Network Working Group E. Burger
Request for Comments: 3459 SnowShore Networks
Updates: 3204 January 2003
Category: Standards Track
Critical Content Multi-purpose Internet Mail
Extensions (MIME) Parameter
Status of this Memo
This document specifies an Internet standards track protocol for the
Internet community, and requests discussion and suggestions for
improvements. Please refer to the current edition of the "Internet
Official Protocol Standards" (STD 1) for the standardization state
and status of this protocol. Distribution of this memo is unlimited.
Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2003). All Rights Reserved.
This document describes the use of a mechanism for identifying body
parts that a sender deems critical in a multi-part Internet mail
message. The mechanism described is a parameter to Content-
Disposition, as described by RFC 3204.
By knowing what parts of a message the sender deems critical, a
content gateway can intelligently handle multi-part messages when
providing gateway services to systems of lesser capability. Critical
content can help a content gateway to decide what parts to forward.
It can indicate how hard a gateway should try to deliver a body part.
It can help the gateway to pick body parts that are safe to silently
delete when a system of lesser capability receives a message. In
addition, critical content can help the gateway chose the
notification strategy for the receiving system. Likewise, if the
sender expects the destination to do some processing on a body part,
critical content allows the sender to mark body parts that the
receiver must process.
19. Intellectual Property Notice..................................2320. Author's Address..............................................2321. Full Copyright Statement......................................241. Conventions used in this document
This document refers generically to the sender of a message in the
masculine (he/him/his) and the recipient of the message in the
feminine (she/her/hers). This convention is purely for convenience
and makes no assumption about the gender of a message sender or
The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD",
"SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document
are to be interpreted as described in BCP 14, RFC 2119 .
The word "REQUIRED" in this document does not follow the definition
found in RFC 2119. This is because this document defines a parameter
named "REQUIRED". There is no requirement in this document that is
"REQUIRED", so there is no confusion.
In this document, the "sending agent" is the originator of the
message. It could be a mail user agent (MUA) for an Internet
message, or a SIP User Agent Client (UAC) for a SIP  message. The
"endpoint" is the receiving device, of lesser capability than the
NOTE: Notes, such as this one, provide additional nonessential
information that the reader may skip without missing anything
essential. The primary purpose of these non-essential notes is to
convey information about the rationale of this document, or to place
this document in the proper historical or evolutionary context.
Readers whose sole purpose is to construct a conformant
implementation may skip such information. However, it may be of use
to those who wish to understand why we made certain design choices.
The specification of Critical Content is small and compact. For the
benefit of developers, the specification comes first, the rationale
One concept that an implementer must understand is the content
gateway. Section 10 describes the content gateway. In brief, a
content gateway has knowledge of the receiving system's capabilities.
The content gateway passes messages the receiving system can process,
render or store. The content gateway can modify a message, for
example by deleting unrenderable or storable body parts, for delivery
to the receiving system. Finally, the content gateway can reject a
message that the receiving system cannot handle.
Although Critical Content processing is not an OPES service, the
protocol machinery described in this document meets all of the OPES
IAB requirements as stated by RFC 3238 . Section 14 describes
this in detail. In particular, unlike the current situation where
content gateways silently modified messages, or had abstract rules
for modifying them (see the content transformation rules in VPIM, for
example), the Critical Content mechanism allows for the sending user
to explicitly indicate desired content handling by content gateways
NOTE: This document updates RFC 3204  to separate the Handling
parameter from the ISUP/QSIG transport mechanism. The protocol
described here is identical in functionality to RFC 3204 with respect
to SIP. Future versions of RFC 3204 should reference this document
for the Handling parameter, as it is orthogonal to the tunneling of
3. Handling Parameter
The Handling parameter is a Content-Disposition  parameter
inserted by the sending agent to indicate to the content gateway
whether to consider the marked body part critical.
A REQUIRED body part is one the sender requires the receiving system
to deliver for him to consider the message delivered.
An OPTIONAL body part is one the sender doesn't care whether the
receiving system delivers it or not. A content gateway can silently
delete such body parts if the receiving system cannot deliver the
The terms "entity" and "body part" have the meanings defined in .
"Handling=REQUIRED" signifies that this body part is critical to the
If the content gateway cannot pass a body part marked REQUIRED, then
the entire message has failed. In this case, the content gateway
MUST take the appropriate failure action.
