RFC 886
Request For Comments:  886

     Proposed Standard for Message Header Munging

       Thu Dec 15 03:37:52 1983

   Marshall T. Rose

    Department of Information and Computer Science
   University of California, Irvine
   Irvine, CA 92717


    This memo proposes a standard for the ARPA Internet community. If
    this proposal is adopted, hosts on the ARPA Internet that do message
    translation would be expected to adopt and implement this standard.

Request For Comments:  886 M. Rose
Proposed Standard for Message Header Munging      UCI


    This memo describes the rules that are to be used when mail is
    transformed from one standard format to another.  The scope of this
    memo is limited to text messages (computer network mail, or
    electronic mail) that traverse the ARPA Internet.  This memo is not
    presented as a replacement or amendment for the "Standard for the
    Format of ARPA Internet Text Messages", RFC822.  Rather, this memo
    focuses on a particular aspect of mail, and provides a conceptual
    and practical basis for implementors of transport agents and user
    agents which support message munging.

    Although this memo has been specifically prepared for use with the
    822 standard, an understanding of the 822 standard is not required
    to make use of this memo.  The remainder of this section reminds
    the reader of some key concepts presented in the 822 standard, and
    how they relate to the perspective of this memo.

    Messages are viewed as consisting of an envelope and contents.  The
    envelope is manipulated solely by transport agents, and contains
    the information required by the transport agents to deliver the
    message to its recipients.  Although this memo does not address
    itself directly to the envelope, we shall see that some of the
    rules discussed later are applicable to the envelope.

    The contents of the message consists of a rigorously structured
    part, known as the headers, followed by a freely formated part,
    called the body.  The message body is completely uninteresting to
    us.  Our emphasis is strictly on the headers of the message.  Each
    header in the message consists of a field, its value, and a
    terminating end-of-line sequence.  The 822 standard discusses,
    among other things, continuation lines, the syntax that is used to
    distinguish between fields and values, and the syntax and semantics
    of the values of various fields.  For our part, we shall concern
    ourselves only with the notion that the headers section consists of
    one or more headers, which are divided into one or more field/value

    The term "message munging" refers to the actions taken by a
    transport or user agent to transform the contents of a message from
    conformance with one standard format to another.  The 822 standard
    refers to this as "Network-Specific Transformation".  Other phrases
    might be "header munging" or "mail filtering".  Regardless of the
    term used, the key notion is that this action transforms a message
    from its current format (the source message) to the structure
    required by the target standard.  A "munging agent", for the
    purposes of this memo, is an entity which performs message munging.
    A munging agent may be part of either a transport or user agent.

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Request For Comments:  886 M. Rose
Proposed Standard for Message Header Munging      UCI


    As more networks connect into the ARPA Internet community, their
    users will exchange computer mail messages with other Internet
    hosts.  Although the 822 standard must be strictly adhered to for
    mail that traverses the ARPA Internet, other networks might not
    internally adopt this standard.  It is nevertheless desirable to
    permit mail to flow between hosts which internally conform to the
    standard and those which do not.  The 822 standard is very clear to
    indicate that:

"This standard is NOT intended to dictate the internal formats
used by sites, the specific message system features that they
are expected to support, or any of the characteristics of user
interface programs that create or read messages."

    This plainly states that even hosts within the ARPA Internet, may
    opt to use a different standard than 822 for their internal use,
    but they are expressly required to use the 822 standard when
    transferring mail to other hosts in the ARPA Internet.  As such, it
    is not difficult to imagine message munging becoming a common
    activity among transport and user agents.

    There are other reasons why message munging may become a widespread
    practice.  An example from CSnet will serve here.  The CSnet relays
    provide authorized access for mail services to the ARPA Internet
    for the CSnet phonenet sites.  CSnet sites are not registered with
    the NIC, and hence are often absent from the host tables of ARPA
    Internet sites.  As a result, addresses for mailboxes on CSnet
    phonenet sites are unknown to ARPA Internet sites.  From an ARPA
    Internet site, it would be impossible to send messages to these
    addresses, since the local transport agent has no handle on the
    destination hosts of the phonenet mailboxes.  Obviously, even
    replying to a such a message is simply not possible.  To solve this
    problem, the transport agents on the CSnet relays perform message
    munging on mail destined for the ARPA Internet.  Phonenet addresses
    of the form "mbox@host" are transformed to "mbox.host@relay", where
    "relay" is the ARPA Internet host name of the relay performing the
    transformation.  Other addresses are left alone.  Agents throughout
    the ARPA Internet are now able to process these addresses, since
    the host-part is a known ARPA Internet host.

