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RFC 1651 - SMTP Service Extensions

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Network Working Group                               J. Klensin, WG Chair
Request for Comments: 1651                                           MCI
Obsoletes: 1425                                         N. Freed, Editor
Category: Standards Track                                       Innosoft
                                                                 M. Rose
                                            Dover Beach Consulting, Inc.
                                                            E. Stefferud
                                     Network Management Associates, Inc.
                                                              D. Crocker
                                                  Silicon Graphics, Inc.
                                                               July 1994

                        SMTP Service Extensions

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.

1.  Abstract

   This memo defines a framework for extending the SMTP service by
   defining a means whereby a server SMTP can inform a client SMTP as to
   the service extensions it supports. Standard extensions to the SMTP
   service are registered with the IANA.  This framework does not
   require modification of existing SMTP clients or servers unless the
   features of the service extensions are to be requested or provided.

2.  Introduction

   The Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) [1] has provided a stable,
   effective basis for the relay function of message transfer agents.
   Although a decade old, SMTP has proven remarkably resilient.
   Nevertheless, the need for a number of protocol extensions has become
   evident. Rather than describing these extensions as separate and
   haphazard entities, this document enhances SMTP in a straightforward
   fashion that provides a framework in which all future extensions can
   be built in a single consistent way.

3.  Framework for SMTP Extensions

   For the purpose of service extensions to SMTP, SMTP relays a mail
   object containing an envelope and a content.

   (1)  The SMTP envelope is straightforward, and is sent as a
        series of SMTP protocol units: it consists of an
        originator address (to which error reports should be
        directed); a delivery mode (e.g., deliver to recipient
        mailboxes); and, one or more recipient addresses.

   (2)  The SMTP content is sent in the SMTP DATA protocol unit
        and has two parts: the headers and the body. The headers
        form a collection of field/value pairs structured
        according to STD 11, RFC 822 [2], whilst the body, if
        structured, is defined according to MIME [3]. The content is
        textual in nature, expressed using the US-ASCII repertoire (ANSI
        X3.4-1986). Although extensions (such as MIME) may relax
        this restriction for the content body, the content
        headers are always encoded using the US-ASCII repertoire.
        The algorithm defined in [4] is used to represent header
        values outside the US-ASCII repertoire, whilst still
        encoding them using the US-ASCII repertoire.

   Although SMTP is widely and robustly deployed, some parts of the
   Internet community might wish to extend the SMTP service.  This memo
   defines a means whereby both an extended SMTP client and server may
   recognize each other as such and the server can inform the client as
   to the service extensions that it supports.

   It must be emphasized that any extension to the SMTP service should
   not be considered lightly. SMTP's strength comes primarily from its
   simplicity.  Experience with many protocols has shown that:

     protocols with few options tend towards ubiquity, whilst
     protocols with many options tend towards obscurity.

   This means that each and every extension, regardless of its benefits,
   must be carefully scrutinized with respect to its implementation,
   deployment, and interoperability costs. In many cases, the cost of
   extending the SMTP service will likely outweigh the benefit.

   Given this environment, the framework for the extensions described in
   this memo consists of:

      (1)  a new SMTP command (section 4)

      (2)  a registry of SMTP service extensions (section 5)

      (3)  additional parameters to the SMTP MAIL FROM and RCPT TO
           commands (section 6).

4.  The EHLO command

   A client SMTP supporting SMTP service extensions should start an SMTP
   session by issuing the EHLO command instead of the HELO command. If
   the SMTP server supports the SMTP service extensions it will give a
   successful response (see section 4.3), a failure response (see 4.4),
   or an error response (4.5). If the SMTP server does not support any
   SMTP service extensions it will generate an error response (see
   section 4.5).

4.1.  Changes to STD 10, RFC 821

   STD 10, RFC 821 states that the first command in an SMTP session must
   be the HELO command. This requirement is hereby amended to allow a
   session to start with either EHLO or HELO.

4.2.  Command syntax

   The syntax for this command, using the ABNF notation of [2], is:

     ehlo-cmd ::= "EHLO" SP domain CR LF

   If successful, the server SMTP responds with code 250. On failure,
   the server SMTP responds with code 550. On error, the server SMTP
   responds with one of codes 500, 501, 502, 504, or 421.

