[mailhist-discuss] The first email format "standard"?

Craig Partridge craig at aland.bbn.com
Sat Sep 8 06:30:37 PDT 2012

> I recently saw a reference to RFC 561[1] as a 'standard' and it gave me 
> pause.  I hadn't thought it held that position, but that was my first 
> year of working on the Arpanet.  RFC 680[2] is sometimes cited with that 
> status. Not surprisingly, I had thought RFC 733[3] held the status as 
> the first format standard.

When I did my interviews and reading for the email history I wrote for
IEEE Annals, it pretty clear to me that 561 was functioning as the
standard and that discussions about email formats (the RFC 680
attempt that failed, and RFC 724 leading 733) treated it as the
working standard.

Around 1976 a hardcopy compilation of email standards was created (Jon Postel
had to write a two page [hardcopy!] description of how to use MLFL for it)
and I believe RFC 561 was in it (though I'm not sure why I believe that
and cannot find a source, so YMMV).



> After some discussion, I now have the impression that RFC 561 does 
> qualify as the first email format standard.  It was a joint effort among 
> colleagues at different organizations.  It sought to provide a common 
> base for the email object.  It was implemented and deployed and used.
> It specified basic mail object syntax, basic header syntax, and syntax 
> for From, Date and Subject.  That's quite a lot, IMO.
> That some quickly found it deficient and that that finding eventually 
> led to RFC 733 does not seem, to me, to negate its relevance as a 
> milestone in standardization.
> Thoughts?
> d/
> [1] Standardizing Network Mail Headers
>      http://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/rfc561/
> [2] Message Transmission Protocol
>      http://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/rfc680/
> [3] Standard for the Format of ARPA Netowork Text Messages
>      http://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/rfc733/

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