NOTE: We say "appropriate action", because the sender may have
suppressed all notifications. In this case, the appropriate action
is to silently discard the message. In addition, as a general MIME
parameter, the MIME body part may not be in an Internet Mail message.
Moreover, in the SIP case, the appropriate notification is a status
return code, not a delivery notification.
"Handling=OPTIONAL" signifies that the sender does not care about
notification reports for this body part.
If the content gateway cannot pass a body part marked OPTIONAL, the
receiving system may silently delete the body part. The receiving
system MUST NOT return a delivery failure, unless parts marked
REQUIRED have also failed.
3.3. Default Values
The default value for Handling for a given body part is REQUIRED.
This enables the existing notification mechanisms to work for sending
agents that do not know about the content notification entity. All
body parts are critical, because they have the default marking of
NOTE: In the case of Internet mail, critical content processing is a
function of the content gateway and not the mail transfer agent (MTA)
or user agent (UA). Often, the entity performing content gateway
processing is the receiving UA. However, in this case the UA is
acting as a content gateway. Thus the default action for any
Content-Disposition -compliant user agent to ignore unrecognized
disposition parameters ensures that this mechanism is compatible with
the Internet architecture.
NOTE: This parameter is fully backwards compatible and works as
expected for Internet mail and SIP.
NOTE: Some VPIMv2 implementations can receive arbitrary e-mail from
the Internet. However, these systems are really acting in the
capacity of an Internet Voice Mail system. In this case, one would
expect the implementation to provide Internet Voice Mail semantics to
Internet Voice Mail messages.
3.4. Other Values
The content gateway MUST treat unrecognized values as REQUIRED. This
is to provide backward compatibility with future uses of the
NOTE: A possible new value is IMPORTANT. An IMPORTANT body part is
something the sender wants the receiver to get, but would not want
the message rejected outright if the IMPORTANT body part fails, but
they do want notification of the failure. However, as no
implementations do IMPORTANT, it is not important to this version of
4. Collected Syntax
The format of the collected syntax is in accordance with the ABNF of
. Note that per RFC 2183 , the HANDLING Content-Disposition
parameter is not case sensitive. In addition, the notification-type
is not case sensitive.
"handling" "=" notification-type CRLF
notification-type = "REQUIRED" / "OPTIONAL" /
other-handling / generic-param
other-handling = token
One obvious application of critical content is generating a (non-)
delivery notification in the Internet mail environment. If the value
of the field is OPTIONAL, the content gateway MUST NOT generate a
notification. If the value of the field is REQUIRED, the content
gateway MAY generate a notification, based on the normal notification
request mechanisms. Normal notification request mechanisms include
specifying the NOTIFY parameter to the SMTP RCPT command  and the
Disposition-Notification-To header .
In SIP, all requests have responses. These responses provide
notification in the status code of the response. For the RFC 3204
case, a content gateway generates a 415 (Unsupported Media Type)
response if the field is REQUIRED.
If the sending system requests a notification, and a REQUIRED part
fails, the content gateway MUST generate a notification for the whole
message. Conversely, if the gateway cannot pass on a body part
marked OPTIONAL, the gateway MUST NOT generate a notification.
NOTE: This implies that the content gateway must examine the entire
message to determine whether it needs to generate a notification.
However, the content gateway need not examine the message if it knows
it can store and forward all media types. Said differently, Internet
e-mail MTAs or gateways can, by default, handle any arbitrary MIME-
encapsulated type. Some voice mail systems, on the other hand,
cannot store binary attachments at all, such as application/ms-word.
The voice mail content gateway, in this example, would be scanning
for non-renderable body parts in any event.
5.1. DSN vs. MDN Generation
The content gateway generates a delivery status notification (DSN)
 if it operates as a gateway. The content gateway generates a
Message Disposition Notification (MDN)  if it operates as a mail
user agent. Section 6 describes the operating modes of a content
gateway. In short, if there is a MTA that "delivers" the message to
the content gateway for processing, the MTA takes responsibility for
DSN processing. In this case, the only option available to the
content gateway is to generate MDNs. If the content gateway operates
as a MTA, then it generates DSNs. DSN generation is the preferred
If the content gateway is part of a SIP endpoint, then it generates
the appropriate success or error response code.
The following table summarizes the actions expected of a conforming
NOTE: This section is normative: it suggests what a content gateway
should put into the DSN or MDN.
