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Modernizing email and calendars for users and developers

  • Bron Gondwana
  • Co-chair: Calext, EXTRA and JMAP Working Groups
  • 8 Apr 2020

While email and calendaring are well-established Internet applications used by billions of people around the world, there is tons of work going on at the IETF right now to maintain and improve the protocols used by client applications to access email and related data from servers and cloud services.

email envelopes

The JMAP working group was chartered in 2016, with the purpose of building a new JSON-based protocol with efficient synchronization and push notification on changes. On top of this JMAP protocol (RFC 8620) we added a datatypes for mailboxes, threads and emails, as well as email submission (RFC 8621). And, we’re continuing to add extensions for more advanced email handling. Current working group Internet-Drafts include methods for message delivery notifications, quota management, and S/MIME signatures.

Meanwhile, with no active working group for the existing email protocols, there was a growing backlog of orphaned Internet-Drafts, everything from the ability to REPLACE emails via IMAP, to use the RFC 6154 special-use names rather than folder names for filter rules via SIEVE, to the ability to cheaply read the size and access control information of mailboxes with a single IMAP list command. The Email mailstore and eXtensions To Revise or Amend (EXTRA) working group was chartered in 2017 to work concurrently on updating the existing protocols and process that backlog of proposed extensions.The EXTRA working group has already produced 9 RFCs, and is currently focused on the major project of producing the next revision of the IMAP4 protocol (imap4rev2), folding in the most popular extensions and fixing some warts.

calendar image

The Calendaring Extensions (CALEXT) Working Group has been around since 2014 as a home for all things calendar related. Working in conjunction with the industry group CalConnect, the CALEXT working group has been documenting the existing behavior of some proprietary calendar extensions and proposing new calendar extensions. Most recently we have been building a brand new JSON-based representation of calendar events (jscalendar) which has developer-friendliness as a key goal. Our hope is that this new format will encourage non-specialist developers to use our standard format when including scheduling information into products other than the traditional “grid” calendar view, rather than rolling their own data models. With the jscalendar format submitted to the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) for publication, the CALEXT working group is turning its focus back to ICALENDAR and CalDAV extensions.

The JMAP working group is taking jscalendar and building JMAP Calendars, using the jscalendar format to model events, and also adding scheduling and per-user data facilities.  For Contacts there is no existing IETF group that was a better place to develop the data format, so the JMAP working group is concurrently writing a jscontact format for storing addressbook data, which will be extended in the same way to allow contact information to be managed via the JMAP protocol.

If you are interested in contributing or want to know more about any of the work underway, the best way to get involved is to join the CALEXT mailing list, the EXTRA mailing list, or the JMAP mailing list, respectively.

About the Author

Bron Gondwana is CEO of Fastmail, where he has been helping improve email for over 15 years. He is also a lead developer on the Cyrus open source mail server. At the IETF, he is a co-chair of three IETF working groups in the Applications and Real Time area, working with protocols for personal information.