Module Netmime

module Netmime: sig .. end
Netmime contains high-level classes and functions to process mail and MIME messages.



type store = [ `File of string | `Memory ] 
Specifies where to store the body of a mail message. `Memory means in-memory, `File name means in the file name. The body is stored in decoded form (i.e. without transfer encoding).
exception Immutable of string
Raised if it is tried to modify a read-only value. The string denotes the function or method where the incident happened.

MIME headers and bodies are defined in two steps. First the subtype describing read access is defined (mime_header_ro, and mime_body_ro), and after that the full class type including write access is defined (mime_header, and mime_body).

The idea is that you can write functions that take an ro value as input to indicate that they do not modify the value. For example:

 let number_of_fields (h:#mime_header_ro) =
   List.length (h#fields) 

This function accepts both mime_header, and mime_header_ro values as input, but the typing ensures that the function cannot mutate anything.

There is another way to ensure that a header or body is not modified. The read-only flag can be set when creating the object, and this flag causes that all trials to modify the value will raise the exception Immutable. Of course, such trials of mutation are only detected at run-time.

The advantage of the read-only flag is that it even works if mutation depends on a condition, but it can be ensured that this condition is never true. Furthermore, typing is much simpler (getting subtyping correct can be annoying).

class type mime_header_ro = object .. end
This is the read-only version of a MIME header.
class type mime_header = object .. end
A MIME header with both read and write method.
class type mime_body_ro = object .. end
This is the read-only version of a MIME body.
class type mime_body = object .. end
A MIME body with both read and write method.

One can consider the pair (mime_header, mime_body) as simple MIME message with one header and one body. Of course, this simple representation does not support multi-part messages (attachments). For that reason, the complex_mime_message was invented: The body can be further structured as a sequence of parts that are complex messages themselves.

For example, a mail message with an attachment is usually represented as

 (mail_header, `Parts [ (main_header, `Body main_body);
                        (att_header, `Body att_body) ] ) 

Here, mail_header is the real header of the mail message. main_header is the header of the main message, usually only containing the content type of main_body, the body of the main message. The attachment has also its own att_header, again usually only containing the content type, and the data of the attachment can be found in att_body.

Nowadays, mails have often even a more complicated structure with `Parts containing nested `Parts. As complex_mime_message is recursive, any kind of nesting can be easily represented.

type complex_mime_message = mime_header * complex_mime_body 
type complex_mime_body = [ `Body of mime_body | `Parts of complex_mime_message list ] 
type complex_mime_message_ro = mime_header_ro * complex_mime_body_ro 
type complex_mime_body_ro = [ `Body of mime_body_ro
| `Parts of complex_mime_message_ro list ]
The read-only view of a complex_mime_message

Note: `Parts [], i.e. `Parts together with an empty list, is considered as illegal. Such a value cannot be transformed into printable text.
type mime_message = mime_header * [ `Body of mime_body ] 
Simple MIME message, in a form that is compatible with complex ones.
type mime_message_ro = mime_header_ro * [ `Body of mime_body_ro ] 
Read-only variant of simple messages


class basic_mime_header : ?ro:bool -> (string * string) list -> mime_header
An implementation of mime_header.
class memory_mime_body : ?ro:bool -> string -> mime_body
An implementation of mime_body where the value is stored in-memory.
class file_mime_body : ?ro:bool -> ?fin:bool -> string -> mime_body
An implementation of mime_body where the value is stored in an external file.

Parsing MIME messages

val read_mime_header : ?unfold:bool ->
?strip:bool -> ?ro:bool -> Netstream.in_obj_stream -> mime_header
Decodes the MIME header that begins at the current position of the netstream, and returns the header as class basic_mime_header. After returning, the stream is advanced to the byte following the empty line terminating the header.