NOTE: In the case of SIP, this section is informative. See RFC 3204
for the normative set of actions on failure.
Table 1 - Expected Actions
| Sending UA Has Marked Body Part |
| REQUIRED | OPTIONAL |
| Body Part is | | |
| Deliverable | Appropriate Action | ignore |
| Body Part is | | |
| Undeliverable | Fail Entire Message | ignore |
The "Appropriate Action" is the action the content gateway would take
given the context of execution. For example, if a sender requests
return receipt and the receiver reads a HANDLING body part, the
receiving UA must generate the appropriate MDN (following the rules
for MDN). Likewise, if the content gateway cannot deliver the body
part and the body part is critical, the content gateway generates the
appropriate DSN or MDN.
"Optional" means the content gateway ignores the disposition of the
body part. The content gateway treats the message as if the body
part was not present in the message.
6. Signed Content
RFC 1847  describes how to apply digital signatures to a MIME
body part. In brief, a multipart/signed body part encapsulates the
body part of interest, or the "content object", in a MIME body part
and the control information needed to verify the object, or the
"protocol" in the lexicon of RFC 1847, in a second MIME body part.
Here is an example taken from RFC 1847.
Content-Type: multipart/signed; protocol="TYPE/STYPE";
micalg="MICALG"; boundary="Signed Boundary"
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
This is some text to be signed although it could be
any type of data, labeled accordingly, of course.
CONTROL INFORMATION for protocol "TYPE/STYPE" would be here
Figure 1 - Signed Content MIME Type
There are three places where one may place the criticality indicator
for a multipart/signed body part. One could mark the
multipart/signed object, the content object, the control object, or
any combination of the three.
The disposition of REQUIRED body parts follow the guidelines found in
RFC 2480 .
A critical content indicator on a multipart/signed body part means
the sending party requires true end-to-end signature verification.
Thus the gateway needs to pass the enclosure intact. If the system
or network of lesser capability cannot do signature verification and
the signed enclosure is REQUIRED, the gateway MUST reject the
A critical content indicator on a signature means that either the
receiving endpoint must be able to do signature verification, or the
gateway needs to verify the signature before forwarding the message.
If the content does not pass verification, the gateway MUST reject
A critical content indicator on the enclosed material specifies
whether that material is critical to the message as a whole. If the
signature is marked OPTIONAL and the enclosed material is marked
REQUIRED, the gateway MAY strip out the signature information if the
system or network of lesser capability cannot do signature
verification. However, if possible, we STRONGLY RECOMMEND the
gateway do signature verification and indicate tampering to the
7. Encrypted Content
RFC 1847  describes how to encrypt a MIME body part. In brief, a
multipart/encrypted body part encapsulates the control information
("protocol" in the lexicon of RFC 1847) for the encrypted object and
the second containing the encrypted data (application/octet-stream).
Here is an example taken from RFC 1847.
Content-Type: multipart/encrypted; protocol="TYPE/STYPE";
CONTROL INFORMATION for protocol "TYPE/STYPE" would be here
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
All of this indented text, including the indented headers,
would be unreadable since it would have been encrypted by
the protocol "TYPE/STYPE". Also, this encrypted data could
be any type of data, labeled accordingly, of course.
One may sensibly place a criticality indicator on the encrypted
enclosure (multipart/encrypted) body part. If the endpoint can
decrypt the message, then the gateway passes the body part in its
If one marks the control object REQUIRED, then the sending UA
requires end-to-end encryption. If the endpoint cannot decrypt the
message, then the gateway MUST reject the message.
If the control object is OPTIONAL, and the endpoint cannot decrypt
the message, and the gateway can decrypt the message, then the
gateway MAY decrypt the message and forward the cleartext message.
The sending user has explicitly given permission for the gateway to
decrypt the message by marking the control object OPTIONAL. Recall
that the default indication for MIME body parts is REQUIRED. Thus if
the user takes no explicit action, the content gateway will assume
the user wished end-to-end encryption.
