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RFC 5064 - The Archived-At Message Header Field

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Network Working Group                                          M. Duerst
Request for Comments: 5064                      Aoyama Gakuin University
Category: Standards Track                                  December 2007

                  The Archived-At Message Header Field

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.


   This memo defines a new email header field, Archived-At:, to provide
   a direct link to the archived form of an individual email message.

Table of Contents

   1. Introduction ....................................................2
   2. Header Field Definition .........................................2
      2.1. Syntax .....................................................2
      2.2. Multiple Archived-At Header Fields .........................3
      2.3. Interaction with Message Fragmentation and Reassembly ......3
      2.4. Syntax Extension for Internationalized Message Headers .....3
      2.5. The X-Archived-At Header Field .............................4
   3. Implementation and Usage Considerations .........................4
      3.1. Formats of Archived Message ................................4
      3.2. Implementation Considerations ..............................4
      3.3. Usage Considerations .......................................5
   4. Security Considerations .........................................6
   5. IANA Considerations .............................................7
      5.1. Registration of the Archive-At Header Field ................7
      5.2. Registration of the X-Archived-At Header Field .............7
   6. Acknowledgments .................................................8
   7. References ......................................................8
      7.1. Normative References .......................................8
      7.2. Informative References .....................................8

1.  Introduction

   [RFC2369] defines a number of header fields that can be added to
   Internet messages such as those sent by email distribution lists or
   in netnews [RFC1036].  One of them is the List-Archive header field
   that describes how to access archives for the list.  This allows
   access to the archives as a whole, but not an individual message.

   There is often a need or desire to refer to the archived form of a
   single message.  For more detailed usage scenarios, please see
   Section 3.3.  This memo defines a new header, Archived-At, to refer
   to a single message at an archived location.  This provides quick
   access to the location of a mailing list message in the list archive.
   It can also be used independently of mailing lists, for example in
   connection with legal requirements to archive certain messages.

   In this document, the key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED",
   and "OPTIONAL" are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119].

2.  Header Field Definition

2.1.  Syntax

   For the Archived-At header field, the field name is "Archived-At".
   The field body consist of a URI [STD66] enclosed in angle brackets
   ('<', '>').  The URI MAY contain folding whitespace (FWS, [RFC2822]),
   which is ignored.  Mail Transfer Agents (MTAs) MUST NOT insert
   whitespace within the angle brackets, but client applications SHOULD
   ignore any whitespace, which might have been inserted by poorly
   behaved MTAs.  The URI points to an archived version of the message.
   See Section 3.1 for more details.

   This header field is subject to the encoding and character
   restrictions for mail headers as described in [RFC2822].

   More formally, the header field is defined as follows in Augmented
   BNF (ABNF) according to [RFC4234]:

      archived-at = "Archived-At:" [FWS] "<" folded-URI ">" CRLF
      folded-URI  = <URI, but free insertion of FWS permitted>

   where URI is defined in [STD66], and CRLF and FWS are defined in

   To convert a folded-URI to a URI, first apply standard [RFC2822]
   unfolding rules (replacing FWS with a single SP), and then delete any
   remaining un-encoded SP characters.

   This syntax is kept simple in that only one URI per header field is
   allowed.  In this respect, the syntax is different from [RFC2369].
   Also, comments are not allowed.

2.2.  Multiple Archived-At Header Fields

   Each Archived-At header field only contains a single URI.  If it is
   desired to list multiple URIs where an archived copy of the message
   can be found, a separate Archived-At field per URI is required.
   Multiple Archived-At header fields with the same URI SHOULD be
   avoided.  An Archived-At header field SHOULD only be created if the
   message is actually being made available at the URI given in the
   header field.

   If a message is forwarded from a list to a sublist and both lists
   support adding the Archived-At header field, then the sublist SHOULD
   add a new Archived-At header field without removing the already
   existing one(s), unless the header field is exactly the same as an
   already existing one, in which case the new header field SHOULD NOT
   be added.

2.3.  Interaction with Message Fragmentation and Reassembly

   [RFC2046] allows for the fragmentation and reassembly of messages.
   Archived-At header fields are to be treated in the same way as
   Comments header fields, i.e., copied to the first fragment message
   header on fragmentation and back from there to the header of the
   reassembled message.

   This treatment has been chosen for compatibility with existing
   infrastructure.  It means that Archived-At header fields in the first
   fragment message MAY refer to an archived version of the whole,
   unfragmented message.  To avoid confusion, Archived-At headers SHOULD
   NOT be added to fragment messages.

