes to communicate
with another such user.
In this context, one can easily imagine modifications to message
submission servers (as described in [RFC4409]) so that they would
perform downgrading, or perhaps even upgrading, operations, receiving
messages with one or more of the internationalization extensions
discussed here and adapting the outgoing message, as needed, to
respond to the delivery or next-hop environment it encounters.
8.2. Downgrading or Other Processing After Final SMTP Delivery
When an email message is received by a final delivery SMTP server, it
is usually stored in some form. Then it is retrieved either by
software that reads the stored form directly or by client software
via some email retrieval mechanisms such as POP or IMAP.
The SMTP extension described in Section 7.1 provides protection only
in transport. It does not prevent MUAs and email retrieval
mechanisms that have not been upgraded to understand
internationalized addresses and UTF-8 message headers from accessing
stored internationalized emails.
Since the final delivery SMTP server (or, to be more specific, its
corresponding mail storage agent) cannot safely assume that agents
accessing email storage will always be capable of handling the
extensions proposed here, it MAY either downgrade internationalized
emails or specially identify messages that utilize these extensions,
or both. If this is done, the final delivery SMTP server SHOULD
include a mechanism to preserve or recover the original
internationalized forms without information loss to support access by
9. Downgrading in Transit
[[anchor16: Note in Draft and Question for the WG: We could discuss
the various issues with in-transit downgrading including the
complexities of carrying backup addresses, the problems that
motivated the "don't mess with addresses in transit" (paraphrased,
obviously) rule in RFC 5321 and friends, and so on. Or we could omit
it (and this section). Pragmatically, I think it would take us some
time to reach consensus on what, exactly, should be said and that
might delay progress. But input is clearly needed.]] needed -- if it is not
received before we prepared -02, this section will simply be
10. User Interface and Configuration Issues
Internationalization of addresses and message headers, especially in
combination with variations on character coding that are inherent to
Unicode, may make careful choices of addresses and careful
configuration of servers and DNS records even more important than
they are for traditional Internet email. It is likely that, as
experience develops with the use of these protocols, it will be
desirable to produce one or more additional documents that offer
guidance for configuration and interfaces. A document that discusses
issues with mail user agents (MUAs), especially with regard to
downgrading, is expected to be developed in the EAI Working Group.
The subsections below address some other issues.
10.1. Choices of Mailbox Names and Unicode Normalization
It has long been the case the email syntax permits choices about
mailbox names that that are unwise in practice if one actually
intends the mailboxes to be accessible to a broad range of senders.
The most-often-cited examples involve the use of case-sensitivity and
tricky quoting of embedded characters in mailbox local parts. While
these are permitted by the protocols and servers are expected to
support them and there are special cases where they can provide
value, taking advantage of those features is almost always bad
In the absence of this extension, SMTP clients and servers are
constrained to using only those addresses permitted by RFC 5321. The
local parts of those addresses MAY be made up of any ASCII characters
except the control characters that 5321 prohibits, although some of
them MUST be quoted as specified there. It is notable in an
internationalization context that there is a long history on some
systems of using overstruck ASCII characters (a character, a
backspace, and another character) within a quoted string to
approximate non-ASCII characters. This form of internationalization
was permitted by RFC 821 but is prohibited by RFC 5321 because it
requires a backspace character (a prohibited C0 control). The
practice SHOULD be phased out as this extension becomes widely
deployed but backward-compatibility considerations may require that
it continue to be recognized.
For the particular case of EAI mailbox names, special attention must
be paid to Unicode normalization, in part because Unicode strings may
be normalized by other processes independent of what a mail protocol
specifies (this is exactly analogous to what may happen with quoting
and dequoting in traditional addresses). Consequently, the following
principles are offered as advice to those who are selecting names for
o In general, it is wise for servers to support provide addresses only in
Normalized form, form and to normalize strings on receipt, using either
Normalization Form NFC and, except in unusual circumstances, NFKC.
[[anchor19: Note in Draft: "Normalize on receipt" is consistent
with the recommendations in draft-iab-i18n-encoding. The issue
with NFKC is that some of the characters mapped out may be
significant, especially in personal names. Anyone with objections
should speak up. Soon.]]
o It may be wise to support other forms of the same local-part
string, either as aliases or by normalization of strings reaching
the delivery server, in the event that the sender does not send
the strings in normalized form.
o Stated differently and in more specific terms, the rules of the
protocol for local-part strings essentially provide that:
* Unnormalized strings are valid, but sufficiently bad practice
that they may not work reliably on a global basis.