   This command is issued instead of the HELO command, and may be issued
   at any time that a HELO command would be appropriate.  That is, if
   the EHLO command is issued, and a successful response is returned,
   then a subsequent HELO or EHLO command will result in the server SMTP
   replying with code 503.  A client SMTP must not cache any information
   returned if the EHLO command succeeds. That is, a client SMTP must
   issue the EHLO command at the start of each SMTP session if
   information about extended facilities is needed.

4.3.  Successful response

   If the server SMTP implements and is able to perform the EHLO
   command, it will return code 250.  This indicates that both the
   server and client SMTP are in the initial state, that is, there is no
   transaction in progress and all state tables and buffers are cleared.

   Normally, this response will be a multiline reply. Each line of the
   response contains a keyword and, optionally, one or more parameters.
   The syntax for a positive response, using the ABNF notation of [2],

     ehlo-ok-rsp  ::=      "250"    domain [ SP greeting ] CR LF
                    / (    "250-"   domain [ SP greeting ] CR LF
                        *( "250-"      ehlo-line           CR LF )
                           "250"    SP ehlo-line           CR LF   )

                  ; the usual HELO chit-chat
     greeting     ::= 1*<any character other than CR or LF>

     ehlo-line    ::= ehlo-keyword *( SP ehlo-param )

     ehlo-keyword ::= (ALPHA / DIGIT) *(ALPHA / DIGIT / "-")

                  ; syntax and values depend on ehlo-keyword
     ehlo-param   ::= 1*<any CHAR excluding SP and all
                         control characters (US-ASCII 0-31

     ALPHA        ::= <any one of the 52 alphabetic characters
                       (A through Z in upper case, and,
                        a through z in lower case)>
     DIGIT        ::= <any one of the 10 numeric characters
                       (0 through 9)>

     CR           ::= <the carriage-return character
                       (ASCII decimal code 13)>
     LF           ::= <the line-feed character
                       (ASCII decimal code 10)>
     SP           ::= <the space character
                       (ASCII decimal code 32)>

   Although EHLO keywords may be specified in upper, lower, or mixed
   case, they must always be recognized and processed in a case-
   insensitive manner. This is simply an extension of practices begun in
   RFC 821.

   The IANA maintains a registry of standard SMTP service extensions.
   Associated with each such extension is a corresponding EHLO keyword
   value. Each service extension registered with the IANA is defined by
   a standards-track RFC, and such a definition includes:

      (1)  the textual name of the SMTP service extension;

      (2)  the EHLO keyword value associated with the extension;

      (3)  the syntax and possible values of parameters associated
           with the EHLO keyword value;

      (4)  any additional SMTP verbs associated with the extension
           (additional verbs will usually be, but are not required
           to be, the same as the EHLO keyword value);

      (5)  any new parameters the extension associates with the MAIL
           FROM or RCPT TO verbs; and,

      (6)  how support for the extension affects the behavior of a
           server and client SMTP.

   In addition, any EHLO keyword value that starts with an upper or
   lower case "X" refers to a local SMTP service extension, which is
   used through bilateral, rather than standardized, agreement. Keywords
   beginning with "X" may not be used in a registered service extension.

   Any keyword values presented in the EHLO response that do not begin
   with "X" must correspond to a standard or standards-track SMTP
   service extension registered with IANA.  A conforming server must not
   offer non "X" prefixed keyword values that are not described in a
   registered and standardized extension.

   Additional verbs are bound by the same rules as EHLO keywords;
   specifically, verbs begining with "X" are local extensions that may
   not be standardized and verbs not beginning with "X" must always be

4.4.  Failure response

   If for some reason the server SMTP is unable to list the service
   extensions it supports, it will return code 554.

   In the case of a failure response, the client SMTP should issue
   either the HELO or QUIT command.

4.5.  Error responses from extended servers

   If the server SMTP recognizes the EHLO command, but the command
   argument is unacceptable, it will return code 501.

   If the server SMTP recognizes, but does not implement, the EHLO
   command, it will return code 502.

   If the server SMTP determines that the SMTP service is no longer
   available (e.g., due to imminent system shutdown), it will return
   code 421.

   In the case of any error response, the client SMTP should issue
   either the HELO or QUIT command.

4.6.  Responses from servers without extensions

   A server SMTP that conforms to RFC 821 but does not support the
   extensions specified here will not recognize the EHLO command and
   will consequently return code 500, as specified in RFC 821.  The
   server SMTP should stay in the same state after returning this code
   (see section 4.1.1 of RFC 821).  The client SMTP may then issue
   either a HELO or a QUIT command.