    The source-routing solution to this problem will hopefully be
    replaced by domain handling when domains are implemented in the ARPA
    Internet.  When this is the case, phonenet addresses of the form
    "mbox@host" will become "mbox@host.CSNET".  Despite this change,
    (which cannot help but be for the better, as the use of
    source-routing leads to a plethora of problems), message munging
    will still occur as it will most likely be necessary to add domain
    names during message transmission (see section 6.2.2 of the 822

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Request For Comments:  886 M. Rose
Proposed Standard for Message Header Munging      UCI


    For an alternate reason, consider that it is not unlikely for users
    to wish to transform mail from their archives which conforms to an
    older standard to the current standard.  There could be many
    reasons for this, although a common one would be that a user wishes
    to re-introduce the message into the transport system.  Although
    the aged message was perfectly valid when it was composed (e.g., in
    the days of the 733 standard), it might no longer conform to the
    current standard (i.e., 822).  In this case, a user agent would
    have to perform message munging, in order to make the message
    acceptable to the local transport agent.

    To summarize, even under the most "homogeneous" of environments,
    message munging will still be required on the part of transport and
    user agents, under certain conditions.

    Section 3.4.10 of the 822 standard briefly discusses the topic of
    "Network-Specific Transformations".  In short, the 822 standard
    envisions a message traversing net-A to reach net-B as going
    through three phases:

o Transformation
  The message is made to conform to net-A's standards

o Transformation Reversal
  Net-A's idiosyncrasies are removed and the message now
  conforms to the 822 standard

o Transformation
  The message is made to conform to net-B's standards

    This memo concerns itself solely with this section of the 822
    standard.  The 822 standard presents end-of-line sequences as an
    example of an area where transformation might occur.  Although this
    is a valid concern, our emphasis deals with constructs of higher
    semantics: fields and structured field values.

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Request For Comments:  886 M. Rose
Proposed Standard for Message Header Munging      UCI


    This memo does not specify the particular transformation rules that
    should be used when munging a message from one standard to another.

    Rather, this memo attempts to make clear the policies that are to
    be followed when implementing any munging agent for the ARPA
    Internet.  The derivation of the formulas specific to message
    munging between two given standards is left to the implementors of
    such munging systems or to the writers of future RFCs.  As such,
    this memo can be considered to present the philosophy and
    conceptual basis of message munging in the ARPA Internet.

NOTE:  It is critical that this position be understood.  The
actual policies used by domain-specific munging agents is
completely beyond the scope of this memo.

    For ease of explanation, some of the examples in this memo use
    message munging between the ARPA Internet and the USENET
    distribution network as an example.  This memo should NOT be
    considered to specify how this particular munging activity should
    take place.  Instead, this context has been chosen for its
    familiarity and simplicity.

Message Decomposition

    A munging agent concerns itself with transforming a message in
    conformance with a source standard to a message in conformance with a
    target standard.  This transformation occurs at various levels.  Four
    of these are presented here.

    o Field Transformation

For two standards, some fields may convey identical semantics
but have different names.  As standards progress, for
example, the names of fields may change, but the presence of
those fields and their contents continue to have the same
meaning.  For example, prior to 822 standard, some mailers
considered the Remailed- prefix to have semantics equivalent
to the 822 standard's Resent- prefix.  In this circumstance,
one aspect of message munging would be to simply substitute
the field names.

    o Value Transformation

The value of certain fields may be viewed as containing

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Request For Comments:  886 M. Rose
Proposed Standard for Message Header Munging      UCI

structured components.  The syntax and semantics of these
components may differ significantly between two formats.  In
this circumstance, one aspect of message munging would be to
transform components from one representation to another.

    o Field/Value Combination

The semantics of a given header in a particular standard may
not be directly expressed using a single header from another
standard.  In this circumstance, one aspect of message munging
would be to map the field/value of a header in the source
message to any number of headers in the target message (or
vice-versa).  As expected, further complication could result
by performing value transformation in addition to one-to-many
or many-to-one field transformation.

    o Header Ordering

Some standards may require that fields appear in a particular
order in the headers part of the message.  Others make no
requirements as to the order in which the fields appear.  In
this circumstance, one aspect of message munging from the
latter to the former standard would be to capture the essential
information from the source message in order to construct the
first field of the target message. As expected, further
complication could result by requiring several field/values be
consulted in the source message before sufficient context is
present to construct the first field of the target message.