* C0 (and presumably C1) controls (see The Unicode Standard) are
prohibited, the first in RFC 5321 and the second by an obvious
extension from it.
* Other kinds of punctuation, spaces, etc., are risky practice.
Perhaps they will work, and SMTP receiver code is required to
handle them, but creating dependencies on them in mailbox names
that are chosen is usually a bad practice and may lead to
11. Additional Issues
This section identifies issues that are not covered, or not covered
comprehensively, as part of this set of specifications, but that will
require ongoing review as part of deployment of email address and
11.1. Impact on URIs and IRIs
The mailto: schema defined in [RFC2368] and discussed in the
Internationalized Resource Identifier (IRI) specification [RFC3987]
may need to be modified when this work is completed and standardized.
In particular, providing an alternate address as part of a mailto:
URI may require some fairly careful work on the syntax of that URI.
11.2. Interaction with Delivery Notifications
The advent of UTF8SMTPbis will make necessary consideration of the
interaction with delivery notification mechanisms, including the
ASCII-only SMTP extension for requesting delivery notifications
(DSNs) [RFC3461], and the format of delivery notifications [RFC3464]. These issues are
A new document, "International Delivery and Disposition
Notifications" [RFC5337] adds a forthcoming document that will update those RFCs as
[[anchor25: Note in draft: we could just eliminate this section new address type for international
email addresses so an original recipient address with non-ASCII
characters can be correctly preserved even after downgrading. If an
SMTP server advertises both the UTF8SMTPbis and
add the DSN document to extension,
that server MUST implement internationalized DSNs, including support
for the "Document Plan" in Section 6.
Opinions?]] ORCPT parameter.
11.3. Use of Email Addresses as Identifiers
There are a number of places in contemporary Internet usage in which
email addresses are used as identifiers for individuals, including as
identifiers to Web servers supporting some electronic commerce sites.
These documents do not address those uses, but it is reasonable to
expect that some difficulties will be encountered when
internationalized addresses are first used in those contexts, many of
which cannot even handle the full range of addresses permitted today.
11.4. Encoded Words, Signed Messages, and Downgrading
One particular characteristic of the email format is its persistency:
MUAs are expected to handle messages that were originally sent
decades ago and not just those delivered seconds ago. As such, MUAs
and mail filtering software, such as that specified in Sieve
[RFC5228], will need to continue to accept and decode header fields
that use the "encoded word" mechanism [RFC2047] to accommodate non-
ASCII characters in some header fields. While extensions to both
POP3 and IMAP have been proposed to enable automatic EAI-upgrade --
including RFC 2047 decoding -- of messages by the POP3 or IMAP
server, there are message structures and MIME content-types for which
that cannot be done or where the change would have unacceptable side
For example, message parts that are cryptographically signed, using
e.g., S/MIME [RFC3851] or Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) [RFC3156], cannot
be upgraded from the RFC 2047 form to normal UTF-8 characters without
breaking the signature. Similarly, message parts that are encrypted
may contain, when decrypted, header fields that use the RFC 2047
encoding; such messages cannot be 'fully' upgraded without access to
Similar issues may arise if signed messages are downgraded in transit
??? and then an attempt is made to upgrade them to the original form
and then verify the signatures. Even the very subtle changes that
may result from algorithms to downgrade and then upgrade again may be
sufficient to invalidate the signatures if they impact either the
primary or MIME bodypart headers. When signatures are present,
downgrading must be performed with extreme care if at all.
LMTP [RFC2033] may be used as the final delivery agent. In such
cases, LMTP may be arranged to deliver the mail to the mail store.
The mail store may not have UTF8SMTPbis capability. LMTP need to be
updated to deal with these situations.
11.6. SMTP Service Extension for DSNs
The existing Draft Standard Delivery status notifications
(DSNs)[RFC3461] specification is limited to ASCII text in the machine
readable portions of the protocol. "International Delivery and
Disposition Notifications" [EAI-DSN] adds a new address type for
international email addresses so an original recipient address with
non-ASCII characters can be correctly preserved even after
downgrading. If an SMTP server advertises both the UTF8SMTPbis and
the DSN extension, that server MUST implement internationalized DSNs
[EAI-DSN] including support for the ORCPT parameter.
