Plain text pedantry was Re: Heathkit was Re: partial P112 kits

A. Christoff Baumann feedle at feedle.net
Tue Jun 22 14:05:35 CDT 2010


On Jun 22, 2010, at 11:26 AM, Cameron Kaiser wrote:

> That said, the only mandate is that paragraph length be less than 998
> characters, so the line is still technically compliant. It is, however,
> still a very long line no matter how wide your terminal is.

Allow me to be more specific.  See the raw message at http://fedl.info/a/messageoutput.txt as delivered back to me by the mailing list.

The message is encoded using MIME type text/plain, Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable, as discussed in RFC 2045 and the follow-ups to the same.  Under that encoding method, soft line breaks are inserted as "=[CR]" before the 76th (?) character.  Most text mailers like Pine treat that as a line break, not making the "=" visible to the end user.  Mailers on bitmapped platforms (see: just about any modern computer) treat this as a signal to flow the text and not provide a hard line break, as suggested in RFC 3676.  

I suspect what is happening is whatever user agent he is using is removing the =20 and not replacing it with a native line break.  In short, "that's not my problem", his MUA is disobeying his wishes. 


As to Fred's comment about Microsoft.. like it or not Microsoft has seats on the IETF.  As the publisher of software programs that a majority of Internet users use to access the Internet, that seems appropriate.  The RFC in question was actually written by somebody from Qualcomm, and it was designed to address small-format screens such as cell phones and PDAs while still allowing text to flow naturally using windowed operating systems on bitmapped displays.  The RFC makes a lot of sense given the nature of Internet access today, and solves a good number of issues (oddly enough, precisely this one is mentioned in that RFC).

For the record: this is Apple's Mail.app on Mac OS X 6 that's doing this behavior.  And it's not the first mailer I've ever used that does it.  It's the right way to do it, and provided everybody follows the RFC properly (ahem) everybody wins and nobody loses.  It allows those who need a fixed format to have it, and for those who like text to flow naturally on whatever screen size they are using to have that: even if it's 22-column text on a Commodore VIC-20.


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