Marking the encrypted content, without marking the encrypted
enclosure, is problematic. This is because the gateway has to
decrypt the encrypted data to retrieve the header. However, it is
unlikely for the gateway to have the capability (e.g., keys) to
decrypt the encrypted data. If a sending UA wishes to mark encrypted
data as not REQUIRED, the sending UA MUST mark the encrypted content
as not REQUIRED. Clearly, if the sending UA marks the encrypted
content as REQUIRED, the gateway will apply the REQUIRED processing
rules. Moreover, if the sending UA does not mark the encrypted
content as REQUIRED, the gateway, unless it can decrypt the data,
will treat the encrypted content as REQUIRED. This occurs because
gateways always treat unmarked content as REQUIRED (see Section 3.3).
8. Status Code
The critical content indication, in itself, does not guarantee any
notification. Notification follows the rules described in , ,
NOTE: The content of actual DSNs or MDNs are beyond the scope of this
document. This document only specifies how to mark a critical body
part. On the other hand, we do envision sensible DSN and MDN
contents. For example, DSNs should include the appropriate failure
code as enumerated in . Likewise, MDNs should include the
failure code in the MDN "Failure:" field.
If the receiving system is to generate a notification based on its
inability to render or store the media type, the notification should
use the status code 5.6.1, "Media not supported", from .
For the SIP case, all requests have notification provided by the
status response message. Per RFC 3204, a content gateway generates a
415 (Unsupported Media Type) response.
9. Requirements for Critical Content
This section is informative.
The need for a critical content identification mechanism comes about
because of the internetworking of Internet mail systems with
messaging systems that do not fulfill all of the semantics of
Internet mail. Such legacy systems have a limited ability to render
or store all parts of a given message. This document will use the
case of an Internet mail system exchanging electronic messages with a
legacy voice messaging system for illustrative purposes.
Electronic mail has historically been text-centric. Extensions such
as MIME  enable the user agents to send and receive multi-part,
multimedia messages. Popular multimedia data types include binary
word processing documents, binary business presentation graphics,
voice, and video.
Voice mail has historically been audio-centric. Many voice-messaging
systems only render voice. Extensions such as fax enable the voice
mail system to send and receive fax images as well as create multi-
part voice and fax messages. A few voice mail systems can render
text using text-to-speech or text-to-fax technology. Although
theoretically possible, none can today render video.
An important aspect of the interchange between voice messaging
services and desktop e-mail client applications is that the rendering
capability of the voice-messaging platform is often much less than
the rendering capability of a desktop e-mail client. In the e-mail
case, the sender has the expectation that the recipient receives all
components of a multimedia message. This is so even if the recipient
cannot render all body parts. In most cases, the recipient can
either find the appropriate rendering tool or tell the sender that
she cannot read the particular attachment.
This is an important issue. By definition, a MIME-enabled user
agent, conforming to , will present or make available all of the
body parts to the recipient. However, a voice mail system may not be
capable of storing non-voice objects. Moreover, the voice mail
system may not be capable of notifying the recipient that there were
undeliverable message parts.
The inability of the receiving system to render a body part is
usually a permanent failure. Retransmission of the message will not
improve the likelihood of a future successful delivery. Contrast this
with the case with normal data delivery. Traditional message
failures, such as a garbled message or disabled link will benefit
This situation is fundamentally different from normal Internet mail.
In the Internet mail case, either the system delivered the message,
or it didn't. There is no concept of a system partially delivering a
In addition, there are many situations where the sender would not
mind if the system did not deliver non-critical parts of a message.
For example, the sender's user agent may add body parts to a message
unbeknownst to the sender. If the receiving system rejected the
message because it could not render a hidden body part, the sender
would be understandably confused and upset.
Thus, there is a need for a method of indicating to a Mail Transfer
Agent (MTA) or User Agent (UA) that the sender considers parts of a
message to be critical. From the sender's perspective, he would not
consider the message delivered if the system did not deliver the
9.2. Current Approaches
One method of indicating critical content of a message is to define a
profile. The profile defines rules for silently deleting mail body
parts based on knowledge of the UA capabilities. Citing the example
above, a voice profile can easily declare that MTAs or UAs can
silently delete TNEF data and yet consider the message successfully
delivered. This is, in fact, the approach taken by VPIMv2 .
Since one aspect of the issue is deciding when to notify the sender
that the system cannot deliver part of a message, one could use a
partial non-delivery notification mechanism to indicate a problem
with delivering a given body part. However, this requires the user
request a delivery notification. In addition, the sender may not be
aware of parts added by the sending user agent. In this case, a
failure notice would mystify the sender.
