Internet Draft
Category-to-be: Proposed standard
Jamie Zawinski
Netscape Communications
November 1997
Expires: May 1998

Identification of messages delivered via both mail and news

Status of this Memo

This document is an Internet-Draft. Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), its areas, and its working groups. Note that other groups may also distribute working documents as Internet-Drafts.

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.''

To learn the current status of any Internet-Draft, please check the ``1id-abstracts.txt'' listing contained in the Internet- Drafts Shadow Directories on (Africa), (Europe), (Pacific Rim), (US East Coast), or (US West Coast).


This draft defines a format to be used when delivering a single message to multiple destinations, where some destinations are newsgroups and some destinations are email mailboxes.

Table of contents

1. Introduction

Most news readers include facilities for generating replies which are either posted to news, or mailed directly to the author. An increasing number of news readers have the ability to do both simultaneously: to post one copy of the message to news, and to send a copy of that same message to a set of recipients via email.

When one receives an email message, there is currently no reliable way to identify that message as being one which has also been posted. This draft specifies a mechanism by which such messages may be identified.

The model used in this document is that a single message is prepared, and then delivered on multiple transports to its various destinations. This is not intended to dictate anything about the mechanism by which message delivery must be implemented. But, it is rather intended to convey the intent that both messages should, as far as is possible, have identical bodies and headers.

Obviously, various transports (including, but not limited to, [SMTP] and [NNTP]) will add various headers to the messages they carry, and so it will never be the case that two copies of the same message which are received via different transports will be identical. However, excepting the headers added by the transports, it is likely that the two copies of the message will have identical headers, and is also likely that they will have identical bodies.

It is also recognized that certain elements of the transport (including, but not limited to, mail-news gateways, mailing list reflectors, and newsgroup or mailing list moderators) might modify existing message bodies and headers. The modification might be in form only, such as the Content-Transfer-Encoding ([MIME]) of the body being changed; or it might be substantive, such as a standard disclaimer, or standard set of instructions, being appended to the bodies. This means that software conforming to this document cannot guarantee that the two messages will have identical bodies by the time they reach their destinations. It can, however, hold that as a goal, with the recognition that the goal will not always be reachable due to forces beyond its control. (In other words, the author believes that transport and gateway software that so alters the message bodies is wrong in so doing; but recognizes that such software, while in the minority, is not going to go away any time soon.)

2. Terminology

In this document, we will discuss several "views" on the same logical message.

A "combined message" is a message for which the sender has chosen some email destinations, as well as and some news destinations. When we are talking about a combined message, we are either talking about it as it appeared when composed, but before it was delivered; or we are talking about both its mail and news aspects simultaneously.

When this document refers to a "mail message", it refers to a message received by someone via email. In isolation, "mail message" could refer to either a simple mail-only message, or to the version of a combined message that was delivered by mail.

Likewise, unless otherwise specified, "news message" refers to a message that was received by someone via news, and that may or may not also have been mailed.

This document assumes familiarity with the mail and news message formats, as documented in [MAIL] and [NEWS].

3. Definitions of new message elements

3.1. The Posted-And-Mailed header

When a message is sent to both mail and news destinations, it MUST include a Posted-And-Mailed header, with the value "yes":

The presence of this header indicates that the message conforms to this draft. If this header is absent, conformant software MUST assume that the message in question DOES NOT conform to this draft, and MUST NOT treat the message as a combined message. If this header is present but has a value other than "yes", conformant software MUST NOT treat the message as a combined message.

This header MUST be present both in the version of the message which was sent to a news transport, and in the version of the message which was sent to a mail transport, and MUST be identical in both.

This header MAY be omitted in messages which are not combined messages. This is a reasonable thing to do, because messages which do not have that header MUST be assumed by receiving agents to be non-combined messages. However, if this header is included in a non-combined message, it MUST have the value "no".

3.2. The message body prolog

When a message is sent to both mail and news recipients, the posting software MAY choose to automatically include a free-text blurb at beginning of the message body indicating that it has been posted as well as mailed.

If this text is inserted, it MUST be inserted in BOTH the copy of the message that is posted, and in the copy that is mailed. This is in keeping with the guiding principle that two copies of the same message MUST have the same Message-ID, and that, conversely, two messages with the same Message-ID MUST have the same body.

Message reading software MUST NOT attempt to automatically parse or otherwise interpret this body text. Such software should use the appropriate message headers instead. This body text, like all body text, is intended only for human consumption.

