Mail Message Formats

Mail Message Formats

When Alice writes an ordinary snail-mail letter to Bob, she may include all kinds of peripheral header information at the top of the letter, such as Bob’s address, her won return address, and the date. Similarly, when an e-mail message is sent from one person to another, a header containing peripheral information precedes the body of the message itself. This peripheral information is contained in a series of header line, which are defined in RFC 5322.  The header line and the body of the message are separated by a blank line (that is, by CRLF). RFC 5322 specifies the exact format for mail header lines as well as their semantic interpretations. As with HTTP, each header line contains readable text, consisting of a keyword followed by a colon followed by a value. Some of the keywords are required and others are optional. Every header must have a From: header line and a To: header line; a header may include a Subject: header line as well as other optional header lines. It is important to note that these header lines are different from the SMTP command we studied earlier (even though they contain some common words such as “from” and “to”). The commands were part of the SMTP handshaking protocol; the header lines examined in this section are part of the mail message itself.

A typical message header looks like this:



Subject: Searching for the meaning of life.

After the message header, a blank line follows; then the message body (in ASCII) follows. You should use Telnet to send a message to a mail server that contains some header line, including Subject: header line.