Really boring tech standards Re: formats, again

A. Vine avine at ENG.SUN.COM
Fri Apr 23 18:38:21 UTC 1999

Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM wrote:
> Andrea Vine replies to my post thus:
> >>>
> Sorry, but MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions, RFC 2045-2049) and
> quoted-printable are the standard, and are often out of the control of the
> user.  Email clients should handle MIME and quoted-printable without the
> knowledge of the user.  Whether the list server can handle it is another story,
> but I assure you that every message I send is reasonably MIME compliant, and if
> there are 8-bit characters in the text, they are encoded as quoted-printable.
> <<<
> "The standard"...
> Q: How many Microsoft programmers does it take to change a light bulb?
> A: None. They just declare darkness to be the standard.
> I don't know if MIME quoted printable is automatically set up by MS's emailers,
> or, if so, whether that's what causes you to call them "the standard". I do know
> that at the office (as now) I get my email through Lotus Notes, the company
> standard over which I have no control, and I see those godsrotted equal signs
> all the time. (Hmm... what does your mailreader do on the digest, which has all
> sorts of stuff mixed together? That's how I subscribe.) My personal account is
> on my ISP's Unix machine, which I access through terminal emulation, and there
> too I see the [unprintable] "quoted-printable" format.

Sun is not Microsoft.  One of the things we try to do is follow the industry
standards whenever there are any.  Since you asked, here goes:

There is an organization called the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force)
which, to use their words "is a large open international community of network
designers, operators, vendors, and researchers concerned with the evolution of
the Internet architecture and the smooth operation of the Internet. It is open
to any interested individual."

People inside and outside of the IETF submit proposals for standards called
first Internet-Drafts, then RFCs (Request For Comments).  These Drafts/RFCs go
through several stages of review and revision, until they are either accepted or
rejected.  There are different categories of RFCs, e.g. Informational and
Standards-track.  Once a Standards-track RFC has jumped through all the hoops,
it becomes a standard.

If you're really dying for more information on this, please see

For email, there are many, many standards we must comply with.  The point of
complying with standards is _interoperability_.  The emails you call plain text
are not plain text, otherwise they would never find you.  They must, at a
minimum, comply with RFC 822, the basis of all email formatting.

As far as MIME is concerned - it is out of the control of most users.  Even if
your client allows you to turn off MIME (which encompasses RFC 2045-2049, plus a
few extensions, in other words, full IETF standards), some servers will reformat
your message in MIME.  Furthermore, if you try to send 8-bit text through the
Internet (e.g. accented characters), it breaks some older transfer agents and
clients.  So those 8-bit chars must be converted to 7-bit chars, hence giving us
the transfer encodings called uuencode, base64, and, of course, quoted-printable
(if you think quoted printable is ugly, take a look at the other 2).

The fact that your mail client is unable to handle MIME is unfortunate, but it
is unfair to ask other folks to try and change something out of their control. 
They could just as easily request that you get a more standards-compliant

In any case, Barry was emailing as someone else's guest.  I suspect he didn't
feel he could ask that person to reconfigure his email so that Barry could send
a note to the list.

> Repeat, repeat, repeat: There IS NO universally-readable format except plain

I will add that plain ASCII is not very readable if you're Chinese.

Andrea Vine
Sun Internet Mail Server i18n architect
avine at
Remember: stressed is desserts spelled backwards.

More information about the Ads-l mailing list