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MIME Attachments Are 20 Years Old Today

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the trapped-in-a-box dept.

Communications 82

judgecorp writes "MIME email attachments have been around for 20 years, and we now send a trillion every day. The mountains of emails in corporate archives now contain vital information, says MIME inventor Nathaniel Borenstein, which can be mined to expose conspiracies and make businesses more efficient. He also says a one-penny tax on attachments would make him as rich as Germany — if it weren't for the fact that such a charge would have killed MIME."

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Who is this we? (5, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39317871)

we now send a trillion every day.

Only if the "we" includes spam scripts. I suspect the true number of human sent mime emails is well under a billion per day.

Re:Who is this we? (2)

dukeblue219 (212029) | more than 2 years ago | (#39317883)

Yeah, I doubt there's 200 email attachments being sent for every human being on the planet every day. Or maybe my spam filter is a lot better than I thought....

Re:Who is this we? (3, Informative)

Lennie (16154) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318159)

Most of the mail that is sent has at least 1 mime type, like text/html and a lot of times it also has a text/plain

These too are "attachments", the user interface might not show it that way but technically they are the same as any other attachment.

Re:Who is this we? (1)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 2 years ago | (#39320833)

No, they aren't. Attachments are multipart/related, HTML email is multipart/alternative. Both are implemented with MIME, but it's wrong to say that HTML emails are just attachments.

Re:Who is this we? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39321773)

That's not what he said.

Re:Who is this we? (2)

jrumney (197329) | more than 2 years ago | (#39322213)

Attachments are multipart/related, HTML email is multipart/alternative.

If you're going to argue on technical details, at least get them right. Emails with attachments are almost always multipart/mixed. The attachments themselves can be any mime type.

Multipart/related is a seldom used extension to mime, intended to deal with situations where different parts refer to the same object, such as Macintosh data and resource forks, digital signatures for attached files, etc.

Re:Who is this we? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39318071)

Real-world human MIMEs are pretty annoying, too.

Re:Who is this we? (5, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318135)

You underestimate the power of a PHB with a Bcc list.

Re:Who is this we? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39319253)

Or a group of people who do EVERYTHING thru email...

200 a day fah I wish...

Why yes I dont get much done during the day. Why yes I have told them. Why yes it is a problem...

I get maybe 1-2 spam messages a week. I get on average 1000 work spam messages. I have to read every damn one as they may call me out in one to do something. And woe unto you if you dont do it...

Re:Who is this we? (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 2 years ago | (#39320087)

BCC? If only.

Did you know you can put an unpractically huge number of addresses in the TO: field alone? I love seeing my email address neatly nestled amid 200 others that definitely won't be picked up by spammers, for sure.

Re:Who is this we? (1)

sco08y (615665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39320613)

You underestimate the power of a PHB with a Bcc list.

They only use MIME to wrap their true container format: the almighty PowerPoint presentation.

Re:Who is this we? (4, Informative)

Karlt1 (231423) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318439)

The author didn't say that a trillion emails were sent everyday, he said MIME was used a trillion times everyday. MIME is also used as part of http.

Re:Who is this we? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39319489)

The author wrote "MIME email attachments", not MIME as part of HTML. So he is wrong.

Re:Who is this we? (1)

Karlt1 (231423) | more than 2 years ago | (#39319695)

The article says "I did some checking up, and thereâ(TM)s an estimate that MIME is used a trillion times every day"

Re:Who is this we? (4, Funny)

grcumb (781340) | more than 2 years ago | (#39319843)

The article says "I did some checking up, and thereâ(TM)s an estimate that MIME is used a trillion times every day"

A trillion MIMEs? I'm speechless.
*runs away without moving*

Larry Wall on MIME (4, Funny)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 2 years ago | (#39317879)

Gad, I hate MIME. [markmail.org]
Larry Wall, 13 Sep 1995

Re:Larry Wall on MIME (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39319145)

That's Quoted-Printable, (or Mangled-Barely-Readable if you prefer) - which is just one of many transfer encodings MIME offers. It's about the least ugly possibility unless you want to go all HTML-Entity though.

The worst thing with QP is how badly it interacts with UTF-8. Otherwise, it's not too sucky.

