FSC-0030

		MESSAGE IDENTIFICATION AND REPLY FOR FIDONET
		*DRAFT* FIDONET TECHNICAL COMMENT

		Author:  John Cowan
		Fido:	1:107/711 (formerly 1:107/111)
		Arpa:	cowan@magpie.masa.com
		Uucp:	{backbones}!rutgers!hombre!magpie!cowan
		Vox:	+1-212-236-9153

ABSTRACT

The following document proposes a standard for message identification and
message reply identification for Fidonet and Fidonet-based electronic mail
system.  It is based on the Usenet standard, RFC 850 and successors.
The proposed standard will assist in duplicate-message detection and will
permit the support of true reply threading across the network.  The standard
consists of mandatory and suggested portions; however the term "mandatory"
does not mean that any Fidonet product must implement this standard -- it
simply means that those that do claim to implement this standard must do
so in the way described.

BACKGROUND

Currently, Fidonet messages are not uniquely identified.  A variety of schemes
are in place to determine whether a message received by a Fidonet node has
been previously processed by the node, but all of them involve a probabilistic
component which may allow duplicates to slip through.  This can happen with
particular ease where non-Fidonet gateways are involved which may reformat
a message.

In addition, Fidonet provides no clear and definite indication of whether
a message is a reply to some other message, and if so, which message.  This
is a consequence of the previous problem -- there is no way to refer to a
message that is valid across all nodes.  Programs like TBBS, therefore,
which do support the notion of detailed reply threading (each reply refers
to some definite "parent" message) have to use a semi-guesswork algorithm
which frequently leads to the wrong answer -- the latest message with a
common Subject header is taken to be the parent, even when examination of the
context by a human being indicates that the message is in reply to some
earlier message.

The Usenet network, which shares much of its problem domain with Fidonet,
solves these problems by tagging every outgoing message with a unique
Message ID string.  Other messages can then refer to this Message ID and
provide an unambiguous indication of which message, or messages, they are
in reply to.

IFNA KLUDGE LINES "MESSAGE-ID" AND "IN-REPLY-TO"

Fidonet supports a general method for sending additional information embedded
in a message known as the "IFNA kludge line".  This is a line of text beginning
with the ASCII SOH character.  The characters following SOH are a word
indicating the type of kludge line, and the remainder of the line contains
information specific to that type.

This standard introduces two new types of kludge lines, the MESSAGE-ID line
and the IN-REPLY-TO line.  These names, and the kludge line formats, are
taken directly from Usenet.  MESSAGE-ID is used to tag an outgoing message
with a unique string, different from any other message on the network.
IN-REPLY-TO is used by threading message processors to specify the Message ID
of the "parent" of a reply message.  These kludge lines are generated and
interpreted by message editors; tosser/scanner and mailer products need only
leave them undisturbed.  They are applicable to both regular network mail
and Echomail.

FORMAT OF A MESSAGE ID -- MANDATORY

This format is drawn directly from Usenet; it may seem a little arcane, but
is flexible enough to handle a large variety of needs.  Generally, a Message ID
looks like this:
	<unique-part@domain-name>
The <, @, and > characters are fixed, and are used to help in parsing the
Message ID.  The "unique-part" may consist of any characters -- the only
requirement is that it be different for every message generated on a given
node or point.  Possible implementations of "unique-part"s include a simple
serial number, a date+time, or something completely different.

The "domain-name" must be a valid Internet domain name.  Luckily, every
Fidonet system has a valid domain name now!  The format here is as follows:
	The domain name of the node a:bbb/ccc is
		Fccc.Nbbb.Za.FIDONET.ORG
	and the domain name of the point a:bbb/ccc.ddd is
		Pddd.Fccc.Nbbb.Za.FIDONET.ORG
The periods, magic letters, and the magic name "FIDONET.ORG" make the
domain name unique in the world.  Of course, Fidonet systems that already
have a different domain name (e.g. circle.UUCP) are free to use that name
instead.

A system which generates Message IDs must guarantee that no Message ID will
be reused for at least two years.  This implies that if multiple message
editors exist on a system they must cooperate at least to the extent of not
using the same Message IDs for different messages.  In particular, a message
editor that uses a simple serial number should make provision for the user
to set the starting serial number to a value other than zero, so that different
starting values can be used by different products.  Note that the numeric
name of a .MSG file is >not< suitable as a unique-part, because it is neither
unique nor permanent.

FORMAT OF A MESSAGE ID -- SUGGESTED

It is suggested, though not required, that the unique-part of all Message IDs
consist only of decimal digits, and not more than 9 of these, so that the
unique-part can be stored as a 32-bit signed integer.  A serial number
scheme meets this standard, as does a Unix-style timestamp (seconds since
midnight Jan 1 1970, Universal Time).  There many other possible schemes.


CREATION OF THE IN-REPLY-TO LINE -- MANDATORY

The most important thing about the IN-REPLY-TO line is that the Message ID
specified by it should be the actual Message ID of the message being replied
to, and not a Message ID invented by the sender of the reply.  This implies
that message editors which generate IN-REPLY-TO lines should be able to
store the Message IDs of all incoming and locally generated messages for
as long as the messages themselves remain on-line.  It is worth repeating,
however, that there is nothing mandatory about generating the IN-REPLY-TO
line at all.  A message editor may generate both MESSAGE-ID and IN-REPLY-TO
lines, only MESSAGE-ID lines, or neither.

Due to problems with existing software, message editors should be prepared
to receive (and either discard or display uninterpreted) IN-REPLY-TO lines
which are >not< in standard format.  Standard format lines will have a <
character just after the keyword and a > character at the end of the line.

DUPLICATE MESSAGE ELIMINATION

Usenet makes use of a "history file" which maintains the Message IDs of
messages received in the last 15 days (this number is configurable by the
sysop).  Fidonet has a similar scheme, but this is inherently less reliable,
depending as it does on the exact layout of each message.  With MESSAGE-ID
kludge lines, dupe eliminators can take advantage of them to help kill
dupes once and for all, using existing mechanisms as a backup when needed.

IMPLICATIONS FOR USENET GATEWAYS

Currently, Fidonet<->Usenet gateways generate Message IDs for messages
passing from Fidonet to Usenet, and discard them for messages passing the
other way.  With this standard in place, such gateways should be modified
to watch for MESSAGE-ID and IN-REPLY-TO kludge lines and translate them
to Usenet "Message-ID:" and "In-Reply-To:" header lines, and vice versa.
This will improve the behavior of threading systems like TBBS on the Fidonet
side and 'notes' on the Usenet side.  Fidonet messages which don't have a
MESSAGE-ID line will, of course, need to have one generated when passing over
to Usenet, as is now the case.

IMPLEMENTATIONS

The Magpie tree-structured BBS is now being enhanced to provide Fidonet
access to its users.  Magpie depends heavily on the notion of parent
messages; every message on a Magpie system (except one) has a parent.
Magpie/Fidonet systems will use the above technique to pass the parent
information they need transparently through the Fidonet, so that incoming
Fidonet messages can be connected at the correct place in the Magpie tree.
(A backup algorithm similar to TBBS's will be used for Fidonet messages
without parent information.)

We are publishing this information as a Fidonet technical comment in hopes
that other Fidonet products will eventually incorporate all or part of this
standard as well, and that it will eventually form part of a Fidonet
Technical Standard.