2.4.  Syntax Extension for Internationalized Message Headers

   There are some efforts to allow non-ASCII text directly in message
   header field bodies.  In such contexts, the URI non-terminal in the
   syntax defined in Section 2.1 is to be replaced by an
   Internationalized Resource Identifier (IRI) as defined in [RFC3987].
   The specifics of the actual octet encoding of the IRI will follow the
   rules for general direct encoding of non-ASCII text.  For conversion
   between IRIs and URIs, the procedures defined in [RFC3987] are to be

2.5.  The X-Archived-At Header Field

   For backwards compatibility, this document also describes the
   X-Archived-At header field, a precursor of the Archived-At header
   field.  The X-Archived-At header field MAY also be parsed, but SHOULD
   not be generated.

   The following is the syntax of the X-Archived-At header field in ABNF
   according to [RFC4234] (which also defines SP):

      obs-archived-at = "X-Archived-At:"  SP URI CRLF

   The X-Archived-At header field does not allow whitespace inside URI.

3.  Implementation and Usage Considerations

3.1.  Formats of Archived Message

   There is no restriction on the format used to serve the archived
   message from the URI in an Archived-At header field.  It is expected
   that in many cases, the archived message will be served as (X)HTML,
   as plain text, or in its original form as message/rfc822 [RFC2046].
   Some forms of URIs may imply the format in which the archived message
   is served, although this should not be relied upon.

   If the protocol used to retrieve the message allows for content
   negotiation, then it is also possible to serve the archived message
   in several different formats.  As an example, an HTTP URI in an
   Archived-At header may make it possible to serve the archived message
   both as text/html for human consumption in a browser and as
   message/rfc822 for use by a mail user agent (MUA) without loss of

3.2.  Implementation Considerations

   Mailing list expanders and email archives are often separate pieces
   of software.  It may therefore be difficult to create an Archived-At
   header field in the mailing list expander software.

   One way to address this difficulty is to have the mailing list
   expander software generate an unambiguous URI, e.g., a URI based on
   the message identifier of the incoming email, and to set up the
   archiving system so that it redirects requests for such URIs to the
   actual messages.  If the email does not contain a message identifier,
   a unique identifier can be generated.

   Such a system has been implemented and is in productive use at W3C.
   As an example, the URI
   containing the significant part of the message identifier
   "<0I5U00G08DFGCR@mailsj-v1.corp.adobe.com>", is redirected to the URI
   of this message in the W3C mailing-list archive at

   Source code for this implementation is available at
   http://dev.w3.org/cvsweb/search/, in particular
   http://dev.w3.org/cvsweb/search/cgi/mid.pl and
   http://dev.w3.org/cvsweb/search/bin/msgid-db.pl.  These locations may
   be subject to change.

   When using the message identifier to create an address for the
   archived mail, care has to be taken to escape characters in the
   message identifier that are not allowed in the URI, or to remove
   them, as done above for the "<" and ">" delimiters.

   Implementations such as that described above can introduce a security
   issue.  Somebody might deliberately reuse a message identifier to
   break the link to a message.  This can be addressed by checking
   incoming message identifiers against those of the messages already in
   the archive and discarding incoming duplicates, by checking the
   content of incoming duplicates and discarding them if they are
   significantly different from the first message, by offering multiple
   choices in the response to the URI, or by using some authentication
   mechanism on incoming messages.

3.3.  Usage Considerations

   It may at first seem strange to have a pointer to an archived form of
   a message in a header field of that same message.  After all, if one
   has the message, why would one need a pointer to it?  It turns out
   that such pointers can be extremely useful.  This section describes
   some of the scenarios for their use.

   A user may want to refer to messages in a non-message context, such
   as on a Web page, in an instant message, or in a phone conversation.
   In such a case, the user can extract the URI from the Archived-At
   header field, avoiding the search for the correct message in the

   A user may want to refer to other messages in a message context.
   Referring to a single message is often done by replying to that
   message.  However, when referring to more than one message, providing
   pointers to archived messages is a widespread practice.  The
   Archived-At header field makes it easier to provide these pointers.

   A user may want to find messages related to a message at hand.  The
   user may not have received the related messages, and therefore needs
   to use an archive.  The user may also prefer finding related messages
   in the archive rather than in her MUA, because messages in archives
   may be linked in ways not provided by the MUA.  The Archived-At
   header field provides a link to the starting point in the archive
   from which to find related messages.

   Please note that in the above usage scenarios, it is mostly the human
   reader, rather than the email client software, that makes use of the
   URI in the Archived-At header.  However, this does not rule out the
   use of the URI in the Archived-At header by the email client or other
   software if such use is found helpful.