A straightforward alternative implementation method for marking a
body part critical is to use a Critical-Content MIME entity. This
has the benefit that criticality is meta information for the body
part. However, IMAP servers in particular would need to either put
Critical-Content into the BODYSTRUCTURE method or create a new method
to retrieve arbitrary MIME entities. Given the experience of trying
to get Content-Location accepted by IMAP vendors, we chose not to go
What we need is a way of letting the sender indicate what body parts
he considers to be critical. The mechanism must not burden the
sender with failure notifications for non-critical body parts. The
mechanism must conform to the general notification status request
mechanism for positive or negative notification. When requested, the
mechanism must indicate to the sender when a receiving system cannot
deliver a critical body part.
10. The Content Gateway
This section is informative.
In this section, we use the definition found in RFC 2156  for the
We do not strictly use the definition found in RFC 2821  for the
term "gateway." In particular, RFC 2821 is discussing a gateway that
should not examine the message itself. An RFC 2821 gateway is a
transport gateway, that mostly deals with transformations of the SMTP
A content gateway is a gateway that connects a first network to a
second network. The second network often has lesser capability than
the first network. The canonical topology follows. "[MTA]", with
square brackets, signifies an optional component.
+---------+ +-----+ | | +-------+ +-----------+
| Sending |=...=|[MTA]|===| Content |=...=| [MTA] |===| Receiving |
| UA | +-----+ | Gateway | +-------+ | UA |
+---------+ | | +-----------+
First Network Second Network
Figure 2 - Content Gateway Topology
The content gateway can be the last hop before the receiving MTA. The
content gateway can be between networks, and thus not the last hop
before the receiving MTA. The content gateway can be the first MTA
the sending UA contacts. Finally, the content gateway can be an
integrated component of the receiving MTA.
For the SIP case, consider each MTA as a SIP Proxy, the Sending UA as
a SIP User Agent Client, and the Receiving UA as a SIP User Agent
10.1. Integrated Content Gateway
In this situation, the receiving user agent is integrated with the
content gateway. The integrated content gateway knows the
capabilities of the user agent. The topology is as follows.
+---------+ +-----+ | : |
| Sending |=...=|[MTA]|===| Content : Receiving |
| UA | +-----+ | Gateway : UA |
+---------+ | : |
First Network Second Network
Figure 3 - Integrated Content Gateway
The processing of ISUP and QSIG objects, as described in , is an
example of an integrated gateway.
10.2. Disaggregated Delivery Network
A degenerate case, although one that does occur, is where the content
gateway sits behind the final MTA. This happens when one implements
the content gateway as a post-processing step to a normal delivery.
For example, one could configure a mail handling system to deliver
the message to a queue or directory, where the content gateway
process picks up the message. If there were any directives for DSN
processing, the delivering MTA would execute them. For example, the
message could have requested notification on successful delivery.
The delivering MTA, having delivered the message to the queue, would
consider the message delivered and thus notify the sender of such.
However, the content gateway process could then discover that the
receiving UA cannot render the message. In this case, the content
gateway generates a NDN, as it is the only option available.
+---------+ +-----+ v | | +-----------+
| Sending |=...=| MTA |--> File -->| Content |=...=| Receiving |
| UA | +-----+ | Gateway | | UA |
+---------+ | | +-----------+
First Network Second Network
Figure 4 - Disaggregated Delivery Network
11. Backward Compatibility Considerations
DSN requires ESMTP. If MTAs in the path from the sending UA to the
receiving UA do not support ESMTP, then that MTA will reject the DSN
request. In addition, the message will default to notification on
delay or failure. While not ideal, the sender will know that DSN is
not available, and that critical content that fails will get
12. MIME Interactions
As is true for all Content-Disposition parameters, handling is only
in effect for the selected alternative. If the selected alternative
has the critical content indicator, then the entire alternative takes
on the criticality indicated. That is, if the alternative selected
has HANDLING=OPTIONAL, then the content gateway MUST NOT generate any
NOTE: This statement explicitly shows that HANDLING overrides the DSN
and MDN request mechanisms.
It is unlikely for a selected alternative to fail, as the content
gateway presumably picks the alternative specifically because it can
If the selected alternative is a message/rfc822 that encloses a
multipart MIME message or the selected alternative is itself a
multipart MIME type, the individual top-level body parts follow the
HANDLING mechanism described in this document.
NOTE: This means that a forwarded message's criticality will not
affect the forwarding agent's intentions.
