Network Working Group J. Postel
Request for Comments: 808 ISI
1 March 1982 SUMMARY OF COMPUTER MAIL SERVICES MEETING
HELD AT BBN ON 10 JANUARY 1979
This note is a very belated attempt to document a meeting that was
held three years ago to discuss the state of computer mail in the
ARPA community and to reach some conclusions to guide the further
development of computer mail systems such that a coherent total mail
service would continue to be provided.
Some important conclusions were reached at this meeting which limited
the extent to which mail systems were to incorporate new features in
the context of the existing service and specifications.
Unfortunately, this meeting and the conclusions were not documented,
and the specifications were not revised. This has led to continuing
problems in the mail service.
Due to the passage of time these notes are necessarily quite
incomplete. It is thought that there were a number of other
attendees. I would like to express my appreciation to those who
helped provide this information, especially Vint Cerf, Jack Haverty,
Danny Cohen, Bob Thomas, and Debbie Deutsch.
The Meeting Announcement:
On 10 January 1979 we are holding a meeting at BBN in Cambridge, MA,
starting at 0930, to discuss Message Service support on the ARPANET.
The purpose of the meeting is to provide a basis for any
standardization of efforts which may be necessary. We will take
stock of the various message services currently available on the
ARPANET, discuss problems which have been encountered between
different message systems, review current protocols and review
forthcoming developments. An agenda is given below. Each of you
should be prepared to discuss current problems you are aware of and
any developments which impact future message service.
The Meeting Agenda:
1. Present State of Affairs
. Survey of Message Systems
. Current Problems
. Format Protocols - RFC 560, 680, 733
. Distribution Service
2. Future Developments in Message Technology
. Multi-Media Techniques
. Impact of Personal Computers
. Distributed Service
- NSW Project
- Internetwork Addressing and Forwarding
3. Impact of Charging Technology on the Message Service
. Distribution of Messages
4. Managing the Message Service
5. Supporting the Message Service
1. Duane Adams opened the meeting. He indicated that we should be
concerned about computer mail as a total message service (not just as
a local user interface), and asked what impact on the message service
the developments in internetting and multimedia would have.
2. Dave Farber gave a bit of history of mail systems, listing the
names of all the systems anybody had every heard of (see Appendix A).
It was noted that most of the mail systems were not formal projects
(in the sense of explicitly sponsored research), but things that
3. Ted Myer chaired a discussion of current problems in mail
systems, and the following made comments as well: R. Stallman,
D. Farber, P. Santos, K. Harrenstien, R. Kunzelman, T. Knight,
B. Thomas, D. Lebling, J. Haverty, D. Cohen, D. Adams, V. Cerf, and
This was mostly gripes about what this or that mail system did
Topics included use of MLFL instead of MAIL, fully qualifying
the all the usernames with hostnames on all the addresses,
immediate feedback about the addressed user having a mailbox at
the destination host or getting an error message later, host
table update problems, strange FTP replies (e.g., "System going
down in 10 minutes"), and addressing issues.
There were also some things mentioned that might be added to the
Topics included virtual hosts (e.g., NSW), internetted hosts,
authentication, message identification, duplicate detection,
spoofing, multicopy delivery, limits on receipt, program to
program mail, structured typed data, graphics, fax, and voice.
At the end of this session there was a statement that further work
was putting patches on patches and that we should make a
commitment to a version 2 system. There should be an edict that
says "this is it", and the current mail service should be frozen.
4. Debbie Deutsch talked about some work being done at BBN on
Debbie discussed the alternatives for including other types of
data (voice, graphics, fax, numeric, executable) in messages, and
for structuring messages to identify and interrelate the different
types of data. The main choice to make is between encoding the
data in ASCII and using keyword field identifiers, or using a
binary typed structured format. The current work is attempting
integrate fax data handling into an existing text mail system.
Copies of the viewgraphs were distributed.
5. There was a discussion of Personal Computers.
Tom Knight gave a short discription of the Lisp Machine project.
There was some general discussion of the impact of personal
computers on mail services. The main realization being that the
personal computer will not be available to handle incoming mail
all the time. Probably, personal computer users will have their
mailboxes on some big brother computer (which may be dedicated to
mailbox service, or be a general purpose host) and poll for their
mail when they want to read it. There were some concerns raised
about accountability and accounting.
6. Bob Thomas talked about the ideas for routing mail between
regular mailboxes on ARPANET Hosts and mailboxes of NSW users.