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Request For Comments:  886 M. Rose
Proposed Standard for Message Header Munging      UCI

    Canonical Forms

    Fundamental to the activity of transformation is the notion of a
    canonical form.  For a given message standard, each field and
    structured field value may be thought of as an object with a
    particular semantics that is representable by one or more strings.
    That is, each of these strings has an identical semantics, as they
    all refer to the same object.  For example, in terms of the 822
    standard, the two strings

The Protocol Police <NetSer@UCI>


    are semantically equivalent.  For the purposes of this memo, a
    fully-qualified canonical form of an object is thought of as the
    simplest string that represents the full and complete meaning of an
    object.  The meaning of "simple" is, of course, open to
    interpretation.  In some cases, "simplest" may mean "shortest".  In
    other cases, a longer, but unabbreviated string may be "simpler"
    than a shorter string. Regardless of this, a canonical form is a
    representation of an object.  This representation contains the
    smallest amount of information required to fully describe the
    meaning of the object.

    It is not difficult to determine what a canonical form should
    describe for different objects.  In terms of the 822 standard, the
    following should be considered as minimal definitions of canonical

object specifies contains
------ --------- --------
field field-name name
address mailbox local-part
date date-time date-part

    In terms of USENET, the following might be considered as minimal
    definitions of canonical forms:

object specifies contains
------ --------- --------
field field-name name
address mailbox user
date date-time date-part

NOTE:  This memo clearly has no authority to specify the

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Request For Comments:  886 M. Rose
Proposed Standard for Message Header Munging      UCI

minimal canonical forms for USENET.  The above table is listed
solely for the benefit of the examples which follow.

    Conceptually, transformation of fields and structured field values
    occurs between canonical forms.  That is, to transform an address,
    one reduces the string representing the object to its canonical
    form, to capture the essence of its meaning, and this form is then
    transformed, somehow, to the equivalent canonical form for the
    target standard.  This target canonical form can later be output
    using a string representation.

NOTE:  This memo does not require that canonical forms be
represented or otherwise implemented as strings.  Nor does
this standard require that strings be used during the
transformation process. Thinking of a canonical form as a
string is a convenient formalism only, not an implementational

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Request For Comments:  886 M. Rose
Proposed Standard for Message Header Munging      UCI

Transformation Rules

    All of the forms of message decomposition discussed above may now
    be viewed as transformation between canonical forms.  Hence, it now
    becomes necessary to consider how canonical forms should be
    manipulated during transformation.  That is, what rules are to be
    followed when constructing an equivalent canonical form?  There are
    several guidelines that must be followed, that we will characterize
    in the following fashion:

    o Preservation of information

All attempts must be made to preserve all information
contained in the original canonical form.  This information
can be highly useful to the recipients of munged messages.
Obviously, for two widely-differing formats, this may not be
possible.  For example, some standards may not have a group
addressing notation such as the one present in the 822
standard, e.g., the notation

List: Support@UCI, ZOTnet@UCI;

might not be permitted.  If one were to consider membership in
a group as part of an address' canonical form, then this
portion of the canonical form could not be transformed to the
other standard.

The 822 standard supports a liberal commenting convention
which might prove quite useful in preserving information.
Implementors may wish to consider capturing the original
information in commentary text.  For example, if the USENET

mark@cbosgd.UUCP (Mark Horton)

had the USENET canonical of

user:  mark
        route:  ucbvax!ihnp4!cbosgd

and if the corresponding 822 canonical was

   local-part: ucbvax!ihnp4!cbosgd!mark
  domain-part: USENET.UCI

then it would not be unreasonable for an implementation to
output this canonical form as

"mark@cbosgd.UUCP" <ucbvax!ihnp4!cbosgd!mark@USENET.UCI>

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Request For Comments:  886 M. Rose
Proposed Standard for Message Header Munging      UCI

      NOTE:  Implementors should exercise extreme caution in
      using a policy such as this.  Information placed between
      commentary delimiters must still conform to the target
      standard at the syntactic level.

Note however that in the above example, the commentary
information "(Mark Horton)" was discarded.  This practice is
strongly discouraged.  Although the canonical form for an
object does not rely on commentary information as a necessary
part, implementors are encouraged to preserve this information
whenever possible.

Finally, preservation of information requires preservation of
case at all costs.  Only under the most restrictive of
circumstances should an implementation change the case of the
strings output for a canonical form.

    o Re-Formatting

Ideally, the target message should have the exact horizontal
and vertical padding as the source message.  Because a string
representing the source canonical form of an object may not be
of the same length as the string representing the target
canonical form, the number of characters on each physical and
logical line in the headers may be different.