Criticality fits in rather well with the multipart/related
construction. For example, consider a multipart/related message
consisting of a Macintosh data fork and a Macintosh resource fork.
For a Microsoft Word document, the data fork is likely to be
critical. The receiving system can safely ignore the resource fork.
Criticality only affects the outermost level of the message or, in
the case of multipart/alternative, the outermost level of the
selected alternative. Specifically, the receiving system ignores
criticality indicators in embedded body parts. This avoids the
situation of a forwarded message triggering or suppressing undesired
reporting. This simply implements the procedures described in .
See Section 6.
See Section 7.
13. Implementation Examples
This section is an informative part of the definition of Criticality.
We hope it helps implementers understand the mechanics of the
We will examine two cases. They are how a content gateway processes
a message and how a disaggregated content gateway processes a
13.1. Content Gateways
Content gateways examine the contents of a message from a first
network before the gateway forwards the message to a second network.
For the purposes of this example, we assume the second network has
less capability than the first network. In particular, we expect
there will be certain message body types that the gateway cannot pass
onto the second network.
Consider a gateway between the Internet and a text-only short message
service. A message comes through the gateway containing a text part
and a tnef part. The sender marks the text part REQUIRED. The
gateway, knowing the capability of the short message service,
silently deletes the non-critical, tnef part, passing the critical
content to the short message service network. Any subsequent
notifications, such as failure notices or delivery notices, follow
the normal rules for notification.
Note the gateway, by silently deleting non-critical content, may
affect proprietary message correlation schemes. One can envision the
sending UA inserting a body part for tracking purposes. By deleting
non-critical content, the content gateway will break such a scheme.
If a sending UA understands how to mark critical content, it should
use Internet standard mechanisms for tracking messages, such as
What if no body parts have critical content indicators? In this
case, the entire message is critical. Thus, when the gateway sees
the tnef part, it will reject the entire message, generating a DSN
with a status code 5.6.1, "Media not supported".
Likewise, consider a three part message with a text annotation (part
1) to a voice message (part 2) with a vCard  (part 3). The sender
marks the first two parts REQUIRED. Now, let us assume the receiving
MTA (gateway) is a voice mail only system, without even the
capability to store text. In this case, the gateway, acting as the
receiving MTA, will reject the message, generating a DSN with the
status code 5.6.1, "Media not supported".
13.2. Disaggregated Content Gateway
For this example, we will examine the processing of a three-part
message. The first part is a text annotation of the second part, an
audio message. The third part is the sender's vCard. The sender
marks the first and second parts REQUIRED. In addition, the sender
marks the message for read receipt.
For the purposes of example, the telephone user interface (TUI) does
not perform text-to-speech conversion. A TUI is a mail user agent
(UA) that uses DTMF touch-tone digits for input and audio for output
The TUI is unable to render the first part of the message, the text
part. In addition, it is unable to render the third part of the
message, the vCard part. Since the sender did not mark the third
part of the message REQUIRED, the system ignores the failure of the
TUI to render the third part of the message. However, since the
sender did mark the first part REQUIRED, and the TUI is unable to
render text, the message fails.
What happens next is implementation dependent. If the TUI is part of
a unified messaging system, a reasonable action is to hold the
message for the user. The user can access the message at a later
time from a terminal that can render all of the critical body parts.
It would be reasonable for the TUI to notify the user about the
undeliverable body part.
If the TUI is part of a voice messaging system, or if the user does
not subscribe to a text-to-speech service, a reasonable action is for
the TUI to return a MDN with the disposition "failed" and the failure
modifier "5.6.1 (Media not supported)".
14. OPES Considerations
Critical Content processing is not a web service. However, some in
the Internet community may draw parallels between web services that
modify content and an e-mail, SIP, or other MIME-transport service
that modifies content.
This section will analyze the Critical Content protocol machinery
against the requirements stated in RFC 3238 . The summary is that
the protocol described in this document meets all of the requirements
of RFC 3238.
14.1. Consideration (2.1): One-Party Consent
This is the heart of Critical Content. Critical Content enables the
sending party to give consent to have the message modified. Gateways
that conform to this document will ensure that gateways only modify
messages that the sending party has given consent to modify.