Re:Larry Wall on MIME (1)

Shag (3737) | more than 2 years ago | (#39319689)

Yeah, what Larry said.

Although it's kind of cute to get work newsletters where the plain-text part is empty, so my mailer just displays "This message has no content."

Re:Larry Wall on MIME (1)

inflex (123318) | more than 2 years ago | (#39320909)

Well, humour aside,I really hate MIME as well - I write a few MIME handling tools (ripMIME, alterMIME and such) and I have to say I just HATE IT.

Would have much rathered we ended up with something more akin to a zip or even tar.gz. Sure Microsoft tried to give us TNEF but that was a disaster for its own reasons.

Another interesting interview. (4, Informative)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 2 years ago | (#39317895)

Here [allthingsd.com] is another interesting interview with Ned Borenstein I read last week.

Re:Another interesting interview. (1)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 2 years ago | (#39324417)

Sounds a little boren.

20 years, eh? No more excuses (2)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 2 years ago | (#39317901)

For no option for MIME-formatted mailing list digests!

It's so silly that I usually have to subscribe to instant mails and write a procmail filter for lists I only read once in a while.

Re:20 years, eh? No more excuses (1)

loufoque (1400831) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318163)

The reason why there is none is that plain text converts information better than HTML with embedded images.

Re:20 years, eh? No more excuses (3, Informative)

xaxa (988988) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318267)

A MIME-formatted mailing list digest would be a file encapsulating many emails, in whatever format those emails were sent in.

Think of "saving" many emails from your email program, then attaching them to a new message, and sending that to someone.

Something like this: http://pastebin.com/uJ6K6ias [pastebin.com] (KMail shows it correctly, GMail doesn't, I don't know what the problem is)

I remember (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39317917)

I remember the absolute shitstorm on Usenet when Borenstein posted a mime-format message with image/sound of him and others (Mark Crispin?) performing acapella.

My mother is so poor... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39317921)

...she opened a Hotmail just so she can eat the spam.

uuencode FTW! (4, Interesting)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | more than 2 years ago | (#39317959)

I was trying to remember how I emailed binaries back in the day then I remembered piping uuencode into mail and addresses with bangs and hoping some grouchy admin along the UUCP trail didn't bitch about the traffic. Get off my lawn!

Re:uuencode FTW! (3, Funny)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318293)

Silly me.

I used to just set up an FTP account and email the receiver the account name and address of the server so they could download it themselves.

Passwords? What passwords? We were INVULNERABLE! Who in their right mind would bother downloading a student's project, and if they did, WTF would they do with it?

Re:uuencode FTW! (1)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318299)

Or post it to any of the many BBS servers that were still all the rage at the time.

Re:uuencode FTW! (2)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318463)

Heh, I remember using a system one summer that didn't have anything for transferring files from it to my home computer - no kermit, sz/rz, xmodem, anything like that. I would uuencode to tty, save the buffer from my terminal program, and uudecode on the PC. God, that was painful.

Re:uuencode FTW! (4, Funny)

sootman (158191) | more than 2 years ago | (#39321317)

Nice, it's not often I get to bust out this old gem:

User: What do I do with this attachment?
Admin: You uudecode it.
User: I I I decode it?

Re:uuencode FTW! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39324193)

Ay, ay ay!

a new (?) law of mathematics (5, Funny)

fche (36607) | more than 2 years ago | (#39317969)

"He also says a one-penny tax on attachments would make him as rich as Germany"

Just goes to show that the product of multiplying two meaningless numbers is a meaningless number.

Re:a new (?) law of mathematics (5, Insightful)

Rayonic (462789) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318179)

"He also says a one-penny tax on attachments would make him as rich as Germany"

Just goes to show that the product of multiplying two meaningless numbers is a meaningless number.

So it's kinda like a tax break. He could have taxed everyone 1 penny per attachment but he didn't, so he essentially gave everyone 1 penny per email attachment.

Thus Nathaniel Borenstein has given trillions of dollars to spammers. What a jerk! He should have spent those trillions on more worthy causes.

(The scary thing is that many lawmakers think along these lines. Money not taken = money given, regardless of logistics or practicality.)

