*sigh* ...

Roy Omond omond at embl-heidelberg.de
Thu May 6 11:07:39 EST 1993


Gentle people,

My patience has now been exhausted.  I am fed up to the back teeth
with the number of broken mail systems out there.  The EMBL has been
operating e-mail based services (e.g. Netserv) since 1985, so we do
have a little bit of experience in this field.  I find that I, with
my PostMaster's hat on, am spending more and more of my time massaging
mail to get it delivered to the many, many, many broken mail systems
in the world.  The latest scenario was enough for me to admit that
my patience is exhausted.  The background:

Traditional SMTP-based e-mail has been deemed to be rather inadequate
in very many respects (this we all know).  X.400 mail in the ISO/OSI
world has at least attempted to right some of these inadequacies.
The Internet community has not gone to sleep, and there was an IETF
(task force) established to come up with recommendations for extensions
to SMTP to do the same for Internet.  Thus was born MIME (Multipurpose
Internet Mail Extensions).  It is not necessary at this point to go
into any great detail about what these extensions provide;  suffice it
to say that the EMBL runs a MIME-compliant mail system (one of the
authors of our mail system (PMDF), Ned Freed, is one of the principal
members of the MIME working group).

Among the many things that MIME provides is the transfer of 8-bit
characters in the body of e-mails.  Well, it turns out that that dog's
breakfast of a disaster called "sendmail" can not (usually) handle
8-bit characters.  Ok, that's no big deal, except that some of the
stuff we distribute from Netserv actually does include 8-bit characters
(like M|ller, Krvger, Rxy Vmsqd, Pithr Rnge, Grbhbm Cdmerxn etc. :-)
(above line's got lots of 8-bit characters !)  In fact, there are even
sendmail configurations that are know to crash if presented with 8-bit
stuff !  Anyway, when we went over to 100% MIME-compliance at the EMBL,
we set things up such that our mailer at least negotiates with the
target mailer to see if it would accept 8-bit characters (whenever, of
course, it had 8-bit data to send !).  The way this negotiation takes
place is for the sending mailer to send as part of the SMTP conversation
an EHLO command (No, I don't mean HELO).  Should the target be MIME
compliant, it would respond with a list of extensions supported, and the
mail transfer would take place accordingly.  Should the target not be
MIME compliant, it should respond with a suitable error code
(500 Command unrecognized), upon which the sender will fall back to
the old style of SMTP, and initiate the transfer with a HELO command.

That's how it should work.  Unfortunately, there appears to be a large
number of sites (whose names I shall not yet reveal) using the Microsoft
Mail product as their mailer.  This piece of crud is badly, badly broken.
After the response (500 above) that the EHLO command was unrecognised,
the stupid Micros**t Mailer immediately breaks the connection, giving
no chance to fall back to old-style SMTP.  We now have lots of e-mail
in our queue for such sites.

Here's my appeal to users of our services:

	If you have sent requests to our e-mail based servers
	(Netserv, Blitz, FastA, Quick, TM7, ProteinPredict etc.)
	and received no response, the problem is very likely to
	be in the mail system installed on your system.  I have
	had numerous "conversations" with PostMasters at such
	sites, and I cannot see them achieving much progress.

	If your site is using Micros**t Mail, please scream loud
	and long at Microsoft to try to get them to fix this
	bug.  Who knows, maybe if enough do it, they might
	actually do something ...

	PostMasters lumbered with having to deal with sendmail:
	please make sure your configuration is correct.  If I
	were to receive 1 Pf. for every broken sendmail that
	sends e-mail to our servers, I could retire now in
	absolute luxury !  The number of sendmails sending out
	mail with short-form addresses ... sheesh.

Well, that's that off my chest ... *double sigh* ...

Roy Omond
System Manager/PostMaster etc. etc.
European Molecular Biology Laboratory
Heidelberg, Germany.



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