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Maximum length of an email address is 254 characters, not 320

I work in a business of constant learning. Technology is continually evolving and being revised. Somethings are rather constant but, being human, weI tend to develop habits occasionally rooted in wrong assumptions. Perhaps a deadline forced a decision without having time to look up the specification and over time, our mind took that unresearched decision as fact. I’ve made numerous databases over the years based upon just such a wrong assumption. My error has been in the acceptable maximum length of an email address. My number is irrelevant but I am in good company with being incorrect on the length of an email address as many people mistakenly believe it to be 320 characters.

An RFC is a request for comments which "is a memorandum published by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) describing methods, behaviors, research, or innovations applicable to the working of the Internet and Internet-connected systems." (Wikipedia) RFCs set the standards that define how the Internet works. RFC3696 and RFC5321 explain that the maximum length of an email address is 254 characters.

There appears to be some confusion over the maximum valid email address size. Most people believe it to be 320 characters (64 characters for the username + 255 characters for the domain + 1 character for the @ symbol). Other sources suggest 129 (64 + 1 + 64) or 384 (128+1+255, assuming the username doubles in length in the future).

This confusion means you should heed the ‘robustness principle’ ("developers should carefully write software that adheres closely to extant RFCs but accept and parse input from peers that might not be consistent with those RFCs." – Wikipedia) when writing software that deals with email addresses. Furthermore, some software may be crippled by naive assumptions, e.g. thinking that 50 characters is adequate (examples). Your 200 character email address may be technically valid but that will not help you if most websites or applications reject it.

The actual maximum email length is currently 254 characters:

"The original version of RFC 3696 did indeed say 320 was the maximum length, but John Klensin (ICANN) subsequently accepted this was wrong."

"This arises from the simple arithmetic of maximum length of a domain (255 characters) + maximum length of a mailbox (64 characters) + the @ symbol = 320 characters. Wrong. This canard is actually documented in the original version of RFC3696. It was corrected in the errata. There’s actually a restriction from RFC5321 on the path element of an SMTP transaction of 256 characters. But this includes angled brackets around the email address, so the maximum length of an email address is 254 characters." – Dominic Sayers

[Source, EPH, Email Address Length FAQ]

Every day I learn something new! (even when I should have known it for a couple of decades)

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Latest Internet Nuisance

This morning I received an email from two people who don’t normally send me email. Both emails were almost identical and inexplicable. One was sent to me while the other revealed the 87 or so email addresses it was sent to and appears to have been sent through gmail. I presume a worm, trojan or virus is sending this message to people’s complete address books. If you get one of these, you may want to let the send (not the entire mailing list) know that they need to scan their computer. Click more to see the email. Continue reading Latest Internet Nuisance

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AT&T – I offer you some free consulting

First, let’s begin with emailing from your phones. It’s a simple process and should never see an error like:

Your MSG could not be DELIVERED because InvalidPduContent

Soon we will discuss daylight savings time, servers and time stamping. And radiowave propagation.

Update: So far, it would appear that any SMS message over 160 characters causes this problem. Now, the thing is, the phone (a Motorola RAZR v3xx) is supposed to be able to send email as well as SMS. I believe it uses the same interface. So 160 characters doesn’t fly. Plus, the interface is supposed to take anything over 160 characters and automatically break it into multiple messages. Hmm. I wonder if that’s it. Perhaps it sends the first 160 characters successfully but fails to put the correct header on the next message so the later part of the email doesn’t get sent successfully.

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On Failed Communications

I just realized I have spent the entire day with my phone on silent. Wow! And what productive day it has been! But I’ve missed calls and text messages. For that, I apologize.

Also, yesterday I became away that I forgot to renew my domain name last week. Fortunately there is a grace period for renewals but any mail sent to my email address on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday bounced. Several people let me know this last night. Again, my apologies and if you sent me an email over the past 4 days, please resend it. Thanks!

