[TUHS] attachments: MIME and uuencode

jsteve at superglobalmegacorp.com jsteve at superglobalmegacorp.com
Sun Mar 12 16:28:57 AEST 2017

As much as I despise the whole ‘email server is my file server’, the thing is that email clients are cross platform, and an easy way to get data in and out of a server, and out to other people.  SMTP+UUENCODE/MIME is basically the best peer to peer network that is still going strong, since RFC 821 in 1982!  Naturally other email systems existed prior to this, but SMTP let you easily send across the internet, in a method that basically still works to this day, although servers have become more selective on who they talk to, thanks to the rise of SPAM..

I just fired up 4.3 BSD Uwsic, and setup an external DNS, and right away I’m able to send an email, and I’m able to receive it on gmail:

From: The Not Ready for Prime Time Super User root at csl3.wisc.edu

Compared to what a disaster FTP turned out with it’s active/passive port games, SMTP with it’s relay based nature is still the easiest way to send & receive data.  Add in something like Microsoft Exhcange, which has persistent and shared data stores, it’s quite easily to setup ‘public folders’ and keep binaries in there.  Of course you’d be crazy to put ancient email servers directly onto the internet, but you can easily setup forwarding/spooling gateways like postfix, to process inbound mail, and deliver it to your ancient UNIX/VMS/MacOS/Windows server of choice.  I route mine through MS Office 365, but backend on Exchange 5.5 as I can use the Outlook client on MS-DOS, MacOS, and OS/2 to easily get files around if needed.  Add in stunnel, and you can even use ‘modern’ IMAP clients against Exchange 5.5... Not that I’d recommend you doing something like this... lol

Sent from Mail for Windows 10

From: Dan Cross
Sent: Sunday, 12 March 2017 9:16 AM
To: Mary Ann Horton
Cc: TUHS main list
Subject: Re: [TUHS] attachments: MIME and uuencode

On Sat, Mar 11, 2017 at 6:05 PM, Mary Ann Horton <mah at mhorton.net> wrote:
Possible?  Yes.  Convenient?  No.

You could cat several uuencode files together and send them in one email.  You'd have to edit them on the receiving end into separate files and uudecode them separately.  In practice, you'd uuencode a tarball.

MIME was a major advance, and what's telling is that 25 years later, SMTP/MIME is still the standard.

This is so interesting. Not to be argumentative about it but I felt it was actually something of a regression. Something like making a file available via an FTP server (possible in an executable but unreadable directory with an obscure name) or just in some directory in an organization where a filesystem was shared and sending a pointer to the file via email seemed much more efficient, particularly if one was sending to multiple recipients. Attaching files to email as MIME components felt like trying to turn email into a filesystem, and SMTP into a file transfer protocol. The way I saw it, email was email and we already had file transfer protocols....

It seemed like MIME really took off when Microsoft embraced it; before that, plain ol' text seemed much more common. My sense at the time was that networked filesystems and services like FTP (or the then-nascent HTTP) were far less commonplace on the MS platform, so email as a content distribution mechanism was more natural in that world. I was somewhat dismayed at the inability to make Windows users see the light; in retrospect, of course, this just means that I myself was missing something critical.

Mary Ann, why did you consider it such a step forward? I'm really curious about the reasoning from folks involved with such things at the time.

        - Dan C.

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