4.7.  Responses from improperly implemented servers

   Some SMTP servers are known to disconnect the SMTP transmission
   channel upon receipt of the EHLO command. The disconnect can occur
   immediately or after sending a response.  Such behavior violates
   section 4.1.1 of RFC 821, which explicitly states that disconnection
   should only occur after a QUIT command is issued.

   Nevertheless, in order to achieve maxmimum interoperablity it is
   suggested that extended SMTP clients using EHLO be coded to check for
   server connection closure after EHLO is sent, either before or after
   returning a reply.  If this happens the client must decide if the
   operation can be successfully completed without using any SMTP
   extensions. If it can a new connection can be opened and the HELO
   command can be used.

   Other improperly-implemented servers will not accept a HELO command
   after EHLO has been sent and rejected.  In some cases, this problem
   can be worked around by sending a RSET after the failure response to
   EHLO, then sending the HELO.  Clients that do this should be aware
   that many implementations will return a failure code (e.g., 503 Bad
   sequence of commands) in response to the RSET.  This code can be
   safely ignored.

5.  Initial IANA Registry

   The IANA's initial registry of SMTP service extensions consists of
   these entries:

   Service Ext   EHLO Keyword Parameters Verb       Added Behavior
   ------------- ------------ ---------- ---------- ------------------
   Send             SEND         none       SEND    defined in RFC 821
   Send or Mail     SOML         none       SOML    defined in RFC 821
   Send and Mail    SAML         none       SAML    defined in RFC 821
   Expand           EXPN         none       EXPN    defined in RFC 821
   Help             HELP         none       HELP    defined in RFC 821
   Turn             TURN         none       TURN    defined in RFC 821

   which correspond to those SMTP commands which are defined as optional
   in [5].  (The mandatory SMTP commands, according to [5], are HELO,

6.  MAIL FROM and RCPT TO Parameters

   It is recognized that several of the extensions planned for SMTP will
   make use of additional parameters associated with the MAIL FROM and
   RCPT TO command. The syntax for these commands, again using the ABNF
   notation of [2] as well as underlying definitions from [1], is:

  esmtp-cmd        ::= inner-esmtp-cmd [SP esmtp-parameters] CR LF
  esmtp-parameters ::= esmtp-parameter *(SP esmtp-parameter)
  esmtp-parameter  ::= esmtp-keyword ["=" esmtp-value]
  esmtp-keyword    ::= (ALPHA / DIGIT) *(ALPHA / DIGIT / "-")

                       ; syntax and values depend on esmtp-keyword
  esmtp-value      ::= 1*<any CHAR excluding "=", SP, and all
                          control characters (US-ASCII 0-31

                       ; The following commands are extended to
                       ; accept extended parameters.
  inner-esmtp-cmd  ::= ("MAIL FROM:<" reverse-path ">")   /
                       ("RCPT TO:<" forward-path ">")

   All esmtp-keyword values must be registered as part of the IANA
   registration process described above. This definition only provides
   the framework for future extension; no extended MAIL FROM or RCPT TO
   parameters are defined by this RFC.

6.1.  Error responses

   If the server SMTP does not recognize or cannot implement one or more
   of the parameters associated with a particular MAIL FROM or RCPT TO
   command, it will return code 555.

   If for some reason the server is temporarily unable to accomodate one
   or more of the parameters associated with a MAIL FROM or RCPT TO
   command, and if the definition of the specific parameter does not
   mandate the use of another code, it should return code 455.

   Errors specific to particular parameters and their values will be
   specified in the parameter's defining RFC.

7.  Received: Header Field Annotation

   SMTP servers are required to add an appropriate Received: field to
   the headers of all messages they receive. A "with ESMTP" clause
   should be added to this field when any SMTP service extensions are
   used. "ESMTP" is hereby added to the list of standard protocol names
   registered with IANA.

8.  Usage Examples

   (1)  An interaction of the form:

        S: <wait for connection on TCP port 25>
        C: <open connection to server>
        S: 220 dbc.mtview.ca.us SMTP service ready
        C: EHLO ymir.claremont.edu
        S: 250 dbc.mtview.ca.us says hello

        indicates that the server SMTP implements only those SMTP
        commands which are defined as mandatory in [5].