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Outlook Dim

I am retiring Outlook as my email client and moving entirely to GMail. I’ve used numerous clients over the years including Fidonet and the other BBS packages (my first email experiences), sendmail at the command line, emacs, cc:Mail, Lotus Notes, Thunderbird, Outlook Express, Outlook, and others I can’t remember. Outlook express isn’t bad if you are simply checking email. If you are doing scheduling, group collaboration, todo lists and the works, then you should be using Outlook (not Express). As much as it goes against my philosophy of "be in control of your content," I think that using an email client and downloading email to your desktop is old school. Collaboration is moving to portals such as BEA’s Plumtree and Microsoft’s SharePoint. Meetings are done online now with Webex, GoToMeeting, Skype (I am djuggler), Adobe’s ConnectNow, and even Microsoft’s instant messenger using ShareView. Communication is being accomplished through instant messengers and in some cases instant messengers are being replaced by services such as Twitter. Text messaging is frequently favored over a voice call as it reduces the urgency of the conversation and can provide additional benefit such as retention of information (if I give you a phone number via voice you have to memorize it or write it a text message the number is stored). I can make argument that email is in its death bed. Much like snail mail and fax, it won’t go away completely but is bound to be ignored in favor of better technologies.

The way we communicate is changing rapidly. Video conferencing over mobile phones was promised by AT&T last fall in the Motorola RARZ v3xx and looks to be delivered on July 11, 2008 with the new iPhones will come sooner than later. Collaborative tools are far more powerful than hording information on single machines. And using third party or server tools to store information makes the information portable and available to you from any computer and any location. A couple of decades ago Bill Gates said the personal computer would evolve into a terminal and all software and data would be managed on network connected servers. He was right.

ps. I didn’t forget IMAP but that’s for a different post.

Note: During my transition from Outlook to Gmail I may overlook some email. If you have emailed me and been ignored, please resend your message as I am having to adjust some email habits in light of the different way Gmail handles email.

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Today’s Technical Challenge

I like the semantic web. That means that when I create a website I use markup as its intended. We used to have to use tables to make elegant layouts. Browsers have matured and become more compliant to the HTML specification. Now tables can be used for tabular data; however, designers still have tools which cut and slice designs up into tables rather than using CSS. Tables have their place in HTML. Specifically, tables use be used for presenting tabular data but not for arranging graphics or chopped up pieces of images in the browser window.

Menus and navigation are lists semantically speaking. Of course, no one wants to see a menu with a bunch of dots beside it nor should ever menu be presented as a vertical list with indentions for submenus. Using CSS we can remove the bullets, turn the list horizontal, and make the submenus appear as submenus when the mouse rolls over the navigation. This works great in a browser and because of the semantic nature will present well in a pda, phone or other mobile device. However, the WYSIWYG editor in an email client wreaks havoc on the page. "Huh?" is the correct response because really web pages, particularly dynamic web pages, should not be sent by email. Instead a link to the web page should be sent. BUT Internet Explorer is kind enough to provide under its FILE menu (PAGE menu in IE7) an option to "Send Page by Email" which in theory will deliver an HTML email that is an exact representation of the web page.

In reality, in a specific case which has not been narrowed down yet, the CSS menu is rendered with conditional comments.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>o<!–[endif]–>

Obvious steps have been to make sure that IE is upgraded to IE7 and that the email client is updated. And to confirm that the email is being sent as HTML and not plain text. Aside from returning to a tabled design, what other options should be explored?

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WordPress 2.5 post by email broken

Yesterday when Comcast was down for scheduled maintenance I tried to blog it by sending an email from my phone to Reality Me via a secret email that WordPress checks once an hour. I actually sent two posts via email and neither were ever seen on the blog. I just found both the posts with a "pending review" status. This seems to be a new behavior in WordPress 2.5 and not a feature that I like. There does not appear to be a setting that allows me to change this behavior. Perhaps it is my turn to write a plugin.

I think having the ability to post by email when I cannot otherwise reach the blog is a powerful feature. Having the post hidden from publication by slapping it into a pending review status makes posting by email a bit useless, at least for my purposes.