If the text is inserted, it SHOULD be kept brief: it is recommended that it consist only of one or two lines of text. For example,

or perhaps

But note that more verbose prologs are allowed, if desired by the user and/or the user's software.


3.3. The Followup-Host header

This header is optional.

If it is present, it is an instruction to the recipient about what news host and protocol SHOULD be used to send a reply, should the recipient desire to send a reply to any of the newsgroups listed in the Followup-To or Newsgroups headers.


The Followup-Host header SHOULD be used when all newsgroups in the Newsgroups and Followup-To headers are served by a single, non-USENET news server.

It MUST NOT be used when the newsgroups in question use the traditional USENET model of propagation: that is, newsgroups which are not ones that are served only by a particular host.

The Followup-Host header is an instruction to use a particular host for posting activity. Therefore, its use includes the assumption that the recipients of the message will be able to post via the host in question.

It is recognized that even traditional USENET groups have varying levels of propagation, and that there is no guarantee that any mail recipient has access to any server which offers a particular USENET group. The Followup-Host header is not intended to address this problem.

How the posting software makes the determination of whether the current news server is a USENET-style server, or a non-USENET style server is unspecified. It is left up to the implementor. If the client cannot make that determination, then the client MUST assume that the newsgroup is a USENET-style one, and therefore MUST NOT include a Followup-Host header.

One possible way to make the determination would be for software which was able to deal with multiple news hosts to remember which hosts were USENET and which were not. A particular news agent might have a notion of a "default" host, and assume that the default host was USENET, and the non-default hosts were not. Another news agent might ask the user to specify whether the host carried USENET at the time the user connected to the host (or subscribed to a group carried by it.)

The body of the Followup-Host header is a URL, as defined by [NEWSURL]:

The reason for providing a full URL rather than simply a host name is that news service may not necessarily be provided by [NNTP]. URLs, being extensible, provide an easy way to accommodate current and future protocol innovations.

The header's contents could be as simple as:

indicating the default news protocol (nntp) on the default nntp port (TCP 119). An NNTP service running on a nonstandard port could be expressed as

A news service running a protocol other than NNTP would be expressed by using a different type of URL. For example, this header represents news service running on the nonstandard "snews" protocol (which is actually NNTP wrapped inside of SSL):

It is beyond the scope of this document to document these protocols or URL syntaxes.

4. Clarifications of the semantics of existing headers

The general principle used here is that when a header is required in either mail or news, a combined message should include both headers. Combined with the principle that the same message text be delivered to both transports, this means that certain previously-news-only headers will be delivered over mail transports, and certain previously-mail-only headers will be delivered over news transports.

When sending a message as both mail and news, that message MUST meet the underlying requirements of both mail messages and news messages simultaneously.

4.1. References and In-Reply-To

Messages which are delivered to both mail and news MUST use the news [NEWS] syntax and semantics of the References header, since that RFC has more restrictive (and, arguably, more useful) syntax and semantics than does the mail message standard [MAIL].

Messages which are delivered to both mail and news, and which are replies, MUST have a References header.

Messages which are delivered to both mail and news MAY include an In-Reply-To header, with the semantics defined in [MAIL]. Should an In-Reply-To header be used, it MUST contain the last message ID of the References header (that is, the ID of the message to which this is a reply.)

4.2. Message-ID

Messages which are delivered to both mail and news MUST have identical Message-ID headers.

The syntax of the Message-ID header MUST be as defined in [NEWS], as that is a more restrictive subset of the syntax defined in [MAIL].

The Message-ID header is optional in both [SMTP] and in [NNTP]. Generally, if the user agent does not generate the Message-ID, then the transport will generate one for the message. (This is always true in the case of news, but is often, but not always, true in the case of mail.)

Since allowing the server(s) to generate the IDs would cause the use of two different Message-IDs, in order to comply with this rule, a client will probably need to generate the Message-ID before handing the message to either transport.

(It is conceivable that some future message submission protocol might allow the client to ask the server to generate and return a Message-ID for it, but this is not possible with any of the currently-existing message submission protocols. So, the requirement is that the two copies of the message MUST have identical Message-IDs, but any mechanism which achieves this end is acceptable.)


4.3. Followup-To

If both Posted-And-Mailed (with value "yes") and Followup-To are present, then replies which are to be posted MUST be directed to the newsgroups listed in the Followup-To header by default.

If a Followup-To header is present but a Posted-And-Mailed header is not (or has a value other than "yes"), then:

4.4. Newsgroups

If the Posted-And-Mailed header is present and has the value "yes", then the Newsgroups header MUST also be present. In that case, the Newsgroups header has the semantics defined by [NEWS]: it lists the newsgroups to which this message was posted. This is true regardless of whether the message in question is the mailed copy or the posted copy: the Newsgroups header has the same semantics in both copies.