11.7. Other Uses of Local Parts
Local parts are sometimes used to construct domain labels, e.g., the
local part "user" in the address firstname.lastname@example.org could be
converted into a vanity host user.domain.example with its Web space
at <http://user.domain.example> and the catchall addresses
Such schemes are obviously limited by, among other things, the SMTP
rules for domain names, and will not work without further
restrictions for other local parts such as the <utf8-local-part>
specified in [RFC5335]. Whether this issue is relevant to these
specifications is an open question. It may be simply another case of
the considerable flexibility accorded to delivery MTAs in determining
the mailbox names they will accept and how they are interpreted.
11.7. Non-Standard Encapsulation Formats
Some applications use formats similar to the application/mbox format
defined in [RFC4155] instead of the message/digest RFC 2046, Section
5.1.5 [RFC2046] form to transfer multiple messages as single units.
Insofar as such applications assume that all stored messages use the
message/rfc822 RFC 2046, Section 5.2.1 [RFC2046] format with US-ASCII
message headers, they are not ready for the extensions specified in
this series of documents and special measures may be needed to
properly detect and process them.
12. Experimental Targets
[[anchor26: Note in draft: this section is left in this draft for
convenience in review. It will be removed with -01.]] -02.]]
In addition to the simple question of whether the model outlined here
can be made to work in a satisfactory way for upgraded systems and
provide adequate protection for un-upgraded ones, we expect that
actually working with the systems will provide answers to two
additional questions: what restrictions such as character lists or
normalization should be placed, if any, on the characters that are
permitted to be used in address local-parts and how useful, in
practice, will downgrading turn out to be given whatever restrictions
and constraints that must be placed upon it.
13. IANA Considerations
This overview description and framework document does not contemplate
any IANA registrations or other actions. Some of the documents in
the group have their own IANA considerations sections and
14. Security Considerations
Any expansion of permitted characters and encoding forms in email
addresses raises some risks. There have been discussions on so
called "IDN-spoofing" or "IDN homograph attacks". These attacks
allow an attacker (or "phisher") to spoof the domain or URLs of
businesses. The same kind of attack is also possible on the local
part of internationalized email addresses. It should be noted that
the proposed fix involving forcing all displayed elements into
normalized lower-case works for domain names in URLs, but not email
local parts since those are case sensitive.
Since email addresses are often transcribed from business cards and
notes on paper, they are subject to problems arising from confusable
characters (see [RFC4690]). These problems are somewhat reduced if
the domain associated with the mailbox is unambiguous and supports a
relatively small number of mailboxes whose names follow local system
conventions. They are increased with very large mail systems in
which users can freely select their own addresses.
The internationalization of email addresses and message headers must
not leave the Internet less secure than it is without the required
extensions. The requirements and mechanisms documented in this set
of specifications do not, in general, raise any new security issues.
They do require a review of issues associated with confusable
characters -- a topic that is being explored thoroughly elsewhere
(see, e.g., [RFC4690]) -- and, potentially, some issues with UTF-8
normalization, discussed in [RFC3629], and other transformations.
Normalization and other issues associated with transformations and
standard forms are also part of the subject of ongoing work discussed
in [RFC5198], in [RFC5893] and elsewhere.
Some issues specifically related to internationalized addresses and
message headers are discussed in more detail in the other documents
in this set. However, in particular, caution should be taken that
any "downgrading" mechanism, or use of downgraded addresses, does not
inappropriately assume authenticated bindings between the
internationalized and ASCII addresses. Expecting and most or all
such transformations prior to final delivery be done by systems that
are presumed to be under the administrative control of the sending
user ameliorates the potential problem somewhat as compared to what
it would be if the relationships were changed in transit.