Re:a new (?) law of mathematics (4, Funny)

JamesP (688957) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318381)

Hence the old joke

Don't run after a bus, run after a taxi, you will save a lot more money

Re:a new (?) law of mathematics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39318627)

"He also says a one-penny tax on attachments would result in uuencode being the current standard and nobody ever heard from Nathaniel again."

Fixed that for ya.

Re:a new (?) law of mathematics (1)

flimflammer (956759) | more than 2 years ago | (#39321821)

What did you fix exactly? His original quote basically said that except for the direct reference to uuencode.

Anyone remember before Mime? (3)

Zombie Ryushu (803103) | more than 2 years ago | (#39317973)

Does anyone remember using uuencode and uudecode under Minuet for DOS? I used to use that in the late 1990s on my Tandy 1000 TL. Minuet couldn't read Base64 Mime Attachments.

Re:Anyone remember before Mime? (1)

drolli (522659) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318271)

But besides that, minuet is an example of how good a program can be even on an inferior os. I was suprised (i tested it after working with os/2, solaris and linux). Minuet did everything i needed. In fact it could do so in a few mb of ram, quite fast and stable. If you would give me the choice between webmail an minuet, i still would prefer minuet....

Re:Anyone remember before Mime? (1)

Pi Is A Rational (1106177) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318885)

I loaded up MINUET a few weeks ago on my DOS machine and it amazingly still works, though it's extremely picky trying to parse any HTTP. Telnet and Gopher still works okay, heh.

Re:Anyone remember before Mime? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39319023)

Does anyone remember using uuencode and uudecode under Minuet for DOS? I used to use that in the late 1990s on my Tandy 1000 TL. Minuet couldn't read Base64 Mime Attachments.

What I remember most fondly is when emails were emails and not HTML-ized bullshit that should be restricted to HTTP.

as rich as Germany (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39317975)

Aren't all western countries in dept?

Re:as rich as Germany (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39317985)

Which department do you mean..?

Re:as rich as Germany (1)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318323)

The department of redundancy department.

Re:as rich as Germany (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39318145)

Aren't all western countries in dept?

Is being in dept and being rich mutually exclusive?

Re:as rich as Germany (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39318203)

All European companies are in debt, but not as much as the USA is

A 1-penny tax? (2)

guttentag (313541) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318051)

A 1-penny tax (assuming it was paid) would not make him as rich as Germany. It would make the U.S. as rich as... well... the U.S. before the second Bush administration. And still have money left over to rescue the U.S. Postal Service.

For Nathaniel Borenstein to get rich off this, it would have to be a 1-penny licensing fee.

Re:A 1-penny tax? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39318075)

The Postal Service receives no tax money.

Re:A 1-penny tax? (2)

fche (36607) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318315)

A few more years of -5billion net income, and we'll see about that.

Re:A 1-penny tax? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39320139)

In a few years they'll have finish paying off that 75 year pension plan like congress told them too and they won't be running in the red anymore (until congress decides to try and kill them again).

True except that it's false (-1)

paiute (550198) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318067)

"He also says a one-penny tax on attachments would make him as rich as Germany...."

Yeah, if everyone who had developed any of the protocols we use on the web had monetized them, they'd be billionaires. Except that the accreted charges would have ensured that no one ever used the web.

Re:True except that it's false (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39318117)

You need to work on your reading skills.

Re:True except that it's false (3, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318157)

Is this some new spam bot trick where you quote the first half of a sentence of the summary and then say the second half in your own words?

Re:True except that it's false (1)

flimflammer (956759) | more than 2 years ago | (#39321853)

Is there a reason why you didn't bother reading the second half of the sentence before you commented? Are you a member of the Redundant Brigade?

disregard. just need a timestamp (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39318091)

De, Ka, Ol, Na, An, JuZ

Can we stop sucking Steve Jobs' dick? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39318147)

Half of the first page is about how great and amazing Steve Jobs was, despite the fact that he wanted to cock up everything. Can journalists really not write an article about him without sucking up to the guy, even when it's about something he did (or tried to do) WRONG?

Marcel Marcaux invented MIME, everyone knows that. (3, Funny)

drwho (4190) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318255)

Or maybe he just popularized it? I don't know. But I get annoyed with these clowns attached to my e-mail messages.