The 822 standard supports a header folding convention which
permits long field/value pairs to be represented on more than
one physical line.  When a new canonical form is output to the
target message, it is possible that the resulting field/value
pair may be longer than the number of characters that
antiquated display devices can present on a single line. The
822 standard suggests 65 or 72 characters-per-line as a metric
for this limitation.  Although not required, message munging
agents may re-fold headers if (and only if) this limitation is
exceeded.  Note however that under no circumstances should a
header be re-folded if it was not munged.  Refolding without
munging may occur on behalf of some transport or user agent,
but it may not occur on behalf of a munging agent.  Put more
simply, this memo does not authorize or forbid such activity,
although it does discourage it.

    o Error Recovery

The preceding discussion has made been under the assumption
that the objects composing the field/value pairs of the source
message have conformed to the source standard. It is an
unfortunate reality that this may not be the case. In fact,

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Request For Comments:  886 M. Rose
Proposed Standard for Message Header Munging      UCI

for those standards which are poorly specified (if at all),
determining that an object is improperly constructed might be
quite difficult.  In addition, it is possible, though
hopefully extremely improbable that a target canonical form
does not exist for a particular source canonical form.  In
these cases, munging agents must be able to recover.

At this point, we introduce two extension fields for the 822
standard.  As such, these fields are hereby designated as
"reserved" and may not be used for other purposes.  These
fields are:


The syntax of these fields is as follows:

munge-field =
     "Illegal-Field" ":" *text
  /  "Illegal-Object" ":" *text

munge-object =
     <a "field-name", the exact field-names which are
      valid will be presented later>

The semantics of these fields are as follows:

An Illegal-Field header should be introduced when a
header-line which does not conform to the source standard is
found in the source message.  Illegal-Field should be used
only when a header-line is so poorly formed as to prevent
recognition of the field in the header-line.  For example, if
the line lacks a colon, or has a poorly formed field-name,
then it should not be output to the target message and a new
header-line should be introduced in its place.  This
header-line has Illegal-Field as its field and contains the
offending line as its value.  Illegal-Field should not be used
if the field can be identified, but the value is poorly

An Illegal-Object header should be introduced when an object
in the source message can not be parsed into a canonical form,
or if the canonical form it represents has no corresponding
target canonical form.  The offending object should not be
output to the target message in the header-line in which it
occurs.  If the header-line now contains no objects, then the
header-line should not be output to the target message as
well.  Then, an Illegal-Object field should be introduced into
the target message.  The value of this Illegal-Object field
should at the very minimum contain the name of the field that
contained the object, the object in question, and an

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Request For Comments:  886 M. Rose
Proposed Standard for Message Header Munging      UCI

explanation as to why the object was illegal.  Alternately,
the value of this Illegal-Object field should consist of the
entire header-line (field and value) that contained the object
in question along with an explanation as to why the object was

      NOTE:  In the circumstance where multiple objects exist
      in a single header-line in the source message, and one of
      those objects is determined to be illegal, the actual
      policy used in determining how much information can be
      considered to be "uncorrupted" is left to the
      implementors.  Munging agents which use sophisticated
      parsers may attempt to recover in mid-stream (so to
      speak) and continue parsing objects on the header-line.
      Other agents may wish to continue recover with the next
      header-line in the source message.  Regardless of the
      policy used, the agent must present the contents of the
      entire header-line in the associated Illegal-Object

Implementations should not take extraordinary measures to
perform syntax/semantics checking of the source message --
only those fields which must be examined should be rigorously
checked.  This memo strongly discourages any additional
examination.  It is not the intention of this memo to suggest
that composing agents should produce messages which do not
conform to the source standard.  A composing agent should not
expect a munging agent to enforce adherence to the source

    o Introduction of Information

Munging agents are authorized to introduce a "Received" header
into the target message when a message is transformed.

      NOTE:  Adding a "Received" header is entirely optional.
      This memo strongly recommends that this header be
      introduced whenever some munging (translation of addresses
      and/or dates) occurs.

      NOTE:  Although this memo does not specify the position
      that the introduced header should have in relation to the
      other fields in the target message, it is strongly
      recommended that the introduced header be grouped with
      the other "Received" headers, at the very beginning of
      the message.