The main point of interest is that an NSW user is not a user of a
specific host, thus, the notion of a mailbox being "user@host"
dosen't work. Bob suggested that one might think of NSW as a
virtual host. The implementation of this mail service for NSW
users is constrained to minimize the amount of new code and
changes to existing programs. Bob described his ideas for address
formats for sending messages between NSW users, from NSW users to
ARPANET users, and from ARPANET users to NSW users. The last
being the most difficult to pull off. Copies of the viewgraphs
were distributed, and copies of a memo were distributed (BBN NSW
Working Note 24).
7. Jon Postel talked about the ideas he had for internet multimedia
Two aspects of this were a general approach to addressing and
routing for mail distribution, and using a structure of typed data
elements to represent the message data and control.
8. There was some discussion of other work in mail services.
Someone talked about the work of ANSI X3 S33 on message structure
Dave Farber described the activities of IFIP TC 6.5 on
international message services.
Ted Myer described the interests of the US Congress Office of
Technology Assesment (OTA) in electronic communication.
It was suggested that we need to view the problems in building a
total message service rather than individual message systems.
In general it was felt that the current message service was somewhat
out of control with incompatible varations and extensions. There
were several instances where a minor change to one mail system led to
unexpected problems in another mail system.
In part, the reason for this seemed to be the varations allowed by
the protocol, and especially the partial implementation of the
protocol by most systems.
The general approach to resolving these problems was two fold:
First, a few minor further changes were to be allowed, but in
general full implementation of the protocol (RFC 733) was not to
be carried out. In case of questions about a particular change
Duane Adams was to decide if it would be allowed ot not. The goal
in this approach was to quickly stabilize the mail service in a
In particular, if a small number of senders are doing something
that is incompatible with the total service, they will be asked
to stop doing it. Or, if a small number of receivers can't
handle something that most systems do, they will be asked to
handle that feature.
Second, work was to be focused on the definition and
implementation of a next-generation mail service which would
attack all the existing problems and include facilities for voice,
fax, and graphics data.
The use of structured data in the next-generation mail service was
approved. Jack Haverty noted that RFC 713 specified a language,
MSDTP, that could be used to define a structured mail protocol.
A. Existing Mail Services
1. Mail shall not be sent between hosts if it breaks existing
Outlawed by this rule are:
a. Spaces in user names.
b. Multiple at signs in mailboxes.
2. Features of RFC 733 that are generally unimplemented shall
remain unimplemented, and are decommitted from the specification.
Outlawed by this rule are:
a. "Include" and "Postal" type addresses.
3. Duane Adams will arbitrate disputes.
4. There shall be no more changes to the MAIL/MLFL FTP reply
B. New Mail Services
1. New services should be provided in the context of the
experimental multimedia mail systems now being planned.
1. Jon Postel is to circulate a draft specification of a structured
mail protocol by 15-Feb-79.
[* This became IEN-85 published in March 1979 and now superseded
by RFCs 759 and 767. *]
2. Everyone is to submit a 2 to 3 page position paper on addressing
to Duane Adams by 1-Mar-79.
3. Everyone is to submit a 2 to 3 page position paper on System
Architecture and Message Transmission by 1-Apr-79.
Name Org Mailbox
Duane Adams ARPA Adams@ISIA
Bill Carlson ARPA Carlson@ISIA
Vint Cerf ARPA Cerf@ISIA
Jerry Burchfiel BBN Burchfiel@BBNA
Debbie Deutsch BBN DDeutsch@BBNA
Jack Haverty BBN Haverty@BBN-Unix
Charles Khuen BBN Khuen@BBNC
Mark Lavin BBN MLavin@BBNE
Charlotte Mooers BBN Mooers@BBNE
Ted Myer BBN Myer@BBNA
Ray Nickerson BBN Nickerson@BBNC
Paul Santos BBN Santos@BBNE
Bob Thomas BBN BThomas@BBND
Mike Wingfield BBN Wingfield@BBND
Joanne Sattley CCA JZS@CCA
Howard Wactlar CMU Wactlar@CMU-10A
James Pool DOE Pool@BBN
Robert McNab DCA DCACode535@ISIA
Ed Cain DCEC Cain@EDN-Unix
Warren Hawrylko DCEC Lyons@ISIA
Harry Helm DCEC Lyons@ISIA
Danny Cohen ISI Cohen@ISIB
Jon Postel ISI Postel@ISIF
Dave Lebling MIT PDL@MIT-XX
Tom Knight MIT TK@MIT-AI
R. Stallman MIT RMS@MIT-AI
Pat Winston MIT PHW@MIT-AI
Al Vezza MIT AV@MIT-DMS
Wayne Shiveley OFDA ---
Bob Anderson RAND Anderson@RAND-Unix
Ken Harrenstien SRI KLH@SRI-NIC
Ron Kunzelman SRI Kunzelman@SRI-KL
Dave Farber UDEL Farber@UDEL