yoy.be "Why-o-Why"

E-mail over HTTP

2012-09-30 01:35  i3037  internet  [permalink]

It might be a stupid idea, but why has no-one ever thought of mapping SMTP/POP3/IMAP onto HTTP. (Or has someone?)
I know, there's a lot on the blogosphere about e-mail and it being broken in all kinds of ways, or not at all, but I don't want to touch upon that.

What I think it really is about is a clean straight-forward way of sending asynchronous messages to eachother. SMTP was created specifically for that. But it is getting old. Really old. Even so, it is based on a number of even older protocols (RFC822, anyone?). It's only normal that protocols cooperate or are based on eachother, but some are clearly established and are a really good fit for most if not all situations and environments, and some are established but happen to be the least worse solution that is available, just waiting to get replaced by something better, as soon as the folk could agree on the replacement.

HTTP was designed to transport hypertext. At first from a server to a client, but basically in any direction. And thanks to MIME, anything really. And face it, isn't almost all of our e-mail in hypertext nowadays? So HTTP and SMTP may have a lot in common, except HTTP has seen a lot more evolution as far as I know, both in design and in support by hardware and software.

How would it work? Just like an MX-record, something else (HTMX-record?) could point at a URL for the domain of an e-mail address. (And I mean full URL: http/https, (sub)domain, path, etc...) So the sender starts a request:

POST /incomingmail HTTP/1.1
Host: example.com
From: "John Doe" <john.doe@acme.us>
To: "James Day" <james.day@example.com>
Subject: Meeting invitation about some project
Date: Sat, 29 Sep 2012 15:38:11 +0000
Content-Type: text/html; charset="utf-8"
Content-Transfer-Encoding: deflate
Content-Length: 1234

At this point the server can respond with '100 Continue' or a suitable error code when spam detection or a blacklist does its job.

Same for POP3/IMAP: much like this REST thing that's getting so much attention, HTTP verbs GET and DELETE should be all you need to sift through the wad of timewasters people send you daily.

But, off course, it's just an idea. I've got lots of interesting stuff to work on before I'll put time in this probably, but if you think it's a good idea, let me know.

Update (2019-07): Ofcourse the magnificent people that are already behind the internet (that beefed-up telegraph with funky terminals) have been working silently on exactly this in general, but completely different in the details: RFC8620: JMAP

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