When introducing a "Received" field, three phrases, which are
normally optional in such a field, should be specified by the
munging agent.  These are:

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Request For Comments:  886 M. Rose
Proposed Standard for Message Header Munging      UCI

"from" domain # the source domain
"by"   domain # the target domain
"with" protocol # the munging agent's host

For example, suppose we have a munging agent on the UCI host,
and that this agent services a USENET/ARPA boundary.  When the
UCI host gets a message from the USENET domain for the ARPA
domain, the following happens:  First, the UCI mailsystem would
prepend the header:

   Received: from nma by UCI with UUCP; 15 Dec 83 03:53:00 PST

Second, the munging agent, when transforming the message,
would prepend the header:

   Received: from USENET by ARPA with UCI; 15 Dec 03:54:00 PST

Finally, the UCI mailsystem would then deliver the message to
the appropriate ARPA mailsystem, which in turn would prepend
the header:

   Received: from UCI by ISIF with SMTP; 15 Dec 83 03:55:00 PST

This example might be a bit clearer if the domains were
qualified a bit more.  The first three lines of the message
could look like this:

   Received: from UCI.ARPA by ISIF.ARPA; 15 Dec 83 03:55:00 PST
   Received: from USENET by ARPA with UCI; 15 Dec 03:54:00 PST
   Received: from nma.USENET by UCI.USENET; 15 Dec 83 03:53:00 PST

The key point to notice is that the munging agent used the
"from" and "by" clauses to denote the domain boundary that was
crossed, and used the "with" clause to denote itself.  Since
the agent is munging the message according to some set of
transformation rules, it is actually using a "mail protocol",
and as such is justified in identifying itself in the "with"

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  Objects of Interest

    At present, only three types of objects are of interest: fields,
    addresses, and dates.  In the context of the 822 standard,
    header-lines containing the following fields are to be viewed as
    appropriate for transformation:

     Address Fields: From, Sender, Reply-To, To, cc, Bcc,
and any of these fields with the Resent- prefix

Date Fields: Date, Resent-Date

    Hence the definition of munge-object, in 822 terms, is:

munge-object =
  /  "Sender"
  /  "Reply-To"
  /  "To"
  /  "cc"
  /  "Bcc"
  /  "Resent-From"
  /  "Resent-Sender"
  /  "Resent-Reply-To"
  /  "Resent-To"
  /  "Resent-cc"
  /  "Resent-Bcc"
  /  "Date"
  /  "Resent-Date"

NOTE:  The list of munge-objects is extensible.  For the
purposes of this memo, the above fields are defined as the
MINIMUM list of munge-objects for the 822 standard.
Implementors are encouraged to introduce other fields to the
list of munge-objects as their munging agents require.  These
additions should also be registered with the revisions of this
memo as they gain popularity.

    For the purposes of the remainder of this memo, an address
    header-line is defined as any header-line in the source message
    whose field component is one of the fields listed above as an
    address field.  Further, a date header-line is defined as any
    header-line in the source message whose field component is one of
    the fields listed above as an date field.

    If address munging is performed, then all addresses contained in
    all address header-lines must be munged.  It is expressly forbidden
    to perform address munging on the source message and without
    performing address munging on every address header-line.  Further,
    it is expressly forbidden to munge some, but not all, of the
    addresses in any address header-line.  All addresses in all of the

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    message's address header-lines must be address munged. If address
    munging is not performed, then these header-lines need not be
    considered for munging.

    A similar requirement is made for date munging.  If date munging is
    performed, then all instances of header-lines whose field is Date
    or Resent-Date must be fully date munged.

NOTE:  Certain fields are to be excluding from munging of any
sort, all munging agents must preserve their contents exactly.
At present, there is one such field: "Received".  This contents
of this field should ALWAYS be preserved for trace and
debugging purposes.

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    D.H. Crocker, "Standard for the Format of ARPA Internet Text
    Messages", RFC 822, (August, 1982).

    M.R. Horton, "Standard for the Interchange of USENET Messages", RFC
    850, (June, 1983).

    M.T. Rose, "Achieving Interoperability between two Domains --
    Connecting the ZOTnet and UUCP Computer Mail Networks", Technical
    Report Number 201, Department of Information and Computer Science,
    University of California, Irvine, (January, 1983).

    P.V. Mockapetris, "Domain Names -- Concepts and Facilities", RFC
    882, (November, 1983).

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Minimal Canonical Forms

    This memo defines the minimal canonical forms for the 822 standard.
    Implementations may wish to augment these forms with additional
    information that may be present in the source message.  An earlier
    example suggested that group membership might be part of an
    address' canonical form.  Further, since the 822 standard permits
    routes to be specified in addresses, e.g.,

Fred Rated <@ISI-Troll.ARPA,@UCI-750a.UCI: FRated@UCI-750b>

    Perhaps they too should be considered part of the 822 address'
    canonical form?

    This memo makes no such requirement, if implementations wish to
    make use of this additional information, then they are free to do
    so.  This practice is neither encouraged nor discouraged. In short
    the spirit of this memo is to require those minimal components
    required by the 822 standard, nothing more.

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