   (2)  In contrast, an interaction of the form:

        S: <wait for connection on TCP port 25>
        C: <open connection to server>
        S: 220 dbc.mtview.ca.us SMTP service ready
        C: EHLO ymir.claremont.edu
        S: 250-dbc.mtview.ca.us says hello
        S: 250-EXPN
        S: 250-HELP
        S: 250-8BITMIME
        S: 250-XONE
        S: 250 XVRB

        indicates that the server SMTP also implements the SMTP
        EXPN and HELP commands, one standard service extension
        (8BITMIME), and two non-standard service extensions (XONE
        and XVRB).

   (3)  Finally, a server that does not support SMTP service
        extensions would act as follows:

        S: <wait for connection on TCP port 25>
        C: <open connection to server>

        S: 220 dbc.mtview.ca.us SMTP service ready
        C: EHLO ymir.claremont.edu
        S: 500 Command not recognized: EHLO

        The 500 response indicates that the server SMTP does not
        implement the extensions specified here.  The client
        would normally send a HELO command and proceed as
        specified in RFC 821.   See section 4.7 for additional

9.  Security Considerations

   This RFC does not discuss security issues and is not believed to
   raise any security issues not already endemic in electronic mail and
   present in fully conforming implementations of RFC-821.  It does
   provide an announcement of server mail capabilities via the response
   to the EHLO verb. However, all information provided by announcement
   of any of the initial set of service extensions defined by this RFC
   can be readily deduced by selective probing of the verbs required to
   transport and deliver mail. The security implications of service
   extensions described in other RFCs should be dealt with in those

10.  Acknowledgements

   This document represents a synthesis of the ideas of many people and
   reactions to the ideas and proposals of others.  Randall Atkinson,
   Craig Everhart, Risto Kankkunen, and Greg Vaudreuil contributed ideas
   and text sufficient to be considered co-authors.  Other important
   suggestions, text, or encouragement came from Harald Alvestrand, Jim
   Conklin, Mark Crispin, Frank da Cruz, 'Olafur Gudmundsson, Per
   Hedeland, Christian Huitma, Neil Katin, Eliot Lear, Harold A.
   Miller, Dan Oscarsson, Julian Onions, Rayan Zachariassen, and the
   contributions of the entire IETF SMTP Working Group. Of course, none
   of the individuals are necessarily responsible for the combination of
   ideas represented here. Indeed, in some cases, the response to a
   particular criticism was to accept the problem identification but to
   include an entirely different solution from the one originally

11.  References

   [1] Postel, J., "Simple Mail Transfer Protocol", STD 10, RFC 821,
       USC/Information Sciences Institute, August 1982.

   [2] Crocker, D., "Standard for the Format of ARPA Internet Text
       Messages", STD 11, RFC 822, UDEL, August 1982.

   [3] Borenstein, N., and N. Freed, "Multipurpose Internet Mail
       Extensions", RFC 1521, Bellcore, Innosoft, September 1993.

   [4] Moore, K., "Representation of Non-ASCII Text in Internet Message
       Headers", RFC 1522, University of Tennessee, September 1993.

   [5] Braden, R., "Requirements for Internet Hosts - Application and
       Support", STD 3, RFC 1123, USC/Information Sciences Institute,
       October 1989.

12.  Chair, Editor, and Authors' Addresses

   John Klensin, WG Chair
   MCI Data Services Division
   2100 Reston Parkway, 6th floor
   Reston, VA 22091

   Phone:: 1 703 715 7361
   Fax: +1 703 715 7435
   EMail: klensin@mci.net

   Ned Freed, Editor
   Innosoft International, Inc.
   1050 East Garvey Avenue South
   West Covina, CA 91790

   Phone:: +1 818 919 3600
   Fax: +1 818 919 3614
   EMail: ned@innosoft.com

   Marshall T. Rose
   Dover Beach Consulting, Inc.
   420 Whisman Court
   Moutain View, CA  94043-2186

   Phone: +1 415 968 1052
   Fax: +1 415 968 2510
   EMail: mrose@dbc.mtview.ca.us

   Einar A. Stefferud
   Network Management Associates, Inc.
   17301 Drey Lane
   Huntington Beach, CA, 92647-5615

   Phone: +1 714 842 3711
   Fax: +1 714 848 2091
   EMail: stef@nma.com

   Dave Crocker
   Silicon Graphics, Inc.
   2011 N. Shoreline Blvd.
   P.O. Box 7311
   Mountain View, CA 94039

   Phone: +1 415 390 1804
   Fax: +1 415 962 8404
   EMail: dcrocker@sgi.com


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