Example: To read the header at the beginning of the file "f", use:

 let ch = new Netchannels.input_channel (open_in "f") in
 let stream = new Netstream.input_stream ch in
 let h = read_mime_header stream in
 stream#close_in();    (* no need to close ch *)

Note that although the stream position after parsing is exactly known, the position of ch cannot be predicted.

unfold : whether linefeeds are replaced by spaces in the values of the header fields (Note: defaults to false here in contrast to Mimestring.scan_header!)
strip : whether whitespace at the beginning and at the end of the header fields is stripped
ro : whether the returned header is read-only (default: false)

Hint: To write the header h into the channel ch, use
 Mimestring.write_header ch h#fields 

Link: Mimestring.write_header

type multipart_style = [ `Deep | `Flat | `None ] 
How to parse multipart messages: This value determines how far the complex_mime_message structure is created for a parsed MIME message. `None means that no parts are decoded, and messages have always only a simple `Body b, even if b is in reality a multi-part body. With `Flat, the top-level multi-part bodies are decoded (if found), and messages can have a structured `Parts [_, `Body b1; _, `Body b1; ...] body. Finally, `Deep allows that inner multi-part bodies are recursively decoded, and messages can have an arbitrarily complex form.
val decode_mime_body : #mime_header_ro ->
Netchannels.out_obj_channel -> Netchannels.out_obj_channel
let ch' = decode_mime_body hdr ch: According to the value of the Content-transfer-encoding header field in hdr the encoded MIME body written to ch' is decoded and transferred to ch.

Handles 7bit, 8bit, binary, quoted-printable, base64.

Example: The file "f" contains base64-encoded data, and is to be decoded and to be stored in "g":

 let ch_f = new Netchannels.input_channel (open_in "f") in
 let ch_g = new Netchannels.output_channel (open_out "g") in
 let hdr = new basic_mime_header ["content-transfer-encoding", "base64" ] in
 let ch = decode_mime_body hdr ch_g in
 ch # output_channel ch_f;
 ch # close_out();
 ch_g # close_out();
 ch_f # close_in();

Note: This function is internally used by read_mime_message to decode bodies. There is usually no need to call it directly.

val storage : ?ro:bool ->
?fin:bool -> store -> mime_body * Netchannels.out_obj_channel
Creates a new storage facility for a mime body according to store. This function can be used to build the storage_style argument of the class read_mime_message (below). For example, this is useful to store large attachments in external files, as in:

 let storage_style hdr = 
   let filename = hdr ... (* extract from hdr *) in
   storage (`File filename)

ro : whether the returned mime_bodies are read-only or not. Note that it is always possible to write into the body using the returned out_obj_channel regardless of the value of ~ro. Default: false
fin : whether to finalize bodies stored in files. Default: false
val read_mime_message : ?unfold:bool ->
?strip:bool ->
?ro:bool ->
?multipart_style:multipart_style ->
?storage_style:(mime_header ->
mime_body * Netchannels.out_obj_channel) ->
Netstream.in_obj_stream -> complex_mime_message
Decodes the MIME message that begins at the current position of the passed netstream. It is expected that the message continues until EOF of the netstream.

Multipart messages are decoded as specified by multipart_style (see above).

Message bodies with content-transfer-encodings of 7bit, 8bit, binary, base64, and quoted-printable can be processed. The bodies are stored without content-transfer-encoding (i.e. in decoded form), but the content-transfer-encoding header field is not removed from the header.

The storage_style function determines where every message body is stored. The corresponding header of the body is passed to the function as argument; the result of the function is a pair of a new mime_body and an out_obj_channel writing into this body. You can create such a pair by calling storage (above).

By default, the storage_style is storage ?ro `Memory for every header. Here, the designator `Memory means that the body will be stored in an O'Caml string. The designator `File fn would mean that the body will be stored in the file fn. The file would be created if it did not yet exist, and it would be overwritten if it did already exist.

Note that the storage_style function is called for every non-multipart body part.

Large message bodies (> maximum string length) are supported if the bodies are stored in files. The memory consumption is optimized for this case, and usually only a small constant amount of memory is needed.


Parse the MIME message stored in the file f:

 let m = read_mime_message 
           (new input_stream (new input_channel (open_in f)))

unfold : whether linefeeds are replaced by spaces in the values of the header fields (Note: defaults to false here in contrast to Mimestring.scan_header!)
strip : whether whitespace at the beginning and at the end of the header fields is stripped
ro : Whether the created MIME headers are read-only or not. Furthermore, the default storage_style uses this parameter for the MIME bodies, too. However, the MIME bodies may have a different read-only flag in general.

Printing MIME Messages

val encode_mime_body : ?crlf:bool ->
#mime_header_ro ->
Netchannels.out_obj_channel -> Netchannels.out_obj_channel
let ch' = encode_mime_body hdr ch: According to the value of the Content-transfer-encoding header field in hdr the unencoded MIME body written to ch' is encoded and transferred to ch.

Handles 7bit, 8bit, binary, quoted-printable, base64.