Re:Marcel Marcaux invented MIME, everyone knows th (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39318297)

*sigh* http://lmgtfy.com/?q=marcel+marceau

Also,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mime

Yeah, I know it was a joke, but still...

MIME is awesome but awful (4, Interesting)

dskoll (99328) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318283)

MIME is quite amazing, but some of the RFCs such as RFC 2231 [ietf.org] are a real WTF. I took over maintainership of the MIME::tools Perl module and felt murderous sentiments towards the authors of that RFC...

Re:MIME is awesome but awful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39318317)

What's so bad about it? It was trivial to implement. Take a look at gmime to see how it's done.

Re:MIME is awesome but awful (4, Interesting)

dskoll (99328) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318651)

What's bad about it is coming up with sane ways to deal with malformed parameter values while minimizing security risks. There are many ways to abuse that spec (for example) to specify something that Outlook sees as "filename.exe" while your security scanner sees "innoccuous.txt", depending on how the malformed parameter is interpreted.

Handling well-formed MIME is easy. Dealing safely with malformed MIME is a nightmare. And unfortunately, because of piles of bad software, you can't be pedantic and simply reject malformed MIME; end-users will riot.

Re:MIME is awesome but awful (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318991)

Can't you make it configurable? Introduce a few "standard" error handlers with one being the default and allow users to write their own, or something like that.

Re:MIME is awesome but awful (1)

Alioth (221270) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318507)

It could have been much, much worse. If MIME hadn't have come along, we could have all ended up being forced to use X.400, which like all the ISO-OSI networking stuff, horrific. (And which you have to pay a fee and sign an NDA to get the documentation that is the equivalent of an RFC)

Re:MIME is awesome but awful (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318569)

Well as an X.400 guy from back in the day ( I had root on the Uk's ADMD)

OSI was "hard sums" and you had to learn ASN1 just to read the specs but it did do binary well before SMTP. I don't recall a NDA but it was designed by and for PTT's though compared to the on average low quality of RFC's the quality of the standards where much higher much less ignoring the hard stuff which is endemic in internet based standards (wifi being a good example here)

Re:MIME is awesome but awful (1)

dskoll (99328) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318655)

Heh... I guess it's all relative. :) Every time I get annoyed at Linux, I think of how nasty it would be to run Windows on my desktop and then I calm down.

Yes, X.400 would've been far, far worse.

Re:MIME is awesome but awful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39322379)

How dare someone use languages other than US-English on the internet!

Re:MIME is awesome but awful (2)

rdebath (884132) | more than 2 years ago | (#39324289)

Tell me about it, when I first came across MIME itself it was a real WTF moment!

I hated quoted printable on sight. HTML(SGML) entities are blissful in comparison (Though I think my favourite idea at the time was the 8bit T.61 character set) . Base64 was good, but hardly unique, XXEncode had been using a similar character encoding for a while.

But this was small change to the (IMO) real nasty, instead of just having the old RFC822 messages as a pure carrier they were trying to merge it into the standard. To tie it to RFC822 messages and, I've now realised, make it look like a smaller change. Of course the only part that highlighted was the 'MIME-Version' header which was an improvement on hunting the message for a 'xxbegin' header.

I would have left just a 'Content-Encapsulation' header (Like Content-Encoding but I've just renamed it 'cause it's a lot simpler) in the SMTP headers and put everything else in the body of the message, All this header would tell you is how to unwrap the body into a collection of parts; things like "SMTP", "base64", attached-base64-files, eightbit-metafile, etc etc. Just one token to describe the archive you'd have to look inside for the metadata attached to each file (including checksums of course).

They never did seem to realise that the separation of the container and the data contained INCLUDING it's metadata was actually important, so we have the current mess.

You know most people on usenet never actually switched to MIME, they used uuencode until it was replaced by 'yenc' (and that's another story)

[[ Button pushed, venting complete! ]]

Wait! (0)

WillyWanker (1502057) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318411)

Didn't Apple invent and patent MIME attachments (after stealing the idea from Nate)?

What's that? No? Well they claim to have invented and patented everything else they've stolen, so I figured I had at least a 50/50 shot...

