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

Dave Crocker dcrocker at gmail.com
Sat Sep 8 07:53:58 PDT 2012

On 9/8/2012 6:30 AM, Craig Partridge wrote:
>> 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.

Thanks Craig.

To provide an explicit marker for this discussion, here's what I think 
summarizes the Arpanet email standards accomplishments (distinct from 
the full range of efforts):

      1. A transport standard was achieved with FTP's MAIL and MLFL 
command.  It transferred an address and an undifferentiated, net-ascii, 
line-oriented message object, moving it to the target host. It achieved 
universal adoption, until eventually replaced by RFC 821, 10+ years later.

      2. RFC 561 provided the first standard for the format of the 
message object, distinguishing header from body.  It defined the details 
of the author, date, subject and keyword header fields (items).  The 
standard was broadly, but not universally, implemented and deployed.

      3. RFC 733 refined and significantly extended RFC 561. It gained 
essentially universal deployment, until replaced by its incremental 
successor, RFC 822, 5+ years later.

We could play with ideas of relative success, to boost RFC 733's role, 
but I think the emailhistory.org focus is (and should be) on firsts.  We 
have multiple sources making clear that RFC 561 really did serve as the 
first mail object format standard.

  Dave Crocker

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