The new UTF-8 header and message formats might also raise, or
aggravate, another known issue. If the model creates new forms of an
'invalid' or 'malformed' message, then a new email attack is created:
in an effort to be robust, some or most agents will accept such
message and interpret them as if they were well-formed. If a filter
interprets such a message differently than the final MUA, then it may
be possible to create a message that appears acceptable under the
filter's interpretation but should be rejected under the
interpretation given to it by the final MUA. Such attacks already
exist for existing messages and encoding layers, e.g., invalid MIME
syntax, invalid HTML markup, and invalid coding of particular image
In addition, email addresses are used in many contexts other than
sending mail, such as for identifiers under various circumstances
(see Section 11.3). Each of those contexts will need to be
evaluated, in turn, to determine whether the use of non-ASCII forms
is appropriate and what particular issues they raise.
This work will clearly affect any systems or mechanisms that are
dependent on digital signatures or similar integrity protection for
email message headers (see also the discussion in Section 11.4).
Many conventional uses of PGP and S/MIME are not affected since they
are used to sign body parts but not message headers. On the other
hand, the developing work on domain keys identified mail (DKIM
[RFC5863]) will eventually need to consider this work and vice versa:
while this specification does not address or solve the issues raised
by DKIM and other signed header mechanisms, the issues will have to
be coordinated and resolved eventually if the two sets of protocols
are to co-exist. In addition, to the degree to which email addresses
appear in PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) certificates, standards
addressing such certificates will need to be upgraded to address
these internationalized addresses. Those upgrades will need to
address questions of spoofing by look-alikes of the addresses
[[anchor34: To be upgraded in -01 to point back to 4952]]
This document, document is an update to, and the related ones, were originally derived from
documents by John Klensin and from, RFC 4952. This
document would have been impossible without the JET group [Klensin-emailaddr],
[JET-IMA]. The work drew inspiration from discussions on the "IMAA"
mailing list, sponsored by the Internet Mail Consortium and
especially from an early
contributions acknowledged in it. The present document by Paul Hoffman and Adam Costello
[Hoffman-IMAA] that attempted to define an MUA-only solution to the
address internationalization problem.
More recent documents have benefited
significantly from considerable discussion
within discussions in the IETF EAI Working Group WG and elsewhere after RFC
4952 was published, especially from suggestions and
text provided by Martin Duerst, Frank Ellermann, Philip Guenther,
Kari Hurtta, and Alexey Melnikov, and from extended discussions among about the editors and authors experimental
versions of the core other documents cited in Section 6:
Harald Alvestrand, Kazunori Fujiwara, Chris Newman, Pete Resnick,
Jiankang Yao, Jeff Yeh, and Yoshiro Yoneya.
Additional comments received during IETF Last Call, including those
from Paul Hoffman and Robert Sparks, were helpful in making the
document more clear internationalized email
collection, and comprehensive. from RFC errata on RFC 4952 itself.
16.1. Normative References
[ASCII] American National Standards Institute (formerly
United States of America Standards Institute),
"USA Code for Information Interchange",
ANSI X3.4-1968, 1968.
ANSI X3.4-1968 has been replaced by newer
versions with slight modifications, but the 1968
version remains definitive for the Internet.
[RFC1652] Klensin, J., Freed, N., Rose, M., Stefferud, E.,
and D. Crocker, "SMTP Service Extension for
8bit-MIMEtransport", RFC 1652, July 1994.
[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to
Indicate Requirement Levels'", RFC 2119, BCP 14,
[RFC3629] Yergeau, F., "UTF-8, a transformation format of
ISO 10646", STD 63, RFC 3629, November 2003.
[RFC5321] Klensin, J., "Simple Mail Transfer Protocol",
RFC 5321, October 2008.
[RFC5890] Klensin, J., "Internationalized Domain Names for
Applications (IDNA): Definitions and Document
Framework", RFC 5890, June 2010.
16.2. Informative References
[EAI-DSN] Newman, C., "UTF-8 Delivery and Disposition
Notification", Work in Progress, January 2007.
[EAI-Mailinglist] Gellens, R., "Mailing Lists and
Internationalized Email Addresses", March June 2010,
[Hoffman-IMAA] Hoffman, P. and A. Costello, "Internationalizing
Mail Addresses in Applications (IMAA)", Work
in Progress, October 2003.
[JET-IMA] Yao, J. and J. Yeh, "Internationalized eMail
Address (IMA)", Work in Progress, June 2005.
[Klensin-emailaddr] Klensin, J., "Internationalization of Email
Addresses", Work in Progress, July 2005.