For an example, see decode_mime_body which works in a similar way but performs decoding instead of encoding.

crlf : if set (this is by default the case) CR/LF will be used for end-of-line (eol) termination, if not set LF will be used. For 7bit, 8bit and binary encoding the existing eol delimiters are not rewritten, so this option has only an effect for quoted-printable and base64.
val write_mime_message : ?wr_header:bool ->
?wr_body:bool ->
?nr:int ->
?ret_boundary:string Pervasives.ref ->
?crlf:bool ->
Netchannels.out_obj_channel -> complex_mime_message -> unit
Writes the MIME message to the output channel. The content-transfer- encoding of the leaves is respected, and their bodies are encoded accordingly. The content-transfer-encoding of multipart messages is always "fixed", i.e. set to "7bit", "8bit", or "binary" depending on the contents.

The function fails if multipart messages do not have a multipart content type field (i.e. the content type does not begin with "multipart"). If only the boundary parameter is missing, a good boundary parameter is added to the content type. "Good" means here that it is impossible that the boundary string occurs in the message body if the content-transfer-encoding is quoted-printable or base64, and that such an occurrence is very unlikely if the body is not encoded. If the whole content type field is missing, a "multipart/mixed" type with a boundary parameter is added to the printed header.

Note that already existing boundaries are used, no matter whether they are of good quality or not.

No other header fields are added, deleted or modified. The mentioned modifications are _not_ written back to the passed MIME message but only added to the generated message text.

It is possible in some cases that the boundary does not work (both the existing boundary, and the added boundary). This causes that a wrong and unparseable MIME message is written. In order to ensure a correct MIME message, it is recommended to parse the written text, and to compare the structure of the message trees. It is, however, very unlikely that a problem arises.

Note that if the passed message is a simple message like (_,`Body _), and if no content-transfer-encoding is set, the written message might not end with a linefeed character.

wr_header : If true, the outermost header is written. Inner headers of the message parts are written unless ~wr_body=false.
wr_body : If true, the body of the whole message is written; if false, no body is written at all.
nr : This argument sets the counter that is included in generated boundaries to a certain minimum value.
ret_boundary : if passed, the boundary of the outermost multipart message is written to this reference. (Internally used.)
crlf : if set (this is by default the case) CR/LF will be used for end-of-line (eol) termination, if not set LF will be used. The eol separator is used for the header, the multipart framing, and for bodies encoded as quoted-printable or base64. Other eol separators are left untouched.


Structure of Mail Messages

Nowadays mail messages are in MIME format. This format allows us to attach files to messages, and to encode the main text in markup languages like HTML. In principle, mail messages have only one header block (with fields like "Subject", sender and receiver addresses, etc.) and one body block. However, this is only one view on the mail format, e.g. as seen by MTAs (mail transfer agents). The MIME format adds the possibility to structure the body block into "parts" by additional encoding sequences. The MTAs can simply ignore this additional stuff, but software creating and analyzing mails can usually not. In Netmime, one can control whether one wants to see the parts or not.

Logically, the parts of the mail body are small mail messages themselves. This means that every part has again a header and a body. The header can, in principal, contain any number of fields, and any kind of field, but in practice only a small subset of the possible fields are used, in particular only those fields that are necessary to describe the body of the part. The body can be a normal text or data block, but it is explicitly also allowed that the body is again structured into a sequence of parts. Thus complex mail messages are recursive data structures (to be exact, they are trees).

For example, a message with two attachments usually looks like:

   (mail_header, mail_body)
                  +-- (main_text_header, main_text_body)
                  +-- (att1_header, att1_body)
                  +-- (att2_header, att2_body)

The headers contains two crucial fields that control the structure of the message:

Messages in Netmime

In Netmime, the types of mail headers and mail bodies are defined before and independent of their implementations: We have the types

and the implementations

Of course, the implementation classes fulfill the specifications of the corresponding class types. For completeness, there are also reduced read-only class types that maybe helpful for signatures to indicate that a function does not modify a header or body. In principal, one can also define further implementations provided they fit to the class types.