14.2. Consideration (2.2): IP-layer Communications
The content gateway is an addressable IP-entity. Moreover, all of
the relevant protocols (SMTP, SIP, HTTP, etc.) all explicitly make
the presence of the gateway known to the endpoints.
14.3. Consideration (3.1): Notification - Sender
Again, this is the point of this document. The sender explicitly
gets notification if the gateway would remove a Critical Content body
14.4. Consideration (3.2): Notification - Receiver
The nature of the receiving system dictates that end users understand
that the messages have been changed.
14.5. Consideration (3.3): Non-Blocking
By definition, the endpoint cannot receive non-modified content, so
this requirement does not apply.
14.6. Consideration (4.1): URI Resolution
Clearly, one is sending mail (SMTP), a message (SIP), or fetching a
document (HTTP). The machinery described in this document does not
alter the content itself or the access mechanism. Thus it is
compliant with this requirement.
14.7. Consideration (4.2): Reference Validity
Since the protocol described in this document does not alter the
content itself, inter- and intra-document references are not altered.
However, intra-document references to removed body parts will fail.
On the other hand, the sender explicitly marked those body parts as
being disposable. Thus the sender is aware of the possibility the
parts may not arrive at the receiver.
14.8. Consideration (4.3): Architecture Extensions
Since the protocol described in this document meets Considerations
4.1 and 4.2, this requirement does not apply.
14.9. Consideration (5.1): Privacy
protocol honors end-to-end security.
15. Security Considerations
Sending UA's can use signatures over critical content indicators to
ensure the integrity of the indicator.
The gateway MUST honor signature processing. In particular, if the
sending UA marks the signature components REQUIRED, and the endpoint
cannot do MIME signature processing, the gateway MUST establish an
appropriate signature mechanism between the gateway and the endpoint.
In this case, the gateway must be secure, as it can become a target
point for tampering with the signed components of the message.
Receiving systems and users should not place any authentication value
on the Handling parameter.
Note that by design, and under the sending user's request, a content
gateway will silently delete unimportant body parts. Critical content
gives the sender the ability to determine the acceptable level
integrity of the delivered message. That is, the message as the
content gateway actually passes it on is, in fact, representative of
the sender's intentions.
16. IANA Considerations
RFC 3204 already registered the Handling parameter. It is collected
here only for reference and as a placeholder for use both for further
expansion in the future and as the normative reference for other
documents that need to reference the Handling parameter.
Per section 9 of , here is the IANA registration for Handling.
To: IANA@IANA.ORG Subject: Registration of new Content-Disposition
Content-Disposition parameter name: HANDLING
Allowable values for this parameter: REQUIRED OPTIONAL
Description: Marks the body part as required for delivery (REQUIRED)
or can be silently discarded (OPTIONAL). See RFC <this document> and
Per RFC 2183, the Content-Disposition parameter name is not case
sensitive. Per RFC 3459, the values of the parameter are also not
17.1 Normative References
 Bradner, S., "The Internet Standards Process -- Revision 3", BCP
9, RFC 2026, October 1996.
 Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement
Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
 Rosenberg, J., Schulzrinne, H., Camarillo, G., Johnston, A.,
Peterson, P., Sparks, R., Handley, M. and E. Schooler, "SIP:
Session Initiation Protocol", RFC 3261, June 2002.
 IAB, Floyd, S. and L. Daigle, "IAB Architectural and Policy
Considerations for Open Pluggable Edge Services", RFC 3238,
 Zimmerer, E., Peterson, E., Vemuri, A., Ong, L., Audet, F.,
Watson, M. and M. Zonoun, "MIME media types for ISUP and QSIG
Objects", RFC 3204, December 2001.
 Troost, R., Dorner, S. and K. Moore, Ed., "Communicating
Presentation Information in Internet Messages: The Content-
Disposition Header Field", RFC 2183, August 1997.
 Crocker, D. and P. Overell, Eds., "Augmented BNF for Syntax
Specifications: ABNF", RFC 2234, November 1997.
 Moore, K., "Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) Service
Extension for Delivery Status Notifications (DSNs)", RFC 3461,
 Moore, K. and G. Vaudreuil, "An Extensible Message Format for
Delivery Status Notifications", RFC 3464, January 2003.
 Fajman, R., "An Extensible Message Format for Message
Disposition Notifications", RFC 2298, March 1998.
 Galvin, J., Murphy, S., Crocker, S. and N. Freed, "Security
Multiparts for MIME: Multipart/Signed and Multipart/Encrypted",
RFC 1847, October 1995.
