by Darius Kazemi, October 5 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

Electronic mail: potentially useful

RFC-278 is titled “Revision of the Mail Box Protocol”. It's authored by Bhushan, Braden, Harslem, Heafner, McKenzie, Melvin, Sundberg, Watson, and White. (This is mostly the same committee in charge of the Data Transfer Protocol and the File Tranfer Protocol.) It's dated November 17, 1971.

The technical content

The Mail Box Protocol was originally proposed in RFC-196 by Richard Watson of the Network Information Center, and then updated in RFC-221 by Watson.

The committee met to discuss the Mail Box Protocol and the “potential utility for the mechanism was confirmed”.

The commitee has decided that the protocol needs to be limited to ASCII characters formatted for printers. Previously it allowed any kind of file attachment.

The protocol will make use of the new Attach With Create method outlined in RFC-265.

There's a new mail addressing format that lets you specify if you want to send your message directly to the printer at a site, or if there is a mailbox on the computer that you simply want to append your message to.

Terminal IMP users are not going to be able to use this protocol for a while, at least not for receiving mail messages.


Just for context, before this there had been many electronic mail implementations within institutions, so for example a user of a Multics machine at MIT in the 1960s could send mail messages to other users of that machine. This is different because it's a mail protocol that lets you send messages from one institution to another, no matter what kind of computer or operating system you happen to be using.

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About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.