The type complex_mime_message represents the message as a tree. We have:

 type complex_mime_message = mime_header * complex_mime_body
 and complex_mime_body =
   [ `Body of mime_body
   | `Parts of complex_mime_message list
For example, the above mentioned mail with two attachments has the following representation:

 let tree =
   (mail_header, `Parts [ (main_text_header, `Body main_text_body);
                          (att1_header, `Body att1_body);
                          (att2_header, `Body att2_body) ] )

Here, *_header are objects of type mime_header, and *_body are objects of type mime_body. It is obvious how to create the tree once one has these objects: Just use the syntax in this expression. Beginners of O'Caml should recall that it is as easy to decompose such structured values by using the pattern matching feature of the language. For example, to get the main_text_header of tree, use

 let main_text_header =
   match tree with
       (_, `Parts ( (mth, _) :: _ )) -> mth
     | _ -> failwith "Message has unexpected structure"

(Note that [x1;x2;...] is just an abbreviation for x1 :: x2 :: ... :: [] ; by switching to the "::" syntax the message may have any number of parts in order to be matching.) At the first glance, it looks a bit strange to access the inner parts of mail messages in this way, but pattern matching is a very powerful sword once one gets accustomed to it.

Another hint: Because complex_mime_message is a quite challanging type for the compiler, it is often necessary to give type annotations, such as

(tree : complex_mime_message)

before passing such values to functions, otherwise you get compiler errors.

Accessing Headers

It is easy to get and set the fields of headers, e.g. mail_header # field "subject" returns the "Subject" header field as string (or raises Not_found). The names of header fields are case-insensitive. To set a field, use update_field, e.g. mail_header # update_field "subject" "Ocamlnet is great" .

The methods field and update_field process the field value as unparsed string (the parsers do only very little preprocessing, e.g. one can configure to remove all linefeeds). The module Mimestring has a lot functions to parse and generate field values with a certain syntax. For example, "Subject" may contain so-called encoded words to express text written in a character set other than ASCII. To parse this, use

 let subject = mail_header # field "subject" in
 let word_list = Mimestring.scan_encoded_text_value subject in
Now, the words contained in word_list can be accessed with a number of functions, e.g.
 let word_val = Mimestring.get_decoded_word word in
 let word_cset = Mimestring.get_charset word
Here, the string word_val is the word written in the character set word_cset.

For example, for the "Subject" field


this method returns a word_list with one word, and for this word word_val = "this is some text" and word_cset = "iso-8859-1".

To create such structured header values, there is the function write_value in Mimestring. This function requires some more background beyond the scope of this tutorial. As this function also supports folding of header fields, we explain only this particular application.

Folding means that long header values must be split into several lines. There is a soft limit of 78 bytes and a hard limit of 998 bytes (not counting the end-of-line sequence). The soft limit only ensures that values can be displayed in usual terminals or windows without needing horizontal scrolling. Values exceeding the hard limit may be truncated in mail transport, however. To fold a string s composed of words, first split it into its words, make atoms of them, format them with write_value, and put the result into the header field (note: this example can be programmed better, see below):

 let name = "Subject" in
 let words = Str.split (Str.regexp "[ \t]+") s in
 let atoms = (fun w -> Mimestring.Atom w) in
 let buf = Buffer.create 100 in
 let ch = new Netchannels.output_buffer buf in
   ~maxlen1:(78 - String.length name - 2)
   ~hardmaxlen1:(998 - String.length name - 2)
 mail_header # update_field name (Buffer.contents buf)

Unfortunately, there is no general method that can fold any kind of string. The problem is that folding is only allowed at certain places in the string, but this depends on the type of the header field. The shown method works only for informational texts like "Subject". For other fields, like "Received", the method would have to be varied, especially how the list atoms is determined. The syntax of the field must be known to compute atoms.

In the module Netsendmail you can find formatting and folding functions for informational texts like "Subject", and for mail addresses. With these functions, the "Subject" field could also be set by

 let atoms = Netsendmail.create_text_tokens s in
 mail_header # update_field 
   name (Netsendmail.format_field_value name atoms)

Accessing Bodies

Both types of bodies (in-memory, and file) support the following two ways of accessing:

Note that when the value of a file-based body is changed, the file is overwritten, independently of which of the two ways is taken.

The string access is very simple: To get the value, just call value:

let s = body # value

To set the value, just call set_value:

body # set_value s

The string returned by value is not transfer-encoded, or better, all such encodings (e.g. BASE-64) are decoded. Of course, set_value expects that the passed string is not decoded, too.

Note that using value may be dangerous (or even fail) when the body is stored in a file and is very large. value forces that the file is completely read into memory. You may run into serious problems when there is not enough memory, or when the value is larger than Sys.max_string_length (16MB on 32 bit platforms).