Re:Wait! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39318615)

Steve Jobs standard demo [youtube.com] in 1989/1990 was showing off Mail.app's embedding of documents, images, and sounds ("Lip Service".)

Re:Wait! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39319447)

Not as bad as the numerous dick yankers I've had to correct in recent times who've claimed that Linus is the creator of POSIX. Some of the more misinformed ones have claimed that POSIX was a platform and one even claimed (and probably still claims*) that any mention of POSIX in MS Windows is a sign of MS ripping off Linux kernel code.

So this kind of thing goes around in all circles. It depends on how tolerant you are of people trying to rewrite computing history as to how much of it you'll put up with. This tolerance seems to change depending on how much the person you're dealing with agrees with your general dispositions on technology.

* We know that we can correct fanbois but many of them continue to caw on false claims even after they've been proven dead wrong in the hopes that their folly won't be uncovered again.

Thunderbird difficulty (1)

Onymous Coward (97719) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318551)

I have a friend who has trouble with my sending them copies of email chains as attachments. That is, they want to see some emails I've got so I MIME attach them to an email saying "Here you go."

Is it really all that tough in Thunderbird to view attachments?

How about a one-penny tax... (2)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318857)

on sending pure text as a Word doc attachment?

Re:How about a one-penny tax... (2)

Dark$ide (732508) | more than 2 years ago | (#39318981)

on sending pure text as a Word doc attachment?

Should be a one dollar tax on that.

Worse is sending screen shots as word documents rather than a simple jpeg attachment. Anyone doing that should be sent to Gitmo.

Re:How about a one-penny tax... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39320069)

Amazingly, the only Word docs - to - send - a - screenshot docs I get come from my IT admins. Amazing things happen when you don't give your IT team the right tools to work with.

Re:How about a one-penny tax... (1)

pr0fessor (1940368) | more than 2 years ago | (#39328859)

When your IT admins sends out an email with a word doc attachment (because if it were anything else you wouldn't know what to do with it) that has multiple screen shots in it and lots of words that is called a walk through. It means they are tired of you calling for the same "how to/walk through" every single day. They might post it in a knowledge base and send an email letting you know it's there but then you would have to call and ask them to reset your password for the knowledge base every single day. Then they would freak out and start mumbling to themselves as they bang their head against the desk, because they already tried slipping some ginkgo into the water fountain and you still can't remember your password.

Re:How about a one-penny tax... (1)

moortak (1273582) | more than 2 years ago | (#39322387)

Once a month one of my clients types out an item they need printed in word, prints it out on their office printer, scans it, places the resulting image in word, and emails us the result. Included in the email are the changes they want made to the type. A small piece of my soul dies when I see that email.

Re:How about a one-penny tax... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39322403)

And sending screen shots as jpegs are generally worse than sending them as PNG. JPEG is alright if there's a lot of photographic content in the shot, but generally you just end up with a blocky mess.

Re:How about a one-penny tax... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39335669)

One penny? How $1,000 fine per page! When you're using Mutt on a linux server from a HP-UX 10.26 machine in an office without a single Windows machine, reading those attachments is a bit annoying.

Getting rich (1)

ReallyEvilCanine (991886) | more than 2 years ago | (#39319377)

"as rich as Germany" before>/i> we gave all that cash to Greece?

True religion jeans 70% off sale, cheap true relig (-1, Offtopic)

linling (1952110) | more than 2 years ago | (#39322253)

More than 70% off true religion jeans sale at our store.We are the official true religion outlet store. Your best choice to buy cheap true religion jeans here.

I disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39324485)

I just checked. My oldest MIME attachment is 16 years and 1 month old. The rest are younger, some no more than a few days or even hours, certainly not 20 years.

MIMEs? Yeah, great... (1)

Patchw0rk F0g (663145) | more than 2 years ago | (#39324517)

Try and figure out how to get Explorer to recognize a Dreamweaver template file as a valid HTML document. In my case (Win7) it was a friggin' registry hack.

Y'know, Microsoft, there ARE still designers who use templates out here. For those shitty little sites that don't deserve more than a few hours work to get them live. And no... people don't use Frontpage anymore. We've moved on. Play well with others, guys. Sheesh.

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