This document describes the format traditionally used by Unix hosts
to store mail messages locally.
files typically reside in the system's mail spool, under various
names in users' Mail directories, and under the name
in users' home directories.
is a text file containing an arbitrary number of e-mail messages.
Each message consists of a postmark, followed by an e-mail message
formatted according to RFC822, RFC2822. The file format
is line-oriented. Lines are separated by line feed characters (ASCII 10).
A postmark line consists of the four characters "From", followed by
a space character, followed by the message's envelope sender
address, followed by whitespace, and followed by a time stamp. This
line is often called From_ line.
The sender address is expected to be
as defined in RFC2822 3.4.1. The date is expected to be
as defined in RFC2822 3.3.
For compatibility reasons with legacy software, two-digit years
greater than or equal to 70 should be interpreted as the years
1970+, while two-digit years less than 70 should be interpreted as
the years 2000-2069. Software reading files in this format should
also be prepared to accept non-numeric timezone information such as
"CET DST" for Central European Time, daylight saving time.
>From firstname.lastname@example.org Fri Jun 23 02:56:55 2000
In order to avoid misinterpretation of lines in message bodies
which begin with the four characters "From", followed by a space
character, the mail delivery agent must quote any occurrence
of "From " at the start of a body line.
There are two different quoting schemes, the first (MBOXO) only
quotes plain "From " lines in the body by prepending a '>' to the
line; the second (MBOXRD) also quotes already quoted "From "
lines by prepending a '>' (i.e. ">From ", ">>From ", ...). The later
has the advantage that lines like
>From the command line you can use the '-p' option
aren't dequoted wrongly as a MBOXRD-MDA would turn the line
>>From the command line you can use the '-p' option
before storing it. Besides MBOXO and MBOXRD there is also
MBOXCL which is MBOXO with a "Content-Length:"-field with the
number of bytes in the message body; some MUAs (like
do automatically transform MBOXO mailboxes into MBOXCL ones when
ever they write them back as MBOXCL can be read by any MBOXO-MUA
without any problems.
If the modification-time (usually determined via
of a nonempty
file is greater than the access-time the file has new mail. Many MUAs
place a Status: header in each message to indicate which messages have
already been read.
files are frequently accessed by multiple programs in parallel,
files should generally not be accessed without locking.
Three different locking mechanisms (and combinations thereof) are in
locking is mostly used on recent, POSIX-compliant systems. Use of
this locking method is, in particular, advisable if
files are accessed through the Network File System (NFS), since it
seems the only way to reliably invalidate NFS clients' caches.
locking is mostly used on BSD-based systems.
Dotlocking is used on all kinds of systems. In order to lock an
file named folder, an application first creates a temporary file
with a unique name in the directory in which the
folder resides. The application then tries to use the
system call to create a hard link named folder.lockto the temporary file. The success of the
system call should be additionally verified using
calls. If the link has succeeded, the mail folder is considered
dotlocked. The temporary file can then safely be unlinked.
In order to release the lock, an application just unlinks the
If multiple methods are combined, implementors should make sure to
use the non-blocking variants of the
system calls in order to avoid deadlocks.
If multiple methods are combined, an
file must not be considered to have been successfully locked before
all individual locks were obtained. When one of the individual
locking methods fails, an application should release all locks it
acquired successfully, and restart the entire locking procedure from
the beginning, after a suitable delay.
The locking mechanism used on a particular system is a matter of
local policy, and should be consistently used by all applications
installed on the system which access
files. Failure to do so may result in loss of e-mail data, and in
$LOGNAME's incoming mail folder.
user's archived mail messages, in his $HOME directory.
A directory in user's $HOME directory which is commonly used to hold