 Freed, N., "Gateways and MIME Security Multiparts", RFC 2480,
 Vaudreuil, G., "Enhanced Mail System Status Codes", RFC 3463,
 Freed, N. and N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose Internet Mail
Extensions (MIME) Part One: Format of Internet Message Bodies",
RFC 2045, November 1996.
 Freed, N. and N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose Internet Mail
Extensions (MIME) Part Two: Media Types", RFC 2046, November
 Vaudreuil, G. and G. Parsons, "Voice Profile for Internet Mail -
version 2", RFC 2421, September 1998.
 Kille, S., "MIXER (Mime Internet X.400 Enhanced Relay): Mapping
between X.400 and RFC 822/MIME", RFC 2156, January 1998.
 Klensin, J., Ed., "Simple Mail Transfer Protocol", RFC 2821,
 Crocker, D., "Standard for the Format of ARPA Internet Text
Messages", RFC 822, August 1982.
17.2 Informative Reference
 Dawson, F. and T. Howes, "vCard MIME Directory Profile", RFC
2426, September 1998.
Emily Candell of Comverse Network Systems was instrumental in helping
work out the base issues in the -00 document in Adelaide.
Ned Freed pointed out that this mechanism was about criticality, not
notification. That insight made the concept and descriptions
infinitely more straightforward. If it's still confusing, it's my
Ned Freed also was instrumental in crafting the sections on
multipart/signed and multipart/encrypted. As AD, he provided
invaluable commentary to help progress this document.
Keith Moore for helped tighten-up the explanations, and he approved
of the use of Content-Disposition.
Dropping the IMPORTANT critical content type took away one of the
reasons for partial non-delivery notification. That makes Jutta
Degener very happy!
Harald Alvestrand and Chris Newman suggested some implementation
Greg White asked THE key question that let us realize that critical
content processing was a gateway function, and not a MTA or UA
Jon Peterson cleared up how handling actually does work in the SIP
An enormous thank you to Michelle S. Cotton at IANA for helping me
craft the original IANA Considerations section in 2000, and for
catching the functional overlap with RFC 3204 in January 2002.
Any errors, omissions, or silliness are my fault.
19. Intellectual Property Rights Notice
The IETF takes no position regarding the validity or scope of any
intellectual property or other rights that might be claimed to
pertain to the implementation or use of the technology described in
this document or the extent to which any license under such rights
might or might not be available; neither does it represent that it
has made any effort to identify any such rights. Information on the
IETF's procedures with respect to rights in standards-track and
standards-related documentation can be found in BCP-11. Copies of
claims of rights made available for publication and any assurances of
licenses to be made available, or the result of an attempt made to
obtain a general license or permission for the use of such
proprietary rights by implementers or users of this specification can
be obtained from the IETF Secretariat.
The IETF invites any interested party to bring to its attention any
copyrights, patents or patent applications, or other proprietary
rights that may cover technology that may be required to practice
this standard. Please address the information to the IETF Executive
20. Author's Address
SnowShore Networks, Inc.
285 Billerica Rd.
Chelmsford, MA 01824-4120
Phone: +1 978 367 8400
Fax: +1 603 457 5944
21. Full Copyright Statement
Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2003). All Rights Reserved.
This document and translations of it may be copied and furnished to
others, and derivative works that comment on or otherwise explain it
or assist in its implementation may be prepared, copied, published
and distributed, in whole or in part, without restriction of any
kind, provided that the above copyright notice and this paragraph are
included on all such copies and derivative works. However, this
document itself may not be modified in any way, such as by removing
the copyright notice or references to the Internet Society or other
Internet organizations, except as needed for the purpose of
developing Internet standards in which case the procedures for
copyrights defined in the Internet Standards process must be
followed, or as required to translate it into languages other than
The limited permissions granted above are perpetual and will not be
revoked by the Internet Society or its successors or assigns.
This document and the information contained herein is provided on an
"AS IS" basis and THE INTERNET SOCIETY AND THE INTERNET ENGINEERING
TASK FORCE DISCLAIMS ALL WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING
BUT NOT LIMITED TO ANY WARRANTY THAT THE USE OF THE INFORMATION
HEREIN WILL NOT INFRINGE ANY RIGHTS OR ANY IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF
MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.
Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the