[RFC2033] Myers, J., "Local Mail Transfer Protocol",
RFC 2033, October 1996.
[RFC2045] Freed, N. and N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose
Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) Part One: Format
of Internet Message Bodies", RFC 2045,
[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,
[RFC2231] Freed, N. and K. Moore, "MIME Parameter Value
and Encoded Word Extensions:
Character Sets, Languages, and Continuations",
RFC 2231, November 1997.
[RFC2368] Hoffman, P., Masinter, L., and J. Zawinski, "The
mailto URL scheme", RFC 2368, July 1998.
[RFC3156] Elkins, M., Del Torto, D., Levien, R., and T.
Roessler, "MIME Security with OpenPGP",
RFC 3156, August 2001.
[RFC3461] Moore, K., "Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)
Service Extension for Delivery Status
Notifications (DSNs)", RFC 3461, January 2003.
[RFC3464] Moore, K. and G. Vaudreuil, "An Extensible
Message Format for Delivery Status
Notifications", RFC 3464, January 2003.
[RFC3851] Ramsdell, B., "Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail
Extensions (S/MIME) Version 3.1 Message
Specification", RFC 3851, July 2004.
[RFC3987] Duerst, M. and M. Suignard, "Internationalized
Resource Identifiers (IRIs)", RFC 3987,
[RFC4155] Hall, E., "The application/mbox Media Type",
RFC 4155, September 2005.
[RFC4409] Gellens, R. and J. Klensin, "Message Submission
for Mail", RFC 4409, April 2006.
[RFC4690] Klensin, J., Faltstrom, P., Karp, C., and IAB,
"Review and Recommendations for
Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs)",
RFC 4690, September 2006.
[RFC4952] Klensin, J. and Y. Ko, "Overview and Framework
for Internationalized Email", RFC 4952,
[RFC5198] Klensin, J. and M. Padlipsky, "Unicode Format
for Network Interchange", RFC 5198, March 2008.
[RFC5228] Guenther, P. and T. Showalter, "Sieve: An Email
Filtering Language", RFC 5228, January 2008.
[RFC5322] Resnick, P., Ed., "Internet Message Format",
RFC 5322, October 2008.
[RFC5335] Abel, Y., "Internationalized Email Headers",
RFC 5335, September 2008.
[RFC5336] Yao, J. and W. Mao, "SMTP Extension for
Internationalized Email Addresses", RFC 5336,
[RFC5337] Newman, C. and A. Melnikov, "Internationalized
Delivery Status and Disposition Notifications",
RFC 5337, September 2008.
[RFC5504] Fujiwara, K. and Y. Yoneya, "Downgrading
Mechanism for Email Address
Internationalization", RFC 5504, March 2009.
[RFC5721] Gellens, R. and C. Newman, "POP3 Support for
UTF-8", RFC 5721, February 2010.
[RFC5738] Resnick, P. and C. Newman, "IMAP Support for
UTF-8", RFC 5738, March 2010.
[RFC5825] Fujiwara, K. and B. Leiba, "Displaying
Downgraded Messages for Email Address
Internationalization", RFC 5825, April 2010.
[RFC5863] Hansen, T., Siegel, E., Hallam-Baker, P., and D.
Crocker, "DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM)
Development, Deployment, and Operations",
RFC 5863, May 2010.
[RFC5893] Alvestrand, H. and C. Karp, "Right-to-Left
Scripts for Internationalized Domain Names for
Applications (IDNA)", RFC 5893, June 2010.
Appendix A. Change Log
[[RFC Editor: Please remove this section prior to publication.]]
A.1. Changes between -00 and -01
o Because there has been no feedback on the mailing list, updated
the various questions to refer to this version as well.
o Reflected RFC Editor erratum #1507 by correcting terminology for
headers and header fields and distinguishing between "message
headers" and different sorts of headers (e.g., the MIME ones).
o Merged earlier sections 4.4 and 4.6 into an expanded Section 4.4.
o Merged earlier Section 11.6 into Section 11.2 and eliminated the
note in draft.
o Eliminated former last paragraph of Section 11.4 as an artifact of
o Updated a few references.
John C Klensin
1770 Massachusetts Ave, #322
Cambridge, MA 02140
Phone: +1 617 491 5735
Yuseong-gu, Daejeon 305-732
Republic of Korea