4.  Security Considerations

   There are many potential security issues when activating and
   dereferencing a URI.  For more details, including some
   countermeasures, please see [STD66].  In the context of this
   proposal, the following are particularly relevant: An intruder may
   get access to the message transmission and be able to insert a URI
   pointing to some malicious content.  This can be addressed by using a
   secured way of message transmission.  Also, somebody may be able to
   construct a message that is harmless when received directly, but that
   produces problems when accessed via the URI.  One reason for this may
   be the format used in the archive, where some content was not
   adequately escaped.  This can be addressed by using adequate

   The Archived-At header field points to some archived form of the
   message itself.  This in turn may contain the Archived-At field.
   This creates a potential for a denial-of-service attack on the server
   pointed to by the URI in the Archived-At header field.  The
   conditions are that the archived form of the message is downloaded
   automatically, and that further URIs in that message are followed and
   downloaded recursively without checking for already downloaded
   resources.  However, this kind of scenario can easily be avoided by
   implementations.  First, the URI in the Archived-At header field
   should not be dereferenced automatically.  Second, appropriate
   measures for loop detection should be used.

   In Section 3.2, an attack is described that may break a URI to a
   message by introducing a new message with the same message
   identifier.  Possible countermeasures are also discussed.

5.  IANA Considerations

5.1.  Registration of the Archive-At Header Field

   IANA has registered the Archived-At header field in the Message
   Header Fields Registry ([RFC3864]) as follows:

      Header field name:

      Applicable protocol:
         mail (RFC 2822) and netnews (RFC 1036)


      Author/Change controller:

      Specification document(s):
          RFC 5064

      Related information:

5.2.  Registration of the X-Archived-At Header Field

   This section is non-normative (specifically, an implementation that
   ignores this section remains compliant with this specification).

   IANA has registered the X-Archived-At header field in the Message
   Header Fields Registry ([RFC3864]) as follows:

      Header field name:

      Applicable protocol:
         mail (RFC 2822) and netnews (RFC 1036)


      Author/Change controller:

      Specification document(s):
          RFC 5064

      Related information:

6.  Acknowledgments

   The members of the W3C system team, in particular Gerald Oskoboiny,
   Olivier Thereaux, Jose Kahan, and Eric Prud'hommeaux, created the
   mid-based email archive lookup system and the experimental form of
   the Archived-At header.  Pete Resnik provided the motivation for
   writing this memo.  Discussion on the ietf-822@imc.org mailing list,
   in particular contributions by Frank Ellermann, Arnt Gulbrandsen,
   Graham Klyne, Bruce Lilly, Charles Lindsey, and Keith Moore, led to
   further improvements of the proposal.  Chris Newman, Chris Lonvick,
   Stephane Borzmeyer, Vijay K. Gurbani, and S.  Moonesamy provided
   additional valuable comments.

7.  References

7.1.  Normative References

   [RFC2119]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.

   [RFC2822]  Resnick, P., Ed., "Internet Message Format", RFC 2822,
              April 2001.

   [RFC3864]  Klyne, G., Nottingham, M., and J. Mogul, "Registration
              Procedures for Message Header Fields", BCP 90, RFC 3864,
              September 2004.

   [RFC3987]  Duerst, M. and M. Suignard, "Internationalized Resource
              Identifiers (IRIs)", RFC 3987, January 2005.

   [RFC4234]  Crocker, D., Ed., and P. Overell, "Augmented BNF for
              Syntax Specifications: ABNF", RFC 4234, October 2005.

   [STD66]    Berners-Lee, T., Fielding, R., and L. Masinter, "Uniform
              Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax", STD 66, RFC
              3986, January 2005.

7.2.  Informative References

   [RFC1036]  Horton, M. and R. Adams, "Standard for interchange of
              USENET messages", RFC 1036, December 1987.

   [RFC2046]  Freed, N. and N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose Internet Mail
              Extensions (MIME) Part Two: Media Types", RFC 2046,
              November 1996.

   [RFC2369]  Neufeld, G. and J. Baer, "The Use of URLs as Meta-Syntax
              for Core Mail List Commands and their Transport through
              Message Header Fields", RFC 2369, July 1998.

Author's Address

   Martin Duerst (Note: Please write "Duerst" with u-umlaut wherever
                 possible, for example as "D&#252;rst" in XML and HTML.)
   Aoyama Gakuin University
   5-10-1 Fuchinobe
   Sagamihara, Kanagawa  229-8558

   Phone: +81 42 759 6329
   Fax:   +81 42 759 6495
   EMail: duerst@it.aoyama.ac.jp
   URI:   http://www.sw.it.aoyama.ac.jp/D%C3%BCrst/

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