Fortunately, there is the channel-based access method. It does not need much memory, even when large bodies are accessed. However, one does not get access to the completely body at once, but only chunk by chunk. For example, to read a body line by line, use:

 let ch = body # open_value_rd() in
 let line1 = ch # input_line() in
 let line2 = ch # input_line() in
 ch # close_in()

As for value, there are no transfer encodings in the returned lines.

The channel ch can be used whereever an Ocamlnet function allows it, i.e. it is a full implementation. For example, one can pass it to the HTML parser:

 let ch = body # open_value_rd() in
 let html_doc = Nethtml.parse ch in
 ch # close_in()

To set the value using a channel, a body can also be opened for writing:

 let ch = body # open_value_wr() in
 ch # output_string "First line\n";
 ch # output_string "Second line\n";
 ch # close_out()

Parsing mail messages

The message to parse must be available as an object channel. Recall that you can create an object channel from a string with

let ch = new Netchannels.input_string s

and from a file with

let ch = new Netchannels.input_channel (open_in "filename")

so one can parse mail messages coming from any source. As only sequential access is needed, it is even possible to read directly from a Unix pipe.

Now, it is required to create a so-called netstream from ch:

let nstr = new Netstream.input_stream ch

A netstream is an object channel with additional look-ahead features. We need it here because the parser can then recognize certain patterns in the message in a simpler manner, for example the escape sequences separating the parts of a structured body.

Finally, one can invoke the parser:

let tree = read_mime_message nstr

There are a number of optional arguments for this function that can modify the way the message tree is generated. By default, all bodies are created in memory, and the tree is deeply parsed (i.e. inner multipart bodies are represented in tree form).

When bodies should be written to disk, the argument storage_style can be passed: It is a function that is called whenever a header has been parsed, but before the corresponding body. The function must return the body object for representation and the output channel connected to the body object. For example, to write the bodies into numbered files:

 let n = ref 1
 let ext_storage_style header =
   let body = new file_mime_body ("file" ^ string_of_int !n) in
   incr n;
   (body, body#open_out_wr())
 let tree = read_mime_message ~storage_style:ext_storage_style nstr 

There is also the auxiliary function storage to create such a storage style argument.

The header can be used to generate the file name from it. Often, the filename argument of the Content-disposition field is the original file name before the attachment was appended to the mail message. To get this name:

 let filename =
     let disp, disp_params = header # content_disposition() in
     (* disp is usually "attachment", but we don't check *)
     List.assoc "filename" disp_params
     Not_found ->
        ...  (* No such paramater, use other method to gen filename *)

It is usually a good idea to check for dangerous characters in this name ("/", "..") before constructing the name of the disk file.

A final remark: Don't forget to close nstr after parsing (this implicitly closes ch).

Creating Mail Messages

For simple applications, the Netsendmail module has a Netsendmail.compose function. It can create a mail message with attachments, and performs all the encoding details. This function is well explained in its module mli.

Of course, you can also do this yourself: Create the required headers and bodies, and put them together to the resulting tree.


 let date =
   Netdate.mk_mail_date ~zone:Netdate.localzone (Unix.time()) in
 let mail_header =
   new basic_mime_header [ "MIME-version", "1.0";
                           "Subject", "Sample mail";
                           "To", "";
                           "From", "";
                           "Date", date;
                           "Content-type", "multipart/mixed" ] in
 let main_text_header =
   new basic_mime_header [ "Content-type", "text/plain;charset=ISO-8859-1";
                           "Content-transfer-encoding", "quoted-printable";
                         ] in
 let main_text_body =
   new memory_mime_body "Hello world!\nThis is a sample mail.\n" in
 let att_header =
   new basic_mime_header [ "Content-type", "image/jpeg";
                           "Content-transfer-encoding", "base64";
                           "Content-disposition", "inline;description=\"My photo\"";
                         ] in
 let att_body =
   new file_mime_body "photo.jpeg" in
 let tree =
   (mail_header, `Parts [ (main_text_header, `Body main_text_body);
                          (att_header, `Body att_body) ] )

Printing Mail Messages

In order to print tree to the object channel ch, simply call

write_mime_message ch tree

Before invoking this function, ensure the following:

If the boundary parameter is missing, the function will invent one; you don't need to deal with this.

The MIME message is written according to the found transfer encodings and the multi-part boundaries.

Don't forget to close ch after writing!