If a Newsgroups header is present but the Posted-And-Mailed header is not, or if the Posted-And-Mailed header has some value other than "yes":


5. Security considerations

This format will reduce the risk of various unexpected results for combined messages. Some existing risks in email and news may stay even with this format, but no new risks are expected as a result of using this format. In general, increased transportation of messages between news and email may mean that existing risks in news are propagated to email or the reverse, but these risks would not be reduced by the lack of a standard for such combined messages.

The union of the security and privacy risks of existing mail and news usage must be considered; for example, care should be taken not to inappropriately disclose the BCC recipients of a mailed message to the news recipients.

6. Acknowledgments

This document is derived from and inspired by earlier proposals written by Jacob Palme and John Stanley. Valuable feedback was provided by Terje Bless, Stefan Haller, Lars Magne Ingebrigtsen, John Moreno, Jacob Palme, Pete Resnick, Bart Schaefer, Jeroen Scheerder, Brad Templeton, and Curtis Whalen.

Appendix B is partially derived from an earlier, unrelated draft by Henry Spencer.

7. References
Ref. Author, title IETF status (May 1997)

[SMTP] J. Postel: "Simple Mail Transfer Protocol", STD 10, RFC 821, August 1982. Standard, Recommended.
[MAIL] D. Crocker: "Standard for the format of ARPA Internet text messages." STD 11, RFC 822, August 1982. Standard, Recommended.
[NNTP] B. Kantor, P. Lapsley: "Network News Transfer Protocol", RFC 977, February 1986. Non-standard (but still widely used as a de-facto standard).
[NEWS] M.R. Horton, R. Adams: "Standard for interchange of USENET messages", RFC 1036, December 1987. Non-standard (but still widely used as a de-facto standard).
[MIME] N. Freed, N. Borenstein and others, "Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) Part One to Five", RFC 2045 to 2049. Draft Standard, elective.
[NEWSURL] T. Berners-Lee, L. Masinter and others, "Uniform Resource Locators", RFC 1738. Draft Standard.
See also:
A. Gilman, "The 'news' URL scheme", draft-gilman-news-url-00.txt.
Internet Draft, work in progress.

8. Author's Addresses

Jamie Zawinski
Netscape Communications Corporation
501 East Middlefield Road
Mountain View, CA 94043
(650) 937-2620

Appendix A: Examples

The following is an example of a combined message, sent both to a newsgroup comp.lang.c and via e-mail to a person

Here is the message as prepared by the message composition software:

The same message as it might be received by someone reading it in the newsgroup comp.lang.c:

The same message as it might be received by a mail recipient (presumably

Appendix B: Recommendations for generating Message IDs

A message ID consists of two parts, a local part and a domain, separated by an at-sign and enclosed in angle brackets:

Practically, news message IDs are a restricted subset of mail message IDs. In particular, no existing news software copes properly with mail quoting conventions within the local part, so software generating a Message-ID would be well-advised to avoid this pitfall.

It is also noted that some buggy software considers message IDs completely case-insensitive, in violation of the standards. If is therefore advised that one not generate IDs such that two IDs so generated can differ only in character case.

The most popular method of generating local parts is to use the date and time, plus some way of distinguishing between simultaneous postings on the same host (e.g. a process number), and encode them in a suitably- restricted alphabet. An older but now less-popular alternative is to use a sequence number, incremented each time the host generates a new message ID; this is workable, but requires careful design to cope properly with simultaneous posting attempts, and is not as robust in the presence of crashes and other malfunctions.

On many client systems, it is not always possible to get the fully-qualified domain name (FQDN) of the local host. In that situation, a reasonable fallback course of action would be to use the domain-part of the user's return address. Doing so makes the generation of the "distinguishing number" be more important; in particular, it means that a process ID is probably not sufficient.

An alternative for generating the distinguishing number, on systems where the process ID isn't available, or in the case where the local host's FQDN isn't known, is to generate a large random number from a high-quality, well-seeded pseudorandom number generator. (Note that the RNGs shipped by many vendors are not high quality.)

In summary, one possible approach to generating a Message-ID would be:

If the random number generator is good, this will reduce the odds of a collision of message IDs to well below the odds that a cosmic ray will cause the computer to miscompute a result. That means that it's good enough.

There are many other approaches. This is provided only as an example, not as a mandate.

[ up ]